September 16, 2016

Sustainable- & Passive Design and its influence on Architecture

 

Introduction

Architects can help people think outside the box to solve their problems, challenges & needs.

The importance of the architect has been forgotten: The architect should actually be appointed before any project is attempted in order to help advise & consult client in decision making process & to suggest possible ideas.

More than often, the most workable solution requires a paradigm shift (outside the norm), from the client and/or the end user. If the client or end user cannot accept such an ‘alternative’ idea as the ideal solution, a lesser appropriate solution would need to be found.

It is up to the architect to convince the client & end user to accept such a paradigm shift, but it is also up to the client or end user to be open to alternative ideas, which could possibly be much more appropriate.

The end user should not be underestimated: Most people in SA these days have access to the internet & cable television. Some people might be uneducated or even illiterate, but they are not necessarily uninformed. Through the many programs on television & information found on the internet, people are suddenly exposed to a global city with a global way of thinking, building and doing things.

 

Shelter

Basic needs of any human is shelter.

To fulfil the basic need of humans, the concept of the word ‘shelter’ must be considered: Shelter is much more than a roof over your head. It is also a place for belonging, a place to return home to every day, a community, a safe haven, a place to store their belongings………’shelter’ can even be a history of a person or a group or a culture.

A shelter does not have to be elaborate, grand, large, vast or decorative, but it needs to fulfil one’s basic needs at the very least. A shelter must always be meaningful, appropriate, fulfilling, uplifting, contributing to the need & challenge solving.

 

The San people’s idea of shelter

The San people knew how to live close to the earth, of the earth and to protect of the earth. They were a nomadic people who only ‘took’ what was needed from the earth, and moved elsewhere when the Fauna & Flora started to thin out because of their presence. When the animals, roots etc. started thinning out, they migrated elsewhere. When arriving at a new thriving and recovered location they would plant a stick in the ground to mark ‘home’. They did not need to build anything to create a home, but merely plant a stick. The stick gave them the sense of belonging, the place they called ‘home’. Shelter was a cave where possible, or a movable half-domed hut made of natural elements. They were totally self-sufficient & self-sustainable.

Services = self sufficiency

Everyone needs to fulfil their basic need for water, fire, shelter, and a toilet……. thus basic services. But services are not necessarily what we think it is and does not necessarily have to be provided in bulk and is not the same for everyone. One’s dependency of service providers can be relieved by providing a self-sufficient solution for everyone.

Basic shelter is a roof over one’s head, clean (potable) water, maybe electricity and a toilet…..not necessarily a brick building, piped water & cabled electricity or a flushing toilet. Shelter can also just be a canopy to protect you from the sun and the rain, a borehole or catching (harvesting) rainwater, sun (solar) panels to provide hot water or electricity, and a compost toilet which can also provide compost for a vegetable garden, which in turn provides vitamins through food. In fact, the canopy can be the solar panels. Self-sustainable elements could work independently of the service provider and make the user independent of services for a lifetime, thus self-sufficient.

We can still be self-sufficient and sustainable in our day and age …………… but not for long! If we do not all work together, and if those who are charged to set an example do not act immediately (by initiating self-sufficient buildings and projects), then it might be too late to stop the downward spiral towards self destruction.

Peter Stutchbury, a renowned and multiple laureate Australian architect, reminded me of what shelter & appropriate settlement actually is through the following analogy: He used the example of camping. When you arrive at a place where would you would like to camp, would you consider pitching your tent (shelter) in the sun or under a tree? Would you consider where the sun rises & sets in order to have the tent in the shade for as long as possible? Would you consider where the water would come from during an unexpected or sudden downpour, in order to prevent the water from flooding through the tent? If you do all these things when camping for a relatively short period of time, why would you not consider these things when building a permanent structure?

steyarch_khoi-house20One need to consider passive & sustainable factors with every project

Sustainability/Passive design principals

I divide sustainability into two categories: Passive design & Self-sustainability

Passive design (in my opinion) is where, through clever design & decision making, and without necessarily paying more, one can have better living, working & relaxing conditions. All architects should use passive design principals, in every design, as a given

Examples of passive design principals are:

