12th Oct 2007

Starting off points for "Energy Efficient Architecture"

  • What is energy?
  • What is efficiency?
  • Ideally we should also ask the question; what is architecture? But that is a big one!

Efficiency is measurable. Find out what went in (input) and what came out (output) and measure the ratio. In case of energy efficiency, we need to know this ratio else we may not make any sense when determining whether a piece of architecture is truly energy efficient.

Energy is consumed in architecture in many forms. One form that many of us forget is "embodied energy" which is the energy that gets locked (embodied) into everything that is present in the architecture. The locking of energy happens when the building material is created … a whole "food chain" of events has to be examined and the energy consumption along the food chain must be totalled to know what would be embodied energy. Complex task. Current design systems don't do this very well. Research on this is still going on.

The big driver in energy efficient architecture is "users". In fact, users always have a big influence on practically any aspect of architecture. Often they are put on the back-burner and instead we look at architecture quite impassively. But architecture is not just a collection of bricks and concrete. It is people who use architecture that make or break it.

Architecture requires a plural approach when solving the problem of energy efficiency and even other issues in architecture. What is pluralism? If an architect provides for many lifestyles and behaviour in the same design then that design would be called a plural design. It is important to note that architects often give only one feature to solve one problem. But we need to understand the ''sensitivity of errors''… which basically means "if a particular feature we thought may work in a design actually does not work, then how critical effects would that error lead to?" It is okay to make errors but it can be a disaster if we are not aware of the sensitivity of errors.

Understanding energy efficient architecture requires us to look into a lot of scientific documents. We must however equip ourselves to differentiate between empirical knowledge and knowledge gathered using deductive logic. In case of former, we must further support empirical evidence with new information gained from our and others experiences; else we may arrive at wrong conclusions and/or use thumb-rules which are actually not valid. Empirical knowledge should be tempered using the context of people, their culture and lifestyle. On the other hand; arguments presented using deductive logic can always be used irrespective of time and culture.

Geometry and mathematics can be fruitfully used to understand science. Examples were presented on understanding the concept of "perceived simplicity" vis-a-vis actual simplicity. There are many examples in architecture where perceived simplicity is actually not simple. For e.g. the geometric analysis of buildings have many common misconceptions. This kind of fallacies must be weeded out when exploring energy efficient architecture.

We must remember that many of the information that we currently use in India were developed long time back, where it was not possible to do more accurate studies. For e.g. Orientation of buildings assumed rectangular blocks of buildings and advice was given for such rectangular blocks. But we all know that buildings are not rectangular slabs. Today we know that effects such as mutual shading of one part of the building over other parts plays a crucial role in reducing heat. But how do we measure that? We therefore need to develop a new understanding of this subject and use computer software and other tools creatively to arrive at our conclusions.

  • Students are requested to write an A4 article on embodied energy after perusing research papers on the subject.
  • Describe all possible definitions of energy with respect to architecture
  • Describe what is meant by "efficiency" in more scientific terms
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