Climate-adaptive Architecture

By Carol Marra

The author visiting Kyoto's vernacular structures

As a result of a Churchill Fellowship and ongoing research Carol Marra argues for architecture that not only designs with climate but that adapts to climatic conditions during the course of the seasons.

“To know its environment is to understand an architecture”. Encapsulated in this succinct quotation is the driving force behind the Churchill Fellowship research.

Years of study and practice have shown that first and foremost, Architecture must be suited to its environment, just as much as it must be suited to its cultural, technological and economic context. So we set out to discover an Architecture of resilience, where the prevailing climate has been accommodated through a number of generations, and where severe weather events are a normal occurrence, not just a novelty of climate change. Places were chosen that have very long histories of permanent settlements, where Architecture has had the possibility to develop subtle and sophisticated strategies from generation to generation to modulate the climate.  Although Architecture is not just the result of response to climate, in places where the climate is severe, this is the most important role that must be acknowledged.

The locations of the study are regularly visited by monsoons, typhoons and large seasonal variations. They are also located between the latitudes of 20 to 40, thus sharing climatic conditions with most of coastal Australia.

The focus of this research fellowship has been to look for lessons in the vernacular that can be applied to contemporary works of architecture, thus making our built environment better prepared to cope with changing climate patterns. Regardless of the causes of climate change, there is documented evidence that weather events are becoming more severe. At the same time there is a growing need to move away from an overdependence on energy consuming climate modulating systems such as air-conditioning and active heating. Therefore, it is of outmost importance to look for passive design strategies which can accommodate severe weather events while still providing solutions for human comfort.

Put simply, good architecture needs to be a climatic architecture; it either counteracts climate by basic measures and features or adapts itself to climate. Climatic response must be one of the driving aspects of architecture, not an add-on or an afterthought. Although we cannot predict the future, we can learn from past experience and assess what has worked, what has been adaptable and successful thru the centuries. Building is an act of permanence, an act of settlement. As such, we must build for the present and the future. One of the most sustainable aspects of buildings is their ability to endure thru generations, to adapt to change and to continue being relevant in a given society despite the changes.

For further reference see Environment Design Guide 67 CM - The Climate-Adaptive Vernacular Architecture of Asia-Pacific.