Steven Szokolay wrote this book because he knows there is a large literature on architecture as an art but insufficient on architecture as a science. He believes that professional responsibility extends beyond immediate perceptions of clients to embrace sustainable development. ìIt can no longer be disputed that the resources of this earth are finite, that its capacity to absorb wastes is limited, and that if we want to survive we canít continue our ruthless exploitation of the environmentî. The architectís ìprofessional responsibility demands expertise and competence.î Members of the profession need to improve their understanding of the physical concepts and apply the range of tools available in a sustainable way.
The building envelope is perceived as a selective filter designed to exclude unwanted influences but admit useful ones such as daylight, solar radiation in winter and natural ventilation. The relevant physical principles are reviewed and followed by a discussion of their application to building design in order to meet human requirements. To maximise sustainability passive controls, seen as a consequence of building design, are analysed and recommended to minimise the gap to be filled by energy-requiring active controls.
Szokolay justifies making the first section on heat the most substantial by reminding us that the thermal behaviour of a building has the greatest effect on energy use and sustainability and that its design is fully the architectís responsibility. Inevitably much of the content is readily available in alternatives sources but three issues are particularly well presented and not easily located elsewhere. The psychrometric chart is clearly described and used to define the boundaries of summer and winter ëcomfortí zones required in buildings designed for particular climatic regions. The average monthly climatic ranges are then superimposed to indicate when overheating, underheating, humidity or large diurnal variations are likely to be a problem. The appropriateness of various passive control options are then matched to each of the climatic requirements. The treatment of insulation is taken a notch beyond the usual by illustrating how thermal bridging can be accounted for by using linear heat loss coefficients to calculate bridging losses along aperture and surface junction edges. The use of thermal mass to design in thermal inertia to advantage is also well treated, providing ample data on delay times and admittances for a wide range of common building materials and combinations. One of the useful method sheets also gives the formulae for calculating the time-lag, decrement factor and admittances for any solid homogeneous element.
The second section presents a thorough grounding in the physics and physiology of light and applies this knowledge to the whole gamut of passive design methods for the provision and control of illumination. It is rounded off with a brief outline of electric lighting options combined with a range of luminaires. The main sustainability issue raised is the importance of achieving the best trade off between shading to protect against thermal overheating against daylighting levels to minimise lighting energy use to provide acceptable illuminance levels in work spaces.
The section on acoustics is only likely to be of interest to architects responsible for major blocks of flats or large buildings such as concert halls. Such professionals are likely to have access to more detailed sources and more data.
The final section presents a broad-brush survey of energy resources, water and waste in relation to the design, construction and use of buildings. In response to the question ìWhat can architects do?î Szokolay, whilst conceding that architects continue to face constraints placed on their noble ideals from their employers, by regulatory authorities and the clients they serve, insists they can have real influence at various levels. ìEnvironmental and sustainability issues are survival issues, thus must have top priorityÖî The central task is the design of the building which is much more than looks. Sustainability, how the building works and how it uses resources must be considered with respect to site, energy, materials and waste. Land is precious so building activity must produce the minimum ecological disruption. Now that building regulations are enforcing reduced operational energy use the focus is increasingly upon the energy embodied in the production, processing and transporting of building materials. The selection of materials must be influenced by this embodied energy but also by many other sustainability criteria, such as the 14 identified by the BMAS system or the 5-point scale proposed by Lawson in 1996. Finally Szokolay insists that waste disposal can be strongly influenced by architects but seems to have run out of ideas as to how this influence can result in the application of more sustainable methods.
I was left feeling that the author arrived with a roar and departed with a whimper. This is a pity because he seems to care as much as I do about humankindís relentless march towards self destruction. I recommend the book for its useful first section on the thermal environment and the wealth of information and techniques provided in the extensive data sheets and method sheets. I also thank the author for letting his readers know how concerned he is that all architects must ensure that each of their daily decisions is informed by a deep concern for the earthís life support system.