Architectural History + Climate Emergency: 2021 Annual Symposium CfP
The SAHGB is excited to announce the call for its 2021 Symposium, which will be coordinated by Barnabas Calder, Alex Bremner and Savia Palate. This year’s theme will highlight the role that the history of architecture and the wider built environment can play in addressing concerns over catastrophic climate change and injustice.
The event, to be held online in June, will offer an unparalleled international platform for discussion and debate, including roundtables, keynote addresses, virtual building tours, as well as more traditional academic paper panels. The Symposium will place the nexus between architecture and energy centre stage in our understanding of the historic built environment, considering how both large-scale energy consumption and socio-political regimes of energy production force us to give greater consideration to architecture’s environmental impact through time.
By investigating the relationship between buildings and energy, in conjunction with other factors such as the building industry’s contribution to deforestation, eco-system destruction, and wide-spread pollution connected to primary material procurement, architectural history can reclaim its long-standing place as a central contributor to architectural debate and practice. Much more importantly, considering the history of architecture in this context can make a significant contribution to understanding and addressing the fossil fuel dependency and biodiversity crisis that threatens the continuation of life on Earth.
With a formal existence spanning early modern to contemporary history, the British Empire supported complex networks of trade, war and settlement. It intervened in land-based expansions as well as maritime worlds and prefigured a global architectural history. Yet research that seeks to critically address the empire and its legacy poses complex challenges for the architectural historian: the mental-mapping of bureaucratic systems across multiple continents, finding evidence of buildings and landscapes for which little documentation exists, sitting with a complex past and present of race, gender, religion, nationalism and capitalism.
This writing group is formed as an empathetic structure for scholars writing books and dissertations on imperial and colonial histories. We seek to create a space for researchers to share resources on chapter writing, structuring and revision. Writing is often an isolating activity, particularly for emerging scholars with non-Eurocentric specialisations that are underrepresented in the academy. To this end, we especially encourage applications from early-career researchers and those whose primary field sites are located outside of Great Britain. This project is among the first within the society’s new Race and Ethnicity network, a new effort to foster greater equality, diversity and inclusivity within the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain.
The group will meet for two hours every two months, with participants alternating between workshopping their own draft chapters and that of another in the writing group. Participants must commit to reviewing and presenting once every four months. To mitigate time zones and geographies, all events will be held over Zoom.
HOW TO JOIN
To join, please send a one-page cover letter and a brief project abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Application: Writing Group on Architecture and Empire’ by 15 January 2021. The cover letter should state why you would like to be a part of the group and your general meeting availability, and the abstract should address the dissertation or book project you hope to work on as part of the writing group. All interested participants will be notified by 31 January 2021. The group will meet every other month beginning in February 2021. The meeting times, format and specific group expectations will be refined amongst participants during the first meeting and reviewed on a regular basis.
The aim of this project is to investigate if, and to what extent do ‘tropical modernist’ structures modify or mitigate climatic conditions to create more ‘comfortable’ interiors.
Most of these structures were designed to be passively cooled and as such have a permeable façade composed of concrete screens or louvres to facilitate cross ventilation air-flow, and to create shade. A good example is the Children’s Library in Accra, designed by Nickson and Borys in 1957.
Mainly built during the 1930s-70s, these buildings are now at an age when they require refurbishment and rehabilitation – although this is mainly superficial and does not involve structural correction. There are various options pursued, many involving the installation of air-conditioning units. For the AC to be effective it ideally requires a sealed interior volume, rendering the existing permeable façade unsuitable.
One solution being increasingly used in Ghana is to externally clad the façades with a glazed screen, as seen on the Standard Chartered Bank on Accra’s High Street.
The glazing cuts out street and traffic noise and reduces dust infiltration, as well as enabling the interior to be mechanically cooled. But in terms of energy usage (consumption of AC and in the fabrication of the glazed units) it is far from ideal. Furthermore, there is the financial cost of cooling what is now effectively a greenhouse in a hot and humid climate. Architecturally the building has also been dramatically altered. It is now a bland non-descript block, and lacks the patterns, shading effects, and references to the floors behind the façade. I’m not suggesting that this example is a prestigious heritage monument, but rather using it to illustrate what is becoming an increasingly common approach to refurbishment. Fortunately, in this case glazing can be easily removed and the older structure has been preserved inside.
Our project has several objectives, including to:
Recognise and promote the significance of these 20thC modernist structures.
Determine if the passive cooling approach does create sufficiently comfortable interiors.
Investigate what conditions are comfortable for the occupants of these buildings.
Investigate alternatives to AC that provide low cost and low energy comfortable interiors without detrimentally impacting upon the architectural quality.
To test both inland and coastal conditions we’ve selected a case study at KNUST in Kumasi, and another at the University of Ghana, Accra. Both buildings are university libraries, and as such have a large number of daily visitors that we can consult. The library at KNUST was designed as a louvred screen wall, fully adjustable from the interior, and also has a later brutalist extension with a twin façade arrangement and partially air-conditioned interior.
At Accra, the Balme Library takes a more colonial/traditional approach with a series of courtyards, loggias and high ceilings. Some of the rooms have been retro-fitted with air-conditioning, whilst at the same time naturally ventilated. Both libraries are large institutional buildings and have the potential to consume large amounts of energy should they be refurbished with full AC and cooled to ASHRAE recommendations. Furthermore, it is important for the health and education of the staff and students that these buildings are comfortable places to spend time in, and to study.
In each building we’ve installed a number of Hobo data-loggers that record the temperature and humidity at regular intervals. Whilst this data allows us to determine whether the internal temperature/humidity is different to the external condition, it does not tell us if the conditions are comfortable to the inhabitants. To establish this, we’ve consulted the library users and staff to enquire how comfortable they feel in the various library spaces. The respondents also recorded their attire, age, sex, and how long they have been in the library prior to completing the survey. Over 250 people completed the survey at KNUST in January 2020. We will repeat this in the ‘rainy season’, and conduct similar surveys at Accra. When we’ve gathered this data we can correlate the data-logger findings with those of the user surveys. We’re also constructing 3d computer models of the buildings to test various refurbishment scenarios and cooling options.
This thematic section of ABE Journal, edited by Jiat-Hwee Chang and Daniel J. Ryan, explores the wide-ranging socio-environmental implications of comfort for architectural history. The contributions over this and the next issue complicate and expand upon our understanding of comfort. Each essay unpacks how comfort was situated and assembled in the built environment of different temporalities and geographies, beyond the taken-for-granted immediacy of the present and the discursive familiarity of temperate European and North American contexts.
Drawing from the cognate fields of scholarship in, among others, Science and Technology Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and Sociology of Practice, the contributions show how, during the past two centuries, comfort and the built environment were historically entangled with (settler) colonialism and decolonization, and the various (dis)enchantments of modernities and modernization in Asia, Australia, Latin America, and West Africa. By understanding comfort in relation to these cross-cultural and cross-climatic encounters, these contributions have far-reaching implications for comprehending our shifting and situated relationships with not just built environmental transformations but also planetary climate change.