What is Bioclimatic Architecture.site. –Published from this geocities site that has been the most informative site on bioclimatic architecture online for years, titled “What is bioclimatic architecture.” Republished and simplified into a more streamlined version of the article here:
bioclimatic — of or concerned with the relations of climate and living organisms
What is bioclimatic architecture?
Architecture that has a connection to Nature. Building designs that take into account climate and environmental conditions to help achieve optimal thermal comfort inside. It deals with design and architectural elements, avoiding complete dependence on mechanical systems, which are regarded as support. A good example of this is using natural ventilation or mixed mode ventilation.
Is this new?
No. Many traditional architecture styles work according to bioclimatic principles. It was not long ago when air conditioning was rare and expensive, and still is for many places today. Examples of traditional architecture working in this manner are often vernacular archetypes, such as the Southern oriented windows in the south of Spain. In these villages nestled into south facing slopes, the use of materials with thermal mass (such as adobe) with an earth coating of lime on walls in the houses of Andalucia creates a stable indoor micro-climate when coupled with location.
But, does it really work?
Traditional techniques work, and are time tested in many places as they are in Spain. The coolness inside a thick-walled traditional village house at noon in August, and the comfort of a traditional patio in Andalucia on a hot day are direct ways to experience these techniques at work. Also, designing with Nature means accounting for multi-seasonal considerations, for example, reducing heating needs with maximum sunlight from Southern oriented windows. If these techniques have worked for generations in these communities designed for their geographic region, then clearly modern design could benefit from careful integration of these traditional principles. It is entirely possible to design modern bioclimatic housing and architecture, using natural ventilation, passive solar design, sustainable materials, and many other traditional site specific techniques.
It works at different scales.
This example also showcases the concept of biomimicry, in which nature is the mentor for the concept of the design. Passive air cooling systems use the physical properties of air density at different temperatures to force air through multiple smaller spaces. The biomimicry in the case of Eastgate a midrise in Harare, Zimbabwe is the design inspired by passive air cooling in termite mounds. http://biomimicryinstitute.org/case-studies/case-studies/termite-inspired-air-conditioning.html.
How much does it cost?
The bioclimatic house doesn’t need the purchase and installation of complicated and expensive systems, because it uses the regular architectural elements to increase the energetic performance and get a natural comfort. Cost savings begin with designing to maximize the assets of the site. Bioclimatic design imposes a set of guidelines, but there still remains a lot of freedom to design according to individual taste. Siting of the building, consideration of solar access, collection of rainwater, using thermal mass to your advantage, correct fenestration and solar shading are all good examples of techniques that can be taken into account when designing. The end product is much more energy efficient and in tune with its surroundings and Nature.
Then why is bioclimatic architecture not well known?
Clothes hold much more meaning to us than the need for thermal protection: starting simple, but now many original functionality features are lost to the concept of fashion. Housing, too, means more than the need for a comfortable place to live. Like fashion it now often represents a status symbol. As that symbol, it must adapt to the established standards of status like convenience and leisure, and sometimes ignoring basic functionalities like the environment (i.e. McMansions). Energy saving and taking advantage of the sun may not fit into these standards. From this perspective, having an expensive conditioning system to overheat in winter and overcool in summer every single space in the house (even if it is seldom used) may seem necessary. The cultural inertia of the “overdone” is hard to stop, even in the face of Climate Change and the 2008 economic bubble burst. Because right now many still think that consumption is necessary for economic growth, and that model is still working.… and yet energy prices continue to rise and minimum wage continues to flatline.
If consumption is necessary for promotion of economic growth, society, by default then associates saving and conserving with discomfort and low status, and waste with easy living and prestige. It gets the point across about people accustomed to a society of convenience, that saving energy is associated with poverty or somehow “needing” to conserve. What is overlooked in the quest for status however, are modern day benefits and efficiencies that could actually elevate status and be sustainable. Instead, science is disregarded, global warming is seen to have no real world consequence, energy continues to be wasted, and people pay and pay without realizing there are ways to regulate the cost and waste associated with their lifestyles. As of now, the economical system needs people to consume as much as possible so as to keep the wheel going, but can we still attain societal success through techniques for refinement as opposed to expansion?
