New Book Calls for an End to Our Fetish for Conditioned Skyscrapers

Professor Alan Short of the University of Cambridge has published a book advocating for the revival of 19th-century architectural ideas to address the crippling energy use of modern skyscrapers. The Recovery of Natural Environments in Architecture proposes an end to the architectural fetish for glass, steel, and air conditioning, instead drawing inspiration from forgotten techniques in naturally ventilated buildings of the 1800s. The book is a culmination of 30 years’ research and design by Prof. Short and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge.

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Professor Alan Short calls for an overhaul of artificial ventilation in skyscrapers. Image Courtesy of University of Cambridge

Buildings in the West count for 40-50% of electricity usage, generating substantial carbon emissions... Modern buildings cannot survive unless hard-wired to a life support machine, yet this fetish for glass, steel and air-conditioned skyscrapers continues – Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge.

In his book, Prof. Short highlights a developed, sophisticated science of natural ventilation used in the 19th-century, exemplified by the first Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. After three years digitally modeling the hospital, Prof. Short and his team noted that ventilation performance in the building was equivalent to a modern-day computer-controlled operating theater. During the 19th-century, public anxiety over toxic air led to the development of public buildings devoted to exceptional air quality, a mindset which Prof. Short argues has been lost in the computer-controlled ventilation of modern skyscrapers.

Professor Short argues that skyscraper design must depart from its current reliance on glass and steel, and begin to harness natural ventilation. Boeri Studio's Bosco Verticale. Image Courtesy of Paolo Rosselli

Huge amounts of a building’s space and construction cost are today given over to air-conditioning… To go forward into our new low energy, low carbon future, we would be well advised to look back at design before our high-energy high-carbon present appeared – Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge.

Prof. Short argues that our current model of glass and steel skyscraper will ultimately become an economic and environmental liability, citing the skyscraper boom in China where energy demands deprive 550 million inhabitants of central heating. Pointing to naturally ventilated public buildings such as the award-winning Queen’s Building at De Monfort University in Leicester, Prof. Short is convinced that naturally ventilated skyscrapers of the future will be produced in any climate.

The Queen's Building at Leicester's De Montfort University is fully naturally lit and ventilated © Flickr user stevecadman. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

My book is a recipe book which looks at the past, how we got to where we are now, and how we might reimagine the cities, offices and homes of the future... Maybe it’s time we changed our outlook – Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge.

Energy demands from a recent skyscraper boom in China has led to energy controls on millions of inhabitants © Flickr user obscurepixels. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The Recovery of Natural Environments in Architecture can be purchased from the RIBA Bookshop here.

News via: University of Cambridge.

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Cite: Niall Patrick Walsh. "New Book Calls for an End to Our Fetish for Conditioned Skyscrapers" 16 Mar 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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