  • Passive heating & cooling e.g. evaporative cooling where water bodies, like swimming pool sand ponds (or evaporative coolers) act as cooling elements, by way of the wind blowing the cooled evaporated air through a building
  • Good (correct) orientation of a building will let the sun in during winter & keep the sun out during summer, as well as let the wind through when needed
  • Shading devices, shade glazed openings, other apertures and appropriate areas against the sun and rain where needed
  • Rain water harvesting is where rain water is collected in tanks, dams or pools for later use
  • Low water use plant (endemic to the area) uses less water and can survive on their own during dry spells (lawns are usually not endemic and thus unfavourable)#
  • Retaining existing endemic plants and trees will result in a ‘greener’ landscape when the project is complete, reduce the cost of ‘greening’ a project and will most likely survive the local conditions
  • Water retention on site, by not letting rain water flow into storm water drains which can over tax the local services, can keep the soil moist and add to the local underground water table (stop bore holes from running dry)
  • Recycling/upcycling of materials already made or used, saves on spending more energy and resources on making more of that material, and reduces the need for rubbish dumps
  • Composting of waste peels and other organic material will help plants and vegetable gardens grow faster and better, and provide us with vitamins and food
  • Natural cross ventilation and ‘single-deep-space’ buildings with openings on opposite walls allow for more and cleaner fresh air and natural light during the day
  • Use the sun or the ground to heat (and cool) a building e.g. allowing air to flow through pipes in the ground, allowing it to cool down, and then letting it flow through the building
  • Waste reduction, e.g. the use of full size of materials, reduces the need for rubbish dumps, and results in less material used, fewer tools needed and less labour
  • Off-site construction (and modular construction) have many advantages which results in, less waste (of time and materials), and the protection of the natural site
  • Appropriate architecture for the local climate, e.g. a building for a sub-tropical climate would not look the same as a building for a desert climate. A design should be appropriate for, and applicable to the local climatic- & topographical conditions
  • Appropriate roof angles in order to integrate solar panels into the design, (for heating or cooling and electricity generation)

Self-sustainability principals are in my opinion, technologically advanced solutions to improve one’s living-, working- and relaxation conditions (at a cost)

I have divided self-sustainable principals in three categories:

  • No-brainers e.g. solar water heating, where the initial cost is quickly recovered in a relatively short period of time of 1-3 years
  • Makes economical sense e.g.insulation of the entire envelope of the building, where the initial cost is recovered over a medium period of time of 3-5 years
  • Giving back to the earth e.g.Photo Voltaic (electricity generation) panels, where the initial cost is only recovered after more than 8 years in most cases, but can be recovered before the equipment is redundant and gives on back-up power when needed. In certain cases electricity can also be ‘sold’ bac to the supplier (when grid tied), which can help to recover the initial expense much quicker

Examples of Self-sustainable principals are:

  • streymediabarnhousephotos-19Double glazing or thermal glass as see-through insulation material for windows and possibly doors
  • Photo Voltaic panels for ‘off-the-grid’ solar electricity generation, which can be stored in batteries (and in other ways) for use at a later stage and as back-up power
  • Solar water heating through the use of solar water panels, uses the free sun to heat water for domestic use (and industrial use, etc.), where a fluid is circulated through a panel (usually on the roof and out of the way/sight) and the resulting heat then stored in a tank (sometimes on or in the roof but can also be on or in the ground)
  • Hydronic heating & cooling where a fluid is heated (by the sun, soil or heat exchanger, etc.) or cooled (by the soil, wind) and then circulated through the floor or ceiling or even the walls to heat or cool the building
  • Geothermal heating & cooling where the heat or coolness of the earth/soil is used through circulating a fluid or air through it and then through the building to heat or cool the space
  • (Proper) Insulation in the roof, floor and walls in order to restrict (not entirely block) the movement of heat to the inside or outside of the building depending on the season. If you leave out one part, e.g. the walls, then the heat will leave or enter the area through that section which gives the least resistance. It is like have a bag of water with holes in it: It does not matter that 99% of the bag is waterproof, the water will still eventually drain from the bag

 

streyarch_leroux_24Pre-manufactured & Modular architecture

There is a move towards modular & pre-manufactured architecture in South Africa again. I say again, as it was mainstream during the late 1800’s, with Victorian pre-manufactured buildings, as well as after the 2nd World War there was a massive shortage of housing. Victorian buildings could be ordered from a catalogue and shipped anywhere in the world.

As far as I understand, these building elements would then be transported from the harbours to where they were to be erected by ox wagon. During the Anglo Boer War items from England were not available, so they were copied in wood and used as if metal, e.g. The Erasmus Castle (also affectional known as the Ghost House)

The massive destruction of buildings & infrastructure through bombings during the 2nd World War, resulted in a massive shortage of housing (very much the same problem we and other countries currently have). The people working in factories, (mostly woman as the men were on the Front Lines), who manufactured tanks, planes, etc., were optimised to manufacture quick & effective housing units, (pre-manufactured & Modular), for all those who were left homeless when returning from the front lines. This ‘trend’ continued through the 50s & 60s, which if you look carefully, you will see many examples here in South Africa.

