“Even though developments in analyzing and simulating the interior environment have revealed the remarkable variability and transiency of that environment, we stubbornly cling to the belief that the envelope supersedes all – acting as a barrier to the exterior, container of the interior and determinant of all extant physical phenomena. Essentially, we privilege that which we know, that which we see, that which matches our image of a permanent and static architecture.” (Addington)
Thermal comfort has long been a driver in the way we think about design. Indeed, many would argue along the lines of the Dahl and Eva article “Hot and Cold,” that design as we know it only came about from the desire to control external thermal conditions. As we read in the Addington article, the 20th century saw the advent of HVAC technologies which were seen as the answer to the loss of efficiency due to optimal working environments. The rapid growth of large scale commercial and office buildings required constant, homeostatic conditions for the uninterrupted flow of business. This too came in response to alternating shifts in the way access to outdoor air was perceived. By the mid 20th century, the mantra “Build tight, Ventilate right.” took precedence over any ideas of outdoor ventilation and access to nature.
There has since been a radical response to this lingering line of thought. Biophilic architecture is not only designed with its ultimate impact on the environment in mind but also an increasing emphasis on the relationship between its inhabitants and the surrounding natural environment. The picture to the left is of a project completed in 2010 by Canadian architect Omer Arbel. The home is unique in that every interior room has a corresponding exterior room. The boundaries between these are intentionally implicit in some cases creating a quite stimulating condition of threshold ambiguity. Unlike the cases previously mentioned, this home challenges our idea of a definite thermal envelope. As noted in the readings architecture has long been thought of as the control of the external environment but it is projects like this that blur the lines between landscape and architecture and force us to think about the role of the built environment in an entirely new way.
To paraphrase Bill Sherman in one of his lectures, “The human body is a complex adaptive system and if it is never stressed its resiliency Is diminished over time.” As we’ve learned in lecture and in the readings our skin does not directly sense temperature but rather thermal gain or loss. What this means is that while shifts in the external thermal environment may result in slight discomfort we are rarely in any real danger of bodily harm so long as these shifts are not too drastic or for extended lengths of time. I refer to my previous week’s blog post in which I proposed an extension of our perceived acceptable comfort limits. To prove just how resilient the human body can be, just look at the case of a Dutch man who holds the Guinness World Record for being fully submersed in ice for 1 hour, 52 minutes and claims to enjoy the physical challenge of subjecting his body to extreme cold. (Sterling) Though his external body temperature drops to degrees above freezing during his feats, his internal temperature remains constant. This, he offers, is achieved by conscious mental control of his autonomic nervous system (see the TEDx video here). Though he is quite obviously an extreme case, his story provides us with an interesting possibility. What would our world be like, as one could imagine in the case above, if our built environment were designed with little to no regard for thermal control? Or better yet–imagine, perhaps, the opposite; a world in which architectural design returned to focus on thermal and natural systems rather than the stifling hermetically sealed envelope of the past fifty years.
Addington, Michelle. “Contingent Behaviours.” Energies : New Material Boundaries. ed. Lally, Sean. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley , 2009.
Dahl, Torben and Kristensen T. Eva. “Hot and Cold.” Climate and Architecture. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010.
Sterling, Toby. “Wim Hof, Dutch ‘Iceman,’ Controls Body Through Meditation.” Huffington Post. 22 May 2011. Web.
“Unusual and Unique House Design: 23.2 House by Omer Arbel, Canada.” Interior Design 2014. 3 Sept. 2013. Web