Friday, March 16, 2012
CAA-IIA International Conference on
Dr. Yasser Mahgoub
This paper compares aspects of sustainability in vernacular and modern architecture in the United Arab Emirates. In vernacular architecture, sustainability is manifested in the design of buildings, use of materials, environmental and social consciousness. There are indeed many lessons to be learned from vernacular architecture in the area. On the other hand, aspects of sustainability are absent from almost all modern buildings in the region for many reasons: rapid development, use of foreign materials, design methods, and construction systems all contribute to the absence of sustainability in modern buildings. Yet, an important aspect contributing to this situation is absence of building codes and regulations enforcing sustainability in the design and construction of buildings.
The aim of this paper is to illustrate aspects of sustainability in vernacular architecture compared to absence of sustainability in modern buildings in the region and discuss prospects of boosting awareness on several levels. To achieve sustainability in future buildings and environments sustainability should be introduced on the following levels:
1.Building codes and regulations
2.Building construction systems and materials
3.Undergraduate and graduate education
4.Design methods and community participation
The paper concludes with recommendations and proposals to amplify awareness and implementation of sustainability measures in the design, construction, and education of architecture in the region.
Dr. Yasser Mahgoub
A sustainable society is one that can persist over generations, one that is far-sighted enough, flexible enough and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social systems of support.
Sustainable architecture is related to a world wide movement towards sustainability in all aspects of life. It is the act of building that supports the existence of humanity without destroying its environmental and cultural context. Some authors consider sustainability movement as another step in the process wherein society has moved from a nomadic hunting order, to an agricultural order, to an industrial order and is currently moving to an information based order. In general, it is an attitude and way of thinking and acting responsibly towards the context of our existence. It is a term that represents the social and cultural shift in the world order, patterns and styles of living, a new attitude and way of looking at the world.
This paper compares aspects of sustainability in vernacular and modern architecture in the United Arab Emirates. It starts by introducing the concept of sustainable architecture and its relationship to the natural, built, and human environments. In vernacular architecture, sustainability is manifested in the design of buildings, use of materials, environmental and social consciousness. There are indeed many lessons to be learned from vernacular architecture in the area. On the other hand, aspects of sustainability are absent from almost all modern buildings in the region. Some of the many reasons are: rapid development, use of foreign materials, design methods, and construction systems all contribute to the absence of sustainability in modern buildings.
A comparative analysis of different aspects of vernacular and modern architecture in the region as related to aspects of sustainability, namely: environmental, socio-cultural, and economic sustainability was conducted in order to illustrate aspects of sustainability in vernacular architecture compared to absence of sustainability in modern buildings in the region. The aim of this paper is to discuss prospects of boosting awareness on several levels of sustainable architecture strategies and concepts.
The history of thinking about sustainable development is closely linked to the history of environmental concern and peoples attitudes to nature. Both represent responses to changing scientific understanding, changing knowledge about the world and ideas about society.
The basic definition of the term sustainability is derived from the dictionary word Sustain meaning: 1. Bear weight of, hold up, keep from falling or sinking (c.f. Support), 2. Enable to last out, keep from falling, give strength to, encourage, 3. Endure without giving way, stand, bear up against, 4. Undergo, experience, suffer, 5. Allow validity of, give decision in favour of, uphold, 6. Bear out, tend to substantiate or corroborate, confirm, 7. Keep up or represent adequately, 8. Keep going continuously. Sustainable is an adjective describing an object to which is given support, relief, nourishment, or supplied with sustenance and thus continuously kept alive or prolonged
The popular interpretation of the words sustainable architecture describes an approach to architectural design that minimizes sustenance or resource consumption so as to prolong the availability of natural resources. However, the definition of sustainable does not imply a minimization of sustenance. Sustainable simply expresses the fact that resources do maintain our environment. Sustainable architecture describes the fact that we receive what we need from the universe. This realization compels us to respond with care or stewardship in the use of those resources. Sustainable architecture, then, is a response to an awareness and not a prescriptive formula for survival.
Sustainable architecture is part of a larger concern of creating sustainable environment, which is an environment for human occupation, performance and the support of life to which sustenance or nourishment is continuously given.
The term sustainable does not express the minimization of the expenditure of those resources necessary for the prolongation of the life. The term does define the fact that no humanly created environment can survive without the contributions of the larger natural environment or ecological systems. Sustainable architecture, then, is a response to an awareness and not a prescriptive formula for survival.
Sustainable architecture is sometimes misunderstood as a romantic nostalgia to the past with its simple and unpolluted vernacular ways of living. On the contrary, sustainability is a call for an adoption of a new way of thinking and acting responsibly towards the surrounding environment and the creation of new environments. It is an invitation to honour the process instead of praising the product. It is important to note here that one should not expect to reach typical ways of doing things. Each context requires in depth understanding and acting according to its needs and potentials.
