Kinetic Architecture: Designs for Active Envelopes is a book about energy. We have written it to explore the new ways architecture has developed in the last decade to respond to the flow of energy, both natural and man-made, that primarily affects building performance and the comfort of the people in them. Buildings regulate energy flow in several ways, but in this book we explore the approaches that innovative architects, engineers, and consultants have taken with building envelopes, façades, and other types of enclosures that modulate the internal environment of architecture to various ends. Architects have expressed this regulation in ways both visible and invisible, using the media of air, water, and the thermal mass of a variety of materials, and often a combination of all three.
We think great strides have been made in this understanding of design in the last decade, owing to a recognition of the energy demands of buildings on our limited utility grids, as well as advances in the modeling of buildings, analysis tools, basic knowledge about heat transfer and human comfort that has been codified and adapted for design, and the improvement of glazing technology, control systems, actuators, and other mechanical equipment that ultimately form the tectonics of this architecture.
That said, this is not just another book about sustainability. Although we find ourselves sympathetic to the green building movement—and many of the projects we present in this book are certainly understood in that vein—we are interested mainly in the envelope and the innovative ways it can be used to modulate energy in its primary forms—visible light and heat. This, of course, is part of a larger story of architecture with a greater horizon than what we currently consider sustainable design, which is not a new direction in architecture, but rather a re-focusing effort toward an understanding of buildings as existing within and of their particular place, materials, and labor. That was certainly the case before the 1920s, but was lost in the globalization of capital that ran its course rather steadily up until 2008.
Although we believe the projects in this book represent many proven passive design strategies that would have been common enough 100 years ago, the appearance of the architecture suggests otherwise. Tuning the building to respond to seasonal climatic conditions is an old strategy, perfected in many buildings from the 1890s to the 1930s, constructed before the mass adoption of air-conditioning. The critic and historian Reyner Banham beat that horse dead in 1969 with his somewhat dry outline-of-a-book, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment. But in contemporary buildings, it’s difficult to completely ventilate a structure naturally when it’s full of high-tech heat loads—computers, lighting, and people toting smart-phones. As much as we would like every new high-rise to look like George Wyman’s Bradbury Building, from 1893, in downtown Los Angeles, with a central atrium for daylighting and effective cross-ventilation of shallow floor plates full of high ceilings and operable windows on both sides, these strategies alone won’t necessarily make a building function efficiently, let alone comfortably.
The projects we present in this book are not experiments; they were each developed within clearly defined market-driven conditions, varied as they may be, responding to the programmatic needs of a wide range of clients and audiences and concerned in varying degrees with tempering the interior environment through innovative, alternately passive and active, design strategies.