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In harmony with the climate, nature and people

01 of August '22

Article fromA&B 06 | 2022 issue

What does it mean to build sustainably? Is it enough to follow the regulations and directives of "green building" certification schemes? Or is it better to build passively and insulate buildings like thermoses? Emanuele Naboni, an expert on adapting buildings and cities to climate change, says a change in thinking is needed.

A new design paradigm should focus on designing in harmony with climate, nature and humans. Katarzyna Mikulska talks to Emanuel Naboni about the climate problems of European cities, the concept of regenerative design and the need to look for individual solutions.

Katarzyna Mikulska: What climate problems are European cities facing?

Prof. Emanuele Naboni: First of all, it is necessary to distinguish between post-industrial cities and those recently industrialized, as in Poland. I will focus on the latter case. The population growth of Polish cities has contributed to urban development and the emergence of buildings oriented to meet needs such as aesthetics, function, a consistent level of comfort or cost efficiency. Minimal attention has been paid to whether the newly built environment will harmonize with the natural environment and how it will respond to climate change.

The damage done to recently industrialized areas is increasingly recognized by science: it is now documented that the main challenges are climate change, loss of biodiversity, mass extinction of species, environmental damage and loss of human health and well-being. Ways in which cities can mitigate climate change and promote biodiversity, generate clean energy are being developed. How cities can grow food and generate nutrients. How to create materials that have infinite life cycles. How cities can regenerate air, water and soil. These activities can contribute to meaningful cultural and social experiences. Incorporating new principles and ideas means that designers have to grapple with more information than ever before and, importantly, have to act without knowing for sure what that climate will be.

Catherine: Can you give examples of research on this topic?

Prof. Emanuele Naboni: I will answer with the image above. We did a complex study on climate change simulations for the district of Sassuolo and Maranello in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region. The ceramics and automobile industries are present there alongside medieval settlements, agricultural areas and pristine forests. The analysis of temperatures shows how they vary from place to place during the hottest time of the year (row 2). The diagram also shows predictions of temperature increases in 2050 (row 3). The simulated climate scenarios show what features of space - natural or built - make it difficult for animals or plants to adapt. They also show what part of the built environment will lead to significant consumption of buildings and carbon emissions. And finally, how temperature can affect locally increased morbidity or mortality.

Symulacja zmian klimatu

Climate change simulation-simulation of climate change for the district of Sassuolo and Maranello in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region; the analysis of temperatures shows how they vary from place to place during the hottest time of the year (row 2); the diagram also shows projections of temperature increases in 2050 (row 3)

© Emanuele Naboni, Marcello Turrini, Barbara Gherri

Catherine: Does the concept of regenerative design (Regenerative Design) offer solutions to these problems? What is this way of design?

Prof. Emanuele Naboni:The concept of sustainability was inextricably linked to the notion of economic growth, and the Brundtland Report called for a "new era of economic growth." With regard to cities and buildings, sustainability is implemented through "green" buildings and certifications that seek to reduce negative impacts, reduce damage to natural ecosystems, resource consumption or impacts on human health.

However, the goal of the Paris Agreement, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the recently released IPCC report [the third part of the International Panel on Climate Change report approved on April 4 this year. - Editor's note] will never be achieved by simply slowing the rate of depletion and degradation of the environment or human health, as suggested by the "greens." What is needed is a positive impact, an approach that will undo the damage already done, but also produce positive action. This is why the Regenerative Design paradigm has come to the forefront of sustainability thinking. In my book Regenerative Design in the Digital Practice, it is defined as enabling ecological and human systems to remain healthy and evolve. This positive impact approach means: repairing environmental damage caused by harmful emissions and substance spills and increasing the value of natural areas; creating new, clean energy, clean water and using a circular approach; and having a positive impact on well-being.

Catherine: In the aforementioned book, you identify three pillars of regenerative design. What are those pillars?