Sustainability is sometimes misunderstood as refraining from taking action and living passively in order to avoid using up the available limited resources. The Rocky Mountain Institute defines sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This definition stresses the right of living for present and future generations. It also hints to the impact of irresponsible rapid development, exhaustive use of resources and environmental pollution exercised by previous generations after the industrial revolution which affected the living environment of our present generation. The cry for sustainability in all our aspects of living is a legitimate one. Sustainability is meeting the needs of present generations without limiting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The concept of sustainability (the "S" word) has been around for a long time, although only recently has it entered popular culture. The modern roots of sustainability begin in the early 20th century theory of renewable resource management, most notably insustainable agriculture and forestry, and in theories of "sustained yield." The real power of the concept of sustainability lies in its integration of economic, social, and ecological systems, previously studied and dealt with separately.
Until recently the concept of sustainability was addressed separately by many discipline in an effort to save the environment and natural resources. It was realised that individual efforts were not sufficient to restore the already damaged environment without a collaborative effort between all involved disciplines. The concept was expanded to include all aspects of human existence. In architectures, the modern movement, which started with the turn o 20th century, addressed mainly aspects of technology and industrialisation.
Architecture of the 20th Century began as a celebration of the age of industry and technology; but this is rapidly changing in response to a new age of information and ecology. From an ecological perspective, mainstream architecture for the past two decades has sent out all the wrong messages. These machine age influences share one thing in common. They embody the profligate consumption of fossil fuel and a technocentric and anthropocentric view of human habitat. Particularly from the 1970s to the present, the celebration of such industrialized features as exposed structural systems, vast expanses of plate glass, and cantilevered or tilted steel trusses have somehow become synonymous with "progressive" architectural imagery.
The concept of sustainable architecture started as an effort to save energy during the seventies. A return to traditional passive solutions of cooling and heating using windtowers, earth sheltering techniques and design concepts (ex. courtyard and compact design). It was also appreciated in all studies of vernacular architecture without directly addressing the theme of sustainability in vernacular architecture.
The following are major developments of the concept sustainable architecture:
Interest in vernacular architecture started as a reaction to non-human outcome of modern architecture practices which lasted for 50 years. The celebrated book of Amos Rapoport House form and culture was very influential in focusing attention on vernacular architecture and its multidimensional meanings including climatic, resources, and socio-cultural factors.. The significant work of Paul Oliver addresses aspects of vernacular architecture in many parts of the world as social and cultural phenomenon. The work of Hassan Fathy addressed many aspects of the concept sustainable architecture while developing new villages for Egyptian peasants using available resources, employing self-help methods, applying vernacular construction techniques, while recognising social and cultural aspects of architecture.
Previous to the use of the term sustainable architecture, the term solar architecture expressed the architectural concept of the reduction of the consumption of natural resources and fuels. The intent was that we could conserve our fuel resources through the immediate capture of the available solar energy through appropriate building design.
Following the energy crisis in 1973, an energy conservation movement encouraged innovative solutions to reduce energy consumption and dependency on international oil supply and increase use of renewable energy sources. The main sources of renewable energy were solar energy using installations of photovoltaics and wind farms. The energy conservation movement suggested conscious utilisation of energy sources, acceptance of less comfort levels, responsible attitude towards the environment.
Ecological and environmental concerns have expanded well beyond the issue of the consumption of non-renewable energy sources. The massive consumption of all natural resources during the economic boom of the 1980s, both renewable and non-renewable, has placed a severe strain on global supplies and caused irreparable damage to our atmosphere.
The energy conservation movement of the 70s was merged with the economic development movement of the 80s in an effort to avoid the disasters of irresponsible industry based developments of the early 20th century. An embracing Ecological and Environmental concern was addressed by many disciplines. In architecture, Environmental Study areas and courses were established in many university.
The modern sustainability movement began when The World Commission on Environment and Development, through the Brundtland Commission, released their report Our Common Future in 1987. The Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Brundtland Commission tried to reconcile the interests of economic development with those of environmental conservation. Whereas the sustained yield perspective of the early 20th century focused on biological systems, the new theory of sustainability considers human needs and wants as well as ecological functions and processes.
The definition of sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs is accepted world wide. It illustrate a new human consciousness of the historical moment and conditional existence of our generation. Yet, it requires some elaboration and clarification.
The Bruntland Report defined the notion of sustainable development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As this is a very general statement it will be necessary to elaborate and define further. One may, for instance, define sustainable development as the economic, social and environmental aspirations of groups, which may or may not have economic growth as a priority. The achievement of these aspirations is subject to a set of conditions. These include inter-generational equity, which requires that the stock of environmental resources passed on to the next generation should not inhibit their aspirations, and intar-generational equity, which seeks to increase the likelihood that the current aspirations of different groups will be met.
A wholistic view of sustainability, as opposed to partial views by different disciplines, pauses a new challenge to all participants in the field. The interdisciplinary approach is inescapable if all aspects of sustainability are to be addressed in our future solutions.
Since its inception in 1987 through The World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability has been embraced by environmental groups, scientists, government organizations, and various interest groups, as well as the architectural community.
