Architecture & Consumption

Architecture is like an extension of the earth. It is rooted firmly on the ground, and envelopes the movement and gathering of people in a safe space. However, as Peter Buchanan makes a point of indicating in Ten Shades of Green, architecture today deviates from its natural grace and is focused on utilitarianism. He strives to convey that architecture “has been reduced to little more than energy-guzzling packaging”. In place of natural shelter that early humans once found in caves, buildings are now shielding us from the outside in artificially lit and air-conditioned spaces. But why contain us in such well-controlled boxes, when we can harness the sun and wind to achieve the same goals of temperature control and light exposure? Our ill-grown dependency on nonrenewable refined energies that run our well-conditioned structures is a doomed countdown of resources.

Naturally, a first question to ask in analyzing our energy problem might be “Where is our energy coming from?” As noted in Energy and the Environment fossil fuels “supply about 85% of the fuel energy used in the United States”. In terms of the world’s use of fuel, our statistic is a bad example to use as a basis for comparison. However looking at that number critically because it belongs to those of us living in the US gives us an idea of our dependency on nonrenewable forms of energy like coal or oil. Alternatively, clean sources of renewable energy have become more and more popular as a prompt of design. One design project for Las Vegas, Nevada involves giant   white metal flowers that creates an oasis-like “Senscity Paradise”.  Simultaneously shading the park below while utilizing the power of the sun and wind, it is a perfect example of a modern design alternative to fossil fuel dependency. The landscape and energy conservation project, as detailed by Behnisch and Transsolar, “combines elements of a typical theme park, including a toy gallery, theater, auditoria, and restaurants with extensive public gardens, exhibition spaces, and a series of playgrounds.” Linked below is a brief article and pictures of the topic.

Perhaps one of the drivers that helped dig us so deep into dependency is the fact that we use so much fuel. Another statistic by the same reading declares that a citizen in a developing country uses less than one barrel of oil per year while a citizen from an industrialized country uses 20-60 barrels in the same time. This discrepancy is large and rather unpleasant to realize. Every time we leave the room with the light on, or turn up the air conditioning on a hot day, there is a cost. The cost of industrialized convenience and ignorance of use is a price that is made more visible every day.

Concerning where all this energy is funneled into daily use, architecture is a large player of consumption. Not only does Buchanan note that “construction and operation of buildings are responsible for nearly half the energy consumed by developed countries” he also lists that “artificial lighting is a “building’s biggest consumer of energy” (with the second largest being air conditioning in summertime). This vast effort to construct and control such an ambitious amount of energy is unnecessary. It is far less wise to focus on what structure can be placed in any environment than how architecture reacts to its surroundings -like the oasis in the desert of Las Vegas. Our approach to structure should follow certain solutions as described by Ten Shades of Green: meaning less day-time artificial lighting employed by deep set building plans (with few windows) and better ventilation and material designs (that can rely on the environment for most air support).

Tweaking our system starts by recognizing fault and the need for change. Clean renewable energy and buildings that breath in fresh air and indulge in sunshine, these are goals we can strive for. Thus as Buchanan puts it “green buildings are the inevitable, inescapable future of architecture.” If we want the Earth to be home to our future generations, then it is our responsibility to consume only what we need and leave behind a hospitable and welcoming environment.

Peter Buchanan, Ten Shades of Green, “Green Culture and the Evolution of Architecture”
Behnisch Architekten and Transsolar Climate Engineering, Ecology Design Synergy
Robert A. Ristinen and Jack J. Kraushaar, Energy and the Environment, Ch. 1

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