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Conserving Energy with Traditional Construction

The management of the earth’s resources is one of the most pressing issues of our times. Many would say it is the most pressing. Architecture, as one of the major consumers of these resources, must play a major role in their management. and conservation.

The materials used in all of today’s new buildings represent an enormous proportion of the total consumption of the planet’s resources. Minerals, geological formations, petroleum products, metals and timber are all used for construction. All except the last, timber, represent finite non-renewable assets.

Also the actual construction processes consume a vast amount of the world’s energy in fabrication, site works and transportation.

The occupation of buildings requires heat, light, environmental controls and the running of all manner of appliances. The energy demands of all these elements are massive.

Added to that is the polluting effect consequent upon the construction and operation of any building.

Nor should we forget to take account of the decommissioning and demolition of buildings for this often involves the jettisoning of myriad resources accompanied by environmental degradation.

Given that architecture plays such a major part in the consumption of world resources, the design of buildings should surely take account of this at every stage and seek a responsible and rational approach. Unfortunately this is not generally the case at present.

Many buildings of today, flaunt their extravagant use of modern materials like glass, steel and plastics regardless of the implications for supply of resources. Once occupied these buildings place heavy demands on technology to regulate the internal environments they create. The technologies in turn are greedy of resource and so a spiral of increasing consumption is promoted. The future decommissioning of such buildings with their elaborate and quickly outdated technology represents a store of problems for generations to come.

Traditional architecture provides the only real answer for reducing consumption at every stage of a building's life. Many of the materials used in traditional construction are naturally available with low technology working and as far as possible are locally sourced. Traditional heavyweight construction simplifies internal environmental control reducing the dependence on sophisticated technology. Prefabricated elements and their associated transport costs are employed in limited fashion as site assembly takes the major role.

The demolition of a traditionally constructed building is a relatively rare occurrence as traditional architecture is highly adaptable to new uses and traditional style is not subject to the whims of fashion. Traditional materials and construction are the most durable there are and with proper maintenance can last virtually for ever. They do not require constant and expensive maintenance and renewal and in many respects improve with time and weathering. However, if a traditional building is demolished the materials are suitable for recycling or disposal with minimal damaging environmental impact.

If we are serious about conserving world resources for future generations in the way we build there is no alternative to traditional architecture.