Harnessing Nature


Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, but particularly in the 20th century, architecture has sought to ‘beat’ nature – with skyscrapers reaching higher and higher into the skies. Buildings with these glazed, sealed facades require vast amounts of plant and energy to control their temperatures, and we see these features in buildings all over the world from Toronto to Riyadh, to Shanghai.

Although much has been said about ‘green’ buildings in recent years, we need to reconsider the architectural lessons learnt from our pre-Industrial Revolution ancestors. We need to combine this knowledge with the technology available to us today to design more contextually and help combat the growing challenges of our changing climate.

What do we mean by contextual design? If we take a step back and look at how we designed before the Industrial Revolution, our building patterns were responses to their urban and natural environments. Several key elements allowed us to settle and thrive in widely different climates around the world: orientation, shape and materials.

These are principles of passive design – design elements that are part and parcel of a building but also perform a function – and have been applied since ancient times. These simple features allow buildings to be comfortable without consuming energy. For example, heavy materials like concrete, bricks and stone can store larger amounts of heat within them. This is why, on a hot summer day, the interior of a stone church will feel cool; without any air conditioning required.

Traditional dwellings in Southern China, Ancient Greece or Northern Africa considered factors such as the ability to use solar energy, the use of thermal mass - how much a material can absorb to store heat energy - and how much natural air could flow from one side of a building to another.  

We need to reconsider passive and contextual design today to reduce our buildings’ dependency on resources. Our buildings must be resilient to future climates and contribute positively to our environment.

At Landsec, we have begun to adopt passive design. Our Zig-Zag building in London Victoria has exposed concrete floor slabs that uses the thermal mass of the building to absorb heat during the day and reject it at night. It also features narrow water pipes embedded in the concrete that cool the building down when needed. And in the City of London, One New Change features a geothermal ground source heating and cooling system that takes advantage of the natural ground temperature to heat or cool the building.  

As an industry, we need to be ambitious with our future designs. We need to ventilate our buildings naturally as much as possible and use our green infrastructures to help store rainwater. Designs should consider plant-covered facades to help improve local environments by boosting air quality.

We need to harness technology to tailor our exteriors to their surroundings. For example, by reducing the amount of solar energy entering our buildings, we also reduce the amount of cooling needed and therefore improve indoor comfort.

A comfortable space that has minimal impact on our environment is what we believe our future customers will expect from us. We need to adapt our designs now to improve the quality and resilience of our spaces in years to come.


This blog is written by Beth West, Head of Development, London and Nils Rage, Sustainable Design Executive at Landsec.

This article was originally published here on LinkedIn.