Twentieth-century architecture was influenced by a single analogy coined by the great French architect, Le Corbusier. He proposed that 'the building is a machine for living in'. This is very far from the truth. The mistake, at its heart, is that a machine is an inanimate object that can be turned on and off and operates only at the whim of its controller. A building is very different because, although it is true that it can be controlled by its occupants, the driving force that acts upon the building to create comfort and shelter is the climate and its weather, neither of which can be controlled, predicted or turned on and off.
Machines are fixed, static objects, amenable to scientific assessment. Buildings are part of a complex interaction between people, the buildings themselves, the climate and the environment. The view that buildings are fixed also fits well with certain types of scientific analysis, of daylight factors, energy flows, U-values, mechanical ventilation and so on. But this mechanistic view finds the more dynamic parts of the system (temperature, natural ventilation, passive cooling and all the multitude of human interactions) very difficult to model and, therefore, to understand. In houses it is often these 'difficult' parts of the system that change a house into a home, and the building into a delight.
Considerations of daylight, energy, thermal insulation and the use of machinery, of course, cannot be avoided - but because we can calculate them does not mean that they are our only concern. Figure 1.1 demonstrates, for instance, that buildings have their own thermal life beyond what we can see. If we could see heat, as the thermal imagining camera does, we would probably treat a building very differently. We would know exactly where we need to put a bit more insulation or place a sun shade, which sun shade to use or which corner of the room is cold and needs a little attention.
Thermographic images: a, The Oxford Ecohouse, built in 1994, on an Autumn morning; b, the house next door built in the 1950s; c, a black umbrella (left) and a white umbrella (right) showing that the black material absorbs radiation and gets hot while the white umbrella reflects the sun from its surface and remains cooler; d, a person opening a window from the inside in the Oxford Ecohouse; e, rods of copper, steel, glass and wood demonstrating that heat is conducted more efficiently in some materials; f the Kakkleoven in the Oxford Ecohouse showing the hot ducts in the high mass stove and the hot metal flue passing into the concrete floor above and heating it locally. These images are reproduced with thanks to Glasshead Films Ltd who took the films for Channel 4, and George Jenkinson and Andy Hudson of Oxford Brookes University for their digital re-mastering and transmission of the images (Glasshead Films Ltd).
We have to design for the invisible as well as the visible and so how is this to be done? Buildings have been traditionally designed using accepted premises (propositions that are adopted after reasoning) as well as, of course, on premises (the building and adjuncts set forth at the beginning of a building deed). Three principles on which all building should be based are:
1 design for a climate;
2 design for the environment;
3 design for time, be it day or night, a season or the lifetime of a building and design a building that will adapt over time.
Humans have been building on these premises for millennia and have evolved house types around the world that are well suited to particular climates, environments and societies. This was done by learning from experience, and with the benefit of repetitive tools and processes that help designers and builders through the complex range of tasks necessary to actually put a building together.
One tool of the imagination that is often used when starting a design is the analogy. An analogy is used where two forms may not look alike but they function in the same way, just as Le Corbusier described a building as a 'machine for living in'. This book starts by considering building form, on which the most powerful influence in design should be the climate. In this chapter, analogies are used to demonstrate how different forms can relate to some of the many different climatic functions of a building. The analogies themselves may seem a little simplistic but you will find that they change the way you look at buildings. To further illustrate the relationship between buildings and climate, a number of examples of vernacular buildings are included.
Finally, at the end of the chapter, a method for evaluating the climatic requirements of a building form in a particular climate is outlined with the Nicol graph. This simply shows what the mean climate of a site is, what the comfort requirements of local people will be and gives an indication of how much heating and cooling will be needed to achieve those comfort conditions in that climate.
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Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.