Prof. Emanuele Naboni: In my opinion, every project should be created in harmony with the climate, nature and people - and these are my three pillars. First, professionals should "design with climate" (Design with Climate). This is also the title of a pioneering book published in 1963, which includes principles based on ecology, biology, engineering, climatology and physics, and talks about the impact that regional, local climate has on optimizing the design of buildings and components. Second, they should "design with nature" (Design with Nature). This is also the title of a book written by McHarg in 1971. Design with Nature means that cities live together with the powerful forces and courses of nature, not against them. Finally, they should also "design with people." Cities and buildings play a key role in improving people's lives. Outdoor spaces that are thermally tuned and free of pollution connect people to nature. They are also comfortable and safe from extreme climatic events. They can also accommodate and promote various outdoor activities and enhance the quality of urban life and impact livability.
Designing with climate, nature and people in mind can be facilitated by digital working methods that allow the performance of regenarative design to be assessed using appropriate tools. I have developed software using a number of existing but also custom plug-ins, most of which are already in use and available in open source, and are integrated with parametric information modeling based on the Grasshopper visual programming tool.

Catherine: Can you give an example of designing with climate, nature and people?

Prof. Emanuele Naboni: I developed these categories while teaching at the Master of Architecture and Extreme Environments (AEE) program at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen. The program was created by David Garcia in 2014, and I've been academically involved in these activities ever since. We test design solutions for climate change that are supported by site-specific research prototypes. We call these devices architectural devices (architectural devices). They measure climate phenomena and interact with the environment through self-sustaining technologies. They become a dynamic part of their contexts and are able to show broader qualitative and quantitative insights.

More than two hundred prototypes have been built, but I will show one as an example. The Faroe Islands have historically relied on fish as a food resource and have used outdoor drying and ripening methods to preserve food for later consumption. One such product is ræstur fiskur - pungent, air-dried and fermented fish, "half rotten." The formation of ræstur fiskur is only possible through a delicate balance of microorganisms, enzymes and environmental conditions: temperature, humidity and wind. By using movable elements and specific materials - hygroscopic, permeable and mist-absorbing - it is possible to create the right microclimate in the pavilion for ræstur fiskur to form. Although the environmental conditions ideal for ræstur fiskur are far from what we consider thermally comfortable for an outdoor space, during this research we additionally checked through a survey how the specific conditions are experienced by pavilion users. So this project provided information and favorably influenced the cycles of climate, nature and human comfort.

Wyspy Owcze. trzy ramki do suszenia ryb miały swoje rejestratory temperatury i wilgotności z dołączoną czarną, kulową sondą temparatury (proj.: Johnatan Kim)

Faroe Islands. three fish drying frames had their own temperature and humidity loggers with a black ball temparature probe attached (proj.: Johnatan Kim)

photo: Johnatan Kim

Catherine: How can we use this method when designing a residential or office building in the city?

Prof. Emanuele Naboni: While there is knowledge about designing energy-efficient buildings, the environment we create by designing should be able to do much more. Design for Climate Change)means adopting a regenerative worldview paradigm in which architects make decisions (and undertake design) by being part of nature, not apart from it. The shift from human influence on natural systems to their cooperation and the reassignment of value to its systemic and dynamic nature changes the sustainability agenda, thereby forcing a profound cultural shift among practitioners creating built environments. This requires an understanding of the layered construct that is climate, which is made up of geology, ecology (i.e., mineral deposits, soil, vegetation, water and wildlife, etc.), human health, human activities and the complex interactions of the various elements. Therefore, designers should work outside of conventional construction practice; they should be able to integrate interdisciplinary and multifaceted systems thinking into the design process.

This, in turn, encourages designers to seek digital tools that are programmable to deal with specific, multifaceted problems. Consequently, regenerative design requires tools that are open to customization by users for problems beyond typical architectural issues. Tools that can take advantage of large data sets, big data, on climate, ecosystem, material flows, emissions, human health and individual physiological parameters, and allow for multi-faceted simulations and performance assessments at diverse scales. Computational optimization techniques should therefore help achieve regenerative design goals by informing shape, size, placement and other design and material choices through digital mapping of their relationship to climate, ecosystem and human health.

Catherine: There are now certifications for "green" buildings around the world, such as BREEAM or LEED. Are they helpful?