The concept of sustainability is addressed by many organisations and individuals in the field of architecture. The Union of International Architects and the American Institute of Architects, the most influential organisations in the field, are promoting the application of sustainable architecture through awards, competitions, and Internet sites. Architect James Wines of SITE architectural firm, has published a book entitled "New Wave Organic Architecture- Building Art in the Age of Ecology", for Benedikt Taschen Publishers. Several milestone events influenced the development of the concept sustainable architecture. The most influential event was The "World Architecture Congress" in Chicago. A gathering sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and the International Union of Architects to focus on sustainability. A call for sustainable communities solutions was issued in hopes of cultivating images which reflect a design-based integration of the issues. 700 entries from 50 countries were received.
The building of shelter consumes one-sixth of the world's fresh water supply, one-quarter of its wood harvest, and two-fifths of its fossil fuels and manufactured materials. As a result, architecture has become one of the primary targets of ecological reform.
Sustainability is a concept that addresses many levels of our environment. The global concern of continuous destruction of the Ozon layer, the green house effect, and global worming reflect the need to address sustainability as related to the planet Earth as a whole. The impact of environmental pollution, such as oil spills, hazardous waste management, water pollution, nuclear radiation and acid rain, are addressed on regional levels including several countries. Consumption of resources, recycling and waste management are addressed on the country level. The problems of the built environment are addressed on the city level. On the neighbourhood level, issues of safety, belonging, and services are the main concern. The building design and behaviour is another important level of the sustainability concept. Finally, the interior space, where human existence and interaction takes place is first level of sustainability concept. All these levels are interrelated and inseparable. Any decision taken on any level affects the other levels considerably.
Sustainability is generally understood to begin with a concern by humans for the future of humanity. This anthropocentric view is expanded to include a concern for all life, with the realization that humans depend on complete and healthy ecosystems as muchas they depend on other humans. This perspective places a high value on human life, but accepts that human culture ultimately owes its existence to nature in its entirety.
The first aspect of sustainability is related to the environment. It deals with the natural and the built environment. A sustainable approach towards the environment considers both natural and built environment important parts of the context which we live in. The natural environment suffered greatly from 20th industrial and waste management practices. The natural environment requires attention and careful manipulation especially after our realisation of its fragility and destructive natures if tampered with. The built environment is what we build among the natural environment and should, first of all, relate to it. A large part of the built environment was created according to abstract concepts derived from the industrial revolution slogans, i.e. the House is a Machine to Live in adopted by Le Corbusier and Less is More by Mies van der Rohe. The built environment includes all levels of urban planning, city planning, urban design, architectural design and interior design. Both environments should be sustained by our human actions.
Sustainability is part of a trend to once again consider the whole instead of specifics. Sustainability emphasizes relationships rather than pieces in isolation. The ecological movement has focused attention during the last century on the degradation of natural systems. Sustainability brings to light the connections between natural and human communities, between nature and culture. Sustainability is not at all about regressing to primitive living conditions. It is about understanding our situation, and developing as communities in ways that are equitable, and that make sense ecologically and economically.
Sustainability was previously looked at as a concern for the natural environment and the need to develop better ways to sustain its vitality and conditions. The concept of sustainability has expanded to include the human environment. This aspect of sustainability considers psychological, social and cultural aspects of the human existence as important and intrinsic part in order to create a sustainable environment.
The management of resources in many parts of the world is an alarming situation. In many parts of the world, economic resources are spent on present needs and desires without much consideration to future generations. We will run out of resources at some point in time if we continue these irresponsible practices. Sustainability is responsible and conscious management of available resources in order to sustain the existence of our future generations.
Figure (1.) Aspects of Sustainability
The climate sensitive nature of sustainable design, as well as its awareness of regional environmental and material concerns, demands a fresh look at the issue of the vernacular as it pertains to the practice of sustainable building. The climate and location-centered issues which form the focus of the traditional vernacular type can generate a new sustainable vernacular typology which recognizes environmentally based regional concerns.
The following study compares aspects of sustainability in vernacular and modern architecture in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The hypothesis of this study is that there is much to learn from vernacular architecture if studied in the light of sustainability concept. Also, our current practices, which are based on premises of modern architecture, are becoming obsolete and require major revisions in order to meet the needs for a sustainable future.
Architecture in the UAE was influenced by rapid and drastic economic, social and cultural changes that took place in the Gulf region during the second half of this century. The discovery of oil with commercial quantities caused an instant growth of national income. Large size projects and developments were launched in an effort to upgrade the standard of living of the citizens.
Figure (2.) Map of the Gulf Region
Figure (3.) Map of the United Arab Emirates
Vernacular settlements found before the discovery of oil were small and primitive. They were usually located close to intersections of trading routes or strategic coastal areas. Abu Dhabi was a small village where coastal tribes settled. Al Ain was an oasis village rich with water and palm trees. Its dry weather attracted coastal settlers during the hot humid summer season. Because of its location on the entrance of the curving creek (Khoor), Dubai acquired an important position and was able to develop an outstanding trading centre with India for pearl and goods. Other small villages were located in the routes of trading or near significant coastal areas. Citadels and forts were built for defence purposes. They were large in size and built using thick walls made of stone with rounded or square defence towers at each corner. They signified territories and provided refugees during tribal wars. Mosques were moderate in size, much smaller than the forts, and located near houses and farms. They were usually rectangular in shape using thick stone walls. Residential areas containing houses were spread apart allowing different tribal clans to cluster together and expand their territory as needed. Public areas were available amidst each cluster allowing social activities to take place.
