as architecture evolves into the post-bilbao economy, form can no longer justify itself. the argument that dynamic form will act as a catalyst for a regional growth has been disproven by years of an atrophying tourist market and crippled by diminished construction budgets. the current climate has legions of young architects struggling to find a raison d’être for the complex curves and intricate surfaces they have been trained to produce. websites like grasshopper3d and suckerPUNCH feature parades of exercises in technique, but proposals that are completely divorced from our current condition. the few designs that do reference ideas of sustainability, economy, or performance typically seem to be a post-rationalization of a design technique, rather than a rigorous investigation of how form could become a performative element.

the investigations into digital technique over the last two decades have provided architects and designers with incredibly productive tools- but little basis in how and when to use them. if design computation strategies are to be used to produce performative form, then how form effects performance needs to be interrogated more seriously. this post is the beginning of an index of how formal strategies can effect passive environmental strategies.

_passive solar

when most people think of solar power, the first thing that comes to mind are photovoltaic panels. while pv panels and solar thermal are necessary for many architectural projects in terms of sustainably providing power for refrigerators, lights, and televisions; pv and st panels should not be driving the discussion on sustainability. passive solar strategies allow a building to be heated or cooled without the need for any mechanized systems. while building orientation is the most important factor in a building’s passive solar performance, shading systems can be optimized off of regional information to provide shading when necessary and allow light in when desired. foster and partner’s beijing airport is an example of a shading system that was designed to allow direct light inside during winter and to block direct light during summer without any moving parts. in this case, the components were only used in certain locations, but it is easy to imagine a complete field condition of similar components or an entire architectural logic that was generated from them.


like solar power, geothermal energy is generally though of as a means of producing electricity. but in projects as varied from peter zumthor’s therme vals to maryann thompson’s geothermal house, architects have shown that geothermal energy can be beneficial passively as well. frequently architectural projects use geothermal energy to provide the heat necessary for radiant floor heating, but there could be formal conduits for a passive system. though toyo ito’s sendai mediatheque is does not utilize a geothermal system, it’s twisting tubes and floor-penetrating shafts could have as easily been informed by a passive geothermal strategy instead of a structural and conceptual base. as more and more climates are realized to be inappropriate for passive solar alone, there will be more research into passive geothermal techniques for providing climate control.

bedzed.jpg (600×426)

_natural ventilation

natural ventilation is probably the oldest architectural feature- whether it was intended or not. there are two main strategies: using a shaft effect like the downdraft cool towers at the zion visitor center and using natural wind like the ventilation cowls at BedZED. both strategies are relatively new to contemporary architecture, but raise strong formal questions. how does wind penetrate the building so that other elements don’t? once inside, what formal qualities can be deployed to sustain wind flow? how does natural wind reach multiple levels? computational design strategies provide a unique opportunity to produce solutions that perform at a higher level than ever before- the investigations just need to begin.

Wave Garden by Yusuke Obuchi

hydrodynamics is, without a doubt, the item on this list that is the least investigated by contemporary architecture. like the others posted here, projects utilizing hydrodynamics date back to some of the earliest architectural constructs- like band-e kaisar in iran. the most compelling example of hydrodynamics in contemporary architecture is yusuke obuchi’s wave garden. this elegant design of an ocean-based power station draws energy from the friction caused the natural movement of waves under an amorphous structure. obuchi’s design is compellingly simple- a conceptually refined project that has radical insights into how we see construction and how it relates to the natural world around us.

  • jblott

    Nice post

  • Very interesting information.