Cambridge architect advocates sustainability

Innovations in design represent more than simple aesthetic creativity for Alan Short, a practicing architect and head of the Department of Architecture at Cambridge University.

In a lecture Thursday night, Short explained the principles of sustainable, environmentally friendly building to an audience of about 60 students in Hastings Hall at the Yale School of Architecture. The talk, “Built Projects: Research, Design, and Performance,” included an overview of current environmental issues, like global warming, which architects are encouraged to consider when designing buildings. Short also described several of his projects in which he has successfully incorporated natural, energy-saving ventilation and lighting systems.

“My practice is entirely dedicated to constructing low-energy-consuming buildings–sustainable buildings, if you like,” Short said.

Short said the lighting and temperature control of buildings are responsible for 50 percent of the fossil fuel consumed in developed economies and thus contributesheavily to the problem of global warming.

“He’s demonstrated with a number of his projects that he can slash those numbers,” said Jim Axley, a professor in the School of Architecture.

Axley is one of the two professors teaching a class called “Issues in Environment and Design.” The class is a collaboration between the School of Architecture and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

“We try to bring people who have done very important and innovative work in the area of sustainable design, and [Short] is one of these people,” said Stephen Kellert, who teaches the class with Axley.

Short detailed several of his projects during the lecture. A large processing facility for a brewery in Malta, one of his early works, successfully employs a natural system of ventilation.

“What’s extraordinary is that over time the temperatures inside the building are extremely stable,” Short said.

He has also designed sustainable buildings for several universities in England. One of the most famous and controversial is the Queens Building, completed nine years ago at DeMontfort University’s School of Engineering and Manufacture.

“The mechanical and electrical engineering industry said publicly it wouldn’t work and it was going to be a disaster,” Short said.

While energy conservation is a central concern in Short’s work, he has also made innovations in the actual design of the buildings.

“I think it’s a design that’s really exciting, some people have called it postmodern gothic,” said Kellert. “But it’s all done for a purpose, not just aesthetics.”

Both professors expressed interest in increasing the Yale community’s awareness of the importance of sustainable building, as well as applying Short’s ideas to Yale buildings.

Plans are currently in the works for a new building at the environment school. While an architect has not been selected, Axley and Kellert both said they were interested in hearing Short’s thoughts on the building project.

“Yale is, like every university, wondering how to deal with issues of energy conservation and minimizing environmental impact, especially greenhouse gas emission,” Axley said.

Short emphasized throughout his lecture that his method for designing buildings is ultimately a viable, if unexpected, solution to issues of environmental concern.

“Will technological progress solve our problem?” Short said. “It doesn’t need to, really, because we can design it out as architects.”

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Aya Osuga
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