Sunday, 24 July 2016

Talk : What do we talk about when we talk about climate?

Dr Vladimir Jankovic (Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester) recently gave the Hayman Rooke Lecture in Environmental Humanities at the University of Nottingham. This post is based on the talk, together with some extra linkage and bloggage.

Poster for the talk

But first, the Hayman Who talk?

It turns out that Major Hayman Rooke (1723-1806) became an archaeologist in the Nottingham area and after whom the Major Oak is named. He was also interested in meterology, as shown in this article.

But, anyway, back to the talk at hand. Dr Jankovic began with a quote from mid-2th century artchitect Marston Fitch:
"the ultimate task of architecture is to act in favor of man: to interpose itself between man and the natural environment in which he finds himself, in such a way as to remove the gross environmental load from his shoulders."

A slightly overexposed Vladimir

The talk then described how pre-industrial houses were often constructed in ways that worked with their environment, a classic example being the mudwall buildings common in hot climates.

A mud walled building

Dr Jankovic then mentioned "The Invention of Comfort" by John E. Crowley (see also here), who describes how it was social and much as technological changes in the West that allowed technological innovations to be adopted in the home.

By the early 20th century there were two trends at work, one was for sealing off buildings from the outside world, and using technology to ensure that the interior was heated and ventilated. An example being the Larkin Building, echoing the earlier views of William Chambers who said :
"In countries where men live in woods, in caves or miserable huts, exposed to the inclemency of seasons and under continual apprehensions of heat, cold, tempests, rains or snow, they are indolent, stupid and abject, their faculties are benumbed, and all their views limited to the supplying their immediate wants;

but in places where the inhabitants are provided with commodious dwellings, in which they may breath a temperate air, amidst the summer's heat and winter's cold, sleep when nature calls, at ease and in security; study unmolested, and taste the sweets of every social enjoyment, we find them active, inventive and enterprising"

The Larkin Building

The other trend was the direct opposite, aimed to expose building inhabitants to the outside environment as much as possible. Some examples of this can be found in the Lovell Beach House, Villa Savoye and the Open Air School Movement

Villa Savoye

Dr Jankovic also described how, in the 1950's, and with high energy prices a concern, architects such as Victor and Aladar Olgyay designed buildings fitted into the local climate and were more economical to keep cool during hot summers. House orientation was a big factor and the Olgyays used a dome shaped machine called a "Thermodelidon" to test building models (some details buried in here)

They were actually some of the pioneers of the modern "Green Building" movement but interest waned somewhat as energy costs fell and the answer to climate control for American buildings, especially those in hot areas, increasingly became simply to install air-conditioning. (see here for a fascinating LSE paper about historical energy costs)

Closing the talk pointed out that while the developing world was focussed on "big architecture" and its effect on people, there were billions around the world who were still cooking over oven fires and suffering from the local air polloution this causes. The WHO states that :

Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.

Over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels.

More than 50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by the particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.

3.8 million premature deaths annually from noncommunicable diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are attributed to exposure to household air pollution

Extra Stuff
While compiling this post, BFTF noticed, or was made aware of, a few items that seemed relevant...

Climate controls are far from a modern practice, the Romans used a form of underfloor central heating called a "Hypocaust"

A  Hypocauste

William Strut and Charles Sylvester, both from the Derbyshire / Sheffield area were innovators in the use of central heating in buildings, most notably the Derby Infirmary, built in 1819 and featuring fire-proof construction and novel heating that allowed the patients to breathe fresh heated air whilst old air was channelled up to a glass and iron dome at the centre.

Derby Infirmary

Angier Perkins was another innovator in the field of steam central heating. His first steam heating system was installed in 1832 in the home of Governor of the Bank of England John Horley Palmer so that the owner could grow grapes!

A long and relentlessly interesting article on the history of internal building heating can be found here.

Related Content
New York Architecture
Nottingham Tiltshifted
Nottingham Architecture and Urban Design

Image Sources
Mud Home, Larkin Building, Villa Savoye, Derby Infirmary Hypocauste