There is little doubt that at the start of the new millennium, the planet is in an environmental crisis. The production of carbon by humans is literally killing the planet by choking its cleansing systems. The seas are becoming acidic, the air that we breathe is becoming acrid and polluted, and the soil is increasingly full of poisonous toxins.
The ability of the sea and the soil, as well as the cloud system and the other natural resources like icebergs, to cleanse the air and dealt with carbon is becoming less as these systems reach breaking point. Many scientists and environmental activists think that we as the human species have started taking this issue seriously way too late.
Others believe that there have been seismic climate and environmental shifts like this one before over the course of the creation and lifetime of the planet, and we are just pawns within one vast system, upon which our influence is minimal. But there is a climate crisis, as evidenced by shifting weather patterns,and we can choose to bring our tremendous human knowledge, experience and intellect to attempt to understand it, and respond to the situation in some way.
An Architectural Response
One response to climate change is to make our buildings more environmentally aware, by using more sustainable materials and technology, and continuing to strive to use less energy, or even achieve a zero energy building status. Other articles on this website seek to give advice about the many techniques of building sustainability, using examples and practical experience.
It is also important to keep up to date with new ideas and developments in this field, even if they prove to be not worth using. Dialogue and sharing of trials and data across many fields of expertise is crucial, as new possibilities unfold.
When builders, architects, engineers and others come together to discuss new approaches and older forms of knowledge, great projects are given life. This can be seen in the renaissance in the UK of building with mud and straw, of experimenting with tyres and other waste items to create earth ships, as well as many other examples.
Using Paint to Reflect Energy
An example of a new development in sustainable building techniques is also an example of rethinking and reapplying old knowledge. Hashem Akbari isn’t in fact an architect, but a scientist based at a research Institute in California in the US. Using old knowledge first used in villages in Southern Europe and North Africa, Akbari is proposing that flat roofed houses across the heat plain of California all be painted white to reflect back into the atmosphere the heat from solar energy.
Heat is known to accumulate in built-up areas: this is known as the urban heat island effect. Sunlight reflected from any surface does not contribute to the so-called greenhouse effect. Dark surfaces, which could be the black asphalt in roads, as well as paints containing dark pigments that are used on houses, actually soak up sunlight – or store it, and release it back into the atmosphere as thermal energy. Akbari says of his plan, which has been slowly implemented in California since 2005: “We can give the atmosphere time to breathe. I just don’t see a downside to this idea. It benefits everybody and you don’t have to have hard negotiations to make it happen.”
Coming to the UK Soon: White Roofs in Your Neighbourhood
While the UK has different weather patterns and heat issues to California, this technique could still bring benefits to the UK’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Akbari claims that every 10 square metres of urban surface area that is changed from black or dark to white, could perhaps have the same cooling effect as indeed preventing a ton of CO2. This could be enough to inspire legislators as well as architects to experiment with this technique: in public spaces and private houses everywhere.