There were several types of vernacular houses in the region. The traditional tent was home and shelter for the Bedouins during the winter season. It was carried over camels during travelling. Made of animals skin and hair, it was easy to fold, unfold and move around. The tent was divided into two parts; one for men and the other for women. Another tent was used for cooking and storage. The tents were arranged around the herding area or the oasis forming a circle or square with the Sheikhs (the head of the tribe) tent in the middle so that guests could recognise it. During winter season, the tribe spread over the area wherever food and water were available sometimes half an hour apart. During the summer season, the Bedouins used to live in shelters called Al Arish which were made of palm tree leaves. Al Arish was made of two parts: 1) the main area 2x4 meters used for sitting and sleeping, 2) a small area, 2x2 meters used for cooking, storage and raising of animals. The Bedouins considered Al Arish their second home after the tent. Permanent houses were made of coral stones or Guss (mud mixture made as blocks) and covered with palm trees trunks. Winter houses were built near coastal areas, while summer houses were mainly around palm tree farms.
During the summer season many settlers were forced to leave their coastal settlements because of heat and humidity. They used to travel to the oasis in the desert where they collected dates, which was their main crop stored for the winter season. During the winter season they used to go back to the settlements by the Gulf and resume their normal activities of travelling, fishing, trading and pearl catching. Privacy was an important factor in the arrangement of the vernacular houses. The male reception area was separated from other family private areas. It had direct access from outside without going through the house The courtyard was an important feature of the house, it occupied half the area of the traditional house. The courtyard was restricted to family activities and women socialisation. It was used by women to move between house parts and performed cooking activities. It provided privacy for women to conduct their social activities, eating, and sleeping during the hot summer season.
Figure (4.) Types of vernacular dwellings
After the discovery of oil and the economic prosperity enjoyed by the country there was an urgent need to build new buildings to meet the new demands of the people. Planning departments were established to work on planning cities and villages. Municipalities and Departments of public works were focusing on building public buildings and housing developments.
Dependency on cars and other means of transportation caused the cities to expand rapidly. This uncontrolled expansion transformed major cities into metropolitan areas and changed the traditional life style into a modern one. The government constructed several public housing projects in different parts of the country. Houses were built and handed to citizens after completion of construction. The design of these houses was not suitable for the cultural values and needs of the inhabitants, especially Bedouins who were forced to settle in these projects. The owners had to make informal additions and changes to the houses to satisfy their needs.
The Seventies and Eighties witnessed the use of imported architectural styles, construction systems and building materials. Architects from other Arab countries were invited to design buildings. They applied their education, knowledge and training in other parts of the world on the design of these buildings. Following that period, architects from western countries played a larger role in design and construction of new buildings. The use of reinforced concrete, new building materials, air-conditioning and construction technology dominated the practice of architecture. A new trend emerged in the Nineties with a goal to revitalize the architectural heritage of the past and use its features to stress identity and architectural style. Many of the buildings which were built during the seventies were replaced by new buildings using architectural features assumed to be more related to the region.
Figure (5.) Modern buildings
The climate of the region is of the hot, humid, desert type. The winters are pleasantly cool and it is at this time that the occasional, erratic rains are most likely to occur. In summer it is hot, the effect of the high temperature being aggravated by the very high humidity.
The climate was a major conditioning factor in the formation of vernacular architecture. There were several responses to climatic conditions:
1.The courtyard served many purposes in the traditional house. It provided an interior private open space for family interaction. It also provided enough shading inside the house.
2.The use of coral blocks dug out from the gulf as building materials in the form of sixty centimetre thick walls. The walls possessed very low thermal conductivity, because of the cellular nature of the coral and low density of the bonding sarooj (a red clay mixed with manure and made into paste with water), which provided good insulation for interior spaces.
3.The windtower (Barjeel) was used to bring cool breeze into the rooms. Wall openings provide adequate cross ventilation. The windtowers increased ventilation and comfort inside the house. They were multi-directional, able to catch the breeze from whichever direction it might come. Windtowers were placed about fifteen meters above the ground. At this height wind velocity is about one and half times greater than at one meter above ground level. At least half the length of the windtower was an enclosed funnel and air passing down it increases considerably in velocity. The windtower descends vertically into a room beneath, terminating at just over two meters above the floor. Much of the flow of air from the windtower was confined to the area immediately below the tower, for the draught down one side of the tower is matched by a strong up-flow of air in the side opposite, but the windtower also creates some air movement in the room as a whole. Traditionally, cushions were placed beneath the windtower and people sat there for eating and entertaining.
4.Small openings protected the interior spaces from the harsh sun and glare. They also provided privacy for the occupants.
5.The Arish - houses made of palm tree reeds- were used in humid areas to allow adequate ventilation.
