Monday, October 29, 2007

The Building Buzz

It is vital to think about sustainability from the beginning of a project. After a building is constructed, enacting energy saving measures only takes a small chunk out of the energy usage. When energy was cheap, builders and architects didn’t need to think about efficient ventilation and lighting strategies. Any poor design was more than met by hyped up ventilation and cooling setups. Now that energy prices have begun to climb and energy shortages have become a problem, designers and architects have started to change their strategy on building design.

It seems foolish to think that buildings are designed to only take advantage of a plot of land in terms of esthetic values and pay no particular attention to spatial orientation. As the sun moves through the day and through the seasons, it strikes different areas of a building and with differing intensities. Devices such as sun shelves are able to project this light a considerable distance into a building’s interior and by using highly insulated windows, do not bring with it the added heat. During the winter months, this light could be used to shine on dark surfaces such as a dark stone floor allowing heat to be stored in the floor and aid in heating the building. During the summer, this sun could be aimed at a certain part of the roof to create updrafts which pull warm air from inside the building and provide a means of naturally ventilating the building. These examples of passive solar are fairly easy to implement, but must be thought about at the onset of a home, and just by taking advantage of the sun, a building could potentially cut its energy usage in half.

Beatley brings up a slew of examples on how Europeans have begun to implement sustainable aspects into new building design. It seems a shame that Americans have not jumped on this same trend. European policy makers have seen the same trends in energy usage that have been realized in the US, but instead of addressing rising energy demand by increasing supply, they have fought the rising demand through efficiency. Highly subsidized and publicized programs promote the use of energy efficient homes that take advantage of passive solar as described above. To curtail car usage, many cities have enacted high-speed bus loops and tram service which greatly exceeds even the best public transportation systems in the US. Not only does this prevent traffic from excessive car usage, but the cities are seeing reduced road maintenance and fuel use as well.

Beatley sums it up very well saying, “There is simply not enough attention given in the United States to aggressively promoting ecological design and building.”(313) The United States is more interested in keeping everyone happy and blissfully ignorant as it pumps money into oil and auto subsidy programs make it seem as though there are no emerging energy problems. European countries have taken the energy issue head on and along with their powerful building programs are leading the way in sustainability. Though the United States has slowly begun to realize that it is getting left behind on this issue, the few projects that show this awareness are greatly outshined by the poor building practices of the past. Hopefully, the new architects and engineers will change this way of thinking and soon surpass the Europeans in sustainability, making the United States the hallmark of sustainable design.

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