Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Derek Clements-Croome - Lessons from History and Nature

Buildings and Cities Planned and Designed with Lessons from History and Nature

Intelligent Buildings are buildings which respond to human needs whilst being economic in the use of resources. Today they often include digital technology which make them smart but this alone does not make an intelligent building as the history of vernacular history shows. Buildings and infrastructure make cities and they have to be adaptable and resilient over the long term.

It is only in the last 300 years that cities have evolved on the scale we are used to today. Before that time for millions of years people have been hunter gatherers living in the countryside. By 2050 we expect 70% of the world’s population to be living in urban landscapes. The danger is that mankind is becoming disconnected from Nature. The garden cities movement in England at the start of the 20th century was an attempt to rectify this. Now we have the medical evidence to show that Nature affects our mood, stress levels and well-being. We need greenery around us for a host of reasons and biophilic design reflecting our innate love of Nature is emerging as a significant discipline.
Green Mega City: Lilypads by Vincent Callebaut
But now we have another concern and that is climate change. It is expected that the Summer of 2003 which caused the death of some 35,000 people in western Europe will be prevalent here in the UK by 2080. So buildings within cities have to be designed or refurbished with resilient measures so their occupants will remain healthy. Vernacular architecture is the history of buildings over thousands of years of change and show many ingenious examples of resilient design using few mechanical devices and which we know as passive environmental design using orientation, materials, building form to handle the climate inside the building. This is demonstrated by the wind towers prevalent in Islamic architecture which inspired the ventilation for the Queens building at De Montfort University. Passive solutions also have the advantages of durability and low maintenance. 
Wind towers in Yadz, Iran and also De Montfort University
Building services consume energy and require careful maintenance if they are to be continuously reliable. Compared to the building fabric their lifetime is comparatively short. However they help to make buildings habitable for people to work and live in them by providing air and water at suitable temperatures besides light , power and a host of other utilities for the occupants. Heating , ventilation and air-conditioning are a major consideration because they provide fresh air, heating and cooling for human needs. Cities can be noisy places so many buildings are sealed forcing the use of air-conditioning rather than natural ventilation. With the pressures to design new and refurbish old buildings which are sustainable and also healthy we need to consider alternatives to the traditional approaches to systems provision. The solution being proposed here is use the lessons from Nature and vernacular architecture blended with the judicious use of smart technologies.

Technology is advancing more and more rapidly but cannot provide all the answers. Throughout history people from all cultures throughout the world have discovered ingenious ways of dealing with the rigours of climate whether hot, humid or very cold. The marvels of the plant and animal worlds give ceaseless wonder and can stimulate us to think more laterally and learn from the beautiful optimal ways in which Nature is economic in the use of energy and water.

The camel’s nose is a humidifier and dehumidifier and conserves some 70% of the water present in the breathing cycle or the termitaries which inspired the Eastgate shopping centre in Harare are examples. 
The camels nose and termite mounds can both teach us much
By reviewing the thinking behind vernacular styles and being prepared to learn from Nature we can design more naturally responsive buildings. Let us adopt a more organic and holistic approach together with appropriate technology to the design of buildings, infrastructure and systems as a whole to achieve sustainable intelligent and resilient cities for people and society.

Derek Clements-Croome
Professor Emeritus in Architectural Engineering
University of Reading