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Sustainability within the construction industry.
Sustainability within the construction industry is a growing topic of concern, as the impact of previous years of negligence becomes apparent. Buildings account for a huge percentage of the world’s energy consumption and harmful green house gas discharge (Butler 2008, 520). A large percentage of the energy consumed in buildings is through the attempt to sustain a comfortable climate, a major goal of human beings within their constant fight for survival (Zuhairy and Sayigh, 1993, 521). Our current major energy sources are proving to be highly harmful to the environment as well as quickly diminishing.
This depletion is resulting in rising prices that are increasingly unattainable for many people. Bioclimatic design and passive energy strategies can eliminate these problems. Bioclimatic design utilises the natural organic energy surrounding a structure to obtain optimal climatic comfort, whilst passive energy strategies provide carbon free possibilities for better utilisation and storage of this energy.
Together these design strategies can change the current pattern in energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Neither bioclimatic or passive energy design are new ideas, however in recent years, with developments in technology, their value has been overlooked. Bioclimatic design and passive energy strategies are the way forward in sustainable building and it is the role of the architect to implement these methods. The initial planning and design stage of a building is fundamental to how successfully sustainable and energy efficient it will be. The role of the architect is changing dramatically, with more focus being given to sustainability in design.
It can be presumed that global warming and the international concerns surrounding this are adding pressure to this change. Solomon and Krishna (2011, 7422) claim that since the start of civilisation people have been searching for different energy sources. Only when one source becomes more attractive than another through depletion, rising costs or perhaps pollution, will a change be considered.
There is enough evidence to suggest that our major energy sources are depleting, as well as that buildings account for a huge percentage of energy consumption. Butler (2008, 520) identifies that buildings across the globe account for up to 45% of energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. However much of this can be changed if the architects initial design takes into account environmental and ethical factors. Switching the focus towards designs that no longer rely on synthetic energy sources for climatic comfort.
Bioclimatic design utilizes the freely occurring natural sources of energy of a location to obtain optimal climatic comfort within a building, as well as minimal environmental damage. Through close consideration of climatic and environmental circumstances the need for inorganic energy sources can be eliminated (Bioclimaticx, 2013). If buildings were designed to coexist with their natural environments, to take into account the natural flows of energy surrounding and entering a building, then high-energy products such as air conditioners and heaters would not be necessary.
Delancy (2004,149) suggests that environmental ethics may be one of the first moral concepts providing architects with clear design criteria. It is important that architects begin to see the need to design to coexist with nature in order to sustain all organisms, both surrounding and occupying buildings. It is the role of the architect to take into account the natural elements of a building site and design using them to their full potential. Thus reducing the level of synthetic energy required to achieve climatic comfort and the accompanying environmental damages.
Whilst bioclimatic design focuses on the immediately available natural sources of energy, passive energy design provides options to best utilize and store this energy. If the initial design is carefully thought through and simple insulation methods are applied, the level of heat fluctuation in a building can be largely reduced (Parameshwarana, et al. 2012, 2399). The technique of ‘free-cooling’ is another successful passive climate control technique, where cool air from the evening is stored and released into the building during the day as temperatures rise. Raj and Velraj (2010, 2820) contend that through using latent heat thermal energy storage systems (LHTES) the level of carbon emissions typically produced through cooling systems, such as air-conditioners, is greatly reduced.
Thus air provided to the building comes at a lower cost in terms of energy usage and is of a much higher quality for the environment and occupants. Free cooling and other passive energy design techniques are very specific to different regions and will not work successfully if the architect has not taken this into account. Bioclimatic design and passive energy design work together to gain optimal low energy climate control. It is important that the architect is able to use them simultaneously to gain the best possible outcome. Through implementing these techniques the architect can have a great affect on the environment as well as the quality of life and health of the occupants. Although our current sources of energy are depleting and the prices are rising, the integration of bioclimatic design can help limit this and eliminate the problems it is causing. Through the use of bioclimatic design the current pressure on our finite energy sources can be reduced through the utilization of natural and freely occurring sources of energy, such as wind and solar.