Unfortunately there were also very poorly manufactured examples of these, and together with the misnomer that prefab is cheap and nasty, the pre-manufacturing business withered a bit during the 80s & 90s. Disused shipping containers actually revived the pre-manufacturing of buildings again, and even became trendy at a stage. Containers are ‘upcycled’ after being scrapped for its intended use, and then reused for site offices, storage & ‘spaza’ shops. Later it became fashionable to use containers for housing units, offices, shops and even hotels and Backpackers. Containers are not ideal though: They are too narrow for most used, uninsulated, and if you cut a hole in it, you have to strengthen it again……..and they started to even become scarce & expensive.

Thus lead to the ‘rebirth’ of pre-manufactured and modular architecture. Pre-manufactured units could be any size, already insulated & technologically up to date. There are two main categories:

  • Panelised systems
  • Modular systems

Insulated panels, with services like electrical conduits etc. already built in, interior cladding and sometimes even exterior cladding in place, are designed to material sizes and built in a factory. They are then transported to site where they are placed on a prepared foundation and fastened together. They are usually of timber, or Light Gauge Steel (LGS), but can also be SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels)

Pre-manufactured Modular systems are also manufactured in a factory, but are more complete when they arrive on site. They are manufactured from various materials like steel, LGS, timber….even cardboard, or a combination of these and more materials. The biggest advantage of a modular system is that almost everything is constructed in a controlled environment of a factory, very little needs to be done on site, accept for placing the modules next to and on top of each other and connect them to each and the site services if any are available.

There are many advantages to off-site manufacturing:

  • Better quality controlstteyarch-stjohann-20
  • Not effected by the weather (as on an open air site)
  • Deliveries & storage in one place (safe, secure & covered storage of materials/tools)
  • Contractors work in one place (no transport/accommodation/food needed)
  • Little to no damage to the site (Fauna & Flora on site protected)
  • No waste on site
  • No noise on site (e.g. hotel can stay operational during additions)
  • No space to store materials needed on site (e.g. building in Sandton)
  • No securing of materials & logistics receiving materials on site (less losses)
  • The biggest advantage: Time-Cost saving
  • Level ground to work on
  • Possible use of a crane and/or movable scaffolding

Time-Cost Saving

  • Parallel processes results in a shorter building period (e.g. site works while building while approving)
  • A shorter building period results in less P&Gs (site establishment & running costs) and other costs (the sooner one can utilise the building, the less double costs there are, e.g. like stand taxes, interim interest, double rentals, double levies, etc.)
  • The sooner the building can be used for its purpose, the sooner an income can be generated or other expenses can be negated

Advantages of design in a modular format:

  • Less waste through designing in the size material come in, results in less waste, less tools needed, less ware & tear on tools, less labour and less waste to get rid of
  • Less tools need for cutting, finishing, etc. needed
  • Thus reduced cost to remove waste, labour, CAPEX for tools or tool maintenance, in order to resize and finish materials
  • Use of a ‘module’ in various ways e.g. the material sizes as a module, or a grid as a module, simplifies the design and building process
  • Repetition equals mass production, which leads to mass savings
  • Better planning possibilities

 

Conclusion

‘Foreign’ ideas does not need to be foreign anymore. Thus it might now be the time to try new ideas and concepts to see if those aren’t the direction to move in. If new ways of thinking is not accepted or tried out, we are just losing time, because, sooner or later those ideas will become more familiar or ‘main-stream’ and then be accepted anyway; SO why not do it sooner rather than later. In order for everyone to gain from what is possible now, why not accept the advances already made?

The building industry cannot afford NOT to use architects from the outset on every project!

The authorities, should be paving the way for the citizens of the country, by setting an example for the rest of the parties involved in the building industry and for the public at large. The authorities should be the pioneers in the building industry……. and can be together with the very competent & creative architects of this country. The public can also urge the authorities to adjust the legislation where needed, to make it possible to utilise all the option at hand to us. The architects of SA have the knowledge, know-how, expertise, creativity, passion & eagerness to assist in paving the way forward. Architects should be used, treasured & appropriately compensated, in order to keep on existing as a ‘species’, because without them meaningful building projects are much less likely, if not impossible.

The architect’s role is also to inform: As the architect’s business is to research, implement & utilise new ideas, concepts, building methods, materials, etc., and thus exposed to these things on a daily basis. He is also the ideal person to consult, initiate, bring together and execute new projects. The architect is the only person involved with a project from the initiation to the completed built project. The Architect is the link between the client or user and the professional and the contractors. The Architect can speak everyone’s language, whether it may be the client, to determine their needs, the professional team, to amalgamate, interact & consolidate the different designs & services, or the Contractors, to interpret, translate & execute the works.