Successfully reported this slideshow.
Activate your 14 day free trial to unlock unlimited reading.
HISTORY OR HOPE?
n my favourite book, Operating Manual for
Spaceship Earth, Buckminster Fuller (*1895
Milton, † 1983 Los Angeles) reflects on
the Earth as a single spaceship, one so
well designed that it allows for the regeneration of life even despite the phenomenon
of entropy. According to Fuller, the Earth is
a mechanical object much like a car – “and
so we have to change the oil, fill up the fuel
tank and put water into the radiator, to take
care of it as a whole”1.
Polluto or 10 problems of the
And yet it seems, at the threshold of the third
millennium, that now this unique vehicle is
starting to break down on us, and quite soon
will need to be renamed “Polluto”2. The rising number of inhabitants on the planet and
their striving for improved living standards
is creating enormous pressure on the environment. Let us, to start, sum up the main
problems facing us:
01 climate change → the UN framework
convention on climate change defines it as “a
change of climate which is attributed directly
or indirectly to human activity that alters
the composition of the global atmosphere
and which is in addition to natural climate
variability observed over comparable time
periods“. Climate changes are manifested in
a variety of ways, including an increase in
average temperatures, changes in samples
of rainfall, unpredictable weather patterns
or rising sea and ocean levels, caused by the
melting of glaciers and polar ice caps 3.
UNHCR. 2008. Climate Change, Natural Disasters and Human
Displacement: Perspective of the UNHCR. Office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. [Online] 2008.
Fuller, Buckminster. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.
Baden : Lars Müller Publishers, 2008. p. 60.
Ibidem, p. 80
Earth at Night. A satellite picture showing the
distribution of lights around the globe, highlighting
an imbalance between the developing and developed
02 pollution → pollution of the natural environment as a result of human activities – the
use of fossil fuels, industrial activity and
agriculture – which have a negative impact
on human health and natural biodiversity.
03 disappearance of the ozone layer → a layer
of ozone is present in the stratosphere at a
height of 10-40 km and traps the majority of
ultraviolet UV-B radiation arriving from the
Sun. The disappearance of ozone is caused
by the effects of compositions containing
fluorine, chlorine and bromine, also released
as a result of human activity. Thinning of
the ozone layer leads to raised values of UV
radiation on the level of the earth’s surface,
which has an unfavourable impact on water
and land ecosystems, the food chain, and human health. Among the negative influences
on human health it is worth mentioning,
autoportret 3  2013 | 36
gions, deforestation contributes significantly
to emissions of CO2. 6
04 resources → the gradual exhaustion of
non-renewable natural resources. Estimated
reserves according to British Petroleum:
natural gas for 66 yeas, coal for 180 years,
crude oil for 45 years. For renewable natural
resources, their extraction is proceeding at
an excessive rate.
07 soil degradation → urbanisation, construction, mining, armed conflict, agriculture
and deforestation all lead to degradation of
soils7, a problem reaching from erosion and
contamination of the upper soil layer to the
excessive extraction and contamination of
groundwaters. It may cause damage to natural biotopes and lower soil fertility, while
changes in the infiltration capacity increase
the risk of flooding. A loss of fertile soil lowers regional agricultural production, while
soil carried away through erosion causes
serious damage to water systems.
05 water – quality and quantity → unsustainable treatment of water resources 5has led
to critical shortages of water in several parts
of the world. One in five people lacks access
to safe drinking water, and the difference
between the supplies of water and their
consumption is growing ever greater. Water
quality is negatively influenced by human
activity, primarily the use of fertilizers and
06 deforestation → loss of forest cover occurs
for many reasons – wood or charcoal being
used as fuel or a cash commodity, cleared
land being used for pastures, plantations
or settlement. Destruction of forest growth
without any subsequent replacement causes
a disturbance to natural biotopes, a loss
of biodiversity and soil aridity, as well as
having a negative impact on the resistance
of soil to erosion. Particularly in tropical reVelders, G.J.M., a další. Technical Report on Stratospheric
Ozone Depletion. RIVM report 481505011
In the European Union, 44% of water is used for
generating energy (primarily for cooling purposes), 24%
in agriculture, 21% for public waterworks and 11% for
industrial production. Source: (Collins, et al., 2009)
08 waste → the world economy is grounded
in the high consumption of raw materials 8. In EEA member states 9 every year 4
tons of waste are produced per inhabitant,
while every citizen of the EU annually is
responsible for 520 kg of household rubbish.
