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Ecomimesis in tropical bio-climatic sky scrappers

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Reflecting on the design of skyscrapers, one can see that too many tall buildings, even today, continue to be designed in one of two inadequate ways; either as vertical extrusions of an efficient floor plan, or as iconic pieces of high-rise urban ‘sculpture’. In both cases their only relationship with the urban setting is a visual one, with the tall building usually dominating. Vibhor Mukul Singh, Senior Partner at Designer’s Alcove for Art & Architecture discusses the importance of adopting bioclimatic design for tall buildings to achieve integration of the built and the natural.

Cities in developing countries in particular seem to ignore the local climate, culture and context and instead simply ‘import’ the western model of the air-conditioned, rectilinear glass box. This pattern of gleaming glass skyscrapers springing up in tropical, desert and other extreme climates has led many to denounce the tall building as inherently anti-environmental. In short, these tall buildings are contributing to the degradation of both the local (cultural) and the global (climate change).

Whereas, tall buildings can be key components in accommodating vast populations in denser, more concentrated sustainable cities which reduce the loss of green space and the need for energy-intensive transport and infrastructure networks. Tall buildings therefore have the opportunity to reinvent themselves as a typology for a sustainable urban future. This new typology needs be inspired not only by environmental issues, but also by the cultural and vernacular traditions of the location they are placed in. This is especially important in maintaining the cultural integrity and continuity of any urban domain. In short, tall buildings need to be inspired by place – both culturally and environmentally.

Bio-climatic skyscrapers: a new perspective

We are all familiar with the basic ideology of bio-climatic design. But here, let’s look a few additional dimensions of this concept. By adapting the philosophy of bio-climatic design, we tend to make our buildings environmentally more responsible and resource efficient throughout their life cycle, from design to construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and demolition. The concept expands the conventional concerns of economics, utility, durability and comfort. It is intended to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on the natural environment primarily by maintaining an ecological approach and carrying out a much-needed environmental bio-integration at every possible level. Bio-climatic approach acknowledges the visual impact and alteration it creates in nature; an architecture that is concerned by the pollution it generates. It tries to reconcile the energy saving issue with the quality of the environment inside the buildings and reduce the environmental impact. A systemic integration of our built forms and its operational systems and internal processes with the ecosystems in nature is the core of this concept. Bio-climatic design is all about integration of the built and the natural, the biotic and the abiotic.

Bio-climatic skyscrapers use environ-mentally and climatically sensitive forms and means of construction. The points vital to bio-climatic skyscraper design can be listed as:

  • variability in facade and building performance and its relation with the form in response to climate and location
  • alignment of building along the solar path
  • flexibility to adjust to different climatic needs throughout the year
  • use of entirely passive means of lighting and ventilation whenever possible
  • material selection based on ecologically sound principles
  • behave as their own little environmentally interactive community as well as interaction with the surrounding.
  • Looking at both inputs and outputs for low ecological impacts and the financial considerations
  • the need for a holistic approach.

A bio-climatic skyscraper functions as an ecosystem. Balancing the organic components with the inorganic is crucial. Using green building materials and products also promotes conservation of dwindling non-renewable resources. Other issues that we can consider vital to bio-climatic consideration are those of place-making, preserving vistas, creating public realms, civic zones, physical and conceptual linkages, and the proper massing of built forms. A bio-climatic skyscraper should be its own little environmentally interactive community as well as interacting with the surrounding community. They attempt to provide greater individual control of the internal environment, recreation on the ground plane as well as other provisions for recreation and relaxation, a view out, accessibility and access to transitional spaces, a sense of awareness of place and more space per person.

Bio-climatic designs include an increased organic mass in the urban setting through vertical landscaping. Such greenery also provides shade, air-filtration, an improved micro-climate on the facade of the building, photosynthetic absorption of pollutants, windbreaks, ventilation through a simple chimney effect coupled with wind channelling and improved aesthetics.

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