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Monday, July 7, 2008

vers une 2000 watt architecture



Looking back it is interesting to note how the concept of environmental coexistence, between architecture and the natural environment, has changed gradually over the course of the last years, starting from the vague romantic principles on ecology that were proposed at the end of the eighties decade, and moving on towards more precise proposals of specific intervention, which involve a deep transformation of both the individual and collective behaviors.
Of those projects for the design of buildings that are embedded in nature and carried out with traditional materials, without any type of theoretical support beyond pure nostalgia, we have now moved on to scientific manifestoes based on supposedly more objective and quantifiable pieces of data that try to address that "inconvenient truth" concealed for many decades: the excessive dimension of our ecological footprint.
The ecological footprint -understood as the amount of land and water that a population needs in order to generate the resources it consumes and absorb the waste it produces- of the human population is, currently, 20% greater than the surface of our planet, which entails an evident over-consumption of the existing resources and, therefore, a gradual degeneration of our habitat.
In 1998 the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Zurich stated, for the first time, the well-known program 2000-watt society, launching, in the year 2001, a pilot program in the metropolitan region of Basel. Currently the plan is to make this program extensive to the whole federal territory.
The aim of the 2000-watt society pilot program is to reduce the average rate of energy use of each person to 2000 watts per year by the year 2050, without lowering their standard of living, bearing in mind that, currently, a western European citizen uses an average of around 6000 watts per year; and a United States citizen uses an average of 12000 watts.
2000-watt society is an apparently utopian project, but totally achievable according to the researchers in Switzerland who are in charge of the program, which requires, amongst other measures, a transformation of the totality of resources of each territory; by way of a radical in- crease of the renewable energy production systems, a series of drastic transformations in
the systems of public transportation, the refurbishment of the building stock following criteria of low energy building standards, the limitation in the production of residues, and so on. But above all, 2000-watt-society demands a deep transformation of the individual, business and public energy consumption habits.
If we consider that the ecological footprint generated by of our society must adjust necessarily to the geometrical dimensions of our habitat, it becomes evident that a coordinated collective action is necessary. Building, as any other activity of human beings, has to take on pan of the responsibility in the construction of this objective, and, therefore, architecture, as a collective phenomenon, cannot remain oblivious to this global problem.
For this reason, architecture today; incorporating or not the 2000-watt society principle, must assume as essential elementary matters such as formal and constructional optimization, the reduction of energy demand, the use of passive energy systems, the exploitation of renewable energy sources, the collection and reuse of rainwater, the use of clean, less contaminating materials, the limitation in the production of waste, recycling and the optimization of processes during construction, maintenance and disassembly. But above all it is the mission of architecture to actively contribute to the creation of individual behavior patterns which consider the reduction of consumption and waste as a priority collective objective of our society.