Climate Responsive Scientific Process of Design

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Graphic representation of the process of design

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The ideal climatic design: successive modulation of ambient conditions so as to bring internal conditions within the comfort zone

Relationship between built-form and the environment should become the driving force behind this scientific process, based on a scientific methodology.

Available tools of analysis allow critical performance and evaluation of built and overall space network. It seems logical to develop a process, almost in the form of an algorithm, which will help find the optimal form/solution for a given set of requirements and constraints. Evidently based on a design hypothesis, it is possible to generate a set of solutions through this process/algorithm. From this set of solutions the optimal solution can be arrived at. However, the reverse is not true.

Given a case (the design hypothesis) and a rule (the simulation model) one may obtain by deductive inference the unique possible result (the performance characteristics of the given hypothesis).If instead, one defines the required result (the performance characteristics) there does not exist a mode of inference by which, using a given rule (a specific algorithm) one may determine uniquely the case (the design solution).

The idea of climatically responsive design is to modulate the conditions such that they are always within or as close as possible to the comfort zone. The ambient conditions over 24 hours period and is shown by the line A. For a majority of the time it is outside the comfort zone. Modulations introduced by the landscape, built-form, envelope, materials and other control measures bring the conditions within the comfort range throughout the 24 hours period cycle. This is the goal of climate responsive design.

However, unlike industrial manufacture, designing is not a linear process. Parameters are interrelated and interactive. Often they need to be considered simultaneously and in a cyclical manner. Any process of design must, therefore, allow for this flexibility and dynamism. This process and the design tool is outlined in later sections. The basis of our attempt at climate responsive design involves considering climate as a parameter of design in every aspect of the building and built environment. Our first task is to put forth these various aspects in a logical sequence. In effect, we are dissecting the design into its constituent elements so that we can act upon each in turn. The sequence proceeds from macro level details to micro level details.

   Levels  Parameters  Cold  Moderate  Hot  Design Sequence
B Level 1,2         Level 1\2: Landform\Landform Orientation
Level 3         Level 3: Vegetation type and pattern
Level 4         Level 4: Water bodies
Level 5         Level 5: Street widths and orientation
Level 6         Level 6: Open spaces and built spaces
Level 7         Level 7: Ground character
C Level 8         Level 8: Plan form
Level 9         Level 9: Plan elements
Level 10         Level 10: Building orientation
Level 11         Level 11: Surface area to volume ratio
Level 12         Level 12: Roof form
D Level 13         Level 13: Fenestration pattern
Level 14         Level 14: Fenestration configuration
Level 15         Level 15: Fenestration orientation
Level 16         Level 16: Fenestration controls
E Level 17         Level 17: Roof materials
Level 18         Level 18: Walls
Level 19         Level 19: External colors and textures
Level 20         Level 20: Internal materials
Level 21         Level 21: Internal finishes
climate matrix matrix matrix matrix activestrategies

A qualitative study of these modulations, at each level, is an essential prerequisite to climatic design. What follows is just that. Each level is explained in terms of its climatic implication, the conceptual understanding thereof and its effect on the building design. The various levels together provide an extensive understanding of the interaction of the building and the microclimate. To enable the qualitative and quantitative analysis of landform the energy balance at the surface should be analyzed and the consequent effect of this be taken into account in the design process.

The information given in the preceding text is linked together into a comprehensive 'design aid' by the Design tool.On the face of it the tool is simply a color coded ready reckoner. It helps in the formation of a conceptual design strategy. However, it is also linked to the qualitative and quantitative information. It, thereby, draws the reader into a more comprehensive and precise understanding of the requirements towards the design input.

The idea is to optimize the input of the designer and to direct the output of the aid into clear pointers for design. As a result the design-aid package seldom requires the designer to know much more than the basic climatic conditions and the latitude of the place. Only at an advanced stage of design (for instance, while determining glazing areas of sun spaces in a cold climate is more specific data required.

So how does the design tool work anyway? The tool displays the different levels and the broad options available within each. These options are color coded-the colors indicating the zone they are appropriate for. (There is also a gradation of shades within the colors themselves. The darkest shade indicates the most desirable and the lightest shade indicates the least desirable option). The color code is as follows:

Climates that experience more than one extreme season have to be designed resolving the contradictions as far as possible.

A basic design strategy can be formulated by simply following the appropriate color path. At each level the reference for supporting qualitative and quantitative information is given. These can be referred to, to refine and translate the basic strategy into a design solution. Of course, this is simplifying the case. Each design would have a context of its own which needs to be acknowledged and accounted for. The tool evaluates landform variations but not all projects would have the scope for this. The cause of climatic design would, therefore, not be aided by a gospel like the Ten Commandments for each zone. Like the Commandments they would be seldom followed due to 'practical' problems in doing so. What is needed is a guiding framework which allows each to find their optimum solution. The 'Design Tool' does just that. The 'Tool' indicates the climatic imperative for the options. Therefore, not only are certain options highlighted but the climatic factor and its effect is also indicated. While the options have primary implications they may also have a secondary one, too. This also appears. As a result the user need not work blindly. Knowing the reason for the options being appropriate and the possible implications of each option, the designer need not just follow the color path downwards.

The climatic factor determining the option is indicated by the bar at the left of the chart, the climatic factor possibly affected by the option is indicated by the bar on the right. So if restrictions force a design to have an inappropriate orientation, the designer can emphasize on this concern. By following the left bar those options that optimize radiation (or ventilation if that is what the orientation has affected) can be chosen. Thus the peculiar problems created in the design can be negated. Similarly, if a particular option implies reduced day lighting (indicated in the right bar), the option indicating day lighting in the left bar can be followed. This frees the designer from the 'color path' and makes the tool-a flexible and dynamic 'design aid'.

The system can be followed very simply for each zone except the composite. This zone experiences two or three different seasons each of which is uncomfortable. We need to provide for all of them. The first step is to examine the climatic context. The duration of uncomfortable period in each season has to be compared to derive an order of priorities. This tells us which season is most uncomfortable and which is least so. Having identified the most uncomfortable season this alone should be considered to evolve the design strategy. The same can be done for other seasons as well. The points of contradiction between the options of the different zones must be noted. The variations of the natural elements (for instance, changes of sun angle and wind pattern), should be considered to resolve the conflict. In case of unresolved conflicts the order of priorities should be followed.

With a clear understanding of the underlying theory, the tool can be used to design climatically. Not by superseding other architectural concerns but by optimizing climatic design, keeping other concerns in mind.