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Architecture, thermodynamics and the architect as a Weapon of Mass Destruction


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As it happens, and a bit unfortunate for us, doing damage to the world is the default mode for an architect. The basic reason can be found in the laws of thermodynamics.

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Architecture, thermodynamics and the architect as a Weapon of Mass Destruction

  1. 1. Chalmers 16 sep 2014 Erik Berg, inobi analys arkitektur Architecture, thermodynamics & the architect as a weapon of mass destruction
  2. 2. Building community Gråberget Eco-village outside Göteborg Resilience block research project Book: Building meeting places Permaculture House Kassjö
  3. 3. [As it happens, and a bit unfortunate for us, doing damage to the world is the default mode for an architect. To make the world objectively better is very hard for an architect to do, even when actively trying. One could even say that the definition of a skillfull architect is just like the successful salesman and the talented copywriter at the advertising agency, that the better we are at what we are doing, the more damage we will wreck on the planet, and to all things trying to survive on it.] NOTES FROM LECTURE IN SPARKLING PINK AT EACH SLIDE: (PICTURES STOLEN FROM ALL OVER THE INTERNET WITHOUT CREDITS, SORRY!)
  4. 4. [When you think of it, architecture is a discipline in the trade of taking something that was alive from the beginning, killing it, investing scary amounts of energy and resources to put a piece of artificial construction there and then, at best if you’re lucky, market this as a piece of creative art. Or just, in most cases, a piece of something that is just cheap enough to rent or expensive enough to make others jealous. And if we are lucky, our buildings may be regarded as suited to people's needs for a couple of decades, before the tastes change and people want to tear them down to get rid of the brown structure wallpaper, the dangerous composite material we happened to use, or for whatever reason that makes houses constantly be torn down…]
  5. 5. […often to give room to the mythical and dubious phenomena called “development”...]
  6. 6. [...and sometimes just because of changed external conditions, caused by the autonomous economic process called capitalism, that forces people and business to move somewhere else for no good reason at all, except that the money suddenly went somewhere else… and all modern buildings depend on a constant flow of money to avoid to immediatley start decaying.]
  7. 7. [The purpose of this lecture is to try to show why architecture is also by and in itself an inherently and unavoidably destructive trade, that occupies an unreasonable large amount of ecological space. The basic reason can be found in the laws of thermodynamics, our focus today.]
  8. 8. Thermodynamics: The study of the nature of energy & its transformations between different forms and qualities. [Thermodynamics is a transdisciplinary branch originating from physics.It is concerned with studying the nature of energy and it's transformations between different forms and qualities through different forms of work. Today thermodynamics also plays an important role in chemistry, biology, computer science, ecology and many social sciences, such as in the field of ecological economy.]
  9. 9. 1. Energy can neither be created or destroyed but can only be transformed from one form to another. [Thermodynamics postulates 4 natural laws based on empirical observation with the first and second law of thermodynamics saying that: ]
  10. 10. 2. Energy spontaneously disperses from being concentrated to becoming spread out (if it’s not stopped) = increased entropy. [These laws are formulated a bit differently from time to time, but this is the essence of them...]
  11. 11. entropy: 1. The “work-quality” of energy (or “exergy”) = the concentration of energy 2. A meassure of “disorder”. [The term entropy in the second law of thermodynamics is central to understand both the purpose of life and what really goes in the economy, as well as what really happens when we build things. Entropy can be understood as describing the “work-quality” of energy within a system, which is basically the same as the concentration of energy. Another way of putting it, although a bit sloppy, is to say that entropy is a measure of disorder in a system.]
  12. 12. “High” entropy: Energy is dissipated as waste/heat in the system. [When we talk about high entropy, it means that the concentrated energy has been dissipated as waste and non usefull heat in the system. So “high entropy” is “bad”.]
  13. 13. EXAMPLE 1: [In order for energy to be useful it must be sufficiently concentrated. The heat in the room where we are right now holds a large amount of energy, but it’s not sufficiently concentrated to be used for running the projector, and the projector is instead run by energy concentrated in electricity which in turn is being released as waste-heat from the projector to the air.] EXAMPLE 2: [If I hold a pen in the air it is given a certain level of potential energy due to its position in a gravitational system. The pen is capable of falling. If I drop it, it has lost this potential energy, which has been dispersed in the room as heat from the friction when the pen hit the floor. When this happens, the total entropy has increased, because energy which had work-quality has been dispersed as waste-heat. If I want to restore the pen to it’s previous position I will have to insert new energy. And when doing this I have to do physical work, using my muscles, releasing waste-heat to the room. And this too will increase entropy. There is no way to reverse the process and get the pen back without adding new concentrated energy.]
