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When weather becomes part of the design of buildings, space becomes meteorological; it becomes “meteorological space”.
Through formations of space and material new affiliations between weather and architecture emerge.
Spatial effects are not ones of legibility but of immersion. Form is not read or deciphered but experienced. And it is through this experience of form that nature is incorporated into architecture, deepening our relation to it and the weather that surrounds us.
As interaction with and use of energy and natural flows within cities and buildings becomes more important, we ask: what are appropriate spatial and formal expressions of these forces?
Can we learn from and use the logics of the processes themselves to form the urban environment?
The relation between architecture and nature has a long and complex history and naturally reflects the cultural attitudes of a time. But nature is not just “green things”, plants or scenery. It is in the weather that architecture really meets and confronts nature. Laugier’s primitive hut was, after all, primarily shelter from the weather and only secondarily tectonic or symbolic. As a result of Global Warming our attitudes to nature are currently being transformed through the recognition of nature’s agency and its ability to resist the anthropogenic. Weather is key to this new understanding of nature –it is after all the unpredictable atmospheric effects of Climate Change which have led us most to question our relation to nature.
In recognition of this situation one question is whether it is possible to make the natural an integral part of the cultural. Of course there is a long tradition of using nature in architecture but this has generally been confined either to representation (ornament, organicism, biomimicry), influencing technical solutions (sustainable design) or mere accommodation (adding greenery etc.). In each of these traditions nature and culture have been opposed. Each retains and reinforces the dialectic of otherness between the two.
Weather on the other hand has traditionally been the taboo of architecture –the originary myth that has defined later possibilities. But in our present context architecture may need to reflect on and perhaps reinvent its own relations to nature by exploring that originary opposition between weather and architecture.
When we look at the recent history of architecture from Corbusier’s “play of masses brought together in the light” through the crumbling weather-beaten mass of the (pre-restoration) Villa Savoie to damp and mouldering fate of much post-war modernism (for example Cumbernauld in Scotland) the meeting of form and weather has gradually deteriorated from one of mutual beneficence to one of conflict and even destruction.
But there is an alternative, “minor” history, a history which has been side-lined since the formal certainties of modernism defined how we perceive architecture. This minor history includes the vernacular, the Gothic, the Baroque, the Sublime and the Picturesque—architectures which can be seen as resulting from the formative interaction of weather and building. Architectonic and spatial formations which emerge from the intersection of culture and climate, through the interplay of material and light, heat and humidity, without the imposition of a priori form, where the natural system of the weather forms an integral part of the cultural artefact.
In these periods the role of form was less dominant than in periods where nature and culture were clearly opposed. Form did not embody an ideal, or follow function, or index its own production. Instead form constitutes an assemblage with the weather; a contingent formation of weather and material which produces effects not just visual and spatial but also thermal (thermoception), aural (the sound of the wind or rain), haptic (the importance of the breeze on the skin) or olfactory (the distinct smell after rain has fallen). Spatial experience is not one of legibility but of immersion. Form is not read or deciphered but experienced and it is through this experience that nature is also experienced and our relation to it becomes manifest.
Meteorology: from Planetary Atmosphere to Human Skin
Meteorology is a science that links all the way from the planetary to the personal. By thinking about meteorology we start to think about a system that stretches from the conditions of the global atmosphere all the way down to clothing and human comfort (primarily sensed through the skin). In between is the material of architecture which transforms the planetary atmosphere into more-or-less comfortable spaces. Architecture is the key interface in the network of relations between the planetary and the personal.
In the work shown here in order to develop an “architectural meteorology” we look, on the one hand at meteorology itself and how the processes of the atmosphere are formed and driven by the interaction of energy, fluids and geography (Essay: “Mountains & Atmospheres”) and on the other hand how the physics of thermodynamics and vessels affect ways of conceiving of the relations between materiality and air (Essay: “Heat, Air & Life”).