Thus making energy sources more readily available to many people from many different socio-economic classes and cultures. The energy that bioclimatic design uses is already present in every environment and available free of cost, it just requires smart architectural design to enable it’s use. With the current issue of global warming it is becoming apparent that our current major energy sources may soon be unattainable. Birkeland (2002, 3) believes that the western world is only just starting to see this as a problem, however it is a problem that has been present in many poorer, underdeveloped societies for a long period of time. The current approach of the construction industry places a huge amount of reliance on energy sources that will not always be readily available (Birkeland, 2002, 3). With the current deteriorating situation of the world, both financially and environmentally, the construction industry needs to start searching for a new approach to building design. Bioclimatic design turns away from depleting sources of energy and works from natural sources that are, for all peoples, freely available and constantly accessible.
With this in mind why wouldn’t we look towards a more bioclimatic approach to building design? In a case study of eight passive solar homes in Queensland, Australia, there is clear evidence of the positive affect bioclimatic and passive energy design can have on household energy consumption. Miller, Buys and Bell (2012, 57-58) identify the fact that in advanced cultures the amount of energy used for thermal regulation in homes is much higher than any other energy use within a household. The demand that this, along with rapid population growth puts on electricity companies is excessive and results in increased electricity prices. In this region alone prices have risen by 53% in five years (Queensland Competition Authority 2011, quoted in Miller, Buys and Bell 2012, 58). This case study looks at houses built in a residential eco-village under specific bioclimatic and passive energy design criteria. The houses are all elevated from the ground to allow for maximum wind speeds for cooling during the hotter seasons. Shading, insulation and passive solar design have been implemented alongside close locational considerations.
The buildings prove to be successful in providing a satisfactory level of comfort to the occupants throughout the year. The data collected shows that per year 77-97% of homes provided a signiﬁcant amount of hours in the comfortable temperature range of 18- 28˚c (Miller, Buys and Bell 2012, 67). These results show that bioclimatic design and passive energy solutions are affective in providing levels of comfort to households in extreme conditions. Thus reducing carbon emissions and dependence on high priced electricity. Occupants experience a lower cost of living, better air quality, and the benefit of knowing they are reducing their carbon footprint on the planet. This has all been proven possible through simple attention and consideration given by the architect, during the initial design process of the houses. It has been proven that bioclimatic residential buildings are feasible and successful, however the question may arise in regards to achieving this same sustainability in non-residential high-rise towers.
In a conversation between Yeang and Lehmann (2009, 36) Yeang describes how he has proven that it is actually possible to build high-rise bioclimatic, passive towers. Yeang, a Malaysian architect, has been described by Lehmann as “one of the foremost ecodesigners, theoreticians, and thinkers in the field of green design”. Yeang is responsible for the design of the National Library Building in Singapore, the first building in Singapore to be awarded the Green Mark Platinum award (Lehmann and Yeang 2009,36). The building combines many passive energy techniques and bioclimatic design options in order to achieve a constant and comfortable climate.
In the National Library of Singapore web site we see that strategic positioning away from the east-west sun, combined with shading around the building, is highly successful in reducing heat gain from direct sunlight. The use of natural light is enhanced in the building through simple design choices such as light shelves and daylight sensors. The national library has recorded significant financial savings in energy consumption compared to analogous buildings that don’t include these green design features (National Library Board Singapore 2013). There are many other techniques used by Yeang within the library to achieve such a high level green building and when asked about the realistic possibility of green high-rise he responds with saying:
We have demonstrated that we can build bio-climatical, sustainable high-rise towers, for instance in Kuala Lumpur. To stop sprawl and the further consumption of precious land, we need to build more densely, employing vertical typologies. There is no need to be scared by higher densities. (Yeang in Lehmann and Yeang 2009,38)
Yeang is a great example of an architect who is highly educated and interested in the techniques and possibilities of bioclimatic design and passive energy solutions. Thus he is able to easily integrate them into any structure. In a study by Maciel (2007, 186) on the affect of education and early projects, a group of architects currently employing many elements of bioclimatic design are assessed. The question of why it’s not more widely applied is considered. Whilst looking into reasons for its minimal use amongst the wider architectural community, the concept of scarce knowledge leading to insecurity and avoidance arises. Through a lack of technical knowledge on the subject architects frequently do not have the confidence to implement such specific techniques.
