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8 - Architectural Actions: Re-Balance

Our mission should be to create innovative architectural projects anticipating the change of environmental paradigms. What we used to consider as 'desirable environment', made of disconnected guidelines, is turning now into what we define as 're-balanced Eco-habitat'. This involves not only the application of a full circular economy, but a radical change of industrial production parameters, by stopping the use of current fossil energy sources, still developing obsolete twentieth century electric networks. During its transportation, 40% of all high voltage electricity in the world is lost, and another 10% by using transformers to plug our low voltage home appliances in 220 or 110 Volts (energy dissipated as heat). The whole infrastructure fed by oil and plastic-related industries must be dismounted and re-developed. Fittings and furniture must stop using plastic as main material, to be replaced with wood, fibres and derivates. There is no indication that such decisions are being considered. The existing industrial process contaminates, glues, compounds, mixing and all the process tends to be harmful, but it can be corrected. Carbon foot print is present in the extraction (30%), production (40%), transportation (20%) and advertising (10%). The greenhouse effect has been altered by pollution, mainly carbon dioxide, which is about 10% of the total effect, but acts as a shield up in the atmosphere, warming the air below, but also reflecting part of the sun rays back into space; this last effect is called Global Dimming.

For Integrating the idea of re-balance resources in a particular territory I will mention my Grand Egyptian Museum project; pictured above in the bird's eye perspective, is an example of a massive building of 280 metres width and 30 metres high that solves its energy needs with passive air circulation. The shell, made of light metal bars covered by a thin layer of light concrete of 5 inches and covered with five multi-insulation layers made of fibers, takes the extreme sun heat and transforms it in cool air, working as a heat pump, by interchanging the cool air stored underneath the whole building in serpentine cooling "caverns", in contact with the cool sand. The large glass window that faces the Giza pyramids reflects the sun light towards the artificial lake, that also acts as a heat interchanging device. A series of automatised screens and flaps moved by gravity control the air movement within the shell, allowing the permanent cooling during the day and releasing the excessive heat at night. The building produces all its energy, distributed as LV (low voltage) and, during the day, a series of strategically located mirrors introduce sun light to every single corner in the four levels; most of this mirrors are located within the large front courting wall. Columns, walls, and cantilever platforms are made of a light organic protruded plastics and wood structures filled with small spheres, which are finally wrapped with super-light sandy-concrete. Because of corrosion, cost and limited durability, there is no steel as structure. This sort of solution shows that a complete new approach to construction is needed.

 

Pouchulu's Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza, Egypt, 2002. The largest museum of Egyptology, laying in an extreme environment, where temperatures would reach the unbearable, but still we would be able to inhabit the interior, thought as a thermal converter where interchanging heat pumps between the cool sandy underground and the hot exterior will provide electricity and air natural air conditioning. The destiny of the populated Giza and Cairo is another subject. Black pencil, coloured pencil, oil and pastel on glossy paper.

Passive energy was solved in the mid-sixties, with many successful examples built in the US, the UK and Germany. Perhaps because of lack of common sense and by following the mainstream of construction research in new building techniques, it was abandoned. Unfortunately, what is today seen as ecological, it is not. The industry has evolved without the participation of architects. As a result, our old integrationist vision has vanished. Most engineers -apart from my friend Nick MacLean and a handful of colleagues- cannot understand the nature of materials and structures; the art of construction has been today replaced by the fascination of so called "smart" concepts, that is a marketing trick to install more and more expensive elements, designed, manufactured and installed with expensive materials and electrically-monitored devices. In general in architecture we do not need anything like that; in our houses, levers are enough, and for institutional architecture, bigger levers, bars and counter-weight mechanisms can move, translate, open or close any type and size of windows, doors, panels, roofs or platforms. The elements of nature should become again our ally: wind, water, and, most particularly, the forgotten gravity.

Pouchulu's Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza, Egypt, 2002, bird's eye perspective from Giza's pyramids. Black pencil, coloured pencil, oil and pastel on glossy paper.

