“Sustainability” has become the favorite catch phrase. Buildings consume 40% of all energy and are responsible for 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. ( source) Obviously, architecture and building design play a huge role in the success or failure of any sustainability initiative.
The current push to “green” architecture frequently focuses on intriguing, new, hi-tech energy efficiency gadgets and state-of-the-art materials. However, we must remember that simple, low-tech decisions made early in the design process will have the largest impact on energy efficiency and sustainability.
The design elements that cause a building to function without electrical or mechanical means are termed passive design strategies. These passive design decisions simply refer to basic issues that respond to the environmental realities of each location and include: the orientation of a building, the location and size of windows in relation to the path of the sun, or the organization of spaces to allow good air flow.
In our benevolent Hawaiʻi climate, passive design strategies are important for both sustainability and human comfort. A simple way to envision passive design for a warm and humid climate, like Hawaiʻi, is to think of a structure as a kind of umbrella. It shades you from the intensity of the sun, but still allows the breezes to flow and lets in natural light.
By designing a smart solar shading strategy that accommodates the trade winds and allows generous natural light, a building in Hawaiʻi can eliminate high-energy demands like air-conditioning and lighting. When done properly, this is better for the environment and more comfortable for people.
Over the next few months, we will be analyzing many ways to tackle this issue of solar shading. From the basic awning to the Brise Soleil to the hau covered trellis – Hawaiʻi has many great examples for how to design for a pleasant, airy, and sustainable space in the tropics. Stay tuned for the next installment of our solar shading series.