Claudio Lo Riso | SOLAR ARCHITECTURE - Claudio Lo Riso

SOLAR ARCHITECTURE

Toward a solar architecture

The approach:

The first time I came into contact with “Solar Architecture” waswhen I was asked to plan, in 1998, the renovation of the FEAT building in Lugano. The task required tostudy an innovative renovation projectin the energy management field. A renovation which not only would have been ableto save and create energy, but also to promote the image of the Federazione itself: its impressive project is aimed both at young students from professional institutes and members and future workers of the“FederazioneEsercentiAlbergatori Ticino”.

The challenge of such an innovative project in the energy management fieldwas motivating me a lot, but the idea of having to usesolar collectorsandphotovoltaic panelsin order to create energy scared me. Immediately, I imagined hideous solarplantshung on roofs.
As a consequence, my first reactionwas negative; but after an unexciting first encounter,I started my researchin the solar architecture field.

The research:

In order to translate new energy technologies to architectural works, it is undoubtedly essential to examine their knowledge in depth, both in terms of effectiveness but also of aesthetic importance: as a matter of fact, if any traditional plantcan be hidden in thesecond basement, this is not feasible for new technology products that directlydraw the energy largely from the sun. It is in fact, by definition, visible, and affects openings, surfaces and therefore all forms of construction.
So, not only a constant experimentation, but also a constant formal research in the technology fieldis needed, as well as a new and more worthwhile study of a work integration that is already in its design phase, withoutleading to negative influences or resulting aesthetically disappointing.
Solar architecture is that type of architecture which exploits the energy coming from the sun, and all those forms of energywhich derive from it: hydroelectric, wind, biomass, waves and sea currents energy.

Bioclimatic architecture, instead, is the one which exploits summer breezes to cool down and ventilate inner spaces, the one which is open to the sun in winter, and it closes during summer. With this architecture, glass surfaces are orientated towards south and they are isolated, during the night, in order to avoid heat leaks.The shape of the building and itsopening systemsare adapted in order to protect oneself from thecold and the winter winds. The buildingis suitable to the features of the surrounding area (vegetation, mountain ranges, existing buildings, etc.) in order to have the best advantagein terms of heat and light, making use of the same “surroundings” to improve one’s own comfort conditions.

Solar Architecture, Bioclimatic Architecture or Bio-ecological Architecture are not specialised areas of architecture, but rather architectures aimed at connecting the "bios" man, as a true user of architecture, to the external environment (the "climate"),since architecture itselfis a result of the intermediation between the two of them.

On the other hand, the integration of solar thermal systems into architecture leads us to consider the concept of building from a completely new point of view: this is being transformed, from the container of activities linked to the productive and biological life of men – and therefore from a building envelope that needs a significant consumption of energy –to a tool of direct energy production, which can be used for one's own and others' needs.

In the construction sector, therefore, the need for a radical rethinking of constructive logic was born: a transformation which shows how essential it is to place a significant energy sensitivity at the base of the design process.

We architects are really those people who now underestimate the developments and results obtained in the last years in the field of renewable energy, by failing or not wanting to assimilate in our creative matrix the technological and cultural baggage that would allow the creation of energetically conscious architecture.


"There is one profession and one only, namely architecture, in which progress is not considered necessary, where laziness is enthroned, and in which the reference is always to yesterday.
Everywhere else, taking thought for the morrow is almost a fever and brings its inevitable solution: if a man does not move forward, he becomes bankrupt.
But in architecture no one ever becomes bankrupt. A privileged profession, alas!"

Le Corbusier (Versune Architecture)

The past:

A quick look at the popular architectural strategies applied in the past is enough to realise that the principles of solar architecture are not new at all. In fact, faced with the scarcity of energy resources and the limited technology, the only way men could protect themselves from adverse weather conditions was through architecture itself. But unfortunately, after the discovery of electricity, all these principles have been lost.

To only cite some ancient examples: in Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, courtyards and rooms were oriented according to the different summer and winter thermal requirements; in the villas of Costozza in Veneto, which have been built starting from 1550, a very interesting cooling system exploits the cold air coming from large underground cavities ("covoli") located within the hills where the Villas stand; the well-known "trullopugliese" exploits the thermal capacity of the materials of the building to keep the internal temperature almost constant.


But everything has changed now. The energy problem influencesus only relatively, and technological building resourcesare numerous and diverse. Today, issues related especially to environmentalpollution force us to rethink the way we use energy resources.We must therefore face the situation from a different perspective, trying to offer good levels of environmental comfort but at the same time minimising the use of polluting energy resources and increasing the use of clean renewable sources, such as solar energy.

Planning:

“The airplane is the product of close selection.
The lesson of the airplane lies in the logic whichgoverned the statement of the problem and its realization.
The problem of the house has not yet beenstated.
Current architectural creationsno longer respond to our needs.
Nevertheless, there do exist standards for the dwelling house.
Machinery contains in itself thefactor of economy, which makes for selection.
The house is a machine for living in."

