Climate change means we can't keep living in glass houses

Climate change means we can’t keep living in glass houses
Las Vegas’s glass boxes couldn’t exist without air conditioning. Credit: Bert Kauffman, CC BY

How do we go about designing buildings today for tomorrow's weather? As the world warms and extreme weather becomes more common, sustainable architecture is likely to mean one major casualty: glass.

For decades glass has been everywhere, even in so-called "modern" or "sustainable" architecture such as London's Gherkin. However in energy terms glass is extremely inefficient – it does little but leak heat on cold winter nights and turn buildings into greenhouses on summer days.

For example, the U-value (a measure of how much heat is lost through a given thickness) of triple glazing is around 1.0. However a simple cavity brick wall with a little bit of insulation in it is 0.35 – that is, three times lower – whereas well-insulated wall will have a U-value of just 0.1. So each metre square of glass, even if it is triple glazed, loses ten times as much heat as a wall.

While the is changing, so too is the weather. Climate is expressed in terms of long-term averages, whereas the weather is an expression of short-term events – and the weather is predicted to change by much more than our climate. This creates challenges. A 0.5℃ increase in monthly temperature can made a difference to farmers, or the energy used by an air-conditioning system, but a peak temperature of 38℃ or a vicious cold snap can be far more serious. Buildings are designed to handle extremes, not just averages.

Architects and building engineers around the world are now having to struggle with this issue, especially since buildings last so long. At Bath we have recently been awarded a grant to look at long-term weather forecasting and how building design will have to change. After all, you can't move buildings to a better climate.

Climate change means we can’t keep living in glass houses
Small windows and thick, white walls keep the inside of this traditional Greek house nice and cool. Credit: Flickr, ncfc0721, CC BY

One obvious possibility, for UK designers at least, is that they pick a place where the weather currently is similar to what the Met Office suggests the UK will have in 2100, and simply put up buildings like the ones they have there.

The problem is this ignores the low-carbon agenda. Many hot countries have spent the past 30 years designing buildings similar to those found in more temperate countries, while leaving enough space for monster air-conditioning systems. The air-conditioned skyscrapers in Las Vegas and Dubai, for instance, look just like buildings you might see in London or Boston, despite being built in the middle of a desert.

As an experiment, type "Dubai Buildings" into Google images and take a look at what has been built and, more worryingly, artist's impressions of what is on the drawing board. You can even see this inefficiency in cultures that one might expect more of, for example the famous energy-guzzling glass towers of Vancouver.

Buildings will have to be simplified. Heating, lighting, energy supply, air con, escalators, IT networks and so on – all these "building services" will have to be stripped right back. Those services which do remain must use almost no energy – and possibly generate the energy they require on site.

Cutting back on glass would be an easy win. Windows need to be sized, not glorified, and sized for a purpose: the view, or to provide natural light or air. Windows also need to be shaded. Many would argue that we need to re-invent the window, or the building. We need to build buildings with windows, rather than buildings that are one big window.

Maybe we should look to the Mediterranean. People have mainly lived in countries such as Greece, for example, without air-conditioning – and it is true that such heavyweight, thick-walled buildings with small openings are capable of moderating external conditions very well.

However they don't offer the climate control we are used to, especially if you pack them with people and computers. The people of the Mediterranean also had generations to adapt themselves and their working arrangements to fit with the climate. We don't have this luxury: the weather is changing too fast.

We have yet to invent architecture ready for whatever happens to the climate, but it is clear that we need to take lessons from the past – and from other cultures. We can't simply air-condition our way through global warming.


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Aug 03, 2015
This garbage is shameless, crude and criminal level exaggeration from lazy copy and paste news editors.
Nice work girls.
Science thanks you.

Aug 03, 2015
We are brute-forcing our way into Nature, and it will fail eventually. Working with it is much more advantageous. Using techniques appropriate for the climate and building for purpose, not attractiveness, will get you both.

Aug 03, 2015
Go here:
http://www.newyor...e-change

It is about a paper on the economics of Climate Change from the perspective of bankers and investors.

Aug 03, 2015
Know what has even better insulation?
Caves.
And that's where the AGW Cult wants to drive you back.

Aug 03, 2015
Know what has even better insulation?
Caves.

False (and tired old) dichotomy.
Is there any logical fallacy you haven't yet comitted?

Next.

Aug 03, 2015
Greece is on the Med. I've been to Southern France where architecture and climate are very similar (I love shutters btw). The reason it works is because in general, these climates have very low-humidity, meaning temperature spikes during the day are proceeded by relatively quick cooling. So these houses only have to store enough "cool" to last till sunset. This won't apply across the board but I'd venture to say this style of architecture would only work well in arid regions.

