Performance and Comfort in Buildings
Have you ever been on holiday or seen pictures on television
of housing in a different part of the world and wondered
why it is different to your own house style? Many of these
differences can be attributed to climatic variations.
The relationship between architecture and the climate is a complex one.
Buildings basically have two functions; firstly, to ensure survival and health
against the outside elements, particularly wind, rain, hail and snow; and
secondly, to maximise performance and comfort, by regulating temperature and
humidity. Both of these functions have the aim to keep the body temperature
fairly constant so that dwellers do not experience fevers or hypothermia.
The main focus of this report is on the second of the factors, to maximise
performance and comfort. Temperature is one factor which needs to be modified;
for instance we cannot sleep if we are too hot or cold. The main way of
regulating temperature is by varying what is called the cell membrane, which is
what the house is made of externally (in Britain this is mainly bricks and
One change that can be made to the cell membrane is its colour. In hot
climates, houses are painted white so that radiation is reflected and not
absorbed. This means that the temperature inside the building is lowered.
The shape of the membrane is also important. Horizontal surfaces cool much
more quickly than sloping surfaces. This means that in hot climates, where
rainfall is low, roofing is normally flat. Conversely, in cool climates, the
building will be made as round and aerodynamic as possible to avoid heat loss,
for example an igloo.
Thickness of cell membrane is important. In hot arid environments, cell
membrane is made as thick as possible so that the pulse of heat is subjected to
a time lag. This means that the room warms up at night and leaves the room
cooler during the day. In addition, in arid environments very few windows are
included as little ventilation is needed and windows have much shorter time
lags. An example of such a building might be found in the Middle East.
If the climate is hot and humid, then there are different requirements.
Ventilation should be maximised so that the house does not become too sticky.
This means that the membrane is kept thin, so that heat can escape, and large
windows are incorporated so that ventilation can be maximised. An example of
such a building is a Malay timber house.
This idea can also be taken one step further with the idea of compound
housing, again used in hot climates. The living quarters, normally downstairs
have a thick membrane and few windows, so that it is cool during the day and
warm at night (when people are not in it). The sleeping quarters have a thin
membrane so that the room is cooled at night as people sleep. The sleeping
quarters get very hot during the day, whilst people are not in there. Of course,
there are problems if you become nocturnal....
This MOO report has illustrated some of the differences in housing worldwide.
Watch out for the second in the series when the issue of performance and health
regulation by housing is looked at.