Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some Thoughts on Building Design

By Russell Baker

The design of buildings should be functional to all occupants. During the design phase, the architect should consider how the location of stairs, elevators, parking, entrances, and windows influence the user. Are they easy to find and operate? A project is functionally successful when the design and use of a facility serves the people who use it. Developments in building sciences since the late 1900's have directed the need to focus on program, design, construction, and operating facilities that function well, while concurrently incorporating new technologies, sustainability, accessibility, safety, and environmental quality. Post-occupancy evaluations have shown that early programming and design decisions have significant impact on the functional quality, and long-term efficiency and effectiveness of buildings, initially and over their life-cycle.

When a building is considered functional to all users, it will then provide comfort. Comfort relates to the physical environment in its entirety. Some issues that relate to comfort include temperature, humidity, light, noise, smell, and ease of maneuverability within the building. Human beings feel and operate better in a comfortable temperature. Temperature is also strongly linked to humidity levels. During a typical Midwest summer, it is crucial to control the humidity level within the building not only for comfort, but also to prevent mold growth.
Lighting has a great affect on health and well being. Lighting effects may be felt immediately or in the long term. Building design should take the quality of lighting seriously, particularly natural day-lighting, and it should incorporate lighting as a strategy for the whole building, to bring in good natural light without glare, without excessive contrast, and without overheating issues. This also saves energy and money.

Noise in a building, particularly in residential typologies, is an extremely important issue. The insulation that is considered good for thermal protection may not necessary work for noise insulation. Acoustically speaking, this is all about getting the shell of the building "tweaked" correctly during design. It has often proven to be extremely difficult, if not impossible to retrofit proper acoustic performance.

Substances that enter the nasal cavity may be sensed either by the olfactory senses or by the limbic system. The first is responsible for odor detection; the second is sensitive to irritants. On the whole, people adapt to odors relatively quickly, whereas irritants can get worse through longer exposure. However, the best strategy is reduction of the problem at its source. From a building point of view this means the use of non-odorous substances wherever possible or making sure all pipes are installed properly and vented. It may also be noted that certain types of material and certain types of construction are able to absorb odors and neutralize them.
Maneuvering within a building should be clear not only to the first time visitor but to its everyday occupants as well. According to American Psychological Associates, people feel comfortable when they know where they are going. Therefore, a good designer would consider circulation as part of the building design, not only as a code requirement.

Well designed buildings have a positive impact on rental and capital values as well as the overall market attractiveness of an area. Bilbao, Spain, as an example, was one of the most polluted and economically disadvantaged cities in Spain before the construction of its Guggenheim museum. However, Bilbao revitalized because of the unique Guggenheim museum that brought tourists, income, and higher real estate values. This phenomenon is called, “The Bilbao Effect”, in which a city is reborn because of a single or group of buildings. This rejuvenating phenomenology ties into the topic of sustainability.

Sustainability is a generic term that not only applies to “green architecture” but also to building life-cycle and efficiency. Building construction and operation can have extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment. Buildings use resources such as energy, water and raw materials; they also generate waste (occupant, construction and demolition) and emit potentially harmful atmospheric pollutants. Building owners, designers, and constructors face a unique challenge to meet demands for new and renovated facilities that are accessible, secure, healthy, and productive while minimizing their impact on the environment. The current solution to this challenge is to provide an integrated, synergistic approach that considers all phases of a facility’s life-cycle. This approach, also known as “sustainable design”, supports the idea of environmental conservation, and results in an optimal balance of cost-of-operations (electricity, water, and gas), environmental, societal, and human benefits while meeting the functional requirements of program and infrastructure. By using an integrated design approach that extends through all phases of a project, from pre-design to owner occupancy (and operation), buildings can be functionally successful, productive, and inspiring which enhance work and/or livability, ultimately creating architectural value.

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