Sustainable Design
BKC 01 - 16 - 2010

Sustainable design is a term that is used often these days. In essence, sustainability is living in such a way that life will be able to continue, or sustain itself. Before the industrial revolution, civilizations had to develop ways to heat and cool their environment passively, without the assistance of mechanical ventilation systems. The pre-modern methods of achieving desired temperatures worked quite well, and numerous examples still exist today. Throughout the tour thus far, we have encountered a variety of passive ventilation strategies at a variety of scales. The first scale, that of the city, is best demonstrated in Cerda’s Plan of Barcelona (top image). In the design of the city’s intersections, he creates an octagonal plan, enabling light to reach the center, creating openness, and permitting breezes to pass through the space. This creates a cooling effect at this point. In the city’s streets Cerda designed, including the mainly pedestrian street, the "Ramblas" the large degree of openness and the "alle" of trees provides cooling to the street, reducing the heat island effect. By providing long streets and arteries, wind is better able to cool the street and surrounding buildings. In terms of the building scale, passive ventilation is best illustrated in the Islamic patio residences. The patio of the Muslims, a similar design to the Spanish courtyard or Roman atrium, used heavy masonry and glazed tiles. Vines covered the patio’s walls, and a central fountain cooled the space as the water evaporated. The hot air rising from the patio pulled air from the nearby rooms adjoined to the patio via a colonnade. This, in essence, served as an air conditioner for the homes. It is important to note that the home was divided into two living levels in many of these residences. The ground floor remained cooler during the summer, as the hot air rose to the high interior ceilings. Because of this design feature, the residents lived on the ground floor during the summer. As we have discussed, hot air rises, thus making the 2nd floor a more suitable place to live during the winter, a habit that such residents followed. At the detail scale, Gaudi’s Casa Batllo represents an excellent integration of passive ventilation and user participation (bottom image). The Casa Batllo features a central light well that is surrounded on all four sides by rooms from the building’s interior. From these adjoining rooms, integrated in wood below the window sills, are located five rotating slats. These, controlled by the user on the inside, regulate air flow into the light well, determining the amount of ventilation for these rooms. The glass at the top of the light well, along with dark blue tiles, ensure that heat will be encouraged and that the hot air will naturally pull air from below. This design feature succeeds because of its integration with the light well. Furthermore, it brings to the resident a conscious understanding of how the building’s ventilation works. There is much to learn about sustainability, including passive ventilation, from pre-modern civilizations. Passive ventilation strategies exist at many scales and are necessary for the health and well-being of our cities, residences, and individual lives..

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