Yesterday’s Wisdom – Today’s Ecological Architecture

Custom Home Design - Delphi HouseCustom Pacific Northwest home

Contemporary Ecological Architecture, with lessons from the past

Did you know that Socrates was an advocate of passive solar architecture?  In Xenophan’s Memorabilia, Socrates points to the practical use of passive solar design because “it is reasonable to suppose that the pleasantest and most beautiful dwelling place will be one in which the owner can at all seasons of the year find the pleasantest retreat.”  

6,000 years ago, Chinese villagers used thermal mass and south facing entrances in order to make their homes more comfortable through summer and winter.  

In 1892 Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, and architect, Colin Archer, finished the Fram, an arctic research vessel designed with such care that the explorers stayed warm and comfortable without using their wood stove, while the ship was locked in a sheet of ice (seriously).

We people have a long history of innovation, and the breadth of trial and error our ancestors endured to make shelters as comfortable and safe as possible, is staggering and edifying.  Through the careful study of preserved ancient structures with modern analytical tools, we derive keen insights from our ancestors’ architectural cleverness.

At the Artisans Group, we study the past and work with many of those principles in our own Design+Build firm to create beautiful, ecological homes.  Homes that need no mechanical heating and cooling systems, harmonize with your property and give you unparalleled comfort.

Where do we start?

Today’s sustainable and ecological architecture is particularly interested in past construction methods, materials, and designs that rely on renewable resources.  The placement of windows, roof slope, angles for shading, and the size and shape of structures were as important then as now.  The goal to achieve comfort and escape from excessive heat or chill is part of the science behind Passive House, and we study and build myriad ways to achieve this end.   

Roman designers engineered the cool water from their aqueduct system through the walls of some homes in order to cool the solar heated bricks.  In the Middle East, the extreme heat led architects to design windows that faced away from the sun and devise wind towers to capture and circulate breezes into homes.  Cupolas were used extensively in Spanish architecture to collect and release warm air during the day, and then bring in the cooler air at night.

Careful attention to site planning and design is a necessity of the Passive House standard, which means we know how sunlight dances in your kitchen at any day and time of the year, before your home is built.  In a slightly remastered nod to Roman engineering, many of our clients’ homes feature hydronic floor systems,  and our expansive use of windows maximizes solar gain and views.

We learn from the past because the past is a treasure trove of valuable lessons, and when we develop a craft with those lessons in mind…well…we can master, and improvise, and then revolutionize an entire building industry.

Some Modern Examples

A fine example of modern sustainable design learning from vernacular architecture is the stunning Pearl Academy of Fashion in Jaipur, India, designed by Architect Manit Rastogi.

Manit created “an environmentally responsive passive habitat” through the use of centuries old design principles, including an outer screening.  The screening acts as a thermal buffer against extreme temperatures, provides diffused light and privacy, and can be an attractive functional part of any Passive House we build for you.

Green Roofs are another fascinating example of ancient design in use today.  Historically, these living roofs helped people survive in extremely cold and wet climates with the extreme insulation they provided.  Today, Germany is the world leader in the use of modern day Green Roofs.  In Berlin, building code requires green roofs on large commercial buildings and the use of such roofs helps them manage stormwater, drainage and reduces energy consumption.  Their modern reintroduction is a great success story from which we continue to gain valuable insight.

Let’s Talk

We hope this post inspires you to learn more about sustainable design and the ecological homes we build.  Imagine a $15.00 a month electricity bill during the coldest months of winter and hottest months of summer.  Better yet, imagine never hearing the noise of a central heating and cooling system.  As our clients attest, this is the proven science of Passive House.  No longer just a status home, Passive Houses are changing the way the world builds.  

Our clients rave about the inherent comfort of their homes.  They say it is a comfort so game changing it has to be experienced to be understood.  As leaders in the design and build of these revolutionary homes that build on past lessons, we are always happy to answer your questions.   

Artisans Group