It has not been a major element in the syllabus of many design schools and although it is mentioned it is not necessarily enforced (Maciel 2007, 182). There is a great deal of trust put on the architect in the designing and planning of a structure (Miller, Buys and Bell 2012, 58). Hence it is vital that the architect is confident and well educated in the techniques of bioclimatic design and passive energy solutions, if they are to implement them. These design strategies can make a huge difference to our building and environmental future. Thus a great deal more needs to be done by architects to fully grasp the concepts and initiate a change. Making sustainable design a reality and conceivably one day a standard, as apposed to an option (Lehmann and Yeang 2009,40) Bioclimatic and passive energy design are not new concepts, in recent years we have just failed to see their relevance and importance. Many ancient cultures around the world designed and still design bioclimatically, using many traditional techniques. These techniques have proven to be successful, however over recent years we have turned away from the simpler, natural methods, and opted for quick fix, high energy consuming solutions. (Lehmann, 2009, 39).
In research conducted by Khoukhi and Fezzioui (2012, 1) modern construction techniques of houses in South Algeria prove to be less successful in sustainable climate control than those traditionally used. Due to the low economic situation in the area and the high demand for housing, modern-construction models foreign to the region were brought in. These structures are high-energy consumers and are not suitable to the harsh climate. Thus do not provide the level of comfort required financially or climatically (Khoukhi and Fezzioui 2012, 1). Although demands for comfort from human beings are increasing and our residential topography is becoming much denser, traditional techniques of climate control are still proving to be more affective. Bioclimatic design and passive design solutions are the way to provide all cultures with affordable comfortable housing.
This housing causes minimal harm to the natural environment whilst increasing the inhabitants’ quality of life, both financially and holistically. Successful examples of bioclimatic design almost always seem to be situated in hotter regions, however bioclimatic design and passive energy strategies are equally successful in cooler climates. Butler (2008,522) shows us that passive- house design is dispersing relatively quickly through Europe, with European countries perhaps being some of the quickest to start implementing these design techniques. Careful situational choices and high-quality insulation techniques can maximise the amount of solar energy gained and stored within buildings. A large amount of consideration needs to be given to energy loss occurring through small faults and leaks in structures located in cooler climates.
Through this the building is able to retain a maximum level of heat as well as gain energy from sources already present in the building, such as occupants and house hold appliances (Butler 2008,522). We can see that through careful planning, bioclimatic design and passive energy solutions can just as easily and successfully be implemented in buildings situated in cooler localities.
Whilst some may argue that bioclimatic design and passive energy solutions are not practical obtainable answers to sustainable design, it does not need to be the case. It has been proven through the work of many architects, both current and traditional, that bioclimatic design along with passive energy design is achievable and successful in a range of structures and climates. If added to the design, bioclimatic and passive design solutions can easily provide climatic comfort, whilst reducing energy consumption and carbon emission.
Thus decreasing the large carbon footprint buildings currently have on the planet whilst providing safer, healthier and more affordable living environments for human beings. These design solutions are not unattainable in anyway and it is through a developed understanding of the techniques, that the architect can implement them. Through extensive knowledge, architects such as Yeang are paving the way in bioclimatic and passive energy design. Proving that it is a realistic and necessary step in modern sustainable architecture. It is the role of the architect to implement bioclimatic design and passive energy solutions in order to obtain a sustainable environmental and building future.
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