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Sustainable Architecture – Concepts of energy conservation.

Sustainable architecture is based on the concept of energy conservation. Sustainable architecture design is focused on “all points are zero”, as are sustainable architecture schools. Depending on who’s theory of thermal dynamics a person is studying, the focus in sustainable architecture may vary, but there are six main points to be considered.

1. Energy Conservation
2. Design
3. Materials
4. Labor
5. Consumption
6. Return

Sustainable architecture schools use the concept of energy conservation as basis for all areas. In accordance to the first law of thermal dynamics, energy cannot be destroyed nor created but it can be converted from one form to another. All energy flowing in, must equal all flowing out plus the change in any system. The second states that all work processes tend toward greater entropy or lowered order (dispersion of energy). The third law deals with maintaining any system at zero (considered impossible). While the zeroth law determines that equality is when any two systems find themselves both at zero (in ideal and uninterrupted space).

As the laws of thermal dynamics in a more vulgar understanding do not permit perfect sustainability of a system (that is where all points are zero), sustainable architecture adapts itself to the laws of nature by using concepts that most resemble nature itself. Sustainable architecture does not remove itself from the biosphere, it integrates in a way that is of lowest (closest to zero) possible impact between all of natures elements (including human civilization).

Sustainable architecture design is the concept of “all points are zero” taken into the area of aesthetics in structures and buildings. Of course, all architecture in the end does the final job of making sure a building stays up for a long time, sustainable architecture uses designs not only to get the most out of financial and aesthetic return, but also takes into account social and environmental issues as well. Not just how long a structure will stay up, but how long will it be “useful” to the occupants or users? Will its usefulness grow? These are just some of the questions that lead the debate of philosophical concepts around sustainable architecture design.

Sustainable architecture also revolves around the kinds of “materials” being used. Materials that are easily replenished, within 50 years, are considered by most studies to be sustainable, however, when there is a question of 50,000,000 years between replenishment, then those materials are considered limited. It may be difficult to determine the lifespan of a single structure, but in most cases, 50,000,000 years is considered too long for any structure to survive (no case studies exist however so this remains theory of course). The few non-renewable materials used in megalithic architecture that still survive to this day, are the leading designs used and imitated for sustainable architecture designs today (like the great pyramids of Egypt for example).

Materials such as black oil and cement are considered limited, for example, while bamboo and cisal are considered renewable. In either case however, the unit used to measure consumption is a single cubic meter of earth. A house made from bamboo but filled with concrete is just as high impact as that built with cisal yet uses a chainsaw to cut down the bamboo. If any given materials have a return at the end of the life-span, this will also have impact on the sustainability of any materials used. Recycled materials may have the least impact (as they are trash), but they may have no return at the end of a structures life-span.

Labor in sustainable architecture is based around the concept of building with labor that is also low impact and sustainable. For example, if the labor being used is slave or child labor, the human (or ethical) impact is very high, while if it is the owner doing the work themselves yet she uses a gas guzzling bulldozer to cut down two whole acres of 2000 year old Old Growth Douglas Fir with no regard to the environment, then once again even though certain concepts of sustainability are being used this structure could in no way be considered sustainable architecture. Low impact human labor, is as important as low impact living.

During the lifespan of any sustainable architecture there is the basic consideration of energy consumption. Not all sustainable structures will consume energy 24/7 until their dieing day, but most all will in some way or another go through daily consumption. In a house, consumption is electricity, heating, water, lighting, sewer and even food and trash. Strategic methods to achieve higher sustainability within any given system during its lifespan will belong to this area. If the house is on or off the grid (perhaps solar or wind energy), has rainwater catchment (perhaps a rainbarrel), a living machine for grey water consumption and sewer water management, a aquaponic/hydroponic food system and a worm bin, then “all points are zero” goals become far more realistic.

Systems that offer some kind of return to the environment during or at the end of their lifespan are considered more sustainable architecture than those that do not. For example if a house is made from masonry and the cement, bricks, frames and all are put into a land fill when the house is demolished, then it becomes a very high impact structure. If on the other hand it is made from 50 year old cedar that was planted with agro-toxic chemicals that destroyed an entire ecosystem and sacrificed a river, then that wood going into a landfill at the end of its existence will be even higher impact than the brick house, as the cycle of toxic chemicals continues in the landfill.

Sustainability architecture rests on ideal use of the environment. Imitating nature and consuming directly from nature (sun, wind, agriculture…etc.), while making sure that social and economical needs of the here and now are still met is what makes sustainable architecture design and sustainable architecture schools attain the ever advancing belief in “all points are zero”. Sustainable architecture is about the future and about the future generations that will inherit both our world and our structures, thus a keen eye to the future means more than aesthetics of the here and now, sustainable architecture is about integrating civilization with the biosphere in the lowest energy impact strategies possible.

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Posted in Sustainable by admin on May 14, 2006.

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