In a larger perspective there is not much we can do to stop the consequences of our stupidity. We managed to destroy not just our atmosphere, now containing as much CO2 than in the times of dinosaurs, but most of the surface of this beautiful planet, cut in pieces with routes, highways, endless cities that (mostly) produce heat and rubbish. Imagine a cubic hectare: 100 by 100 by 100 metres. Now imagine that volume times 10.000. This is about the volume of rubbish we put into the ocean, every year. Half of it sinks, the other half ends up forming an artificial floating island in between the US and Japan, closer to the former, that has now reached the size of 10 countries like France. Plastics, bottles, fishing nets, every single object that ends in rivers and then to the sea goes there after months or years. Many countries have been burying thousands of nuclear waste barrels in the bottom of the ocean, it is not difficult to imagine the fast corrosion of these precarious casks made of concrete, under such water pressure: as a result, in a few decades radiation will conquer the ocean. Finally, Godzilla will become a reality. The acidification of the sea was alerted by Jacques-Yves Cousteau back in the seventies; he insisted, and for decades, that once the ocean is dead our civilisation will be dead, because half of the Earth's oxygen is produced by Phytoplankton, it lays in the water. By 2018 half of it is gone. We are getting there, but we keep buying groceries packed in hard plastics, artificial cotton, plastic toys, balls and merchandising, everything directly produced by the oil and chemical industry, and those objects not only do not last with us more than a few years -sometimes a few minutes or hours- but advertising and marketing has installed the idea that wood, leather, cotton or any kind of natural fibre is expensive and old fashioned, when in reality, those are the basic materials to manufacture most of our objects of every-day use. Except, of course, those related to medicine and research, that logically till now require sophisticated plastic-based products.

Pouchulu's Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza, Egypt, 2002, first level plan. Black ink on film.

Architecture has lost its will for surviving, till the late 19th century it used to be grand, ecological, lasted for centuries and was produced with low contaminant processes. Rather than re-define what kind of architecture is needed, what kind of world we want to live in, it looks like we should decide if we want to survive; if yes, then we want to avoid pollution and contamination, at once. Then all the construction industry and its extracting and procesing methods must change. A few countries are working on this (Netherlands, France, Sweden, Germany, Japan) but I am afraid it will not be possible to convert the whole planet into a balanced situation; what we can do is to show the right path, pointing more efficient and feasible options to integrate an ecological architecture into the remaining of nature and a few species. Some regions will become oasis of living conditions, but just for a while. After a some time, the effects of deforestation and global warming and pollution will be visible everywhere. Then our Survival Cities should be ready. The incoming civilisation will be a very different one: smaller, de-concentrated, with no need, time or desire for "marketing" of any kind. We will be focused in sustaining life-forms, including ours, inside a broken biological system. However, once the food chains are distorted (and they have been altered for at least 90 years), it is a matter of years, perhaps one decade at the most, to see food prices going up; it is happening since 1929, more visibly since 1973, and very visible since 2008. A cup of coffee has doubled in 10 years. A pint of milk doubled in 30 years. Not to mention vegetables or meat. It is not only transporting products from A to B, or increase in taxes, or plain economic patterns, but the fact that there is not enough food production, in the context of an increasing unstable climate. There are intelligent ways to mitigate part of this problem. First, we must get food from where we live. Those small countries or regions that manage to produce their own food, are much more efficient. Second, we need to understand that the pleasures of nature (eating fresh oranges, for example) will not be possible in the closer future, unless they are cultivated indoors, which brings another problem: if we cannot cultivate outdoors because of extreme or unreliable temperatures (too cold, too hot, too wet) or even contamination, which fruits and vegetables are the right ones to produce in a specialised glasshouse or under ground? The answer is not simple -many scientists and experts are working on that- but one clue has probably to do with the required area and space, which will be limited. Oranges are exquisite, a gift of life... but they are trees: they take loads of space, soil and water, and they produce once a year only and just 50 to 70 oranges each. The question is answered.

Architects were unable to cast a spell on themselves.

