|The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2023|
[ID:3189] PROBLEMS FROM THE PAST, SOLUTIONS OF THE FUTURE; A QUEST TO ACHIEVE THERMAL STABILITY.
In an attempt to create a better environment for man and proffer solutions for the future, the values and heritage of such environment which people are endeared to can be a strong driving force that assists the designer in achieving all-round functional buildings. This gives the modern Architect a glimpse into the past and guides him in his designs (Prucnal-Ogunsote, 1993) for the future.
Modern architecture has experienced a surge of criticisms by many authors in the past, one of which is devaluation. It refers to how buildings evolving in recent times are only designed for commercial interests and have been gradually stripped of their original content.
Adolf Loos was celebrated as a "Pioneer of Modern Architecture." However, his writings won him more recognition than his Architecture primarily due to the fact he had a different opinion about the ideals of modern Architecture.
In one of his essays, Adolf Loos told a story of a poor little rich man who struggled to work his way up from the lowest rung of the social class till he became rich and was now able to furnish his own house. He selected a famous interior designer to counsel him. When the project was completed, he was pleased and happy to move to his new house until the Architect who designed the house came to visit.
He immediately noticed some things that were out of place according to him, and he started banishing those items to the attic starting from the cushions to his endeared belongings including his family portraits. This was why Loos described him as a dictatorial architect, he had forgotten about the man's story and precedence. The man was flooded with a stream of criticism every time the architect visited, and sadly he had to yield.
The result of this action was that he became increasingly dissatisfied with his home, he is beginning to lose his treasured belongings. Although the home seems to look perfect now, it became a demanding place to live in. We could as well presume from the story that he was homeless, a home is not the physical structure, but the rich set of evolving cultural, and psychological meanings we attach to a physical structure.
The peak of the story was when the Architect forbade the man to wear the slippers given to him as a birthday present by his family because the slippers and those other items would destroy his egotistic construction of meanings. The story ends with the man forcing the architect to leave and throwing out most of what Loos described as "totalitarian Gesamtkunstwerk" which means the total work of Architecture.
The story tells us that people do not only crave a physical connection to buildings but also a social and psychological connection that ascertains our association and response to architecture and the built environment.
During our few years as Architecture students, we have noticed that there's been a gradual loss of symbolism and devastating neglect of local building materials in the design of recent buildings. However, there are very few recent buildings that exhibit this need and has tried to bridge the historical gap by making past building experience a starting point in the design and planning of future buildings. These buildings have not just lifted designs from what has been done in the past, but have integrated certain features from them with the proper consideration of the local climate to achieve a proper-functioning building. One of such buildings that catered for this need is one of the buildings under consideration, the Natural History Museum situated in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Architecture is a language of which architects are the custodian of the language. Thermal comfortability is one of the elements of this language and forms one of the bases on which the language is communicated universally.
The buildings that we decided to consider for this year's question, the Obafemi Awolowo Natural History Museum and the TETFUND lecture hall, both buildings made an effort to achieve thermal comfort within their internal environment. However, their approaches to achieving this were entirely different which also affected the results gotten through feedback from the users of the building.
The Obafemi Awolowo Natural History Museum epitomizes traditional architecture in the sense that it takes lessons from the historical precedence of the building and in doing that, it already takes care of other issues including those about thermal comfort. They became connected to the past and learning from the instrumentality of the past to enhance their thermal comfort.
When a building is strongly associated with historical precedence that people are more familiar with, they are more drawn to it in the first place, and they might later discover that the building poses a comfortable environment. If people are more connected to the history of buildings, they are more likely to accept them and see the value of design just beyond the practical.
Lessons gotten from the traditional without entirely lifting the design makes it a basis of the designs that are thermally comfortable. By learning from the traditional and infusing these imbibed qualities into more recent buildings at an instrumental level, i.e., at a physical level, traditional buildings can help enhance whatever is done in more recent buildings. To infuse the idea of precedence in terms of an image is to bring people to accept them at a historical level beyond just the thermal level and to endear the buildings to them
The rectilinear form of the building helps to adapt it to its intended use thus giving it spatial liberty within the interior by allowing for double volume of spaces, free and open spaces for the display of artifacts.
