Armando Rabaça, Bruno Gil, João Branco, Alexandre Dias
The lack of awareness of the limits of natural resources and an unrestricted faith in technology fostered the idea of a universal architecture, which dominated the first half of the twentieth century. The position in which we find ourselves today is not new, however, and can be illustrated by a century-old change of attitude in Le Corbusier’s work. In the end of the 1920s, Le Corbusier proposed “one single house for all countries, all climates: a house with exact respiration1. With “exact respiration” he meant a hermetic interior at 18 degrees Celsius throughout the year, involving a double wall or double-glazed façade—“mur neutralisant”—mechanical air conditioning being blown between the inner and outer panes. Le Corbusier first envisioned this system for the League of the Nations (1927) and the Centrosoyus Palace (1928–34). The failure of proper temperature control in built works such as the Centrosoyus and the Cité de Refuge (1928–33) and the works for Algiers, Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro, with their practical exigencies of thermal requirements and aesthetic potentials, led to an interest in elementary techniques of environmental control. The most obvious example is perhaps the sunbreaker (brise-soleil), an architectural element of climate control that started to cover the flat geometry of his architecture and gradually acquired formal autonomy, as illustrated in the Mill Owners’ Association building in Ahmedabad (1951–54).
The contemporary context of global environmental change and biodiversity loss reframes this debate, challenging architecture in two interrelated aspects, the reduction of carbon emissions at the level of both embodied and operational carbon. In addressing the issue of embodied carbon, existing buildings must be understood as reservoirs of energy resources, allowing possibilities for adaptation, reuse, repair, or recycling (as instigated by the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan). In addition, the specific context should carry weight in the selection of materials and adapted construction techniques, eventually seeking circular economy logic in which the life cycle of resources ideally transforms into an endless loop.
The issue of operational carbon, or the energy performance of buildings, directly associated with the idea of comfort, can and should be addressed through design, the architect’s primary and privileged tool. The desired resilience and harmless energy behaviour of what is to be built require an understanding of the specificities of each particular context, that is, an understanding of the ability of materials, buildings, and urban arrangements as a whole to store or dissipate energy as needed. This implies research into typological solutions, suitable geometries for a specific geography and climate, the efficiency and versatility of section and plan of these geometries and the implications in natural heating and ventilation, the properties and local availability of materials, and structural and infrastructural strategies.
This is, in essence, a global problem requiring different local solutions and is particularly challenging in intermediate temperate climates such as the Mediterranean, as despite the absence of extreme temperatures—which facilitates the absence of mechanical solutions—these may vary considerably both between seasons and during the day. The Mediterranean climate is indeed characterized by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, and it is worth remembering that it this type of climate is not restricted to the area of the Mediterranean basin. It is characteristic of a series of geographies between 30 and 45 degrees north and south, such as in western South and North America, Chile and California, the far south of the African continent and in Oceania. Its seasonal and daily thermal variability escapes unidirectional prescriptions which are possible in extreme climates and requires either capturing (cold climates) or dissipating (hot climates) heat. Perhaps for this reason, architectural research on the thermal performance of buildings has avoided these intermediate geographies between the easier-to-define north and south, with the overwhelming majority of studies conducted in thermally extreme climates.
Nevertheless, Mediterranean climate geographies are extremely rich in architectural heritage. Different economic, social, cultural, material, constructive, formal, and typological realities coexist in these geographies, providing us with a wide reservoir of traditional knowledge and architectural solutions for an alternative to the universal architecture of “exact respiration.” It is a richness directly related to the benign nature of the climate, having fostered the development of urban and architectural solutions in which the boundaries between interior and exterior have diluted, expanded and gained depth, with resonances in the ways of living and using space. Taking advantage of different thermal typologies, often with hybrid configurations to address the dynamics of atmospheric alternation, such as porches, courtyards, pergolas, arcades, greenhouses, and caves, spatial mechanisms were developed and became deeply rooted in immemorial cultural habits.
While the shift towards an architecture of “inexact respiration” means to abandon the standards of comfort provided by mechanical control and assume a more tolerant culture towards the relationship between architecture and the environment, where architecture itself provides or contributes significantly to the solution, this shift does not mean a return to the vernacular. It means the development of a new (or renewed) architecture capable of expressing the Zeitgeist and the central problems of sustainability and the energy crisis that characterize it. If architecture is cyclically mobilized towards its legitimation as a language—as we witnessed in the Enlightenment, in the modern movement and in postmodernism—how is this urge towards a sustainable architecture defining a new, contemporary language? How is architectural practice exploring the legacy of the past in defining critical architectural solutions? What typological and material experiences point to an in-depth revision of carbon-based architectural and building solutions? What is the relationship of these solutions with use and ways of living? Taking into account that the most sustainable position is to maintain existing buildings, what can we learn from the practice of reuse and adaptation?
Issue #16 of Joelho – Journal of Architectural Culture seeks contributions that critically address these and other related topics, particularly in the context of the Mediterranean climate, broadly understood. Topics may range from landscape, urban design and architecture to materials and building systems. Qualitative approaches are expected, taking into account the impact on the perceived comfort of spaces resulting from factors such as the active posture of the user, the thermal sensitivity of different cultures, clothing, the physical properties of materials, specific microclimates, cultural habits, regional economies, material availability, and specific labour, among others. Graphic material illustrating such sought-after critical thinking is encouraged, whether authorial or not.
“A cette heure d’interpénétration générale, de techniques scientifiques internationales, je propose : une seule maison pour tous pays, tous climats : la maison à respiration exacte.” Le Corbusier, Précisions sur un état présent de l’architecture et de l’urbanisme (Paris: G. Crès, 1930), 64.
Authors need to register prior to submitting (https://impactum-journals.uc.pt/joelho). If already registered, simply log in and begin the 5-step process.
First stage: potential contributors should submit the full article in English (4,000 to 6,000 words, plus footnotes and captions), an abstract (with no more than 1000 characters, including spaces) and illustrations until March 31st, 2024. These will be subject to a blind peer-review process.
Blind peer-reviews will be reported to the authors until May1st, 2024.
Second stage: Articles found suitable for publication must take into account the reviewers’ comments. A revised article must be then submitted until July 1st, 2024.
Read more about CALL FOR PAPERS. JOELHO 16. “The Architecture of Inexact Respiration”