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  BEYOND 007 - September 2011  
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Text from BEYOND's interview with Bill Caplan:

Nowadays, with the incredible increase of energy consumption caused by energy crises all over the world, architectural design will emphasize energy efficiency more. As an expert In energy-conserving design, Bill Caplan believes that energy conservation should start from sustainable design.

Then what is "sustainable architectural design"?
On a broad scale, 'sustainable design" is the practice of building in an ecologically responsible manner. At present this typically means using energy efficient building materials, technologies and techniques where appropriate and feasible. The motivation for including elements of sustainable design in both new construction and renovation comes from government regulation and incentives, an owner's desire to reduce operating costs and awareness that we must consume less energy. With the wide array of energy conserving building materials available such as insulation, thermal glass, sun screens and deflectors, sealants and coatings, thermal-break fenestration, roofing and cladding, as well as more efficient heating, ventilation, plumbing and lighting systems, increased energy efficiency has become easier to achieve. However, employing elements of sustainable design is not the same as designing sustainable architecture. Designing sustainable architecture includes the art and science of creating both building envelope and program space allocation in tandem with site-specific energy resource vectors for the best ecological interface. The goal is to harvest energy transmitted by radiation, conduction and convection such as solar, wind. fluid, gas or thermal mass; ambient light; air flow for circulation and ventilation; and water; while minimizing its loss. These vectors must influence shape and orientation in order to integrate sustainable technology to be one with design.

Although many built projects have successfully addressed the need for significant energy savings, many more are highly deficient - not achieving predicted or worthwhile savings. An unfortunate trend is developing whereby energy generating or conserving elements are gratuitously added to architectural designs that are more decorative than useful, some with negative environmental impact and cost. We see this in a proliferation of small-scale solar, wind, geo-thermal and green roof architectural systems with ill-considered location, orientation and use.

The way to achieve sustainable design at a moderate cost is to employ only sustainable technology and eco-design techniques that can provide significant energy savings for the actual site. This must hold true with a four-season analysis. Most architects, designers, builders and developers are not sufficiently knowledgeable in the technical aspects of sustainable technologies and design techniques. The same can be said for many small installer/suppliers who rely on confusing manufacturer specifications and over-simplified computer programs to predict energy savings. Performing an engineering analysis of the sited architectural design as it relates to adjacent buildings, landscape, solar movement, wind and weather, can determine what technology or design changes will provide substantive gain and are viable financially - if at all.

From Bill's opinion, the bottleneck to successful energy-saving design is insufficient education.
Most architecture schools emphasize form rather than substance when it comes to sustainable design methods and available technology. As success is a function of science and engineering, form must follow technical substance. Architecture graduates must be taught to design site-specific sustainability and to understand the parameters and assumptions used in predictive computer analysis.

In brief, the most important factor for energy saving design is to design in tandem with the site's environmental features. Adding sustainability as an afterthought, when architectural form and program allocation has already been determined, will be less successful, more costly and prone to missed predictions.


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