Air conditioning and modern architecture are more connected than what you think and the article “How air conditioning shaped modern architecture – and changed our climate” proves it. The writer, Patrick Sisson, provides us with an entertaining and didactic tour around architecture, technology and air. What we found very exciting about this piece is that while Sisson demonstrates how numerous building typologies adapted to the sudden freedom provided by air conditioning, he also emphasizes that artificial cooling has fueled today’s energy and environmental crisis.
In other words: yes, air conditioning allowed architects to design towers without atriums or light wells; yes, air conditioning “meant workers didn’t need to sit near a window and hence “offices could suddenly have larger floorplates, encouraging collaboration and denser construction”; yes, air conditioning made sealed buildings possible –hence, receiving no city dirt and dust through open windows. But of course, all these “advantages” had a flipside: “The adoption of the “windowless wall” created the fluorescent-lit, dull and dim office spaces many workers abhor” and major health implications were derived from the unhealthy air quality inside closed-off buildings. But what’s even worst: “the most damaging part of this shift has been the cost, in energy and carbon emissions, of our cool new world. By 2014, 87 percent of U.S. homes had some form of air conditioning”. The cooling of buildings and vehicles in the United States “contributes to half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. We consume more energy for residential air conditioning than all other countries combined, although, with other countries such as China and India in pursuit of glass-walled visions of modernity, that is going to change, and not in a good way. Due in large part to indoor climate control, buildings utilize half of total U.S. energy consumption”.
All in all, we certainly agree with Sisson when he states: “Air conditioning promised a cooler, more modern environment indoors. But unless architects and designers continue to develop more green, efficient ways to keep our buildings cool, it will be increasingly difficult to escape the warming environment outside”.
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Photo Credit: “Curbed”