Modern buildings are designed as blocks covered with glazed curtain walls. They are the symbol of modern lifestyle. These buildings are completely dependent on air-conditioning and artificial ventilation because they were not designed to accommodate the local climatic conditions. Buildings of this type are consuming large amounts of the limited non-renewable resources of the country.
Vernacular architecture responses to climatic conditions of the region are excellent lessons for modern architecture. Micro climate conditions should be examined carefully. While the country is small in size, it has coastal areas which are hot-humid, desert areas which are hot-arid, and oasis and mountain areas which are hot only. The weather is hot six months per year and is pleasant the rest of the year. Consideration of climatic conditions should be stressed in buildings codes and regulations.
Figure (6.) Model of a vernacular courtyard house
Figure (7.) Windtowers (Barjeel)
Figure (8.) Modern and vernacular climatic responses
Use of locally available building materials, such as coral blocks (ex. wall of Sheikh Saeed), mountain stones (ex. Al Ain forts) palm trees (ex. Arish), animal skin (ex. Bedouin tents) was a common practice in all vernacular examples. The use of building material available in the region provided flexible and easy to maintain vernacular buildings.
Use of imported materials, such as concrete, steel, aluminium and glass (ex. modern buildings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai), is the common practice in modern architecture. This dependency on non-renewable imported material, which are not suitable for the climate of the region, require continuous costly maintenance. While the use of indigenous building materials is climatically sound, the use of imported materials requires need for air conditioning and more energy consumption to control the interior environment.
It is not feasible to argue for return to use indigenous building materials in modern buildings for several reasons. First, indigenous building materials cannot satisfy the new needs of building forms and functions. Second, it is not possible to provide enough materials to cover all needed quantities. The lesson learned from using indigenous building materials is the climatic sustainability of these materials.
The houses were individually designed around evolving family requirements on a plot allocated to the family by the ruling sheikh. The building would be planned and built by about three masons, with nine or ten labourers, and two carpenters as and when they were required.
Simple methods of construction were used to build vernacular buildings. The use of the traditional foldable tent facilitated the movement of Bedouins from one place to another. Construction methods used to construct the houses and forts were simple, easy to implement and manipulate. Thick bearing walls were used to support roofs made of trees trunks. Indigenous construction methods adhered to the needs of the society and climate. The use of the folded tent facilitated movement from one place to another. The use of coral blocks provided good insulation for interior spaces.
In the case of modern architecture, sophisticated methods are imported for the construction of buildings especially high rise buildings which require advanced technology and skilled labours. Modern construction methods do not allow traditional lifestyle to continue. For example, the traditional Bedouin lifestyle disappeared after settling them in planned villages and communities.
Again, like the case of traditional building materials, reuse of traditional construction methods is no longer feasible. Yet, there should awareness of consequences of selection of methods. The development of building codes that support different forms of lifestyles is a challenge.
The design of vernacular houses was introvert with rooms overlooking an interior courtyard. This courtyard provided an adequate climatic and social solution. The courtyard provided adequate shading and privacy in an open space. Exterior openings were very small preventing the interior spaces from the harsh climatic conditions. Terraces and balconies were overlooking the interior courtyard.
Modern buildings follow international architectural trends found in other parts of the world, especially western countries. Houses are extrovert; built as villas overlooking the outside garden with balconies and large glass windows. They do not provide an adequate level of privacy for the occupants. Balconies are rarely used and the windows are usually covered with heavy curtains.
Aspects of sustainability in vernacular architecture design are applicable to modern architecture design. A careful re-examination of the value of the courtyard as a climatic and social solution is urgently needed. Also, a revision of building codes and regulations currently applied in the area which produce the built environment is required. Most of currently used building codes are imported from other countries without examination of their relevance to regional conditions and needs.
Neighbourhood planning and design was the product of social relationships and cultural evolution. The organic pattern of neighbourhood planning provided different spaces and atmospheres for living. Public and private spaces were clearly defined and respected. This type of planning provided environments according to human needs and evolution of human relationships. Vernacular communities were nuclear communities expanding as the communities grew and new families formed. The streets were narrow, 3 to 4 meters in width, providing a convenient space for people to walk and interact. Public spaces were provided away from the houses for tribal gathering and activities. Each clan of a tribe used to cluster together in neighborhoods providing alliance and territoriality for its members. These were important aspects of group relationships with status and power implications.
Automobile dependant planning results, as in other parts of the world, monotonous and repetitive pattern of community design. Sense of community is lost due to repetition of surrounding environment. Planning for automobile dependant society produces large scale environments which do not encourage human interaction. Modern developments are linear requiring consumption of more resources for infrastructure and transportation. They are ready made as end products allowing very little user participation in planning and design phases. Planning for automobiles only creates environments hostile to human beings. Neighbourhood design should consider the people, not the automobiles, as its focal point. Adequately shaded pedestrian walkways, playing areas for children, public spaces suitable for social interaction and separation between vehicular and pedestrian walkways should be stressed.