  14. 14. • Successive depletion of concentrated sources of energy • Dispersion of poisons and waste throughout nature • Littering and dirt • Wear and tear on infrastructure • Global greenhouse effect • Degradation of land, air and water quality • Extinction of species, reduced biodiversity • Effects on human health • Deforestation, desertification in a socioecological system Rising entropy can take the shape of: [Entropy is a universal law, but it often comes “disguised” as other things, if we look at society as a socio-ecological system, the constant and unavoidable rise of entropy is expressed not only as waste heat but also in many other forms of external destructive consequences: All of these effects, big and small, are constantly occurring around us as a direct result of human activities such as production, consumption and distribution. Processes that we often think of as creating “economic value”. In terms of thermodynamics they are doing the opposite. They are converting sources of low entropy to high entropy.]
  15. 15. To reduce entropy locally, we have to increase entropy somewhere else. [We also tend to think of these expressions of entropy as accidents in work that we as a civilization can gradually work away, given some time, research and the right priorities. But in reality it’s not that simple. Yes, by having more efficient processes, and by changing some materials to others we can minimize some of these negative side effects, but in the end ee can only locally reduce the effects of entropy that occurs as a result of work, at the price of increasing entropy somewhere else.]
  16. 16. [And that is exactly the case. in a second cheerfull wave of colonialism, carried out by the market forces we are appropriating time and space and health and air quality, and water quality, biodiversity, species extinction and natural resources from poor people in poorer countries - thus we are in fact exporting our entropy. ] Trash, garbage, poisons.
  17. 17. [And following the logic in the global trade system, we are rewarded for this with even more relative purchasing power which means we can appropriate even more natural resources from poor countries.} Monoculture plantations
  18. 18. Deforestation
  19. 19. [Architecture is one of the most instrumental forces in hiding this relationship. If we go around in a city in the rich world we’re only aware of the happy top end where the consumption of goods is dignified and put on display, separated from their ecological and social history. Looking at a typical city where we put a lot of effort in concentrating matter and energy in a specific order, we must always keep in mind that it has a footprint of entropy that has to occur somewhere, in some form, such as…]
  20. 20. A big hole in the ground
  21. 21. Oil fields
  22. 22. Clearings
  23. 23. [We can’t escape that Modern architecture and building is a process that consumes lot’s of exergy and creates lots of entropy if you compare it to historical building. And this goes even when it is labeled as “sustainable” or net zero housing and all things like that, simply because of its scale and scope and the level of order, style and comfort we have become used to.}
  24. 24. Building today: ...uses large amounts of energy and matter to: • Transform landscapes • Extract, separate, concentrate and transport raw materials • Transform matter between states, using both chemical and mechanical methods. • Combine different materials to make specialised building products • Cut, trim and assemble products in a specific order • Dispose of waste from the process of building • Maintaing constant active systems, ie heating and ventilation, once occupied • Replacing specialised parts when broken (or just out of fasihon) • Dissembling of building
  25. 25. Can we fix this after lunch?
  26. 26. Rising entropy within the Earth-system is effectively an irreversible process. - Well, no. [This is what we must keep in our minds all the time, that the entropy is not just a question of unfair exploitation or environmental degradation that” we could fix later” once it has been done, when we are richer… Just like if you kill someone, rising entropy is effectively an irreversible process. Entropy in the earth system can only be reduced by applying more energy than has been diluted, but then that energy will instead turn from low to high-entropy.]
  27. 27. ...confuses consumption of low entropy with creation of economic calue. Our economy... [That is the reason why we should be alarmed that our economy confuses the consumption of low entropy with creation of economic value.]
  28. 28. [There is only one process that can reduce entropy on earth, and that is the incoming sunlight, which brings new high level energy into the Earth system. And so all living things depend on gathering sunlight, either directly or indirectly. ]
  29. 29. The biosphere is: “a series of ponds, steps and measures aimed at capturing and delaying a portion of the flowing solar energy” (as it seeps down through the system, from high-grade energy to low-grade thermal radition.) The Bearing of Physical Science upon State Stewardship (1921) Frederick Soddy
  30. 30. Similiarly, in a section of La Géochimie (1924) Vladimir Vernadsky wrote about several authors (Felix Auerbach, John Joly) who explained life as “a process which used sun energy and reversed or slowed down the dissipation of energy. “ So what nature does is that it tries to delay the dissipation of energy, to keep entropy at bay. That’s the complete opposite of what we are doing in the modern economy.
  31. 31. A web of cascading flows The plants harvest sunlight and store this energy in chemical bonds of carbohydrates through the process of photosynthesis, or the “green fire” as Vladimir Vernadsky poeticly called it in 1924. And life then recycles and reuses the energy concentrated in those carbohydrates as much as is ever possible through intricate webs and cascading resources that move through the biological system. And in this system nothing is ever allowed to become waste before it has been used as much as is ever possible.]
