Looking to the Future
Zaelke sees a future in which governments play a stronger role in setting manufacturing standards, as the Japanese are with their Top Runner program; tax credits to stimulate innovative technology; and comprehensive labeling programs, somewhat like the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) ratings system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, to address elements of air conditioning beyond the energy efficiency covered by federal Energy Star ratings. He also thinks part of the answer is returning to a design mindset that was prevalent before the advent of air conditioning. “Before cheap energy, we used to do a better job designing our buildings,” he says. “For example, we used to know how to situate a building so you had deciduous trees providing shade during the summer and evergreens providing shelter from the wind.”
The Torrent Research Centre of Ahmedabad, India, uses wind-catching intake towers to pull in air and cool it by diverting it through a fine mist. The cooled air descends through an open central corridor and is drawn into work spaces on each level. Exhaust towers around the perimeter of the complex vent hot air at night.
Pearce asserts that air conditioning has made architects lazy. “Air conditioning has allowed them to design buildings based on formal concepts without any response to the natural environment,” he says. “Architects should design buildings whose form is shaped by a scientific understanding of natural processes at the building’s location and not by some purely whimsical sculptural shape.”
LaRoche believes it’s imperative for people in his profession to pursue minimal environmental impacts when designing structures and strive to incorporate alternative ways to cool them. He says HEED (Home Energy Efficient Design)—free software developed at the University of California, Los Angeles—is a good example of a residential energy design tool that can be used by anybody.31 “Tools such as this one help any homeowner or designer produce low-energy buildings,” he says.
Ultimately, LaRoche says, architectural education is key to change: “If the new architects aren’t trained in the design of low-carbon, low-energy buildings, nothing will happen. New students must be trained with new software and tools that we did not have just a couple of years ago.” He adds, “Whenever we do passive cooling in a building instead of mechanical cooling, we’re helping our planet. It’s also good for our pockets, and our buildings are more culturally responsive to the environment around them.”