There are many challenges facing the transition from excessive consumption to a perspective that designing to be more efficient is the new status symbol. Primarily, the powers that be are strong and they have built a legacy they want to continue. Big companies (the legacy industries) refuse to innovate, and lobby to keep the status quo. No energy supply companies are really interested in new technologies for renewable energy, instead it’s only the new startup companies that tackle the challenge. Necessoty is the mother of invention. To the startup companies, how to increase their benefits at the site is the equation for success and profit. Selling energy if you are making your own is an easy way to calculate cost recovery. Or even not needing as much because the house is designed for according to human use and needs at given times of the day, as opposed to having all rooms ready for all possible uses at all possible times. Air conditioning manufacturers aren’t interested in alternative systems that make their technology less valuable: natural ventilation does not make money. Why would the powers that be want you to get energy for free when they can charge for it?
Architects and builders often don’t look beyond the success of their business to promote alternate techniques, and often don’t go through the hassle of introducing something new to the consumer. With no information on the topic, the consumer cannot demand alternative products that ultimately improve the livability of structures and reduce the waste and expense of resources. Things that in the economic Rational Man Model would be defined as “maximizing and promoting true self interests,” yet it it still remains that there are few electric cars on the streets or solar panels on rooftops. Consumers can not make informed decisions without having all of the relevant information to make a truly rational choice.
Slowly, new programs, smart companies, eco citizens are becoming aware of the energy waste problem, and things are babystepping forward–promoting research on the topic and generating new legislation and standards. For example, something as simple as good insulation in buildings to keep heat inside is a topic for legislation of increasing importance. And in a lot of countries institutions (USGBC.org) are appearing to perform research and spread bioclimatic knowledge among architects and builders (like CIEMAT in Spain). Hundreds of books have been written on the topic, and hundreds of projects related somehow to bioclimatic architecture have been implemented around the world, and slowly it takes hold.
Basic Concepts and Techniques
Bioclimatic architecture deals exclusively with building design and materials to achieve energy efficiency.
* Passive solar architecture.
It refers to housing design for the efficient use of solar energy. As it doesn’t use mechanical systems (thus the term passive), it is closely related to bioclimatic architecture, though the later also deals with other non-solar climatic elements. That’s why the term bioclimatic is a little bit more general, and inclusive, although both work in the same direction.
* Active solar architecture.
It refers to taking advantage of solar energy by the means of mechanic and/or electric systems for heating (solar collectors) and electric conversion (photovoltaic panels). They may complement a bioclimatic house and offset energy loads of the building’s users.
* Renewable energy.
Sources of energy that cannot be exhausted. Bioclimatic architecture incorporates solar radiation (renewable) for heating and cooling. Other kinds of renewable energies include as wind or water (hydro), and methane generation from organic waste (biomass).
* Sustainable architecture.
This is a very general concept aiming to a minimum environmental impact of all the processes implied in building, from materials (manufacturing processes that don’t produce toxic waste and don’t consume much energy), building techniques (for a minimum environmental damage), building location/siting and its environmental impact, energy consumption and its impact, and the recycling of materials when the building has accomplished its function and is demolished. Bioclimatic architecture is helps reduce the energy consumption of the building is in use, and can be enhanced when coupled with sustainability architecture techniques.
* Self-sufficient house.
Refers to a house independent from centralized supply networks (electricity, gas, water, and even food), accomplished by use of locally available resources. Examples include, water from wells, streams or rain, energy from the sun or the wind, electricity from the sun, food from orchards, producing enough energy to not need the grid, etc. Bioclimatic architecture cooperates with self-sufficiency regarding energy saving for climatization.