If it’s Not Beautiful, it’s Not Sustainable?

Lucas Hamilton

Let’s face it – we don’t take care of things that are ugly. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, correct? Then why is it some things are universally agreed upon to be beautiful?

When we consider the buildings of the world which we all look to as a part of our shared heritage, I struggle to think of any that are not beautiful. Sometimes we get lucky and points germane are captured in a first draft. When talking about buildings in general we need to look to the Romans who were the definers of architecture.  For them three rules applied:

  • A building must be durable.
  • Serve the purposes of the people inside.
  • It must be aesthetically pleasing.

Today we may add a fourth requirement which is sustainability but as the title of this blog suggests, you won’t get sustainability without beauty. To understand beauty we must have a working knowledge of aesthetics. One of the things we know to be true is that aesthetics remain consistent. It is style that changes. Style is an expression of aesthetic principles based on a current philosophy, trend or societal influence.

A great example of this can be found in Chicago on the river with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe‘s IBM Tower.  Directly behind it is the Marina City complex which was designed by his protégé Bertrand Goldberg. Having a teacher and student design side-by-side doesn’t happen often so it is a fascinating place to observe the style change that took place from one generation to the next. It’s like we need to show our teachers and our parents that “we’ve heard, we’ve learned, and we’ve grown.”

As a society, we are seeing a shift in style once again.  Prior to the great recession, many people where building McMansion style homes which were the expression of more, more, more – look at what I have accomplished or gained. 

Now, we are seeing a maturity to the thinking – wouldn’t my life be easier if it were simpler? This is manifesting itself in a smaller footprint of our homes. We’re choosing darker colors to make our homes appear smaller and using coordinated palettes to bring the sense of harmony we seek.

I believe as a result we will create a generation of homes which will hold their aesthetic appeal much better than the recent phase.

Do you think that in 50 years anyone is going to be chaining themselves to a bulldozer to prevent a McMansion from being torn down?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Buildings Can’t Go to Weather.com

 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications 

 Buildings have no idea what the air temperature is outside. To our buildings and their components, the outer world is their outer surface. Surface temperature is influenced by many things in addition to air temperature. One of the most dramatic influences on surface temperature is radiation and this swings wildly in the course of a day.

In the past, we’ve talked about how for the most part windows are energy pigs. Well, they are energy pigs because windows have really poor R values (resistance to conductivity), often leak too much air after a few years of use, and transmit too much infrared radiation when we don’t want them to. When you talk about energy flow with regard to conductivity, the rate at which energy flows is basically the difference in surface temperature across the assembly – not air to air temperature across the assembly – multiplied by its conductivity. If it’s really cold outside and you want to have less energy flowing through your R4 windows in terms of conductivity make the outside surface of the window hot. That will decrease the delta -T and slow down the conductivity.

There are a variety of ways that would help to make windows hot in the winter and cool in the summer. Some are passive solar technologies that we re-learned in the 1970’s and re-forgot in the 1980’s. When the sun is high in the sky it is summer and you want the shade to cool off the surface of the window and the shade devise to insulate it from incident infrared. In the winter, the sun is low on the horizon and you want to capture that infrared and heat up the surface of the window. That will slow down the conductivity through it by decreasing the delta -T. If we can’t make R15 windows – which we cannot practically or affordably with our current technologies – then we have to find a way to trick the windows into thinking that it is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Again, it’s all about surface temperature. A building doesn’t know what the air temperature is – it only knows what its surface temperature is. We need to use that knowledge to be a little bit smarter and to stop fighting nature and instead work with it.

Ideas?