What is architecture?
Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and other physical structures. It is both an art and a science and is therefore open to interpretation from both a factual and emotional perspective. To me it is personal.
It is my task to provide spaces to my clients’ requirements. The effect that these spaces have on the environment, both internal and external and consequently on all people who experience them is my responsibility. This includes both the emotional and scientific effects. In order to provide this service effectively I must have a deep understanding of both these aspects. I must be able to listen and respond to the emotional expectations of my clients while attending to the scientific or technical aspects of my profession also.
Today I will focus on the scientific aspects that are of concern to me as an architect, and should I believe be of concern to every architect.
In relation to architecture, this is an extensive area, it covers both micro and macro environments. It includes the smallest visible condition of buildings, are there enough screw fixings in each of the door hinges to the press? It also covers the chemical reaction that causes rust, and knowledge of the catalysts that make steel more prone to this reaction. This is a molecular concern.
The largest effects are also of concern. How do Sun spots affect the earth? What causes global warming and what if anything can we do to control it? These are also of great importance in designing buildings.
Architects are increasingly designing buildings to conserve energy in all its forms.
Both the conservation and production of energy have been the major focus of the world’s governments for the past ten years. I have spent a good portion of my free time over the past 30 years studying both these aspects of energy. With this I have had a philosophical focus and through this have expanded this to the development of an energy efficient transfer machine which will I hope be used in the production of energy. Through a detailed understanding of energy conservation I have also started developing technical design details particularly suitable for the Irish climate.
We all in the West consume vast amounts of energy, through the burning of fossil fuels and bio fuels. There is no doubt that this produces pollution. This has long been understood to cause environmental problems, from the pea soup fogs in early industrialised cities to the insidious Ozone fog of more recent metropolis. Part of the service that I provide is to audit energy usage and to provide advice on how this can be improved. The current popular label for the levels of pollution that we cause is the ‘Carbon footprint’. The international control of this is both costing and making billions of Euro. Carbon credits are being traded.
What is the current level of Carbon in Earths atmosphere?
380 parts per million (ppm). CO is a greenhouse gas. What does this mean and what are the implications?
The implications are that were there excessive amounts of this gas in the atmosphere, the world would retain its heat. What would be excessive?
We have had in this world a number of Ice Ages, the last major ice age ended about 10,000 years ago. The levels of CO in the atmosphere at that time was 190 ppm. The highest levels of CO in the atmosphere during an ice age have been stated as being 3,500 ppm.
The relationship of CO in the atmosphere with global warming has not been consistent, implying that there is another force at work in global warming. Sun spots have been cited as having a stronger relationship to global warming. In any event, it is not clear that CO is responsible for global warming. There are far more potent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Methane is one which has also been cited in popular culture in recent times. Popular culture is driven primarily by the media, and not by science. Farting vegetarians produce Methane, by vegetarians’ I mean herbivores, cows, sheep, etc. Perhaps the most effective of greenhouse compounds is water. Consider a summer day with clear blue skies, it’s warm. Consider a summer night with clear skies, it’s cool. Consider a summer day, overcast, cooler than warm and the overcast night is warmer than cool. Greenhouse compounds both reflect and trap heat.
380 ppm is an annual estimate, of which we are attributed as being responsible for 3% or less than 12 ppm. Were this content to increase by our contribution each year it would take 260 years to reach the levels of 3,500. It is however, not accumulative as CO is processed in a number of ways, perhaps the most notable being the photosynthesis of plants. Plants change CO into chlorophyll (food) and as waste produce Oxygen. It is true that the world has in recent times become warmer, one estimate states a fraction of one degree. The world it should be stated has also recently cooled.
Effects of global warming.
There died some 14,000 people in France in 2003. Popular culture (the media) reported this as being an example of global warming, the doom to which we would all possibly secumb should we fail in our duty to act. Also reported at the time was that plants in Paris ceased photosynthesizing, it being implied that this was the result of the excessive heat. The idea that heat could cause this was alarming.
Does heat prevent photosynthesis?
Simple answer, no. Actually NO is a very good answer. We have been told to curtail the use of fossil fuels to prevent the production of CO. While the reasoning for this may be suspect, the effects are possibly good. In burning fossil fuels we also produce other chemicals, one being Nitrous Oxides or NO. The presence of NO in the atmosphere can when heated react with Oxygen to produce Ozone. The excessive presence of Ozone at or near ground level is a polutant that prevents the photosynthesis of plants. Other chemicals that are by-products of our way of life are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). These are the product of household cleaners, aerosols, detergents, pesticides and the like. These also react in the environment to produce Ozone. With no NO, and no VOC in the atmosphere, heat increases the photosynthesis of plants. Heat is good for producing Oxygen.
Therefore, polution is bad.
What can we do?
We should plant more trees, and in order for these to be more effective we should produce less VOC and less NO, which means less CO too. We need to focus on the possibiliteis of technology in order to produce more food while using less resources. Alternative energies need to be developed. Education. There are 6.5 billion people in the world, of which less than one billion live in the developed West. We benefit from technology like no other society, ever on earth. We produce more polution per capita than any other and use more resources. We have the education and resources to develop technologies that will reduce our impact. We suffer from limiting beliefs. The belief that we are correct shuts the door on other possibilities and may serve to prevent progress. This is a world problem and needs the collective minds and extensive varying cultures and viewpoints to solve the problems that we have.
How can I help?
As an architect I can design buildings to suit the needs of my clients, with emphasis also on the needs of those people who will be affected by the impact of my designs. In order to limit the negative effects energy conservation is all important. Energy production and the harnessing of passive energies with simple considerations like the orientation of buildings to capture the Suns energy. I study the possibilities, what is being developed and what might suit each need the best. This is one aspect of architecture. Architecture as a science.