Editorial 19-20

Part 1: Eco-Form


Negar Kalantar

This title of 2A magazine has two parts. The first part of this title provides a unique opportunity to question relationships between a building’s operation and its form.

Just at the point that ‘sustainable’ has a vague and ambiguous meaning in architecture, it has come to mean nothing and everything to everyone. Co-Editor Negar Kalantar has produced an issue of 2A that reminds us of the possibilities and relevance of the eco-form1 in this field.

Form that relates to climate on one side does not allow the building’s fabric to absorb many of the climate pressures; on the other side, it has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the globe.

Before mechanical systems, the structure and form of the building had to do with mediating between external and internal climates, with orientation toward or away from the sun and wind.
In the modern era, as Le Corbusier said “at this time of interpenetration of scientific techniques, I propose one single building for all nations and climate”, mechanical systems become essential in mediating the inadequacies of structure and orientation, therefore, there is no awareness of climate in planning the building form or orientation.

The eco-form is a new vision for the role and meaning of architectural form and a new relationship between architecture and the environment in order to identify the formal potential of environmentally sustainable design. It can bring form and environmental factors into a harmonious dialogue. The relationship between form and environment can be carefully defined.

Regrettably, sustainable design mostly focuses more on utilitarianism and usefulness of form. It is defined as an ethical and logical architecture and aesthetical aspects within imagination and ambition are less relevant. Environmentalists have consistently focused too narrowly on the sustainability, without paying sufficient attention to spatial and visual issues. Utilitarian philosophy that characterizes much of the environmental movement does not sit easily with formal exploration. In eco-form architecture the main question is how ethical and aesthetic aspects meet in form. In general, eco-form architecture endeavors to make room for aesthetics as well as ethics in the wide embrace of environmentalism. It means the overwhelming emphasis on the scientific and quantitative dimensions of the discipline, thermal conductivity of material, photovoltaic technology, computer simulation, and life cycle analysis should not leave intangible and immeasurable aesthetic pleasure aside. Therefore, designers need to discuss form in the same breath as they discuss energy efficiency. Aesthetic pleasure is as necessary as ethical concern. Eco-form desires to restore the aesthetic to the realm of necessity, in order to elevate architecture to a central and visionary role.

In sustainable architecture, there are different approaches toward form; a plurality of approaches emphasizes performance over appearance, and some, appearance over performance. In other words, some environmental architectures endeavor to meet a certain level of energy efficiency, and during that process, architectures have emerged which make visible some of the devices of environmental design. There are other architectures, however, that pursue environmental sustainability without this visibility. Eco-form architecture consciously increases formal visibility and visual identity of the building, which is further influenced by environmental aspects. In eco- form architecture there is a direct correlation between form and energy consumption; therefore, appearance and performance are indivisible.

Eco-form leads to architectural diversity; the acceptance of eco-form leads to a formal differentiation between buildings of one climate zone and another. Consequently, each project would tell something new and each project would be suited to particular climates, environments and societies. Eco-form considers the building as a dynamic system among other dynamic systems, cooperating with them rather than further damaging them. It recasts architecture with a dynamic relationship to its external environment in which it interacts with climate. In this sense, architecture is no longer a separating and controlling agent which seals off its occupants from its surroundings.

Within this issue, we include some projects from Solar Decathlon 2011, which demonstrate the field of eco-form in their designs and research. The solar decathlon houses are the result of work by large teams from architecture and engineering backgrounds who compete in the design and construction of a one-bedroom, zero- energy house organized by The U.S. Department of Energy.

From Solar Decathlon 2011, which was held in Washington DC, we have included participation from Victoria University of Wellington, Appalachian State University, The University of Tennessee, The Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology, and Ghent University. These projects paid more attention to design and environment as form-givers in architecture.

Recently, it is sometimes assumed by the profession that the engineers are responsible for the environmental control of the building and architects are responsible for the design and the form of the building. The Solar Decathlon competition raises our consciousness to recognize that the environmental performance of buildings is best accomplished by both mechanical equipment and the design of the building itself. It emphasizes that the relationship between architectural features and environmental aspects of buildings are inseparable.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon consists of 10 contests. These contests are intended to determine how well the houses perform and how livable and affordable they are. These contests consist of: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communication, affordability, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, and energy balance.

One should consider that how architecture could be one out of ten contests of the competition and has the same importance as the others. As John D. Quale declares, “... the design comes before technology and renewable energy systems alone cannot solve the problems we face”. We should know that the design decisions can affect other contests directly and only through architectural design the ethic and aesthetic aspects of a building could meet.

The second part of this title provides an opportunity to look into the rich architecture of India, but with an eye focused on its contemporary design. This includes participation from several international and famous Indian firms. Co- Editor Ahmad Zohadi expresses how Indian architecture emphasizes intangible aspects of religion, history, spirituality, tradition, customs, and beliefs beside the physical aspects of architecture.

1. The title of this issue; eco-form, was the outcome of my discussion with Prof. Jim Jones, Director of the Ph.D. Program in Design Research and Director of the Center for High Performance Learning Environments in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech.