Friday, Nov 16, 2018
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Green design and Bahamian architecture

Over the past several years it has been popular for new home builders to boast to their friends that their architect is designing them a “green” house. The polite friends are suitably impressed, but usually have no idea what a “green” house is. In 2016, in an e-book entitled “The Truth About Green”, we suggested that green design was not a new idea. The green approach is defined by Jackie Craven of Thought.com: “Green architecture… is an approach that minimizes harmful effects on human health and the environment.”

This seems the only approach to design, but it has been promoted as a way to encourage the use of energy-saving technologies and the use of renewable materials. Buildings deemed “green” tend to display the following characteristics:

• Good ventilation system;

• A concern for insulation;

• Energy efficiency in lighting, appliances and fixtures;

• Minimal use of depletable (fossil) materials;

• Proper orientation;

• Good climatic design;

• Avoidance of toxic materials;

• Re-use of water.

It is difficult to explain the lack of general concern for this subject among Bahamians. Perhaps it is the fact that these requirements are the requirements they have grown up with. They were the characteristics of their grandfather’s house, whether a mansion in Nassau or a farm building on Eleuthera. Throughout the Bahamas, local designers built using the same traditions, building buildings that used the least of their resources and creating the least stress on the environment.

Some of those traditions included:

Orientation: Traditional designers were careful to orient their buildings to receive the southeast breezes and to avoid the late afternoon sun.

Water management: They raised their buildings above the flood levels and stored water for domestic use.

Ventilation: They used cross ventilation to cool the building’s interior as well as produce better air quality by constantly changing the air.

Shading: The sun was never allowed into the interior of the Bahamian house. It was either kept out by a porch or by push-out shutters. Vegetation was also planned to provide shade to the west and south sides of the building.

In short, while the introduction of technology offers the chance to increase efficiency, it is important to recognize that traditional Bahamian architecture (and most non-urban architecture) already has “green” bones.

Unfortunately, modern Bahamian designers have tended to make it difficult to benefit from these traditions by using technologies that increase the need for energy. For example, the recent marketing of impact windows encourages the omission of traditional push-out shutters, allowing the direct penetration of the sun into the building’s interior. This, of course, increases the interior temperatures. That combined with the fact that the windows are left shut, partly for security reasons, now makes air conditioning necessary, which increases the need for power.

There is certainly a need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and the use of solar appliances like a water heater and a photovoltaic system to reduce the reliance on utility power must be the objective of any designer. The concurrent reduction in long-term cost is a worthy objective, while also chasing certification. Landscaping that shades the building during the afternoon is not a luxury. Green design begins with attention to traditional design. After all, the objective of building designers of old was the same: to make certain their buildings were not harmful to either the humans using them or to the environment, both of which they valued.

• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the Northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at pradesigns@yahoo.com or prahming@gmail.com. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.

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