We are interested in the concept of formation rather than form. Formation is somewhere between form and performance –it is about the emergence of visible shapes or “forms” from the interaction of matter with the atmosphere. Formations of clouds emerge from the sensitive response of a dispersed system to subtle atmospheric variations –thermals, warm fronts, wind, turbulence. The results are formations on the geographic-scale that are made up of accretions of small discrete particulates which are manipulated into sometimes mountainous forms by the changing convection currents of a thermodynamic atmosphere. These formations can be clouds, flocks, schools or in our case assemblages of material which reveal the pressures operational within the environment while at the same time locally affecting them.
Formations are not just technical solutions to performative problems they are where instrumentality and art meet. To work in this way we must be sensitive to forms and their atmospheric effects; Atmospheric conditions and the forms they produce. In this book (as in the work) there is a constant over and back between constructions and atmospheres, weather conditions and forms, the material and the immaterial.
Design proceeds as a sensitivity to the thermodynamic itself through both simulation and the manipulation of material. Simulation –a form of desktop micro-scale meteorology—is used both to produce and test various formations. Material is manipulated to affect the thermodynamic -at both the large scale (geographic, landscape) and the small scale (particulates, components). Drift, accretion, non-linear variations of material interact with atmospheric conditions -light, heat, wind, moisture-- to produce meteorological effects both real and re-originated (Essay: “Building the Wind”).
As a result of this research the design work is run through with the non-linear dynamics of fluids, both in its formation and its performance. In “Hot City” temperature gradations are pursued through a system of shadow and hot-air stacks. “In a Bamboo Forest” air is diffused through bamboo stalks before entering and cooling the house. “Breeze Blocks” plays with the relation between openness and wind pressure while “Humidity Fields” explores the relations between landscape, meteorology and program. Each of these projects and the others which would be included in the book work towards developing an architectural meteorology through a concerted investigation of the potential of weather formations.
As interaction with and use of energy and natural flows within cities and buildings become more important we ask what are appropriate formal and spatial expressions of these forces? Can we learn from and use the logics of the processes themselves to form the urban environment. Flooding, Urban Heat Islands etc. are becoming more and more critical as issues to be addressed during the design stage. By adopting the complex, non-linear, sometimes wild logics of formation which drive water, landscape and meteorology the work shown here strives to both mitigate and reveal these dynamic processes.
Each of the five sections in this book –Heat, Wind, Light, Pressure.& Snow— loosely groups together different ways in which aspects of the weather can influence the formations of architecture.
The first section, Heat, explores the potential for heat as a driving force to produce spatial and material configurations both of the public spaces of the city and the conventions of typology. By taking the meteorological phenomenon of movement of heat through convection currents as the starting point for programmatic, spatial and tectonic experimentation it proposes new creative –rather than reactive—relations between the weather and building design.
The material-organizational strategies resulting from this way of thinking and the possibilities for the alignment of visible and non-visible meteorological effects are explored in the section on Wind. Drawing on the work of French philosopher Michel Serres we explore Turbulence as a creative force to direct novel formations in architecture both literally and phenomenally.
The section on Light looks at buildings as new weather formations themselves –instruments inserted into the local atmosphere to filter, adjust and refine conditions on the ground. To make buildings and urban spaces more comfortable for occupation, use or social-life through the strategic adjustment of material formations but also to make the changing conditions of light and moisture in the atmosphere apparent.
Learning from the meteorological relations between geography and weather, the next section –Pressure—explores the reflexive relations between Air and Building in producing and adjusting atmospheric conditions. Through the understanding of the ground as an orographic influence on local pressure systems outside and the shape of space as the generator of designed meteorologies inside new relations between land and sky, ground and building, section and plan are suggested.
Finally Snow –which begins with the spatial experience of the Blizzard—identifies this experience as the model for a new understanding of the urban experience; one, not of panoptic planning and control, but of immersion and mystery. The experimental projects in this section explore this idea as an inspiration for new tectonic configurations which direct materiality into immersive effects.
Together these essays and projects reveal the search for new relations between weather and architecture. Through their focus on both the visible and the visible effects of the weather, the material and the immaterial, the conceptual and the sensual they strive to bring the weather into closer contact with people’s lives in both real and imaginary ways. Through formations of space and material they propose new affiliations between weather and architecture.