Liquidation of waste can have may negative
impacts on the environment, including emissions into the atmosphere, surface waters
or groundwater. Waste also represents a loss
According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change), deforestation has a share in up to 20%
of anthropogenic CO2 emissions; updated calculations
(van der Werf et al., Nature Geoscience, 2009) state 12%.
Deforestation is the second largest source of anthropogenic emission of CO2.
12% of the soil surface in Europe has been affected by
water erosion, 4% by wind erosion. Source: (van den
Born et al., 2000)
In the countries of the EU-15, per capita consumption
annually equals 15–16 metric tons of raw materials, with
the largest share of consumption held by construction
materials, followed by fossil fuels and biomass. The
largest amount of household waste in the EU is still
transported to rubbish tips (45 %), though an increasing percent is recycled or composed (37 %) or burned to
generate energy (18 %).
EEA – European Environment Agency
autoportret 3  2013 | 37
of natural resources. Treatment of waste
is a source of greenhouse gases, primarily
methane, and contributes to global climate
09 biodiversity 10→ loss of biodiversity lowers
the variety within biological species, reduces
the number of species themselves, and may
even increase the number of certain species
that have lost their natural enemies. Human effects on the environment have led
to a rapid reduction in biodiversity, even
on the genetic level. “The main causes are
changes in natural habitats. These are due to
intensive agricultural production systems,
construction, quarrying, overexploitation of
forests, oceans, rivers, lakes and soils, alien
species invasions, pollution and — increasingly — global climate change.” 11
10 population → the human population has
been constantly growing since the period
of the Black Death around the year 1400 CE.
According to the UN, the population on earth
has achieved 7 billion by 2011, and in 2050
is likely, according to various scenarios, to
reach 7.4, 8.9 or 10.6 billion 12. The economic
imbalance between developed and developing nations is also a threat to the environment.
The question of the condition of the environment has often been narrowed to the debate
over current climate changes. Over time,
The World Environmental Defence Fund in 1989
defined biodiversity as “the richness of life on Earth,
the millions of plants, animals and microorganisms,
including the genes that they contain, and the complex
ecosystems that create the natural environment.”
European Environment Agency: Biological Diversity.
United Nations. 2004. World Population to 2300. New
York : United Nations, 2004.
Photo: C. Mayhew, R. Simmon, NASA GSFC
e.g. skin cancer, cataracts, or damage to the
immune system 4.
this debate has led to the emergence of two
strongly opposing camps. The first is concentrated around the Intergovernmental Panel
for Climate Change (IPCC) 13 and is convinced
that current changes in the world climate
are the result of an increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The second adheres to the belief that climate
changes are a natural phenomenon, the
result of growing solar activity.
In the course of the history of our planet, it
is evident that colder periods (glacial, or ‘ice
ages’) have long alternated with warmer ones
(interglacial). At present, we are in an interglacial period, which tends to have a shorter
duration than an ice age. According to the
calculations of the Niels Bohr Institute, sudden changes of climate of 7 – 10 K every 1500
years are a natural part of variations in the
climate system, and opponents of the theory
relating CO2 concentration to global warming
do ascribe the main role in this area precisely to an increase in solar activity 14.
On the other side of the debate, the IPCC
stated in its Evaluation Report for 2007 (AR4)
that global temperature increases are up
to 90% related to human activity, calculating that the rising temperature on the
earth’s surface is the outcome of increasing
e.g. Scafetta, N., West B., J., Phenomenological
reconstructions of the solar signature in the Northern
Hemisphere surface temperature records since 1600,
Journal of Geophysical Research, 2007. The authors state
that solar activity has contributed to over 50% of global
warming since 1900.
IPCC. 2007. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate
Change 2007 . Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
[Online] 2007. www.ipcc.ch.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) was created by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of the UN and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in 1988 as a scientific body
for evaluation of risks associated with climate change. It
prepares regular evaluation reports that form documentation for the parties to the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Changes (UNFCCC)
autoportret 3  2013 | 38
2012 Architecten, Villa Welpeloo – house, 70% of which
is made of recycled materials, Enschede, Holandia, 2009
concentrations of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere (primarily CO2 and methane),
which is brought about by human activity
such as deforestation, burning fossil fuels,
and agriculture. The human population,
currently equal to around 6.7 billion, annually produces 2.4 billion metric tons of CO2.
Between 1800 and 2002, the concentration
of CO2 rose from 280 ppm to 350 ppm, while
in the same period the temperature rose by
0.8 K. Increased temperatures on the earth’s
surface have had such effects as the melting
of glaciers, the retreat of the snow cover and
rising sea levels 16.
