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  • Writer's picturemaxvasher

Sustainable Design in Architecture

Sustainability in architecture is so often measured and driven by products rather than ideas. I find it wise to make use of both. Since product tends to dominate the discussion and measure of what is sustainable in architecture, I would like to make some space for discussion about ideas and sustainability in architecture. As an architect in New Mexico, one of the key features of our climate and landscape to consider when designing is the abundance of sunshine and its influence on the building envelope. In the summer, buildings need mitigation from the strong sunlight to keep interiors from overheating and in the winter

buildings need mitigation to prevent cold air infiltration. Often this mitigation takes the form of mechanical heating and cooling systems and/or building products. With the proper products of the day, buildings are deemed sustainable and given certifications to that affect. However, sustainable design (as opposed to so-called sustainable products) has still been hard pressed to achieve proper recognition within sustainability certifications circles despite being an ancient and effective method of achieving the goal. What's more is that when sustainable design features are used that engage in passive heating and passive cooling measures they are often hidden or disguised so that the building looks "normal"(whatever that means). I feel strongly that sustainable design should be celebrated as the functional and creative opportunity that it is. When I stepped out of my studio today on this day in late April I was struck by the shadow line of my south facing eve. I've lived in this house for several years now and I am still marveling at the dramatic shift that the sun angles take throughout the year and what a wonderful seasonal opportunity that situation provides. Light and shadow are artistic as well as functional mediums in the art of architectural design. On this day in late April the strong direct angled light of winter has just left our living room and can be seen just at the foot of the exterior doors in the attached photo. It will not return to our living room until early October when it will again be welcomed as a heat source and a dramatic play of light and shadow for the winter. Compare the picture of the shadow line just outside the doors to the penetrating light in the living room of late November. Although it is frigid cold out, you'll notice my wife reading and basking in the light and heat coming through the windows. Many houses in late November will have their heating systems running all day, even the energy conscious ones. Using sustainable design as an energy wise idea means that our heating system does not come on during the day and our power bills are about half of what our neighbors' are. By taking into account the seasonally shifting position of the sun in the sky, the dramatic overhang on our south facade has been calculated to be the proper length to keep us shaded in the summer but heated in the winter. What's more is, that the dramatic overhang also allows an opportunity for artistic expression on the landscape; celebrating the situation rather than burying it in complacency or even worse, not using the opportunity at all.

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