The museum can be likened to the form of the 19th Century Alaafin of Oyo Palace. The central areas of old towns and villages in the Yoruba region of Nigeria were dominated by King's (Oba’s) palace and the market place. Extended families including the King's family live in what is referred to as (agbo) compounds, which had houses arranged in a square form with a large open courtyard at the center. This is used for family meetings and relaxation in the evening after the days work. The houses were made of mud and featured a thatch roof with deep overhangs which shaded the building from the harsh effects of the sun. The combination of the mud as a means of construction and deeply overhung thatch roofs made the interior of the houses exceptionally cool. What led to the use of these rectilinear thatch-roof mud houses was the Climate of the region, human physiology, and geography. (Awotona 1986, p. 55).
This form of building among the Yorubas translated into many styles overtime including the Afro-Brazilian style which was developed at the time freed slaves returned to Africa from the Americas. This style still showed strong affiliations with the traditional mud houses; they had rectilinear forms with exceptionally deep overhangs. The building also conformed with the contemporary needs and trends at that time including new building materials such as the Corrugated roofing sheet as an advancement from the thatch roof.
The trend of building in this region took the form of prostituting historical precedence as a means of providing solutions for the future without failing to appreciate the practicality of the designs.
According to Szokolay the four design variables that have the greatest influence on thermal performance are shape, fabric, fenestration, and ventilation. Nigeria can be said to have a warm humid climate which Szokolay admitted as the most difficult climate to design for. This climate features high temperature reaching a maximum of about 30ºC during the day and 24ºC at night. It also features a small diurnal variation, meaning air mass effect cannot be entirely relied on. Also, because of its location near the equator, the sun's path is near the zenith making the earth including building components receive powerful solar radiation. Cooling is required almost all year round because of these high temperatures. Surface cooling system is also nearly impossible due to the high humidity levels varying between 60% - 100%. These factors indicate that a lot has to be put into the design of spaces to ensure the comfortability of space especially spaces to be used by a large number of people.
The Natural History Museum used the Yoruba art as a source of inspiration to cater for the functional aspect of the building as a whole. It takes on an expressionist view of traditional form while still mimicking traditional architecture. As we stood near the car park of the building, the most noticeable element we saw was the roof which is symbolic to the Yoruba traditional cap. This in its form is an expressionist idea that speaks to the Yoruba people making people want to enter this building in the first place. Aside from the traditional importance of this form, the museum incorporates the use of the building's roof which is a building fabric to achieve a thermally stable environment by adopting a form that emphasizes volume while still paying attention to aesthetics which forms one of the bases of the Vitruvian triads.
It was also designed to shield the building from monsoon rains and blazing heat peculiar to this region thereby using the building envelope as a sieve to separate wanted from unwanted influences and achieve comfort within an architectural ensemble.
The extensive overhang which was an element borrowed from the 19th century Oba's palace and the typical traditional Yoruba house provided shade and protection to the structure below it. Brick, being a material of a low thermal capacity, both provides the building with good insulation from solar gains.
According to some students who have visited the museum, the baseline drawn from their comments showed that they were endeared to the form at first sight. Upon finding that the building is more tolerable in terms of thermal comfort, makes them want to visit more often. This shows that the quality of the thermal comfort enhanced the original idea behind the building.
The TETFUND lecture hall which is a rather recent building incorporates shading elements and fabric strongly associated with Modern Style architecture including larger openings on North and South Walls, shading devices, heat reflecting colors, and glasses that reduce solar heat input.
The method used within this building also aims at achieving something similar to the museum but in a modern way which did not really consider norms and values of the surrounding residents. This building thus tends to exist in isolation of its environment although it attempts to blend with the surroundings.
Furthermore, the indoor conditions of the Lecture hall pertaining to thermal comfort show a clear distinction from that of the Natural History Museum. Both buildings although serve different purposes accommodate a massive influx of people every day with the museum's most significant space as the gallery, and the Lecture hall's as the main auditorium. Some of the students that use the lecture hall testified that the internal conditions were a bit harsh especially when the air conditioning systems were not functioning largely due to power outage.