Planning means toconceiveand describe an object andall technical procedures needed to build and use it in every cultural and environmental situation that characterise its life.
Planning withbioclimatic criteria simply means to adapt the building to the atmosphere surrounding it. The design process must therefore consider the environmental data not as a limit to be respected, but as a tool to be used.
The project cannot, therefore, ignore all those technologies - both passive and active -that are able to allow its work to affect the energy balance of the ecological system as little as possible.
Building is always an act of violence on nature. In this sense, construction ismore and more becoming one of the human activities with the highest environmental impact. In fact, every architect can play an important role for the future of the planet, by addressing his design choices differently.
The house is central to this research, it occupies indeed a very important – sometimes the most important – part in everyone's life. The attention to the ecological quality of the house in relation to the health of its inhabitants can, starting from an individual research, address the collective consumption in a different way, by significantly affecting the production choices that underlie the tendency towards the environmental disaster.

The architecture:

"The business of Architecture is to establish emotional relationships by means of raw materials.
Architecture goes beyond utilitarian needs.
Architecture is a plastic thing.
The spirit of order, a unity of intention, the sense of relationships; architecture deals with quantities.
Passion can create drama out of inert stone."

In dealing with the renovation project of the FEAT building I realised that, for the first time, I had no paths to follow, references or examples to mention. In fact, the great masters have never dealt with solar architecture or the integration of photovoltaic panels: until then, no one had integrated solar collectors, photovoltaic panels and sun-beam furnitureinto a single façade facing south beforeby transforming an existing onemade in reinforced concretefacing south, into a small power plant.
I was therefore forced to undertake a path of experimentation, research, curiosity - but above all, adventure.

I believe that photovoltaic panels, solar collectors, mobile brise-soleils, liquid crystal glasses etc., are all materials of an architecture in search of a new order. These new technologies, applied and integrated into a new contemporary architectural language, can even become an expressive and fundamental element for architecture, as it happened for steel, cement, glass and aluminum.

"A great era has begun.
There exists a new spirit.
There exists a mass of work conceived in the new spirit; it is to be met with particularly in industrial production.
Architecture is stifled by custom.
The “styles” are a lie.
Style is a unity of principle animating all the work of an era, the result of a state of mind which has its own special character.
Our own era is determining, day by day, its own style.
Our eyes, unhappily, are unable yet to discern it."

Le Corbusier (Versune Architecture 1921)

Toward a solar architecture

The approach:

The first time I came into contact with “Solar Architecture” waswhen I was asked to plan, in 1998, the renovation of the FEAT building in Lugano. The task required tostudy an innovative renovation projectin the energy management field. A renovation which not only would have been ableto save and create energy, but also to promote the image of the Federazione itself: its impressive project is aimed both at young students from professional institutes and members and future workers of the“FederazioneEsercentiAlbergatori Ticino”.

The challenge of such an innovative project in the energy management fieldwas motivating me a lot, but the idea of having to usesolar collectorsandphotovoltaic panelsin order to create energy scared me. Immediately, I imagined hideous solarplantshung on roofs.
As a consequence, my first reactionwas negative; but after an unexciting first encounter,I started my researchin the solar architecture field.

The research:

In order to translate new energy technologies to architectural works, it is undoubtedly essential to examine their knowledge in depth, both in terms of effectiveness but also of aesthetic importance: as a matter of fact, if any traditional plantcan be hidden in thesecond basement, this is not feasible for new technology products that directlydraw the energy largely from the sun. It is in fact, by definition, visible, and affects openings, surfaces and therefore all forms of construction.
So, not only a constant experimentation, but also a constant formal research in the technology fieldis needed, as well as a new and more worthwhile study of a work integration that is already in its design phase, withoutleading to negative influences or resulting aesthetically disappointing.
Solar architecture is that type of architecture which exploits the energy coming from the sun, and all those forms of energywhich derive from it: hydroelectric, wind, biomass, waves and sea currents energy.

Bioclimatic architecture, instead, is the one which exploits summer breezes to cool down and ventilate inner spaces, the one which is open to the sun in winter, and it closes during summer. With this architecture, glass surfaces are orientated towards south and they are isolated, during the night, in order to avoid heat leaks.The shape of the building and itsopening systemsare adapted in order to protect oneself from thecold and the winter winds. The buildingis suitable to the features of the surrounding area (vegetation, mountain ranges, existing buildings, etc.) in order to have the best advantagein terms of heat and light, making use of the same “surroundings” to improve one’s own comfort conditions.

Solar Architecture, Bioclimatic Architecture or Bio-ecological Architecture are not specialised areas of architecture, but rather architectures aimed at connecting the "bios" man, as a true user of architecture, to the external environment (the "climate"),since architecture itselfis a result of the intermediation between the two of them.

