What is Bioclimatic Architecture?




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.


 eastgate zimbabwe apartment building 


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.



What is Bio­cli­matic Archi­tec­ture. –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: http://www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/Facility/8776/Pag01I.htm