Toward Solar Architecture

Christian Schrttich

The energy potential, which the sun places at our disposal cn a daily basis, seems inexhaustible. The incident radiation on the a^dmasses of the earth alone is 3000 times greater thar the worldwide demands. Yet we continue to meet these demands almost exclusively with non-renewable energies generated pnmanty from fossil fuels. The resultant environmental problems - air pollution, acid rain, greenhouse effect and climate change - are only too well known. As if this weren't bad enough, annual consumption is climbing drama:-icaiiy. For affluence is on the rise and some of the most populous countries of the world, such as China and India, are atxxit to adopt the extravagant lifestyle of the West. This will lead to nearly immeasurable ecological and political consequences in the near future s*Ke the conventional energy resources are finite and wil soon be exhausted. The fight for access to and control over these energy resources, first and foremost oil. will intensify even more. Seen from this perspective. a solar agenda is not only a sensibJe environmental policy it is also a contribution to peace, it is high time, therefore. to finally adopt a new philosophy and to embark on the road towards sustainable development based on renewable energy resources. Energy resources, in other words, that aie drectly or indirectly linked to the sun such as solar radiation, wnd- and hydro power generation or biomass. Architecture and budding play a key role in this context. For nearly half of an the energy consumed in Central Europe is expended in the operation of buildings, that is. for heating, coo' ng and lighting. The last two factors, especially, were neglected for a long time. When solar architecture gained m importance m the early ig70s as a result of the two oil crises, attention was initially focused entirely on avotdmg heat loss, on utilizing solar energy to heat buildings in winter and to heat domestic water. However, in office buildings especially, cooling is generally a far greater problem and a major factor >n energy consumption. Office buildings are subject to heat gans caused not only by climate, but also by the heat radiating from occupants, equipment such as computers and monitors. and above all by the use of artificial lighting. One need only consider that roughly three times the amount of energy is required to cool a room by one degree in comparison to heating the same space by one degree, to grasp the significance of cooling with renewable energy resources and the >mportance of natural lighting. Moreover, the comparison illustrates the degree to which the various factors are interdependent: solar architecture cannot be reduced to isolated measures such as collectors or photovoltaic installations on the roof. Rather, a building must be understood as a complex configuration - a total energy concept - that makes the best possible use of locally available natural resources such as solar energy, wind and geothermal energy for a variety of requirements. Passive and active measures complement one another in this approach, from the orientation and division of the building to the integration o< systems for the generation of warm water or power. Flexible envelopes, regulated by intelligent control systems and capable of reacting to verying influences and weather conditions are making increasingly important contributions. It goes without saying that sue!- a complex configuration calls for comprehensive interdisciplinary concepts, integrated planning, in other words, where al participating experts are involved at an early stage.

But energy-conserving architecture cannot be limited tc the operation of the buildings. It begins with urban planning and includes consideration of the energy content of the emc toyed materials as well as the material cycles. Production techniques. transportation routes, assembly and the recyciabihty of building components are all included in the approach. Renewable and local building materials such as timber or clay are preferable over those, which can only be manirfac-tured by consuming large amounts of energy (generated from fossil fuels). The latter also cause high levels of pollutant emissions in production and must be transported across great distances. Yet what are the concrete criteria, which an architect can apply to evaluate materials? There is still a scarcity of available information and the primary energy demand of building materials is still insufficiently evaluated even in the case of solar architecture, although great strides have recently been made in this area.

The environmental declaration of building products in Vzxarl-berg (Austria), where the allocation of government subsidies for residential construction is based on ecological criteria, is a model worth emulating. A point catalogue is used to take not only the heating requirements into consideration, bet also the environmental compatibility of each individual building material as well as the employment of renewable energy sources, in Germany, by comparison, subsidies for residential housmg are currently dispersed on the bas¬ęs of the principle of "equal shares for all" and. as if that weren't enough, new building proiects are given preference over rehablita-tion projects. Ecologically speaking, the opposite approach wouid be required. For the primary principle of resource conservation is to utilize the most important available resource, that is. buildings that already oxist.

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