As architecture students, we have all come across the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles designed by Frank Gehry during our deconstructivism lessons. The extravagance of its form seems to defy any rules of harmony and symmetry, and could be undoubtedly considered a work of art in itself, leaving our curious little minds awestruck by how a simple rough sketch can be turned into a beautiful architectural marvel. However, the scarcely discussed reality of the structure is that the curved metallic cladding that enveloped the concert hall to achieve its conceptual form was way too reflective. The concave surfaces received the burning rays from the sun and reflected them to the neighboring houses, causing glare and a significant rise in surrounding temperature by almost 9o Celsius. The adjacent streets also suffered from glare which drastically raised the risks for traffic accidents.
Although the display of self-expression pushes the boundaries for architects to create something unique which helps them stand out, the question that arises here is that to what extent shall we as architects take the liberty to express ourselves and showcase our creativity. It is important to understand that while doing so, architects need to be mindful of the society for which they are creating and the impact of their work on our lives, our behaviors and most importantly our environment, as the world continues to grow into an urban context. We need to ask ourselves if we are happy with the environments within which we live or are we simply working around the limitations of the spaces that we occupy. We need to demand the kind of spaces that allow us to create, innovate, play and connect. Most of us blame the planes, trains, and automobiles for their significant impact on energy use and carbon emission, but the reality is that they are half the impact of the built environment. Therefore, we as architects have the ability to shape better constructed environments and people as the community needs to demand these characteristics of architects.
But how does the shape of space impact us? Dr. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, was working for many years in a Pittsburgh laboratory which was a low-grade compartment with no natural light, ventilation, or view. Although he had all the facilities and instruments that were needed to do his research, he failed to make progress despite years of hard work. Frustrated and in great despair, he decided to take a break and visit a monastery in Italy which was known for its extraordinary buildings from the medieval era. His stay was so rejuvenating that it unleashed the innovation that he’d been seeking in his research. He became profoundly convinced that it was the scale, quality natural light, garden views, and the beautiful drama between architecture and nature at the monastery that helped him accomplish his goal. This led him to return to his nation and collaborate with architect Louis I. Kahn to bring his vision into reality, and build the extraordinary complex of the Salk Institute, which is now a champion of great architecture.
The law school at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, is another example of mindful planning, where efforts have been made to create a positive impact on the students’ creative thought process and ability to learn, resulting in better academic outcomes. In contrast to the usual classroom setups, which are insular and enclosed, the design of this new building invites an abundance of natural light and improved air quality and energy efficiency. The lecture spaces are designed to be flexible teaching spaces that are open and facilitate interaction amongst students, faculty, alumni, and guests, allowing collaborative learning and encouraging civic debates. The rooms are exposed to a glass façade overlooking the beautiful outdoor landscaping and bringing in an abundance of natural lighting, creating a better learning environment.
With its sustainability, the architecture of First People’s Hospital in Shunde District of China is a great example of the revolution in healthcare architecture, which has majorly been designed in the past, as spaces where patients are treated like machines that are to be fixed and sent back home. The most prominent feature of the design is its naturally ventilated and passively conditioned indoor/outdoor ‘eco-atrium’, that functions as the main organizational spine, and connects and harmonizes all components of the campus. As this atrium is a vibrant 24-hour medical facility where visitors will spend most of their waiting time, a lot of efforts have been taken to enhance the user experience by introducing indoor healing gardens and vertical landscaping. The architects have strategically added terracotta wall surface to the atrium which blends historic relevance with climatic design efficacy, functioning as both sunscreen and thermal mass, reducing heat gain during daytime hours and releasing absorbed heat at night.
Overall, building energy performance is anticipated to be 60 percent better than local code, with the building façade system of this hospital playing a major role in the project’s energy strategy. Balconies with greenery are provided to reduce solar and heat exposure to patient rooms and also to connect the patients with nature, and enhance the healing journey. In addition to that, photovoltaic systems have been integrated into the south facade’s shading screen, skylight, and roofing system which generates electricity, filters sunlight, and also provides transparency to maintain views to the outdoors.
In a nutshell, to design a sustainable and self-sufficient community, one has to satisfy the user’s request and include time and natural resources into consideration from a very early stage of planning. One has to enter the context of space in the most natural way possible, which means planning in such a way that the spaces created and materials used have maximum efficiency to result in long-term energy use reduction and cost-saving. If steps to achieve meaningful solutions for well-planned communities are not taken from the start, it can lead to a variety of problems in the future like unhealthy indoor and outdoor spaces, improper functioning, imbalance in resource consumption, and unhappy users. The consciousness of being effective about climate change and making an effort to reduce that 50 percent energy commitment to the built world, or down much closer to zero, are the things that we as architects, and most importantly as a community, must challenge ourselves with to make the future a better place to live.
Jackie Craven (2019). Gehry Responds to Disney Reflection – Not His Fault. [online]. (Last updated 3 July 2019). Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/gehry-responds-to-concert-hall-heat-178089 [Accessed 26 November 2021].
Salk Institute for Biological Studies. (2015). About Jonas Salk – Salk Institute for Biological Studies. [online] Available at: http://Salk.edu/about/history-of-salk/jonas-salk/ [Accessed 26 Nov. 2021].
Diamond Schmitt. (2019). Peter A. Allard School of Law. [online] Available at: https://dsai.ca/projects/peter-a-allard-school-of-law/ [Accessed 26 Nov. 2021].
Guenther, R. and Vittori, G. (2013). Sustainable healthcare architecture. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.