To say glass has to go is to eliminate the advantages of the suns warming ability. Yes, the planet is slowly warming but we still by far use more energy heating our homes vs. cooling them. http://www.eia.go...id=10271 We also use a significant amount of energy heating our water. Ironic that folks are panicked about the Earth warming yet we still use tons of energy to heat things. Lets not throw glass out just yet.

Aug 03, 2015
His point is that the disadvantages of glass as a solid curtain wall will be greater than the benefits. He does not say no glass, nor does he address the new glasses, which can produce electricity and/or pass the visible frequencies and direct the UV and IR to the edges of the glass, and turn them to power.

Aug 03, 2015
Know what has even better insulation?
Caves.

False (and tired old) dichotomy.
Is there any logical fallacy you haven't yet comitted?

Next.

Whoa!
What hole did you crawl out from?
I would suggest you dig a bit deeper.

Aug 03, 2015
and/or pass the visible frequencies and direct the UV and IR to the edges of the glass, and turn them to power
Another fantasy of yours? How about piezoglass that can turn wind pressure into electricity?

Provide a link for your bullshit please.

Hey heres a facility with great R-value
https://en.wikipe...inSP.jpg

-Ever been there?

Aug 03, 2015
We can't simply air-condition our way through global warming.


You can power air conditioners by using solar thermal energy to move heat out of the building. These systems already exist and I'm pretty sure Google uses one like this on some of its locations.

I've always said Glass made no sense in modern buildings, but Brick is a bad idea too. It becomes a hazard during Earthquakes...would you rather a few ounces of glass fall from 50 floors up, or would you rather 5lbs bricks fall from the same height and hit someone, or a car below?

Aug 04, 2015
If common Glass make no sense in modern building and brick is a bad idea too, then let's search for something else? There can be five infinities of solutions we could use to get the energy we need to heat/cool buildings. Using Nature will sooner or later be easy enough to do everything we want without "harming" anything as severely as we do right now.

Aug 04, 2015
There can be five infinities of solutions we could use to get the energy we need to heat/cool buildings.

There are a lot of options around. From materials (like adaptive glass) to structural solutions. We can take a few pointers from nature (e.g. how termites build their nests to ensure constant climatic conditions). Currently the only reason any of this isn't done is cost. Building an office block costs money (up front). adding neat features increases this. With the way current economic thinking goes (build cheap - sell to suckers) the big annual airconditioning/heating costs are passed on to the buyers.

Aug 07, 2015
otto sez:
Hey heres a facility with great R-value https://en.wikipe...inSP.jpg -Ever been there?
------------------------------------

Yes, but it has changed since I went in to check out their two old boilers. At the time, they were in a three-sided shed on the edge of the large exercise yard, which seems to have been divided up into other areas now. As a Senior Engineer for PG&E I went into lots of places. Sorry, otto, . . I didn't meant to do it, they made me.

Aug 07, 2015
"Hey heres a facility with great R-value"
-------------------------------

Trying to be smart, this goober mistakes an old and inefficient stone/concrete penal structure with a modern efficient enclosure.

Aug 08, 2015
Er, I'm confused about something here.

"As extreme weather becomes more common"

Uh, what "extreme weather"?

- We're at a 30-year low in hurricanes according to NOAA.

- We're at a 20-year low in tornadoes according to the Nat'l Weather Service.

- We're at a 10-year low in major forest fires according to the Nat'l Forest Service.

- "Superstorm" Sandy, poster child of the global warming movement, was so weak that it wasn't even a hurricane by the time it hit land.

- The drought in Texas? Insignificant compared to the drought of the Dust Bowl 30's. And, if you'll notice, it only lasted a few years. Next thing we heard, 'flood control' was the buzzword of the day.

- The drought in California? Even the Alarmists haven't dared to peg that one on global warming, and besides, it's only in its fourth year. They had a five-year drought in CA back in the 80's, complete with dropping water tables, low snow packs, and all the rest.

So, what "extreme weather"?

Aug 08, 2015
Senior Engineer for PG&E
Sorry psycho PG&E doesnt fill senior level engr positions with non-credentialed individuals. I posted the links - dont you remember?

So youre either lying about it (and you lie a LOT here dont you?), or you lied to them and it took a few years for them to discover your incompetence, whereupon they sent out to team-teach at lunch-and-learns. Wherein which, in your delusional condition, you mistook yawns and cackles as accolades from the ignorant masses. From your site:

"You are the best!"

"I've been an electrical engineer for over 15 years and this is the first time I really understood it!"

"Excellent! This was one of the most fruitful and educational workshops that I've had the privilege to attend"

"Mr. George Kamburoff was one of the most captivating speakers I've ever witnessed."

"Course should have been longer."

"Excellent seminar! So was the instructor."

-You made these up yourself didnt you?

Cackle.


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