Climate Conscious Architecture Charrette




Architecture of Israel holds architectural charrettes regarding crucial issues that influence the formation of the environment. About ten leading architects are invited to confront some who 'have a say' in the relevant fields. The first charrette dealt with the desired image of the Israeli house; the second, with building near the shore. The third workshop tackled the relationship between architecture and urbanism: the way a single building plays a generative role in its surroundings. The current charrette (the fourth in this series) is devoted to the way climate conscious architecture can become prevalent.  Food for thought


            The climate has always played a major role in architecture. The fact that a Swiss chalet is basically different from a Greek villa is not a coincidence. Yet, in contrast to the growing awareness of ecological factors such as conservation of energy, the correlation between the indigenous climate and the particular form of architecture utilized has in fact, decreased. Instead of promoting more green architecture, advances in technology and increased knowledge in the sciences actually freed architecture from its dependence on the environment. Those who practice climate conscious architecture have been known to exaggerate the green aspects, focusing their designs entirely on the environment. In reaction, the majority of architects have neglected their environment. Thus, two kinds of architecture have formed; one that is climate conscious and one which is definitely not. In addition, economic factors such as the costs of the building process weighed against those of the buildings maintenance, have resulted in buildings that may make a good investment for entrepreneurs but ecologically are quite disastrous.


            In general, the positive effects of any addition to the basic form of the building must outweigh the negative. Because climate conscious architecture is achieved mainly by application of knowledge, it is mostly relevant to the designing process and does not really involve a huge investment. Climate conscious architecture does not mean that building green is necessarily more costly. The basic climatic considerations have been known for generations and may also serve to solve other dilemmas such as the buildings form and the way in which the design fits the context. The problem is not lack of knowledge, or cost of utilization of methods but rather the antagonism which has risen amongst regular architects as a reaction to those who have gone green. 


            The most basic climatic considerations are ventilation, insulation, passive or active shading, maximizing the use of natural lighting, insulating building materials and the size and orientation of openings in relation to the position of the sun. Although such solutions have always been used, paradoxically, modern architecture not only neglect them, but also lacks knowledge of them. This is due to the all-too-readily available air-conditioning and the use of computers. In such situations, architects recruit the virtual technology built-in to their computers to explore virtual forms rather than to investigate new ways to preserve their environment.


            Yet, the fact that Green Architecture has become a common concept, proves that some architects are interested in changing the situation. The greatest problem is that knowledge in the field has not come very far. This is partly due to the fact that since climate conscious architecture tends to be used in an exaggerated manner, other architects react by ignoring studies conducted in the field. Another reason is that the results of studies conducted in the academic environment are not tested in reality. 


The Charrette


            However, the point of this Charrette was not to criticize but rather to raise awareness amongst all architects, to bring climate consciousness to the field and to determine the specific basic climatic considerations which are relevant to the architecture of Israel today.


            Participants: Professor Edna Shaviv - Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Technion, Prof. Eliyahu Ne’eman, Architect Dr. Guedi Capeluto, Dr. Danny Wagner, Offir Paz - Head of Ascola-Meimad School of Design, architect Ruth Lahav, architect Arie Rahamimoff and architect Ron Rozen.


            Offir Paz identified the core of the problem as the misconceptions of 'green' messages conveyed by the nations deciding bodies, large companies, and the media. When Bank Leumi changed their slogan to 'opening a new future' their logo was an illustration of the sun rising from the sea! Bank Mizrachi, whose name is related to the Hebrew word for sunrise, took the absurd one step further and changed their logo from the 'blue sunrise' to the 'red sunset'. 'In my opinion they both symbolize the emotional detachment of copywriters from reality'.


            Architect Ron Rozen says the essence of the debate on green architecture is that it is not measured by physical concepts such as the conservation of energy but rather by its cultural meaning. 'Climate conscious design has primarily a deductive value. One who grows up on a shaded street, enjoys the winter sun that penetrates into his room, and goes to a climate conscious school, will not view climatic considerations as purposeless details.'


            Architect Arie Rahamimoff was surprisingly optimistic as he claimed that the mere fact the workshop was being held signified a positive change in attitudes. 'Climate is not a new issue. Developing traditional building and available technologies should be our point of reference. The right combination could reap good results'.


            Prof. Eliyahu Neeman says Israel is one of the places that has excessive sunlight, consequently, 'we do not always need to let it all penetrate into the building.' He recently completed his book on 'Natural Lighting in Buildings' which gives a detailed account of the intensity of sunlight and how it is utilized, and methods for reducing the disadvantages such as overheating and blinding light.


            Dr. Danny Wagner argued that climatic considerations, however important, are only part of many factors the planning process must calculate. 'Passive solar solutions are not automatically justified'. Research conducted in the Technion under Wagners supervision shows that one need not cause a revolution to carry out simple climatic solutions that have been known for years. To illustrate his idea Wagner quotes Socrates: 'a good house is a home for all seasons'.


            Ruth Lahav contradicted his claim and said that integrating solar passive solutions in planning which was popular in the 1980s and 1990s actually accomplished positive results. In Jerusalem there are examples such as sun balconies and blinds that help conserve energy. 'I believe all buildings could be green if certain restrictions were required by the authorities.'


            Dr. Guedi Capeluto stated that natural lighting is actually one of the most important resources of architecture as it ties it to its location. 'Beyond the basic goal of avoiding blinding light and taking advantage of the more filtered Northern light, without sunlight there is no texture, no depth, no sense of space.' Capeluto who is now working on the development of a model for natural light utilization, also raised the problem of shading of one building by another.


            Professor Edna Shaviv says the most important climatic considerations are dependent on the surrounding conditions. 'As long as a building is properly insulated, factors such as decreasing the size of west facing windows, and using complex shading techniques, are the most important for conserving energy. Unfortunately, architects tend to neglect such considerations, especially when building on beach fronts where the view is considered more important than anything else. Today we can safely say that once a building is correctly insulated, features such as painting the building white are less important than they once appeared to be. Often the color white can actually cause problems such as a blinding reflection'. Nevertheless, through consultations in the design process the current situation can be improved.



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