Prof. Emanuele Naboni: In conventional sustainable design certification systems, most of the discussion focuses on ticking off the elements necessary to achieve, but without indicating their appropriate combination.
On the one hand, there is a fragmentation of design independently supporting sustainability goals with off-the-shelf technologies: buildings and cities often look like a collection of sustainable gadgets as a result. On the other hand, these goals are rarely ambitious and propose reductionist approaches. I will show this with two examples related to urban cooling, thermal insulation of buildings and daylighting. The specific certification points focus on cooling cities with cool roofs and sidewalks, both of which have low albedo [a photometric parameter that determines the ability of a surface to reflect the sun's rays - editor's note]. In this case, the focus is solely on horizontal surfaces, and the impact of facades is completely ignored. Meanwhile, facades are the main surfaces exchanging the highest coefficient of long-wave thermal radiation with pedestrians, and are the surfaces that can reflect short-wave solar radiation toward people. This is a serious error that affects people's comfort. I can demonstrate that the temperature experienced by pedestrians can vary by up to 12 degrees depending on the facade design.

siedziba firmy Lavazza w Turynie we Włoszech, proj.: CZA Cino Zucchi Architetti; elewacja jest termicznie zmienna — każdy element fasady pozwala na utrzymanie innej temperatury w pomieszczeniu tworząc bodźce fizjologiczno-termiczne

Lavazza headquarters in Turin, Italy, design: CZA Cino Zucchi Architetti; the facade is thermally variable - each element of the facade allows the room to maintain a different temperature by creating physiological-thermal stimuli

Photo: Cino Zucchi

If we move to a smaller scale, to the scale of the building, climate change will not be taken into account and thermal insulation will be mentioned first and foremost. All European directives and certification systems based on energy modeling still refer primarily to a winter scenario, and the old, typical meteorological data commonly used in energy analyses are outdated. The result is a building that cannot cope not only with the future climate, but even with today's climate. Such actions lead to very well insulated buildings that are, however, less able to cope with cooling. The use of insulation to passive building standards, for example, results in greater overheating of the building, and thus more hours of discomfort inside. A study we conducted with Lund University found that building retrofits in Germany and Denmark involving the addition of insulation dramatically increased the number of hours of indoor discomfort.

In conclusion, the goals present in sustainable certification are limited in scope and there is a high risk of creating mediocre solutions that can only partially maintain sustainable performance.

Catherine: Can you give an example of a contemporary building that was deliberately not designed to be well thermally insulated?

Prof. Emanuele Naboni: The facade of the Lavazza building [in Turin - editor's note] was designed with several types of facade elements. During the consultations, Manens and I showed in simulations that it is possible to transfer solar radiation in different ways, so that thermal conditions for each room can be changed inside. While standards, certification systems or engineers recommend maintaining certain conditions of high insulation, in my work I am inspired by the latest scientific research on the idea of thermal variability. At first glance, people's health and well-being are strongly supported by spaces that offer varying thermal conditions compared to fixed, defined ones. (The aforementioned book "Regenerative Design in the Digital Practice" discusses the basics of thermal perception variability).

symulacje światła dziennego do projektu siedziby firmy Lavazza firmy Manens-Tifs

Daylight simulations for the Lavazza headquarters project by Manens-Tifs

The benefits of thermal variability are also linked to our ancient connection to the natural world, where temperatures are constantly changing. Many studies over the past two years have shown that thermal variation improves our mood, concentration and well-being.

Catherine: Thank you for the interview.

siedziba firmy Lavazza w Turynie we Włoszech, proj.: CZA Cino Zucchi Architetti; elewacja jest termicznie zmienna — każdy element fasady pozwala na utrzymanie innej temperatury w pomieszczeniu tworząc bodźce fizjologiczno-termiczne

Lavazza headquarters in Turin, Italy, proj.: CZA Cino Zucchi Architetti; the facade is thermally variable - each element of the facade allows the room to maintain a different temperature by creating physiological-thermal stimuli

Photo credit: Cino Zucchi

interviewed by Katarzyna Mikulska

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