  32. 32. Agriculture: the first form of power plant [Human societies have always been depending on the incoming sunlight in just the same way. Our ability to efficiently collect and harvest this energy through agriculture - which is actually societys first form of a power plant - has been the basis for all higher civilizations, and for every city that has been built.]
  33. 33. {In any historical culture if we study the size and scope of monuments, temples and castles, they can give us a measurement of the efficiency in the sector of agriculture at this time and place in history. How many people did not have to work full time on the fields? ]
  34. 34. [Historians have backtraced the decline of returns in agriculture due loss of fertile land in old roman empire, and found a direct correlation both to the fall of city population in Rome and to need for expansion through conquest.]
  35. 35. living of income living of wealth The great energy revolution: [With the industrial revolution however, all of this changed. The transition from agrarian society to industrial society was in effect a transition from a society deriving its energy resources from horizontal land surfaces to one drawing its energy from vertical shafts through the Earth’s crust.” (Hornborg) We went from living of income to living of wealth, from depending on renewable energy flows to using up limited highly concentrated energy stocks of sunlight stored over millions of years.]
  36. 36. EROI Ratio of Energy returned on Energy Invested Hydro Coal World oil production Nuclear Natural gas 2005 Photovoltaic Shale oil Ehanol sugarcane Bitumen tar sands Solar collector Etahnol corn Biodiesel 0 20 40 60 80 100 [We suddenly had access to an extremely well concentrated source of low entropy, high value energy, something that is visible if we look at the Energy Returned on Energy Invested for different sources of energy. And with this began an explosion in building, trade, production; everything that depends on the surplus of energy returned in relation to the energy invested.]
  37. 37. [Toaday every single person in Sweden depends on the equivalent of 60 000 kWh of primary energy per year - or 80 000 horse power hours. If we were to replace this (mostly fossil) energy with human labor, each one of us in this country would need 400 slaves working for us all year around to keep up our current level of goods, travel and comfort.}
  38. 38. [So what happens when a civilization suddenly starts to use these large amounts of energy? We don’t know that yet, because we’re the first generation and the first civilization dependent on energy at this level. But what the energy very basically has done, is to multiply our ability to move matter and manipulate materia.]
  39. 39. [One thing is clear: this certainly hasn’t changed architecture to the better.]
  40. 40. [Today we’re moving matter and manipulating materia like we’re crazy. We build more and more ridiculous buildings. Just because we can. And because the architect design them.]
  41. 41. [In historical times, an architect during his entire career could make perhaps a dozen of buildings, and maybe some 1000 square metres of floor area. Today a fairly mediocre architect can be responsible for 1000:s of buildings and millions of square metres of floor area.]
  42. 42. [Our access to stored energy has multiplied our abilities to move matter and make big stuff, but unfortunately it hasn’t multiplied our wisdom. And so, with the aid of fossil fuels, the architect has become a Weapon of Mass Destruction, always ready to make that unnecessary building feel absolutely necessary, and to add another level of pointless design that in time will constitute an enormous maintenance problem.]
  43. 43. Boyah! We have radically stepped up the pace of transforming concentrated energy to high entropy... with architecture.
  44. 44. When does the rising entropy cause a systemic collapse? [According to thermodynamics, in a limited system such as the Earth, this situation can only go on for a limited period of time. There is no absolute limit, but eventually, as the size and scale of the human society and economy, approaches the size and scale of the earth itself, it's behaviour must “conform to the pyhical behaviour of the Earh System” (Herman Daly), or else we face an ecological collapse as the rising entropy becomes unmanageable.]
  45. 45. This thing is so big, I can fit easily!
  46. 46. Uh, hello there, what shape are you? [For a long time the horizon was far away, but now the world is starting to get full (ecological economists call it a “Full world”). If the economy has the shape of a square, now it’s time to start trying to figure what shape earth is, if we’re going to fit in it.]
  47. 47. biologisk mångfald atmosfärisk aerosol kemiska föroreningar landanvändning färskvattenanvändning KVÄVE & FOSFORCYKELN ATMOSFÄRISK ozon HAVSFÖRSURNING KLIMATFÖRÄNDRING [The most obvious manifestation of entropy going past limits today is of course the rising level of green house gases in the atmosphere and the corresponding global warming, but as Johan Rockström and Stockholm Resilience Centre has pointed out, at least two other planetary thresholds has been exceeded on a global scale today: A) The cycle of nutrients is broken and thus nutrients end up not where they need to be but where they disturb the ecosystems. Nutrients are becoming dispersed, the way entropy goes. B) Species are dying at a rate that leads scientist to call our age “the sixth mass extinction”. As species die, biodiversity decreases, that reduces the ecosystem ability to handle disturbances, among other things.}
  48. 48. Architecture in a “full world”: [If, then, we were to adjust our society and economy to the behavior the Earth system, as we need to do, it gives us two very important hints about the future of architecture and building, beyond the architecture of today...]
