Bioclimatism in vernacular architecture
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Any analysis of the role played by energy in architecture is faced with serious limitations due to the lack of studies in the architectural bibliography, especially studies of popular architecture. An awareness of these limitations will allow us to understand better why architects have paid little attention to the interaction of form and energy, and to the bioclimatic approach in contemporary architecture in general. The first limitation stems from the very essence of bioclimatic analysis; energy is immaterial, difficult to represent in images, changing in time and wrongfully left out of the architectural literature. This is why it is difficult to find a basic knowledge of the functional aesthetic possibilities of bioclimatism in the cultural experience of present-day architects. The second limitation to this knowledge, even more important than the previous one, is the low value given to the more anonymous popular architecture as opposed to representative architecture. The latter is the kind of architecture built by established power, which attempts to impress the observer and clashes with, dominates, and often destroys the natural environment. This style of architecture is crammed with theoretical aesthetic concerns, which would rather create artificial environments than be integrated in the natural milieu. To sum up, it is the architecture undertaken by well-known authors, found in important buildings, which have been commented and widely appreciated by architecture critics throughout history. Nowadays, representative architecture can be said to describe the architecture found in large office buildings, which embody the legacy of such works from the history of culture as the pyramids, classic shrines, medieval castles and large Gothic cathedrals, baroque and Renaissance palaces, etc. These modern buildings, clad in glass as a symbol of their modernity, are incongruously dark and require artificial lighting during the day, while the flimsy casing separating them from the outside makes it necessary to use air conditioning all year round, even when outside conditions are pleasant. We can well affirm that these buildings are so wrong that they work worse than the climate. In comparison with this type of representative architecture, we find popular architecture, performed by the people as a direct response to their needs and values. These buildings show a greater respect for the existing environment, whether natural or artificial. They do not reflect theoretical aesthetic pretensions and use local materials and techniques as far as possible, repeating over and over again the course of history models which take the constraints imposed by the climate fully into account. Our popular architecture—so often forgotten in official circles—may well be the kind which can best teach us today how to assimilate the bioclimatic approach in the practice of architectural design. However, we should not consider these solutions to be models to copy in current architecture. Our technical capacity and our cultural grounding prevent us from returning to these obsolete architecture forms, but what may be of use as a lesson and a source of inspiration is the attitude of the builders of this popular architecture, which recovers a relationship to the environment which has been lost in the more official architecture of the 20th century.
CitationCoch, H. Bioclimatism in vernacular architecture. "Renewable and sustainable energy reviews", Juny 1998, vol. 2, núm. 1-2, p. 67-87.