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Many subjects have been very well covered in other books; for example, passive solar design Mazria, ; Yannas, , low-energy house design in the UK Vale and Vale, , materials Borer and Harris, ; Berge, and timber-frame houses Pitts, , ; Talbott, We also think that house buyers can choose many elements for their house pragmatically, with a little help from their local building supplies store.

For instance, what is the best glass for their windows, based on what is locally available, compared performance data and what they can afford. We do incorporate the wisdom learnt from ecohouses around the world in the case studies. These are not ordinary houses. The majority are built by architects for themselves and often by themselves, not for clients. They express, in their varied forms, the local climates, resources, culture and the tastes of their designers, as well as the design ethos of the times in which they were built. For example, the early solar houses often overheated because, in the rush to utilise free, clean solar energy, the dangers of the sun were underestimated.

The best modern buildings do have excellent solar control and yet it is astounding to see how many still employ glass roofs and walls that not only can cause severe discomfort to people inside but also can result in huge bills for compensatory cooling systems.

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Some people never seem to learn. Clients should avoid such designers. Today photovoltaics are already cost-effective in virtually all countries for offgrid systems. In far-sighted countries, such as Japan and Germany, there are already over 10 installed domestic PV systems in use. It is incredible to note that in many parts of the world including Britain, the challenges of trying to reduce the catastrophic impacts of buildings on the environment are still left to individuals. The challenges ahead seem so enormous that it is difficult to see what we, as individuals, can do.

But it was Confucius who said that if each person solved the small problems over which they have control then the larger problems would disappear. Why are such important issues as the impacts of climate change and fossil fuel depletion ignored by politicians when our species is so obviously at an ecological watershed?


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We are only one species on the planet, yet we are multiplying exponentially; every day we destroy other species and their ecological niches and, in many parts of the world, we are even destroying our own peoples and their habitats. This was historically demonstrated on Easter Island where the population destroyed all the trees on the island and had to flee to survive, or die. This is happening around us today.

Will it be obvious. Will we register that fact?

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Species can adopt symbiotic, parasitic or predatory lifestyles, and they can also literally commit community suicide. There is potentially much to be learnt about how we can develop through the study of ecology, by comparing our behaviour with that of other species on the planet. Organisms have the ability to control the movement of energy and material between their internal and external environments. They adapt in order to use the water, energy, heat, light and resources available in different environments and climates to sustain life in the multiplicity of ecosystems on the planet.

Competition between species is a driving force that can lead to evolutionary divergence between species, to elimination of species and also, more positively, to a co-evolution and the development of mutually supportive relationships. Evolution requires adaptation, not only to adjust to the changing circumstances of climate and environment, but also to changing populations and resources. The theory of evolutionary ecology begins with Charles Darwin in the late nineteenth century. This theory states that adaptation is largely the making of compromises in the allocation of time and energy to competing demands.

At low densities, adaptations promoting rapid population increases are favoured, regardless of efficiency. Natural selection adjusts the amount of time and resources expended not only in accordance with changes in the environment but also with the life history of a population.

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So how would this affect us? In times of ecological threat animal species respond in a variety of ways, from becoming spiteful to being altruistic. Ecologists would perhaps expect selfish behaviour to prevail to the exclusion of altruism because it is the selfish behaviours that increase the reproductive success of the dominant species or individual. Growth, however, is a survival strategy for species with a life history at a low-density phase. At high densities, populations must employ strategies of efficiency to survive. If we are to survive the challenges ahead of us in the twenty-first century, with some semblance of normality retained, we will have to effect fairly.

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To do this we will have to behave fairly altruistically, not only towards our own families, friends and neighbours but also to the larger family of our fellow human beings. Altruism is not unknown when bonds of loyalty are stretched to encompass larger and larger groups.

Humans seldom question that, in times of war, they are asked to die for their country. This they do ultimately to protect their families, through whom their genes are perpetuated. If not, few of us will survive. There are no safe islands in the twenty-first century. Europe knows that if the countries of northern Africa suffer from repeated severe droughts it is to Europe that the ravaged populations of these regions will flee. The same is true of America, Mexico and Latin America. The history of humans is one of diasporas, the dispersions of peoples. If there are more people and fewer resources, such movements will surely affect each of our everyday lives?

Buildings are only part of our habitat. It is the responsibility of our generation to begin to adapt our buildings to ensure that we can stabilise climate change, that we can live without fossil fuels and that we do not unsustainably pollute the environment. Only by so doing can we ensure the survival of our own habitats. This cannot be so difficult because people survived on the planet for millennia without the miracle fuels of oil and gas. Traditional buildings have much to teach us about how to design regionally appropriate structures. We can change fast enough. We can mix the wisdom of the master builders, new knowledge, materials and renewable technologies to create ecobuildings, the New Vernacular, to minimise the environmental impacts of buildings.