  49. 49. 1. Use energy only from flows = Lower energyconcentration than fossile energy sources = shrinking EROI = age of big building coming to an end. Instead building in small scales with high input how labour. 2. Adjusts to a steady-state–system = no continual expansion of the building stock. Adaption, reuse and renovation the norm before new construction. [1. We can no longer use energy from limited stocks, but only from flows. Or in other words: only the incoming sunlight and its direct derivates such as hydro power and wind. And we must do this without competing with biodiversity. This means, in turn, that we will have to reduce our use of energy many times over, because the incoming sunlight is not nearly as concentrated as the fossil energy, and that means that we have to use radically less amounts of energy. And if that is the case then the age of big building and of building as an industry, must be coming to an end very soon because the prize of construction will go up drastically and as a society we will want to prioritize the limited energy available for other, more urgent, purposes, among which the task of simply maintaining our current infrastructure and building stock will be one of them. 2. The Earth is a “steady-state – system”, it can evolve qualitatively, but not quantitatively. It doesn’t expand. That means no further expansion of the building stock.}
  50. 50. This does not sound very fun. [Well, no, but we cannot escape the fact that everything we do has both local and global environmental effects that from a thermodynamic perspective can never be counterfeited by ever so many measures of recycling and attempts at cleaning up afterwards.]
  51. 51. low entropy building five design concepts for [The only fully sustainable house is a house built and maintained only by the flowing revenue from the sun. We have some distance yet to go before that is the norm. But we can use architecture to demonstrate the practical viability and to get closer there. Because after all it’s not rocket science, most houses in history are built and managed in exactly this way. If we combine those historical patterns with a clever use of smart and accessible technologies, and renewable energy sources we can start developing truly low-entropy houses.}
  52. 52. 1. Slow building & social building [If buildings are to become less energy intensive (not only when they are occupied, but also when they are constructed) then they must instead be more labour intensive. That means we have to construct and design buildings completely different than the way we are heading in today, where today we keep automating and industrializing the building process, and using more and more machinery. I suggest architects should explore the conceptual ideas of slow building and social building. This means designing buildings with the idea that they will be built with little aid from machines, and a large portion of manual work from largely unskilled labor, in a process that may take much longer time than building today. In this case materials should be chosen from the perspective of being easy to transport and to process but also to repair and reuse. Of course really high buildings are incompatible with this way of construction, so we should stop designing them altogether.}
  53. 53. 2. Use near-level technologies [If we are to build both more slowly and more socialy, with a higher degree of participation in the building process and in management, then we also need make technological choices that are neither exclusive, expensive, or difficult to service or replace, as is the case in many high tech buildings that are marketed as sustainable architecture today. This means that we should instead aim for “near-level technologies”, that are Accessible, Cheap to produce, open sourced and easy to service for anyone. And if they stop working they won’t crash the building.]
  54. 54. 3. Expand commons and break enclosures [If we are to design in accordance with the physical behavior of the earth system, then we should take a closer look at how nature manages the efficient use of high grade energy especially through cascading webs. And then take that as a starting point to break the TRAGEDY OF THE ENCLOSURES, where large amounts of the limited resources that we desperately need to share in humanity are locked into private enclosures. If we were to build a social ecosystem in balance there needs to be a process that would, on a regular basis, release all this enclosed energy and resources back into the system. In nature this process goes via the regularly occurring death and decay of individual organisms, whereby their resources become available as a free utility to other organisms at the common. We need to do the same thing, somehow. One of the concrete things architecture can engage in is to build physical structures that stimulates and enables sharing of resources, but also makes it more difficult not to share, and expands the commons. ]
  55. 55. 4. Tight feedbacks and visualised dependencies [We must somehow handle one of the issues we’ve been touching upon today, that we’re creating a rampaging entropy by our way of using energy and resources, even though it´s consequences stay comfortably abstract beyond or horizon. This creates a moral hazard. So we must visualize dependencies and consequences of consumption. The most efficient way to reduce the production of waste is to dump it back into the own living room. A bit drastic perhaps, there can be other things as well, but they can be summarized as designing “tight feedback loops that internalizes external effects within the near environment”.]
  56. 56. 5. Design for resilience [If all fails (which it will, some way or another, from time to time) then we must also design buildings and environments that can work even in case of large disturbances and break downs in both technological, societal and other fragile large scale systems. That means we have to design for resilience, and not just sustainability. Resilience is a composite value of social, ecological and technical aspects, and it is the subject for a lecture of its own.]
  57. 57.