Recent buildings on the campus don't strongly account for thermal comfort in buildings. Architects have gradually moved away from using passive cooling techniques and begin to rely on Air Conditioners to achieve thermal comfort. Air conditioners consume a lot of energy and also questions the need for sustainability in buildings. It has also been linked to spreading particles and germs when it's not properly maintained. This rise in the use of A. Cs has made architects move away from historical styles used in the tropical climate and replace them with sealed up spaces.
Taking a look back at how the first buildings on the campus of Obafemi Awolowo came to be. We were made to understand that Arieh Sharon, an Israeli architect commissioned by the South Western government to undertake this project, had to study the "Yoruba culture" for about 20 years before he started designing the buildings at all. Arieh consulted with all patrons that are involved in the design of the campus, including the Yoruba leaders, government officials, and professors who were to start the university. The historical precedence of the southwestern community was carefully studied, and consequently, some problems were discovered. These problems served as stepping stones to solving a larger problem within another context, and the result of this was a campus with a communal sense of ownership by both students and staff. Testimonies from some of the members of the university community showed that it's a place they want to be identified with.
There was a paradigm shift from the buildings built in other campuses at that time including the University of Ibadan, the pioneer university in Nigeria. They featured a rather contemporary style lifted from other cultures without proper consultation of the historical precedence and the climate of the region.
A good example of the buildings designed on the Obafemi Awolowo University campus by Arieh are the Faculties of Education and Law buildings which can also be likened to the Oba's palace of the 19th century featuring traditional courtyards with shading trees. This was done because the outdoor environment is often harsh and hot, sometimes dusty. As a result, the probable best solution then was to look inward and design a typified courtyard building. This helped them to enclose the air mass within the building while creating a fresh air supply to the other spaces from the courtyard.
Arieh Sharon took a cue from this building and Introduced those elements into his design not by directly lifting them but looking at the problems of the past, how it was solved, and using the information to design better spaces for the future. He didn't have an open courtyard like the palace but introduced a courtyard within the building. This of course, does not function in isolation but was complimented by open ground floor plans which took advantage of the cool air from the prevailing South-west and North-east winds. He also factored in the stack effect which allowed warm air to rise due to thermal differential and replaced by colder air which flows into the building because there were basically no walls on the ground floor. The hot air flows out through the vents he designed with the clerestory at the upper floors, this minimized the problems of still air zones. Sun protection was also achieved by successfully extending upper floors and roofs which gave the building it's form as a "reversed pyramid."
With this design, he had dissipated unwanted heat from the spaces while creating a comfortable thermal environment for the users of the building. He further introduced into his design, concrete seats around the internal courtyards to facilitate social interaction among the users of the building. He achieved two things with his design; he used historical precedence of buildings in south western Nigeria as a vital principle in the development of a new building that adapts naturally to the environmental demands. He also created a building that persuades the general public because it is in harmony with the actual character of their culture.
A plausible conclusion that can be drawn from this example is that people are more likely to accept buildings at a historical level and see them beyond the practical level. They are also more likely to use the building more when they discover that it also sees to their practical needs. However, the contemporary style is not to be discarded, but the architect should draw inspirations from historical values and relate these values to contemporary trends.
In conclusion, With the increasing effects of global warming and the need to shift from mechanical to passive cooling strategies for sustainability, architects need to reconsider other cooling techniques. When architects are given new projects to design for people, they should not also condemn its users to passivity, making it impossible for them to relate to their environment. Rather Architects should critically look at the problems of the past and be sensitive to the historical precedence of the place and building, study how these problems were solved in the past, while adapting the building to contemporary requirements which includes climate change, in a bid to provide solutions for the future.
“What Traditional Buildings Can Teach Architects about Sustainability.”
“No Air Conditioner Needed: These Buildings Cool Themselves,” by Nicole Wetsman
Paul Emmons, Jane Lomholt, John Shannon Hendrix (2012) The Cultural Role of Architecture: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives
Heynen, Hilde (1999) Architecture and Modernity, A critique
Awotona, A (1986). Aspects of Nigerian Architecture. In: Vol. 2. No.3. October-December.
Steven V Szokolay (2004) Introduction to Architectural Science, the basis of sustainable design
Prucnal-Ogunsote, B. (1993) Classification of Nigeria architecture. ARCHES Journal
Volume 1, No. 6.
Professor Bayo Amole, department of Architecture, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Personal Interview, January 23, 2019.
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