Several levels of privacy were present in vernacular communities. The first level was the privacy of the community itself which provided protection and prescribed acceptable social behaviours for members of the tribes, kinship, or families. The second level of privacy was provided by the house design which, through the courtyard, provided privacy to the family and its members. Thick walls and small openings provided an intimate level of privacy in interior spaces for the individual. There was a clear differentiation between private and public space as related to visual, acoustic, and climatic conditions.
The houses were designed both to accommodate extended families and to provide proper privacy for the women according to Moslem tradition. The womens freedom of movement and behaviour within the courtyard was a measure of the exclusion of the outside world from the home.
Modern architecture does not adhere to the vernacular levels of privacy. They regard the individual as a generic -standard - occupant and user. The levels of privacy provided in modern architecture are reflections of the designers cultural background, point of view and personal experience. To achieve the desired levels of privacy, the individual employs measures such as fencing and avoidance of use. This mismatch between the designers intentions and the users needs result superfluous utilisation of spaces and resources.
Privacy is an important psychological need for individuals and society. To achieve good understanding of individuals and community privacy needs and means of achieving it, research studies should be conducted to explore these issues. Also, absence of native architects and researchers in the Seventies -during the construction boom in the area following the international oil crisis- contributed to the production of architecture that does not adhere to the needs of the society. Again, building codes and regulations implemented during this period of time was borrowed from other countries carrying with them needs and customs of other societies.
Vernacular architecture satisfied the unpretentious desires of the individuals and society. As in other vernacular examples, there was a shared image of what the house should be and how it should be built.
Modern architecture does not satisfy the continuously changing desires of individual and society. Those desires are shaped by social pressures, media, and other means of commercial advertisement. There is always more to pursue, which adds pressure to the already hectic life of the individual. Buildings that were built in the Seventies are being demolished because of their poor images. They are replaced by fancy looking buildings covered by glass and coloured aluminium sheets.
There was no need to implement any measures to ensure relevance of identity in the community. Identity was a natural by product of actions taken by the community during the evolution of vernacular settlements. There was no need to impose an architectural style, character, or use certain architectural features or elements to produce a desired identity. Eclecticism was a common practice in many vernacular examples. Due to strong ties with Southeast Asian countries, many architectural features were borrowed and used in vernacular settlements.
To achieve the image of modernity in modern buildings, many modern buildings are built using brick and concrete and covered with glass panels. They lack identity and belonging to the surrounding environment. Many measures are enforced to ensure presence of desired identity in the modern built environment. These measures include committees enforcing building codes and character to ensure achieving a desired identity in new buildings. The result is a collection of unrelated buildings and a mix of styles and characters depending on the designers and committees approvals. Many features that are enforced by these committees are not related to the vernacular architecture of the region and are borrowed from other places.
Figure (12.) Images of Architectural features character
Placed within a walking distance from all the houses, the mosque was the centre of the vernacular community. It provided spiritual as well as educational services to the community in the form of Alkuttab, the traditional one-room school.
Modern planning replaces the traditional mosque with the school in the heart of the community. The school seizes the role and place of the religious building. City design does not satisfy individuals needs of living close to the mosques. Therefore individuals build mosques close to their home. Numerous mosques sometime across the street from each other are being built by individuals. While the mosque might be within a walking distance according to planning standards, the harsh weather encourages people to go by automobiles and discourages walking.
In an Islamic society, the mosque should be viewed as the centre of the community not as a service to be provided later. The so-called planning standards that are applied and taught in architectural schools should be revised and adapt to the local needs of the community. Planning standards and building codes should sustain local environmental, social and cultural needs.
Figure (13.) Modern and vernacular Planning
Vernacular houses provided adequate setting for family living and child rearing. The large size and design of the house allowed formation of new families within the same space. Extended families lived for years together and the elderly were taken care by the young. Women had adequate space and privacy inside the courtyard. The house was evolving with the growing family needs and development.
The government provides the citizens with modern houses. Modern houses are provided with all sophisticated facilities. The houses are designed as end products not allowing its residents to modify or change them.
Many of the inhabitants were Bedouins raising herds of animals in the desert. The tent was their house during long exhausting trips to arable lands. All Bedouins became settlers under new schemes to settle the Bedouins in new communities. These schemes resulted in the disappearance of this life style.
The worst impact of planned development is disappearance of human life styles without allowing them the opportunity to evolve naturally. The Bedouins, the traditional inhabitants of this region, are no longer living there because of enforced social and planning schemes. The argument is not for preservation of inadequate living conditions, rather the argument is that people should be given the chance to evolve and adapt to new conditions. They should also be allowed freedom of choice between different lifestyles.
The resources of the vernacular were renewable. Building materials were available everywhere, construction method and house design were shared by everyone. Modern architecture requires the use of numerous resources, many of which are not available in the region. Building materials, construction methods, workforce, and building design are all imported from foreign countries. While the revenues of local resources are high at this moment, they are limited and non-renewable.
Consumption of resources was very limited. The number of inhabitants was small and the resources were very limited. The inhabitants used the available resources efficiently in order to survive the difficult conditions.
Consumption of local resources is very rapid. Little attention is given to issues of recycling and reuse of waste materials.
