Wether most architects have trouble admitting to this, it seems apparent to me that technology and its development leads the way to profound changes in architecture. Ever since the stone ages the discovery of new technical possibilities has generated new building forms and architectural styles. We have come a long way from Stone, Bronze and Iron and each period has generated it’s own building material and tools, resulting in a specific architectural expression. The development and possibilities of concrete (prefab and In Situ) allowed architects like Le Corbusier to develop his work. Advancements in steel construction enabled Mies van de Rohe to develop his iconic style and Jean Prouvé learned from aluminium and airplane techniques. These major technologic innovations influenced whole societies, ecomies and cultures. The architects played a pivotal role in translating this for the benefit of society and its use.
If we leapfrog to the present time we see a similar advancement in durable energy technology. As our resources run dry and carbon exhaust threatens the atmosphere, we are becoming aware that renewable energy should be the main driver for the future.
Renewable energy is a source that won’t dry out, and is locally available, wether it comes from sun, wind or water. Backed by state regulations the policy towards 2020 in Holland is that buildings should use zero energy or even better supply energie to the grid. That would be a great turnaround from the present situation. Good progress is underway in all types of green, passive and autartic housings projects that use renewable energy.
Stone age technologie
Given the above there is a growing effort to reduce all non-renewable forms of energy. Oil and gas are not renewable. Bio-fuel has some interest, but is limited in it’s possibilities to feed the equipment we use nowadays, plus produces a considerable carbon footprint. Hydrogen has a promising potential for energy storage and high caloric value, but it is difficult to transport and store as an alternative to gas.
Currently in the Netherlands we are planning complete living areas without any connection to gas, or other fuels, only to the electricity network. All functions in the house and buildings can be made to work with electrical driven equipment. From heating, cooling, cooking and hot water, to lighting, IT and home automation needs. This one source of energy can feed all.
Electricity can be green, generated by solar panels and wind energy, and preferably also generated and used on the same location. This is the best scenario because electric energy looses it’s caloric value vast if transported over large distances. Only one network is needed, instead of two, and with local generation the network can become more of a back-up system. Many suppliers are working on smart grid solutions, DC networks and local storage, and these technologies are improving very fast.
Neighbourhood network solutions.
If we extrapolate from current developments, how would this all electric house look? The would house only uses electricity as an energy source to feed all of its appliances. In the kitchen we find induction cooking and hot water boiler, next to the already widely used electrical oven and microwave. In the bathroom we use water from the electrical boiler.
The house is heated during winter via electrical infra red panels or electrical floor heating. If needed cooling can be arranged with electrical driven ventilation and airconditioning. Needless to say all lighting comes from LED light devices. All these above mentioned techniques are readily available and already proven technologies. Especially electrical equipment has the potential to be hidden, be small in size or lead to full integrated solutions in ceilings , floors, roofs and walls.
The main problems the industry is working on now is the capacity of the electrical grid, the supply and demand chain, to have enough energy available on the times needed, and to store electrical energy when a surplus is available. On the level of a house, as mentioned above we would generate the majority of the needed electricity via solar panels, but would still use power of the grid. The total sum still doesn’t add up sufficiently.
The developments of smart grids and smarter energy conscious equipment is fast-paced however and we expect a tipping-point soon.
A house which combines electric with passive energy.
In my mind this technological progress should be the main next driver for developing 21th century architecture. An architecture that should develop new and smart building forms, and smart grid city-planing based on its main energetic driver.
The challenge is that all these fine techniques can become part of a total climate and architectural experience, to an extend that wasn’t know before. Whilst omni-present the energy of choice becomes ambient and it’s manifestations can be orchestrated to enhance the architecture, the light, the sound, the hot and the cool. Having this energy abundantly available in the building can generate a full responsive environment, much like a theater stage. Scenarios on various levels can be designed which might also take domotica as we know it a step further.
Can we reconsider facades and roofs to be fully fit for collecting solar energy? How can building and tower shapes be designed to collect wind energy, even in an urban setting?
And what if Urban planning can re-act to smart grid solutions with a distribution of energy collecting and energy receiving buildings around? The spatial development of interiors can be very free, with all building installations integrated and based on electricity. Electric architecture could also lead to a new form of open planning architecture. How can we further develop building management to a level that incorporates lifestyle scenarios, energy consumption, to a daily schedule?
The possibilities seem endless and the task of designers is to unite and work on urban, architectural and product level to achieve this. At Bilsen Architecture we strive to implement these developments in our next projects. Do let us know your interests!
Electric network connections, a basis for new form finding?