The 2K scenario
Recent research has indicated that over the
past 150 years, solar activity had a connection
to the surface temperature of the Earth for
the first 120 years, yet for the past 30 years the
curves for solar activity and surface temperature have differed substantially 17.
In reaction to the findings of the IPCC, the
Copenhagen Accord has set as its long-term
goal the lowering of the emission of greenhouse gases such that the earth’s temperature
does not rise by more than 2°C. Research has
indicated that to achieve this goal, it will be
necessary to lower emissions of CO2 to 10 Gt/a
by 2050, or in other words by 1 t of CO2 per
person annually 18.
Daniels, Klaus and Hammann, Ralph E. 2009. Energy
Design for Tomorrow. Stuttgart : Edition Axel Menges, 2009.
pp. 368. ISBN: 978-3936681253. p. 18
“...according to our latest knowledge on the variations
of the solar magnetic field, the significant increase in the
Earth’s temperature since 1980 is indeed to be ascribed
to the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide.“ (Max
Planck Institute, 2004)
Daniels, Klaus and Hammann, Ralph E. 2009. Energy
Design for Tomorrow. Stuttgart : Edition Axel Menges, 2009.
pp. 368. ISBN: 978-3936681253. p. 23
Yet even regardless of whether human activity
is or is not a cause of global climate changes,
it should be evident that human activity does
have a negative influence on the state of the
natural environment, which is why, in my
view, the global efforts to lower greenhouse
gas emissions should be seen as important
from the standpoint of a change in our approach to the effectiveness of construction
and technologies, to energy loss and the use of
renewable resources. One of the goals should
be the retention of non-renewable resources
for future generations, in the spirit of the
well-known definition of sustainable development: “that satisfies the needs of the present
without limiting the possibility of future
generations to satisfy their own needs “.
Renewable natural materials
In other words: in lowering the impact of construction activity on the environment, from
the standpoint of construction materials, it is
more effective to make use of non-renewable
natural resources in connection with a higher
degree of recycling, and to increase the proportion of use of renewable, natural materials.
Generally speaking, natural materials display
lower values of bound primary energy and
other eco-indicators, and influence in a
favourable way the quality of the buildings’
interior environments. The disadvantages
of such materials, which are linked to their
natural origin – most frequently, lower
resistance to water damage, microorganisms,
vermin or fire – can be eliminated through
the appropriate architectural or structural
approach. Yet nonetheless, there still remains
the question of whether it is possible to find,
in the wider application of natural materials,
hope for sustainable construction in the third
Le Corbusier, in his reflections on mass-produced buildings, criticized natural materials
as heterogeneous and unstable, unsuitable
for full use because of their unpredictable
dis-homogeneities and defects. Artificial materials, by contrast, were in his view homogeneous, laboratory-tested and created from
stable elements. “... Steel girders and later
reinforced concrete are pure manifestations of
the calculation; the material is precisely and
completely exploited, while the wooden beam
of past ages could well hide within itself a
treacherous knothole and its carving lead to a
great loss of material.“ 19
It is evident that the path to a wider use of
natural materials is blocked by three factors:
–he technical limitations of building with
natural materials (primarily fire-safety and
– the need for regular renewal of natural
– the ego of the architect, who always wishes
to create freely, and not to have his hands
tied by techniques or methods; the desire of
architects to use new, progressive, inspiring
Natural architecture XXL
Use of natural materials could be one of the
ways to achieve buildings with relatively low
primary energy consumption and a minimal
environmental impact. Wood is the only renewable resource that can be used for realization of load-bearing structures of several
stories – in the Czech context, of up to five
floors. True, at a certain scale the use of natural materials is, for the time being, limited by
their technical capabilities – we are still unable to build a wooden skyscraper, or a wooden
Corbusier-Saugnier, Le. 2005. Towards a New Architecture.
New York : Dover Publications, 1985.
autoportret 3  2013 | 39
source: flickr, Photo: t. stellmach
assembly line for an automotive works. At the
same time, the use of renewable natural resources is limited by the slow speed necessary
for them to be renewed in the first place.
While it is possible, for instance, in continental Europe to speak of a high productivity
for biomass per square area thanks to high
rainfall and temperate climate, in other areas
of the world this is far from the case. Imbalance between extraction and new growth
causes a threat to the stability of ecosystems
and damage to the environment – as attested
by the textbook cases from Central America or
the ancient Mediterranean.