The best buildings of the future will interact dynamically with the climate in order better to meet the users needs and make optimum use of energy.
Absence of awareness in a period of booming development contributed to the creation of an environment that resembles other environments without much concern to the context of the region. New awareness towards the significance of environment, conservation and sustainability concepts should be encouraged in order to replace improper practices towards the environment.
We must address the issues of sustainability in our architecture, urban design and planning projects. We need a long term view of how to implement sustainable strategies, not the fulfilment of immediate physical satisfaction.
Sustainability is by nature "an architecture". If we are to achieve it, we must concretely engage the design issues associated with material selection, water runoff and collection, solar thermal access/collection/storage, wind sheltering and ventilation flow management, daylight access and distribution, land form, soil structure, and vegetative resource; we must address, more fully, the underlying influence(s) of political, economic and social issues comprising the cultural and spiritual landscape -- in which the desire to achieve sustainability in itself reflects such a significant value shift.
Attitude towards the past represented by vernacular architecture is hindering appreciation of the significance of it s environmental solutions. Many vernacular buildings are being transformed into museums but they are not regarded as viable solutions to our current situation.
The folk tradition is the direct and unselfconscious translation into physical from of a culture, its needs and values- as well as the needs, dreams and passions of a people. The Folk tradition is more closely related to the culture of the majority and life as it is really lived than is the grand design tradition which represents the culture of the elite.
In many Gulf countries, there is a total reliance on non-renewable energy intensive HVAC systems replaced climate sensitive vernacular design with buildings which ignored the implications and potential of climate due to the availability of mechanical and electrical systems and inexpensive energy. Such building design practices persist despite increased energy costs and environmental awareness. This type of design approach built an expectation of guaranteed all-season comfort, with minimal intervention by the occupant. The invention of computerized thermostats increased the passive role of the occupant. This lifestyle, based on convenience and total comfort, has perhaps become one of the greatest barriers to the widespread adoption of both passive and sustainable design principles. Sustainable design requires a fundamental change in mind-set and a change in values toward less consumption and less comfort. We have to accept reduction in expected comfort levels, in comparison with accepted comfort criteria in mechanically heated and cooled buildings.
A more romantic notion of sustainability leads to fairly significant lifestyle implications and the acceptance that indoor comfort levels will vary with the external conditions in summer and winter and that they will be affected significantly by the users active participation in drawing the shades, opening and closing windows and doors, firing the heater, conserving hot water, etc. Passive buildings require active users.
In many Third World countries, implementation of inadequate building codes and regulations which were imported from Western countries during colonialisation, created a built environment alien and hostile to the localities. A major revision of those building codes and regulations is long overdue. As suggested earlier, sustainability is achieved through a process that ensures it implementation in all stages of development. Sustainability refers to a process and an attitude or viewpoint towards the future.
Rather than signalling a return to subsistence living, sustainability means an increase in quality and standard of living. The key to sustainable architecture is recognizing our position as temporary towards our environment. The better we as architects understand and implement our stewardship of the built environment, the greater the quality life we, and future generations, will enjoy.
There is a myth that implementation of sustainable strategies would reduce consumption of oil and hence reduce income and dependency on oil. This viewpoint ignores the importance of reducing oil consumption for the benefit of future generations. Instead of striving to achieve high income today, we should work on maintaining modest income for a longer period of time.
In order to achieve a sustainable architecture, the following measures should be implemented:
The so-called planning standards that are applied and taught in architectural schools should be revised and adapt to the local needs of the community. Most of these standards were borrowed from western countries during colonialisation period and are still active until today. Planning standards and building codes should sustain local environmental, social and cultural needs.
Along with planning standards, building codes and regulations should be updated and improved in order to meet the changing needs of the society and environment. Many of these building codes were designed to meet the needs of cold weather regions and specific social needs of western countries.
We need to absorb the concept of sustainable architecture into the design process of professional practice. A regional approach to architectural design should incorporate all aspects of sustainability.
We should introduce the concept and issues of sustainability in our architectural education. Our architectural curricula should address all aspects of sustainability as an overriding concept that influences all our design decisions. There are several strategies to incorporate the concept of sustainability in our curricula.
The need to introduce issues of sustainable design into architectural curricula is becoming vitally important. The use of solar and climate sensitive design strategies in buildings has become the essential starting point for sustainable architecture since the introduction of these topics into architectural curricula in the 1970s. Such climate sensitive strategies can be characterized to support either passive solar design or active solar and wind design. Passive and active design do not in and of themselves constitute sustainability, but they can be seen as vital supporters of sustainable design. It is important that educators understand the full potential of sustainable design through experiencing the active participation of the sustainable lifestyle. The relevance of this type of sustainable living experience is becoming more widely recognized. Such involvement will not only ask of educators that they practice what they preach, but will allow professors to understand the implications and potential engendered by complete sustainable livingPassive + Active + Participation- and take an active role in the creation of a new sustainable vernacular.
