The Beauty of Bioclimatic Design

Urban landscapes are alive, and they're transforming all the time in cities across the globe
12 July, 2016
That's especially true in Paris, where projects include the Grand Paris Express railway project, the Reinventing the Seine waterway and river initiative and "Reinvent Paris."
Image: Loci Anima et Gianni Ranaulo Architecte Designer
The latter revitalization effort will put new buildings on 23 sites that feature environmentally friendly, sustainable practices and design.

Among the entries was the "New Scene" concept submitted by Loci Anima Architectures and their team. This smart vision for an arts venue and cultural center included residential space in an artists' hotel, office space for related businesses, and a restaurant and rooftop garden. Notably, the plans also included a bioclimatic façade made of white aluminium blades designed to look like a performance stage curtain. The functional blades allow soft light to enter, with an urban "green wall" of small leaves and mosses.
The choice of aluminium for its bioclimatic impact is among the best options for energy efficiency, as architects and builders choose solutions to help buildings perform well in the climate and conditions where they are located. Aluminium, glass, ceramics and steel are commonly used materials, but the bioclimatic principles used aren't limited to material selections. When it comes to ventilation in tropical climates, for example, it's the strategic absence of materials, or their position and perforation, that creates air flow to boost natural cooling – a technique used in Indonesia – while a building's geographic orientation can maximize the benefits of cooling breezes or increase critical access to solar energy.
There is considerable diversity in how bioclimatic principles are applied across the world, precisely because these principles are responsive to their locations. Many of today's "innovations" are a return to the intuitive practice of centuries ago, before electricity and conditioned spaces made them an afterthought. The iconic hacienda of Spanish architecture relied on thick walls and smaller south-facing windows to reduce interior heating. Curved roofs in Asian countries like China and Japan prevented snow build-up on the rooftops. In Nordic societies, sod houses of centuries ago were among the first to integrate vegetation into the structure, in much the same way that green walls and rooftop gardens function now.

In the modern era, the idea for adaptation by design was popular in South America when it was first introduced in the 1960s by Victor Olgyay, who brought a sense of morality to architectural design. With bioclimatic design, there is often a sense of style continuity as well. In Paris, that may mean that aluminium blades sweep to evoke that stage-curtain effect in a center meant for celebration of the arts, but on a different continent or culture – or even in buildings with a different purpose within the same city – the techniques for adapting to climate also contemplate who uses the building, and the context of that use.
In Houston, Texas, where officials knew that replacing the city's aging firehouses was long overdue, the new Station 27 is a LEED-certified building that features fire-engine-red aluminium panels that wrap inside from the exterior. The color and design communicate its historic function in the community, but now it features a lobby bathed in natural light, with matching red vertical shade fins angled at windows on the sunnier side. The fire station also has solar panels on the roof and a rainwater recovery system.

Image: Fire Station 27 at 8401 Douglas Ave in Dallas designed by Perkins and Will. Copyright: Thomas McConnell
As cities across the globe reinvent themselves to meet climate challenges in the 21st century, bioclimatic design is seeing its renaissance in techniques and materials that support our cultural diversity by aligning the built environment with our planet – and protecting our common home as well as our smaller ones.
Banner image: Bioclimatic and Biophilic Boarding House / Andyrahman Architect. Photo by Mansyur Hasan