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Bookshelf - Vernacular
  • Dwellings: The Vernacular House Worldwide
    Dwellings: The Vernacular House Worldwide
    by Paul Oliver
  • On Adam's House in Paradise: The Idea of the Primitive Hut in Architectural History
    On Adam's House in Paradise: The Idea of the Primitive Hut in Architectural History
    by Joseph Rykwert
  • Classic Cracker: Florida's Wood-Frame Vernacular Architecture
    Classic Cracker: Florida's Wood-Frame Vernacular Architecture
    by Ronald W. Haase
Bookshelf - ID
  • Climate Responsive Design: A Study of Buildings in Moderate and Hot Humid Climates
    Climate Responsive Design: A Study of Buildings in Moderate and Hot Humid Climates
    by Richard Hyde

 

Design Like You Know Where You Are...

 

"We must at the outset take note of the countries and climates in which buildings are built."

- Vitruvius, 4 B.C., Greece

Introduction

There is nothing new about 'Intelligent Design'. The principles behind it originated with the first structure that humans ever created for themselves to fulfill their need for shelter, and evolved with time, experience, trial and error, materials availability, and technical knowledge. People living in desert climates built very differently from civilizations living in alpine regions of Europe, who in turn built differently than Amazonian tribes living in rain forests. It is common to term this approach to design 'vernacular'.

Vernacular refers to early building designs that were based on where people lived, how they lived, and their culture. They considered their geographical region and associated climate, the topography, the sun's  seasonal intensity, altitude, and azimuth, wind patterns, precipitation, and more. They dealt with biology, geology, hydrology, and sociology. They were aware of the availability of various building materials and chose accordingly. They were concerned about their neighbors, not about whose home was bigger, but where each others home could be located so it didn't impact anyone's livability. They observed, thought about, participated in, and responded, intelligently, to what was going on around them.

With the proliferation of mechanical cooling in U.S. homes between the mid-1940s and the mid-1950s, along with the concurrent growth in automobile ownership and advances in materials technology, incorporating human-based, contextually-appropriate aspects in building design was all but eliminated. Instead, buildings that are placeless, inefficient, ugly, unfriendly, forgettable, and disposable proliferate. As a result, numerous detrimental conditions, including urban sprawl, excessive waste, pollution, depletion of resources, and others, that contribute to pervasive social ills have developed.

A return to some characteristics of a smarter approach to design is occurring with the current sustainability movement. However, I believe that this is mainstream primarily in a marketing sense and is something of a bandwagon for people on the commercial side of building production. The public, grassroots effort is somewhat fanatical, reminiscent of the 1960s, there is insufficient support at the middle class consumer level, and there is little commitment in higher financial circles. Until the thinking and demands of buyers/owners of all new buildings, both residential and commercial, returns to the level of innate requirements that originally drove designs, marketing bonus points and oneupsmanship will be the stimulus for including such features by architects, builders, and developers.

Intelligent Design is human-based, not market-based. This begins with accounting for, respecting, and responding to true, basic human needs, which do not change with time, but vary according to context, which includes location, culture, and traditions. The use of engineering and science as a design basis should not be misconstrued or misinterpreted, as science often is, as cold and impersonal. On the contrary, they are used in this process to specifically forge a connection and relationship between home, inhabitants, and the spaces outside. Unless contextual conditions are honestly and thoroughly addressed, the human aspect of architecture - creation of place: that which engages heart and mind, body and soul - will degenerate into 'building'.

 

Beyond The Buzz...

The concepts of Intelligent Design are more than buzz words and inclusion of token features that are headlined to be 'green', eco-something, or design-by-spreadsheet items that are used as marketing propaganda. The concept truly engages and holistically integrates related engineering and sciences, both physical and social, including biology, building science, climatology, construction technology, geology, horticulture, hydrology, materials science, meteorology, physics, physiology, psychology, and others.

A lot of work that relates to the various topical areas that follow next has been done and abundant material is readily available to anyone interested in delving into it. Accordingly, this discussion presents and summarizes pertinent concepts to be used as a reference when reviewing, evaluating, and understanding designs that are (to be) presented on this site.

The material that follows describes the various location-dependent approaches to design and how to implement them to ameleorate climate-associated conditions in creating comfortable living conditions. All climatological regions are discussed for the sake of comparing attendant issues, but the focus is on methods applicable to the sub-tropical to tropical areas of mid- to southern-Florida. Such methods are also, generally, apropos in other, similar regions around the world, with modifications to suit local and site-specific variations. In fact, because more work has been done in other places like Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore, many of the examples presented of regionally appropriate design solutions come from these places.

At this time, the focus of this site will be on single family homes. This is the area that seems to receive the most hype and the least genuine efforts, in spite of the home being the most important human 'place'.