It’s evening. After a long hot day, all windows and skylights have been thrown wide open. Cooling breezes bring indoors the fragrances and sounds of summer. A courtyard fountain freshens the air. August in Pennsylvania.
Like more and more people, our family prefers an AC-free life, less hermetically sealed off, less mechanical noise, more in touch with seasons, weather and place.
A building designed to harvest cooling breezes is the medium to make this possible, indeed to make it enjoyable.
Leading scientists have calculated that by 2050 up to 27% of all global warming will be attributable to air conditioning gases.
“The U.S. has long consumed more energy each year for air conditioning than the rest of the world combined….In fact, we use more electricity for cooling than the entire continent of Africa, home to a billion people, consumes for all purposes.” (Yale Environment 360, 2012)
Indeed, from my own trips to visit family in North Africa I can confirm that homes small or large are seldom equipped with air conditioning. Instead, buildings are laid out for passive night cooling, for harvesting breezes through cross and stack ventilation, and channeling prevailing winds into purposely narrowed passages, leafy courtyards, wind catcher chimneys, masonry domes, and across water features to achieve evaporative cooling. The use of reflective white surfaces is common.
Greater Philadelphia lies at the southernmost tip of the humid continental climate zone, with some characteristics of the humid subtropical climate that begins just to the South. In the wake of climate change, air conditioning loads can be expected to steadily increase in our area. Granted our buildings have to respond to winter, as well as summer conditions.
Still, there is much we can do to reduce our carbon footprint, especially when it comes to AC.
Since most energy models are based on the study of naturally ventilated buildings, it seems, sustainable design begins with creating shelter and comfort based on existing outdoor conditions, topographic, climactic, seasonal.
In other words, good old fashioned vernacular passive design.
Deryk Houston – British Columbia
“We should change our experience of place from “What am I looking at?” to “What am I connected to or a part of?” ~ Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Living Future unConference 2015
Connection gives birth to unique, place-specific solutions. From small to large, our team has designed several AC-Free buildings.
Resilient buildings buildings are those, which function adaptively, comfortably, even in the absence of mechanical systems. In light of expected more extreme weather patterns and potential increase in power outages, passive buildings are inherently resilient buildings.
Biophilic passive buildings add the experience of place and all-sensory delight. It’s a joy to be freed from the noise, vibration and heat out-put of AC units and once again hear the sounds of summer, especially at night: cicadas, crickets, locusts…and the first bird of the morning.
Science has confirmed what we intuitively know: being in touch with nature and its seasons is a health imperative.
By their very nature, biophilic buildings are resilient because they seek to become of the place, to belong, to connect the dots, to weave themselves into the topographic, climactic and seasonal tapestry of the place they, and we, can call home.