For many long centuries, the Mayan civilization consistently practices – as we would now
say – sustainable management of its forest
cover. Yet under the reign of the ruler Jasaw
Chan K’awiil (r. 682–734), there occurred a
rapid increase in the construction of temples,
demanding large material resources – primarily straight, mature trees that could bear
the weight of stone constructions. Over time,
such a demand led to the destruction of forests
that had previously served not only as a valuable source of construction timber, but also
for fuel, nutrition or medicine. Abandoning
a sustainable type of forestry had the result
of upsetting the fragile balance of the local
ecosystem (deforestation, soil erosion, hydrological relations) and in the final analysis, the
decline of the Mayan civilization.
In the Mediterranean, deforestation of large
areas started to occur as early as Hellenic
times. Wood from the forests was used for
heating, for constructing ships and build-
autoportret 3  2013 | 40
ings, and for furniture or sculpture; the
cleared land was then used for agriculture.
Such massive deforestation resulted, again,
in erosion and the ensuing degradation of
farmland, along with climate changes, and
led to the weakening and the fall of the
great classical civilizations. One example is
the once-important trading port of Ephesus
(now Efes in modern Turkey), in its day one
of the proudest cities of Ionic Greece and
later of the eastern Roman Empire. Clearing of forests on the hills around the city
brought about erosion, as rain water carried
away the upper layer of the soil – and the
runoff soil gradually caused the port to fill
in, destroying the city’s source of prosperity.
Even despite repeated attempts to clear the
port, it gradually moved farther and farther
from the sea (now lying a full five kilometers
inland), and losing its commercial significance.
Reuse – Reduce – Recycle
In the context of the presumed growth in the
Earth’s population to 10 billion by the end
of 2050 20(4 times the figure from 1950), the
rising standards of living in what are now
primarily ‘developing’ countries will mean
that in the associated construction activities,
the use of natural materials will not be possible. The only sustainable possibility is to
use exclusively those construction materials
that can be fully recycled or reused, regardless of whether the materials are themselves
United Nations. 2004. World Population to 2300. New
York: United Nations, 2004.
source: flickr, Photo: s. yiqun
Devastation of forests, the effects of which
still bring problems to the Mediterranean region today, was criticized by no less a figure
than Plato, in his dialogue Cratylus: “What
has remained appears, in comparison with
what existed before, like the skeleton of one
fallen ill – devoid of fat and of fertile soil….
Here there are mountains where there is
nothing more than pasturage for bees, yet it
was not so long ago that on them there grew
trees… and grassland lay without bounds.
And moreover, every year Zeus watered them
with his rainfall, in which they were not
lost as they are now…. He brought copious
supplies of spring-water in brooks, of which
today there still survive shrines upon the
site where springs once rose.“
This concept was promoted by the authorial
team of William McDonough and Michael
Braungart in their book Cradle to Cradle –
Remaking the Way We Make Things. Against the
traditional idea of ecological design consisting
in “minimization” i.e. the more efficient use
of materials and energy, the concept Cradle to
Cradle (C2C) is grounded in “unbroken material cycles and the maximum use of renewable
energy”. Not only does such an approach delay
the exhaustion of resources (both material and
energy), but in the ideal case can arrive at a
system entirely free of waste production. The
product, in our case the building, would have
to be designed not only from the standpoint of
the future user (function, aesthetics, quality)
but equally would have to keep in mind what
would happen after it was no longer used –
how use could be made of it whether in terms
of natural processes or in the framework of future industrial production. Industry grounded
in the C2C philosophy works along principles
similar to natural processes, and uses materials like nutrients circulating in a healthy
metabolism. What is important is to retain
the principle of an enclosed cycle, whether a
“technical” or “biological” cycle: the materials
used must remain within the cycle as “nutrients” (waste equals food). Materials optimized
for the biological cycle actually serve as biological nutrients and can be subjected to safe
biodegradation in nature. Materials conceived
for the technical cycle, by contrast, are seen as
“technical nutrients” and should not become
part of the biological cycle.
Design with respect to the product lifecycle
is now an inseparable part of the automotive
industry. Recycling is no longer considered by
automotive manufacturers only at the end of
the car’s useful lifespan, but is treated in the
Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio, Ningbo History
Museum, China. Twenty types of bricks from the
neighbouring demolished farm buildings were used for
the facades of the edifice.
Scheitlin Syfrig Architekten, Holzhausen in Steunhausen, Switzerland,
2006. The first wooden multi-storey residential building in Switzerland to
be completed following the introduction of new fire regulations. Apart from
the central circulation path and the basement, the whole construction of the
building is made of wood.
from the creative potential of using recycled
materials, resulting in a fresh new architecture with utterly unexpected qualities.