We can now measure those impacts with the new methodologies for counting the environmental costs of buildings. We do need a new type of designer, part architect, part engineer, and to get rid of heating and cooling machines where possible or power them with renewable energy. What you will read in the first section of the book shows that all of this is possible and, in the second section, that it is already being done in many of the case study ecohouses from around the world. Twentieth-century architecture was influenced by a single analogy coined by the great French architect, Le Corbusier.

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This is very far from the truth. The mistake, at its heart, is that a machine is an inanimate object that can be turned on and off and operates only at the whim of its controller. A building is very different because, although it is true that it can be controlled by its occupants, the driving force that acts upon the building to create comfort and shelter is the climate and its weather, neither of which can be controlled, predicted or turned on and off. Machines are fixed, static objects, amenable to scientific assessment.


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  • Buildings are part of a complex interaction between people, the buildings themselves, the climate and the environment. The view that buildings are fixed also fits well with certain types of scientific analysis, of daylight factors, energy flows, U-values, mechanical ventilation and so on. But this mechanistic view finds the more dynamic parts of the system temperature, natural ventilation, passive cooling and all the multitude of human interactions very difficult to model and, therefore, to understand.

    Considerations of daylight, energy, thermal insulation and the use of machinery, of course, cannot be avoided — but because we can calculate them does not mean that they are our only concern. Figure 1. If we could see heat, as the thermal imagining camera does, we would probably treat a building very differently.

    We would know exactly where we need to put a bit more insulation or place a sun shade, which sun shade to use or which corner of the room is cold and needs a little attention. We have to design for the invisible as well as the visible and so how is this to be done? Buildings have been traditionally designed using accepted premises propositions that are adopted after reasoning as well as, of course, on premises the building and adjuncts set forth at the beginning of a building deed. Three principles on which all building should be based are: 1 design for a climate 2 design for the physical and social environment 3 design for time, be it day or night, a season or the lifetime of a building and design a building that will adapt over time.

    Thermographic images: a, The Oxford Ecohouse, built in , on an Autumn morning; b, the house next door built in the s; c, a black umbrella left and a white umbrella right showing that the black material absorbs radiation and gets hot while the white umbrella reflects the sun from its surface and remains cooler; d, a person opening a window from the inside in the Oxford Ecohouse; e, rods of copper, steel, glass and wood demonstrating that heat is conducted more efficiently in some materials than others; f, the Kacheloven in the Oxford Ecohouse showing the hot ducts in the high mass stove and the hot metal flue passing into the concrete floor above and heating it locally.

    Humans have been building on these premises for millennia and have evolved house types around the world that are well suited to particular climates, environments and societies. This was done by learning from experience, and with the benefit of repetitive tools and processes that help designers and builders through the complex range of tasks necessary to actually put a building together.

    One tool of the imagination that is often used when starting a design is the analogy. This book starts by considering building form, on which the most powerful influence in design should be the climate. In this chapter, analogies are used to demonstrate how different forms can relate to some of the many different climatic functions of a building.

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    The analogies themselves may seem a little simplistic but you will find that they change the way you look at buildings. To further illustrate the relationship between buildings and climate, a number of examples of vernacular buildings are included. Finally, at the end of the chapter, a method for evaluating the climatic requirements of a building form in a particular climate is outlined with the Nicol graph.

    This simply shows what the mean climate of a site is, what the comfort requirements of local people will be and gives an indication of how much heating and cooling will be needed to achieve those comfort conditions in that climate. To survive we need shelter from the elements using three skins. The first is provided by our own skin, the second by a layer of clothes and the third is the building.

    In some climates it is only with all three skins that we can provide sufficient shelter to survive, in others the first skin is enough. The more extreme the climate, the more we have to rely on the building to protect us from the elements. Just as we take off and put on clothes as the weather and the climate changes so we can shed skins.

    The surface area:volume ratio is very important in conserving heat transfer into and out of a building. To conserve heat or cold the building must be designed with a compact form to reduce the efficiency of the building as a heat exchanger. A good example of how not to lose heat because of the shape of a building is given by the ice-house Figure 1.

    In many countries of the world, before refrigerators were invented, people used to store ice that had been harvested in winter from lakes and ponds in ice-houses. When the hot summer months came it was taken out and used to cool food, drinks and rooms. The only way that ice could be kept so long was to ensure that it had a minimum surface area:volume ratio to lose heat from.

    Ecohouse Hazel L Timelaps

    Ice-houses were designed so that as the. People typically generate heat, between 70 and watts each according to how much work they are doing.


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    This figure shows a thermal image of heat plumes around people, as the heat from our skin warms the air around us it rises, driven by the buoyancy of hot air Clark and Edholme, Building can have very different perimeter:area ratios depending on their plan form Krishan, The ice-house at Hooke, Chailey, Sussex.