Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

A design review this afternoon brought home just how critical the low carbon knowledge gap really is. Two architects presented schemes for projects with high sustainability ambitions. Both were labouring under misapprehensions about daylight and natural ventilation because both had been advised by their engineers that everything would be fine. Unfortunately neither architect had sufficient knowledge to challenge their engineers’ assertions.

It transpired that the ventilation would be fine because the engineers, in both cases, were planning to add fans, so the systems would work when natural ventilation failed. A quick examination of the buildings in question revealed these fans would have to be relied on for ventilation about 95% of the time – hardly natural ventilation.

The daylight issues were also similar; deep plan buildings with fully glazed facades in compensation to let enough light in! Once again, an engineer had calculated the average daylight factor and assured the architect that everything would be OK. I estimated that the light would vary by about 60:1. With such high contrast the interiors will appear deeply gloomy against the over-lit perimeters and result in excessive use of electric light.

Neither building was engineered to achieve the architectural ambition. Both displayed classic mistakes which we teach architectural students to avoid. However, a practicing architect has to deal with many conflicting issues and must be able to rely on their engineer. Yet, engineers are taught to design with fans and electric lights, not to manipulate the building form to promote natural airflow and light.

How many buildings fail by falling between architects and engineers who lack a common language? We must not only join up architectural and engineering education, but we must do it urgently.

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