Sustainability and eco design are now common place in todays built environment, yet how appropriate is our level of understanding and relationship with natural and bioclimatic conditions necessary to address climate change?
Design for Climate, Bioclimatic Approach to Architecture Regionalism by Victor Olgyay originally published in 1962/3 has been recently updated with new essays and insights on climate change and design.
Today, even though we may have far greater understanding of climatology and potential solutions, we still strive to understand how built environment design will influence the drive to cap global warming to 1.5 deg c. The core teachings and messages in Design for Climate remain just as relevant, and indeed perhaps far more so.
The original book is populated with wonderful pen-drawn climatic and bioclimatic charts and illustrations that pull the reader in to discover more. Sadly, much of the data, charts and methodologies included within the book would now be included within BIM environmental modules, even on smart phones, based on algorithms, and possibly applied without in-depth knowledge of for example sun path diagrams and insolation affects.
I say sadly, as we have perhaps lost that connection and innate understanding of the natural climatic conditions pertaining to the individual places in which we build.
Considering that the original edition would have been conceived, researched and produced without the use of computers and the internet, the meteorology, climatology and biological data incorporated into Design for Climate are outstanding.
There are a number of areas in the book, both within the original text and in the new prefaces that resonate with where I am in my sustainability research, practice and thinking for FutuREstorative.
For example there is a resonance with the Living Building Challenge philosophy, and of the flower metaphor for buildings rooted in place, harvesting all energy and water whilst being adapted to climate and site. Words which would not have been out of place within Olgyays text and charts.
Within the new preface, Victor W Olgyay describes how the very local bioclimatic conditions at Limone, Lake Garda, have given rise to very specific architecture, something that Living Building Challenge students on the annual Regeneration design competition, held nearby in Dro, take into account as they prepare designs for local municipal buildings along Living Building Challenge principles.
1962 also saw the publication of Silent Spring, in an era of environmental awakening, of pollution awareness and of the impact or relationship of buildings with the climate, which ushered in the modern environmental protest movement.
Through the text and the images, even the paper quality, I was reminded of another near-contemporary text, towards the end of that decade, the Earth Day Catalogue and its mantra of that time, still relevant today, to Stay Hungry Stay Foolish.
Further there is a striking continuity which caught my eye, Victor Olygay passed away on the first earth day in 1970. Part of the organisation team on that day was Denis Hayes, who, 40 years later would apply the essence of Design with Climate, translated through the Place and the other Living Building Challenge imperatives on the built environments green flagship at the Bullitt Centre.
Design for Climate includes a number of concepts that now seem way ahead of its time (or rather concepts not fully understood or adopted by practice) re-emphasised in the new essays. For example, the concept of interlocking fields for climate balance – suggesting that architecture design should be in balance with biology, technology and climatology. Something which is very close to the current thinking of integrating digital technologies (BIM) with bio-data, nature and climatology within todays restorative sustainable design and build.
Core to Design for Climate text is the concept of comfort, again a concept central to todays sustainable building design, for example within passive house thinking. Olgyay quotes a Dr Cannon “the development of a nearly thermostable state in our buildings should be regarded as one of the most valuable advances in the evolution of buildings” An outcome we have lost sight of perhaps in our search for ever more energy efficient buildings under the label of sustainability, but now being addressed through a balancing wellbeing and healthy building agenda
I was somewhat surprised to note that demand for Design for Climate has outstripped supply, most likely as being an AIA recommended text for architect studies. Indeed if that is the case then why are we not seeing more buildings fully bioclimatic focused? Maybe this new and updated version will correct that, bringing understanding of bioclimatic design principles to a new generation.
In one of the new essays, (The Roots of BioClimatic Design) John Reynolds comments “while the teachings of these are still rippling out there are many corners of our built environment that cry for their application”