Building Exteriors as Living Climate Controls

Humans have been building shelters to protect themselves since they moved out of caves 10,000 years ago.  Human shelters have evolved over time, but, as Michelle Addington talks about in her paper Contingent Behaviours, they have always had one a main goal: to protect us and separate us from the natural environment; to create an interior and exterior space.  The interior space, controlled through a multitude of tactics, ranging from constructed envelopes and mechanical systems, allow humans to achieve a greater comfort level.  In modern design, maintaining the indoor comfort level is a top priority, and designing efficient methods of doing so is one of an architects top goals.

aa221355509283572[1]A traditional Mongolian Yurt uses a very breathable and adaptable outer skin.

The Yurt is a great example of an early envelope that is actually still in use today.  Additionally many of the aspects present in the Yurt are translatable into modern buildings.  Kiel Moe’s essay Thermally Active Surfaces in Architecture he makes the argument that architects do not know enough about the inner workings of the technology they use.  While I don’t necessary find this true, I do agree that architects need to fully understand the technology they use.  One way that architects can achieve this is by studying the origins and precedents for the modern technology they utilize, just like Yurt are prime examples of adaptable envelopes.

I think that the outer envelopes of buildings are one of the most important design aspects.  As Addington says, “The exterior walls of a building [are] mediating elements, negotiating between the needs of the body and the extant environment” (p. 13).   However, there are many methods to choose from when designing a building’s outer skin, and they often only work well in specific climates.  So it is important to pick and choose specific elements depending of the site and climate conditions and overall goals of the site.

800px-southwest_corner_of_central_park_looking_east_nyc[1]View of Central Park showing the incorporation of nature into the city fabric.

As the population condenses in cities, cities are going to need to be increasingly biophilic and the envelopes of the buildings are going to be crucial to keeping cities natural and livable (Beatley).  To maintain nature in dense cities, facades need to be green, breathable and open to the environment, without compromising efficiency.  To achieve this, they need to draw on multiple environmental design strategies, curtailed for the specific climate, but most importantly they need to incorporate living nature.  I still am amazed at the idea of living green walls, where the façade that mediates the weather and maintains the inner climate control can actually be built from living plant forms.  Not only does this aid in design, but it is aesthetically pleasing, good for the environment and helps clean the city air.  This is why cities need to built using nature, because it makes where we live a more livable place.



Addington, Michelle. Contingent Behaviours.

Beatley,Tim. Biophilic Cities. Island Press, 2010.

Moe, Kiel. Thermally Active Surfaces in Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.


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