Why We Don´t Draw Arrows (hardly ever)

Iñaki Ábalos 

Sometimes they ask us how the concept of thermodynamics is brought into our design process and why we are so reluctant to show the operational ‘kitchen’ of these processes, probably because the sustainable cliché seems to ask for diagrams with arrows, sections with ‘Illustrator’ gradations from red to blue, or multicolor ‘Ecotec’ graphics.

What we are trying to accomplish both in the academic field and in our professional practice involves neither using nor displaying this paraphernalia, but prioritizing qualitative knowledge through architecture and a holistic view that has been present in almost all historical architectural styles (but only exceptionally in the case of modern architecture), and which is almost a ‘dead tongue’ today; though it is probably more necessary than ever.

We start from the basis that a qualitative integration of thermodynamic principles in the design process is the architect’s main working matter. Quantitative analyses enter the sphere of engineering and, though the frontiers are flexible and permeability is positive especially in complex contexts, it is necessary to affirm that qualitative approximations are not graphic material, and can’t be learned using a computer program. They are based on few principles and a series of formulas, and are simplified in practical weather or material tables (psychrometric charts, Ashby material selection charts…) which need not be shown but are indeed helpful. Other conceptual documents, like Behling’s triangles, accurately represent the need to prioritize issues related to form and matter that are essential to achieve a good thermodynamic performance from the beginning, which is important to later avoid prostheses that almost always evidence shortages in the original design, spoil the whole and make maintenance and construction more expensive.

The protocols we propose our students (see the text ‘Prototypes and Protocols’) explain well some of the procedures that we have gradually individualized with the help of international experts. Once used it is hard to do without them. These procedures lead to what we have called ‘thermodynamic monsters’ because of their additive character (they identify everything that is potentially operative in the project). Thermodynamics and architecture are synthetic and, just like engineering, they always prioritize the essential, in accordance with a dual process we refer to as ‘listing and ranking’)... [+]

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