On the other hand, the integration of solar thermal systems into architecture leads us to consider the concept of building from a completely new point of view: this is being transformed, from the container of activities linked to the productive and biological life of men – and therefore from a building envelope that needs a significant consumption of energy –to a tool of direct energy production, which can be used for one's own and others' needs.

In the construction sector, therefore, the need for a radical rethinking of constructive logic was born: a transformation which shows how essential it is to place a significant energy sensitivity at the base of the design process.

We architects are really those people who now underestimate the developments and results obtained in the last years in the field of renewable energy, by failing or not wanting to assimilate in our creative matrix the technological and cultural baggage that would allow the creation of energetically conscious architecture.


"There is one profession and one only, namely architecture, in which progress is not considered necessary, where laziness is enthroned, and in which the reference is always to yesterday.
Everywhere else, taking thought for the morrow is almost a fever and brings its inevitable solution: if a man does not move forward, he becomes bankrupt.
But in architecture no one ever becomes bankrupt. A privileged profession, alas!"

Le Corbusier (Versune Architecture)

The past:

A quick look at the popular architectural strategies applied in the past is enough to realise that the principles of solar architecture are not new at all. In fact, faced with the scarcity of energy resources and the limited technology, the only way men could protect themselves from adverse weather conditions was through architecture itself. But unfortunately, after the discovery of electricity, all these principles have been lost.

To only cite some ancient examples: in Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, courtyards and rooms were oriented according to the different summer and winter thermal requirements; in the villas of Costozza in Veneto, which have been built starting from 1550, a very interesting cooling system exploits the cold air coming from large underground cavities ("covoli") located within the hills where the Villas stand; the well-known "trullopugliese" exploits the thermal capacity of the materials of the building to keep the internal temperature almost constant.


But everything has changed now. The energy problem influencesus only relatively, and technological building resourcesare numerous and diverse. Today, issues related especially to environmentalpollution force us to rethink the way we use energy resources.We must therefore face the situation from a different perspective, trying to offer good levels of environmental comfort but at the same time minimising the use of polluting energy resources and increasing the use of clean renewable sources, such as solar energy.

Planning:

“The airplane is the product of close selection.
The lesson of the airplane lies in the logic whichgoverned the statement of the problem and its realization.
The problem of the house has not yet beenstated.
Current architectural creationsno longer respond to our needs.
Nevertheless, there do exist standards for the dwelling house.
Machinery contains in itself thefactor of economy, which makes for selection.
The house is a machine for living in."

Planning means toconceiveand describe an object andall technical procedures needed to build and use it in every cultural and environmental situation that characterise its life.
Planning withbioclimatic criteria simply means to adapt the building to the atmosphere surrounding it. The design process must therefore consider the environmental data not as a limit to be respected, but as a tool to be used.
The project cannot, therefore, ignore all those technologies - both passive and active -that are able to allow its work to affect the energy balance of the ecological system as little as possible.
Building is always an act of violence on nature. In this sense, construction ismore and more becoming one of the human activities with the highest environmental impact. In fact, every architect can play an important role for the future of the planet, by addressing his design choices differently.
The house is central to this research, it occupies indeed a very important – sometimes the most important – part in everyone's life. The attention to the ecological quality of the house in relation to the health of its inhabitants can, starting from an individual research, address the collective consumption in a different way, by significantly affecting the production choices that underlie the tendency towards the environmental disaster.

The architecture:

"The business of Architecture is to establish emotional relationships by means of raw materials.
Architecture goes beyond utilitarian needs.
Architecture is a plastic thing.
The spirit of order, a unity of intention, the sense of relationships; architecture deals with quantities.
Passion can create drama out of inert stone."

In dealing with the renovation project of the FEAT building I realised that, for the first time, I had no paths to follow, references or examples to mention. In fact, the great masters have never dealt with solar architecture or the integration of photovoltaic panels: until then, no one had integrated solar collectors, photovoltaic panels and sun-beam furnitureinto a single façade facing south beforeby transforming an existing onemade in reinforced concretefacing south, into a small power plant.
I was therefore forced to undertake a path of experimentation, research, curiosity - but above all, adventure.

I believe that photovoltaic panels, solar collectors, mobile brise-soleils, liquid crystal glasses etc., are all materials of an architecture in search of a new order. These new technologies, applied and integrated into a new contemporary architectural language, can even become an expressive and fundamental element for architecture, as it happened for steel, cement, glass and aluminum.

"A great era has begun.
There exists a new spirit.
There exists a mass of work conceived in the new spirit; it is to be met with particularly in industrial production.
Architecture is stifled by custom.
The “styles” are a lie.
Style is a unity of principle animating all the work of an era, the result of a state of mind which has its own special character.
Our own era is determining, day by day, its own style.
Our eyes, unhappily, are unable yet to discern it."

Le Corbusier (Versune Architecture 1921)