We should allow changes to take place in our architectural curricula on the following levels:
1.Study and selection of construction materials
2.Development of sound design concepts
3.Development of appropriate building construction details
4.Quantity surveying and assurance of quality performance
5.Study aspects of maintenance and durability of buildings
6.Study energy consumption, conservation and effectiveness in buildings
7.Finally, stress quality more than quantity.
While educating architectural students seems difficult, educating practitioners is more challenging and rewarding. We should not neglect the large number of graduates and practitioners who have direct influence on what is being produced today. Post graduate studies, workshops and seminars should address the immediate needs of practising architects in order to be able to transform their current practices in sustainable ones.
The industrial revolution and the resulting international/modernist movement in architecture was highly integrated with the technical questions raised, and the opportunities presented, by new means of construction. Our current situation is no different. Sustainability provides the window of opportunity for demonstrating how the integration of technical issues can reveal new design/artistic/stylistic inspirations. Unless as a profession we can shift the popular image of our work from the "beautification of buildings" to the "management by design" of energy, economic and environmental resources in service to the individual and societal aspirations, we miss our opportunity of assuring the profession's future.
We should encourage research on sustainable architecture and use of environmental measurements to study vernacular and modern architecture. Research findings that are supported by advance environmental measurements have significant impact. For example, the audience at the American Solar Energy Societys Annual Conference in July 1995, Solar 95, was captivated by John Reynolds (University of Oregon) study of temperature patterns in vernacular Spanish courtyards in Cordoba. The Reynolds study, with temperature data collected using hobos, (a hobo is a portable data logger which is able to collect air temperature, relative humidity or daylight, at specific selected time intervals. The information can then be downloaded into a computer for analysis) documented courtyard temperatures in the mid 80s, as compared with adjacent street temperatures in the mid to high 90s. The passive cooling was achieved through high mass and evaporative cooling (fountains and watering of plants). The courtyard felt adequately comfortable in comparison to the adjacent urban environment, in spite of recording temperatures at least 10 degrees F higher than would be expected in a mechanically cooled building, and measured conditions at the high end of the accepted comfort zone. The images of the lush foliage and cool comfort of the courtyard contrasted the harsh heat of the urban surroundings. No energy dependent systems were employed to achieve comfortrather, natural cooling principles, foliage and water.
Consumption of limited resources should be addressed on all levels. We should use alternative energy sources to preserve our limited resources for future generations. The RE words are numerous; REcycle, REuse, REstore, REnew, REscue, REgenerate, and REcover.
What is needed are methodologies which inform decision-making in support of achieving sustainability.
Sustainability is usually attacked as romantic slogan with no specific agenda for action. There are two main strategies for implementing sustainability concept: active and passive strategies. While active strategies focus on implementing the adoption of alternate energy systems, passive systems focus on the adoption of principles of design to reduce energy requirements.
Full sustainability will not be possible without a comprehensive and strategic adoption of both active and passive systems. These strategies need to be seen as complementary and interdependent, a positive product of their apparent diametric opposition. The implementation of active systems, if coupled with an education towards the adoption of vernacular based passive strategies, will be able to better reduce the overall consumption of energy. A comprehensive approach to sustainable design, with active user participation, will enable renewable energy sources to more easily meet demand levels. In this way, passive and active design strategies can act to support the creation of a new sustainable vernacular, based on an inclusive bioclimatic approach to architectural design.
Passive strategies can be viewed as: a holistic approach to design to reduce the use of electricity and general energy consumption, the use of natural systems versus high tech dependency, an emulation of the purity and successes of vernacular construction for heating and cooling, an architecture which in its response to climate involves the total design of a building and its site, passive solar design strategy, as an aspect of sustainable building design, requiring active user participation to ensure effectiveness and consistency, a return to the rustic, simplified lifestyle, back to earth, and essentially a romantic view.
Active strategies are technology dependent solutions. The use of active systems can effectively alleviate the pressure on non-renewable energy sourcesindependent of architectural form and without radically altering occupant lifestyle or level of comfort. Active systems have been presented as technological solutions which can effectively alleviate the pressure on non-renewable energy sourceswithout a major change in building design strategies or occupant lifestyle. Active strategies can be viewed as: systems oriented, incrementally adaptable to the community requirements, the generation of electricity via photovoltaics and wind to reduce dependence on grid based electricity, climate dependent installations based on the availability of solar radiation and wind, applications currently limited as a product of initial capital costs, long term benefits as a result of low operating and maintenance costs, active solar and wind strategies as an aspect of sustainable building design, and a pragmatic solution that can operate effectively independent of active user participation.
Sustainable architecture and developments are in the process of creating new forms of climate-sensitive vernacular for the 21st century.
The future of architecture will not depend on styles and fashion promoted by consumerism and media. It will depend on sincere application of sustainable strategies and the achievement of successful regional environmental solutions. We will be able to appreciate and enjoy diversity instead of being contained in monotony and uniformity.
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Boake, Terri Meyer, Passive Versus Active Solar Design: Opposing Strategies in Support of a New Sustainable Vernacular, Architronic,1995.
- Boake, Terri Meyer, Passive Versus Active Solar Design: Opposing Strategies in Support of a New Sustainable Vernacular, Architronic,1995.