The Jerusalem Seminar in Architecture
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Simos Yannas

Simos Yannas is the Director of the Environment & Energy Studies Programme at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, UK where he is responsible for the MSc and MArch in Sustainable Environmental Design and the AA School's Doctorate Programme.

He has been involved in environmental design research, teaching, and consultancy since the mid-1970s and has lectured in schools of architecture and professional institutes in some thirty countries.

His 2006 book Roof Cooling Techniques-a design handbook was shortlisted for the RIBA Bookshops International Book Award in Architecture. His latest book Lessons from Traditional Architecture will be published in the UK and USA in 2009. He was awarded the PLEA (Passive and Low Energy Architecture) International Award in 2001.


Theory and Practice

Over the last thirty years it has become technically feasible, as well as increasingly desirable, to displace the use of nonrenewable energy sources and conventional building services engineering by self-sustaining processes that are inherent in the built form, elemental specification and operational schedules of buildings. It is those that we now encompass under the term green or sustainable environmental design, the knowledge that allows us to invent and develop such self-sustaining processes and embed them into buildings using nature’s energy sources and sinks by means of architecture. Documented in the form of physics, mathematics, engineering, IT and economics, as well as in the terms of architecture, urban design, landscaping and building construction, this knowledge has produced an unprecedented volume of publications encompassing fundamental physical concepts, technical applications, built precedents, computational tools, regulatory mechanisms and research results in all of the several disciplines of the built environment.

The technology of green design is well advanced. Performance at near zero carbon emission is feasible for most new buildings in most inhabited climatic regions. Imaginative adaptation and reuse of buildings is a further aspect on which the future of most urban centres will critically depend. The potential for innovation is high, yet little of the theoretical promise has been realised in practice. Performance has rarely been as good as claimed, frequently falling far below what should be achievable. The technology applied has often been contradictory and over-engineered. Architects may have been reluctant to go further, or may lack the knowledge, will or inspiration to do so, which raises the question of the role of architectural education. Clearly the knowledge and judgements that make up the practice of sustainable design practice are neither obvious, nor currently part of the cognitive framework of being an architect, nor readily available by reading a book, attending a lecture, or by running one of the many widely available environmental software packages. The discipline and practice of green design need to be fostered by a clearly laid out, continuously evolving pedagogic approach that sees them as integral to architectural training from the outset.

Knowledge Triangle

The knowledge we need for green design consists of three distinct but complementary constituents that have different origins, as well as representing different forms of learning:

• Conceptual / Theoretical Knowledge and understanding of how natural processes and occupant environmental design requirements translate into architectural design. Since the teaching of building science has featured on the curriculum of schools of architecture for many years, one might expect such knowledge would be a part of students' and practising architects' design intuition by now. This is hardly the case. Teaching building science as an isolated technical subject is one thing; translating it into architecture in the form of sustainable environmental design is quite a different matter. Creating and acquiring the knowledge for the latter calls for a special effort from both teacher and student. It also takes a not inconsiderable period of focused study under qualified supervision. The physics is open to many solutions. We should strive for the same openness in its architectural translations, avoiding the formulaic expressions and deterministic guidelines that have characterised many books and built applications.

• Εmpirical / Experiential Data acquisition and systematic assessment of how things have worked in practice. So called post-occupancy evaluation studies are now routinely performed in new buildings as a means of assessing the outcomes of a green design agenda. Closer involvement by students and architects in such studies and in particular in observing how people use buildings and how buildings respond to internal and external influences can provide insights that are applicable to a wide range of building programmes and operational conditions. Such observations would not only inform architects but provide them with an edge over disciplines that deal with measurements on a purely numerical basis, or those who view buildings purely in terms of engineering systems and controls.

• Αnalytic / Comparative Parametric studies are an essential component of the learning process as well as a means of informing sustainable environmental design. The use of environmental modelling to perform parametric or sensitivity studies, assessing the effect on building performance of variations in the values of building-related or operational variables is now well established in practice. It is also an excellent learning tool, especially for students and architects, that can help to test design hypotheses as well as pinpoint the effect of individual design parameters.

Key Propositions

Green or sustainable design:

- can deliver zero carbon buildings that need not cost more to build
- has innovative architectural potential that is still largely unexplored
- is not yet standard practice today (despite claims made by many architects)
- is commonly confused with the corrective engineering it is meant to displace (a problem that leads to higher capital costs as well as loss of architectural expression)
- consists of deceptively simple principles that combine into strikingly counter-intuitive outcomes
- requires knowledge that is neither wysiwyg nor reducible to a set of software scripts
- thermal, airflow and lighting modelling and simulation are essential tools that require specialist training and considerable practical experience
- is not a self-taught skill that one can pick up from books or solely from practice
- is a moving goalpost, not a fixed ideal.
Simos Yannas

Fixed Canopy for Archaeologists, Oia, Santorini Island, Greece, 2004
Simos Yannas and 2003-04 Masters students

Heliotropic Urban Bench, Oia, Santorini Island, Greece, 2005
Simos Yannas and 2004-05 Masters students

School Structure, Pankese Village, Ghana, 2003
Mark Hemel, Raul Moura, Simos Yannas and 2002-03 undergraduate and postgraduate students

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