Luxury, which for a few years (1950-80?) was a desirable scenario for all, for themost part pushed by the US, through rich and imaginative enterprise and propaganda that exported to the whole planet a quite convincing lifestyle, products and culture. Together with progress the world suddently had hygiene, vaccines, availability of culture, books, records, and holidays, all at affordable prices; it was a great improvement for humanity.  But it lasted a few decades. It has been replaced by the random-based digital consumerist network, of global nature, that facilitates some sort of irrelevant and useless activities that consume the scarce resources most of people have at hand, forcing to get plastic products even if we buy a pastry or croissant, that comes wrapped in hard plastic, that ends buried or on the sea. Years ago it used to be hobbies, sort of miniaturization of reality and it was great, but then video-games started to hypnotise people and since 2000 hyper-realistic movie games of extreme violent nature. On top of this children were forced (by media) to focus on degradable activities (ephemera fashion, tattoos, piercing) that have invaded the mind of people in the most important part of their life, at student age: between 10 and 20 years of age. The energy youth use for this is immense, it is dragging their capacity to focus on progressing and studying. Therefore, they cannot learn how to reason. At some point the Internet should be censored, even shut down, because it boosts consumerism, which is the vector of Habitat destruction. Ironically, we became predators of our own resources; we really do not think of the consequences of our way of operating in the territory, our Earth. This could be of biological nature, rather than cultural. On the other hand, this is not only a product of urban life, it also happens in the suburbs and the countryside. Consumerism has taken the world by assault since the industrial revolution, step by step, it was promoted by advertising and since 2000, by digital information, and it is now out of control. Apparently, our species was not ready to use this technology, it is a dangerous vehicle carrying and invading our mind with unchecked omnipresent information. Often banal, always addictive, it is washing, in different degrees, the human brain. Most people consider a mobile device part of their immediate being, and soon of their body, when they will be implanted chips under the skin and close to their brain, as anticipated by science fiction comedy film The President's Analyst, starring James Coburn. Mobile phones became the most precious artefact. It became the third world business, after oil and guns. This fact describes our priorities as a society. Oil, guns and mobile phones.

It is imperative to remember that we live and think within a collective mind, we tend not to change but to adapt to what happens around us or is imposed to us because, like any superior primate, we are born with no instinct, we just copy what others do, our parents, brothers, friends, society. It is not difficult to understand, under this point of view, the impact of what we see with our eyes; first it was the movies, later TV, the Internet and now mobile technology, we tend to copy what we see in the screen. Imagine then, the effect of watching in the palm of your hand during many hours per day, boring people saying stupid things, accidents, insults, terrorist acts, killings, financial markets, daily news on inflation and recession, wars, violent sports, extreme people showing their ego or ignorance, religious dogmatic priests (of any religion), corrupt politicians promising heaven and hell, statistics, numbers, and news about any possible subject. The result is a schizophrenic society that cannot think anymore and therefore, cannot analyse neither what is happening nor anticipating the end of the road. Architects, like any other professionals, have lost track of whats going on in a larger perspective, and cannot react. Architecture, as a whole body of cultural light, it is at times interesting because of a handful of colleagues manage to design and construct innovative spaces, but rarely they are ecological. In general, they are culturally empty (red because red "fits", translucent because it looks "cool" in the screen) and without direction, following neither architecture languages nor any rational system for constructing significant and symbolic spaces; each building, interesting or not, becomes unique in itself. With a bit of luck, architecture becomes a Mary Celeste. Most of the time, a shipwreck. Once, architecture was queen of culture and arts. Now, it is a beggar.

The pyramid concept shows the path for reinstating a possible architecture, integrated to nature and developed with logical and balanced material and construction processes, including power, rather than with resources made of anti-ecological materials. Our "secret" alchemy lays in a new combination (and diverse proportion) of sand, soil, cement, wood, fibres, steel and glass, plus something even more important: energy, which can be produced with wind, water and gravity. A pyramid concept for those materials can produce a successful, economical and intelligent mix of construction and power elements. For example: 1% of steel and glass, 20% of fibres, 30% of wood, 50% of sand and cement and stones. Almost zero plastics (mostly, a few wiring for low voltage in the building). Today ordinary building shows exactly the opposite: more steel, less wood and no fibres. The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright is the best example of the pyramid concept; with the logical variations depending on the location of the site, for example in Arizona his buildings were about 70% stone and soil and 10% wood, and so on. In Chicago they were 60% wood, 25% bricks, 10% stone, 5% steel. There is no need of more glass skyscrapers in Dubai or anywhere. They are amazing pieces of architecture and engineering challenge, but from a material, energy and ecological point of view, they are obscene.

Read the next chapter, here.

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Contact Pouchulu here, or send an email to: architect@pouchulu.com For more information in Deutsch, English, Español and Français, go here.

Background photo: frame from the masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, David Lean (director), Sam Spiegel (producer), Freddie Young (photography), Maurice Jarre (music score). Lawrence, riding a camel, faces the desert. Courtesy of Horizon Pictures & Comumbia Pictures.

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