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close this bookNatural Energy and Vernacular Architecture: Principles and Examples with Reference to Hot Arid Climates (UNU, 1986, 172 pages)
close this folderPart 1. Man, natural environment, and architecture
close this folder1. Environment and architecture
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentEffect of climate on architectural form
View the documentEnvironment
View the documentConscious modification of the microclimate
View the documentTrends in international architecture

Trends in international architecture

Changing a single item in a traditional building method will not ensure an improved response to the environment, or even an equally satisfactory one. Yet change is inevitable, and new forms and materials will be used, as has been the case throughout history. Often the convenience of modern forms and materials makes their use attractive in the short term. In the eagerness to become modern, many people in the Tropics have abandoned their traditional age-old solutions to the problems presented by the local climate and instead have adopted what is commonly labeled "international architecture," based on the use of high-technology materials such as the reinforced-concrete frame and the glass wall. But a 3 x 3-m glass wall in a building exposed to solar radiation on a warm, clear tropical day will let in approximately 2000 kilocalories per hour. To maintain the microclimate of a building thus exposed within the human comfort zone, two tons of refrigeration capacity are required. Any architect who makes a solar furnance of his building and compensates for this by installing a huge cooling machine is approaching the problem inappropriately and we can measure the inappropriateness of his attempted solution by the excess number of kilocalories he uselessly introduces into the building. Furthermore, the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Tropics are industrially underdeveloped and cannot afford the luxury of high-technology building materials or energy-intensive systems for cooling. Although traditional architecture is always evolving and will continue to absorb new materials and design concepts, the effects of any substitute material or form should be evaluated before it is adopted. Failure to do so can only result in the loss of the very concepts that made the traditional techniques appropriate.

Only a scientific approach to the evaluation of such new developments can save the architecture of the Tropics and Subtropics. The thoughtless application of modern methods in this region is seldom successful. A thorough understanding of the climatic environment and developments based thereon is essential for appropriate solutions. Although traditional architecture was evolved intuitively over long periods, it was based primarily on scientifically valid concepts. The modern academic world of architecture does not emphasize the value of investigating and applying concepts scientifically and, therefore, has no respect for vernacular architecture. Now is the time to bridge the gap between these widely different approaches.

All traditional solutions should be evaluated scientifically before they are discarded or substitutes proposed. The phenomena of the microclimate must be analyzed and new building materials, methods, and designs must be tested until the complex relationships among buildings, microclimate, and human beings are fully understood. Fortunately, agriculture is perhaps even more intimately affected by the microclimate than architecture, and agricultural scientists have long made careful observations of the climate near the ground and in small localities. Their findings are available to those interested in tropical and subtropical architecture.

Another science to which architecture is indebted is aerodynamics. The methods of investigating airflow around the wings and bodies of aircraft are now being used to study airflow through, over, and around buildings. Scaled and full-size models can be tested in wind tunnels to determine the effect of the size, location, and arrangement of openings on the airflow through individual buildings, as well as the nature of wind patterns and forces between groups of buildings.

Today more attention is being given to the relationship between climate and architecture, and several building research organizations are beginning to examine this relationship.

Various disciplines, including aerodynamics and meteorology, provide an impressive stock of facts that are extremely useful to architecture. The architect is responsible for interpreting these facts and applying them to his designs. In this respect, he resembles the attending physician, who, though using the expertise of the physiologist, radiologist, or bacteriologist, is the only person who can actually undertake the treatment of a case.