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Mon 18 Feb 2008 02:01 PM

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A sense of proportion

In the GCC, the harsh climate necessitates the use of air-conditioning to make life inside buildings more bearable.

In the GCC, the harsh climate necessitates the use of air-conditioning to make life inside buildings more bearable.

As we become more aware of the effects this energy use has on our environment, we're starting to look for other ways to make our buildings more pleasant, energy-efficient places to live.

"We must begin by taking note of the countries and climates in which homes are to be built if our designs for them are to be correct. One type of house seems appropriate for Egypt, another for Spain...one still different for Rome, and so on with lands and countries of varying characteristics. It is obvious that designs for homes ought to conform to diversities of climate."

It could have been said at any conference on sustainable design, but in fact, they're the 2000-year old words of Roman architect Vitruvius.

Granted, Vitruvius didn't have access to photovoltaic (PV) panels or air-conditioning. But for hundreds of years, we lived in buildings that didn't have these machines to make us more comfortable. According to Le Corbusier, the house itself was the machine for living in.

Machines are designed from the inside out, with the interior function prioritised. If you don't want a room to get too hot, make sure it's well shaded. Make sure it's well ventilated. Make sure it's designed to let in light but not the heat-and then look at machines you can use to improve the inner comfort.

Installing PV panels on a roof might generate energy, but what if you could save more energy simply by changing the orientation of the building? Designing a building around the comfort of person is instinctively sustainable.

Le Corbusier also developed the Modulor, a scale of proportions based on the Vitruvian Man. Vitruvius put Man as the principle source of proportion in architecture. Instead of designing machines around machines, maybe we should be designing buildings around people instead?

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