Their Villa Welpeloo is 60 % constructed from
re-used materials found in the immediate
vicinity of the construction site. The façade
cladding is formed from wood taken from
old cable-drums at the nearby cable works
(a savings of 85% in CO2 emissions relative
to new coverings), while the load-bearing
structure is formed from steel girders taken
from a discarded “paternoster” lift (a savings
of 95% in CO2 emissions relative to a new steel
framework). The lift used for construction was
built into the structure as a hydraulic surface
within the house; the light fixtures are made
from components from defective umbrellas,
and the bathroom tiling is formed from “smileplastic” (recycled plastic coffee-cups).
very first stages of its development. For example, Volkswagen has developed an entire
range of measures and procedures through
which it is able to achieve 85% recycling and
a total of 95% use from scrapped cars. Similar
requirements should be placed on construction, or respectively on the architect: we
should recall that construction and completed built-up areas consist, within the EU, of
40% of all waste produced by human activity.
Photo: d. hlaváček
The architect as discoverer
Unfortunately, sustainable architecture is
often viewed as a limitation of architects’
creative possibilities, and the response to
it is often lukewarm. One example is the
response by Peter Eisenman, when asked to
give an interview on the theme of sustainable building: “To talk to me about sustainability is like talking to me about giving birth.
Am I against giving birth? No. But would I
like to spend my time doing it? Not really. I’d
rather go to a baseball game.” 21
And yet, to design buildings on the basis of
the principles described here is nonetheless
an intriguing challenge for architects, and
the new approaches could be reflected in a
new aesthetic for the built environment. Let
us cite, for instance the work of the architectural studio 2012 Architecten, for whom the
word “reuse“ is both a mission and a creative
strategy. Their projects have displayed that
waste-flows and limited raw material sources
could serve as a wonderful opportunity for
innovative design. The team of 2012Architecten is not only motivated by the ecological
standpoint, but no less by the inspiration
Hawthorne, Christopher. 2001. The Case for a Green
Aesthetic: Sustainability needs star architects, media
coverage, and a few great buildings. Metropolis. [Online]
10 2001. www.metropolismag.com.
Recycled materials are also a favoured inspiration for architect Wang Shu and his Amateur
Architecture Studio. His Historical Museum
in Ningbo uses in its façade 20 types of red
and grey bricks, recycled from former farmhouses in the vicinity, laid in the bricklaying
technique inspired by the traditional method
of “wapan”, used for building emergency shelters following natural disasters. The poetic
structure of the façade fits perfectly into its
surroundings, as if it had stood there for ages.
For now, let us return to natural materials.
The current advantage of new, industrially
manufactured materials offers unforeseen
applications, even though long-standing
experience with their use is still lacking.
Our new buildings often lack depth, mystery
and shadow, and no longer are a lure for our
senses, through which we could gradually
autoportret 3  2013 | 42
Photo: m. čeněk
start to discover the building22. Nonetheless,
the sensual apprehension of humans is essentially integrative: with the integration of the
senses there emerges a resulting impression
through the involvement of all senses, and the
activated portion of the brain is far greater
than with the use of a single sense, as the individual senses mutually influence each other.
Every significant architectural action, as a result, is for many senses: we judge the material
used with our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, skin,
als that allow us “to penetrate beneath their
surface and convince us of the truthfulness of
matter “23; their beauty and their emotional
force is unique. While industrially produced
materials have a tendency towards precise,
ageless perfection, natural materials naturally
reflect the process of aging, and the factor of
time forms another quality of the architectonic space. A renaissance of natural materials
in architecture is, in my view, one of the paths
of moving from a de-materialized architecture
without meaning towards a multi-sensual
experience of the architectonic space.
Fascination with recently created materials,
in combination with the generation of new architectonic forms, has led to a shift away from
natural materials. Yet it is the natural materi-
“Flatness of surfaces and materials, monotony of lighting, elimination of microclimatic differences: all of this
contributes to boredom and the stultifying monotony of
experiences.“ (Pallasmaa, 2008)
Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2005. The Eyes of the Skin. Chichester,
England : John Wiley & Sons, 2005.
Team Czech Republic – Solar Decathlon 2013, AIR
House, Prague, 2013. Constructed by students of the
Czech Technical University in Prague, this experimental,
energy self-sufficient house was entirely built of wood.
Be the first to like this
Number of Embeds
You have now unlocked unlimited access to 20M+ documents!
Learn faster and smarter from top experts
Download to take your learnings offline and on the go
You also get free access to Scribd!
Instant access to millions of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, podcasts and more.
Read and listen offline with any device.
Free access to premium services like Tuneln, Mubi and more.