¿WHY GREEN SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE IN YUCATAN?

ARCHITECT ALBERTO ZAVALA AGUIRRE

-ARCHITECT,GRADUATE OF INSTITUTO TECNOLOGICO Y DE ESTUDIOS SUPERIORES DE MONTERREY(1990)
-ATTENDED STUDIES ON SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE IN SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.(2010)
-STUDIES AT THE ESCUELA TECNICA SUPERIOR DE ARQUITECTURA OF BARCELONA SPAIN ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS AND SUSTAINABLE CONSTRUCTION TECHNIQUES.(2011)

“IF WE ARE CONVINCED THAT LIVING IN A TROPICAL CORNER OF THE WORLD MEANS ENJOYMENT, THEN LET'S CREATE AND LIVE WITH AN ARCHITECTURE THAT ALLOWS US TO EXPERIENCE THIS DAY-TO-DAY DELIGHT”



1.-HISTORICALLY


It is interesting to note that historically in every architectural period that existed in Yucatan, builders responded by using their knowledge tailored to fit the needs of the people, while at the same time taking into consideration the socio-economic conditions of that era as well as the regional climate, construction systems and materials available..
Construction techniques to mitigate or lessen the effects of climate have existed in the region since the times of the ancient Maya with their buildings erected in stone, as well as during the colonial era where housing exhibited the use of simple, but effective, bioclimatic design techniques. The living spaces are arranged around corridors, roofed-in while at the same time open, which extend out to courtyards with plant life and fountains that serve as a form of climate lung, a “green lung”, to capture fresh air and create cross-ventilation which is carried back towards the interior of the dwelling.
This loop culminates in heat being expelled from the rooms. The high ceilings aid in dissipating the heat via the skylights located on the upper section of the high walls, thus cooling the interior.
The thermal walls, in turn, erected from subsoil stone masonry were wide and therefore efficient in retaining the cool air indoors and keeping out the heat due to direct solar radiation.



2.- CHANGING TIMES - OBSERVING AND LISTENING TO THE ENVIRONMENT: DOING THE RIGHT THING.


There currently exists, on an international level, a revolution in architecture and design which is due largely to the fact that buildings consume 40-50% of global energy production and hence are co-responsible for global warming and its impact on climate change. This reality leaves the era of extravagance and excess in the past, giving way to new attitudes and values such as the concept of “do more with less”.



It takes on great importance in modern times to contemplate a type of architecture that, equally, is more in tune with the environment and becomes an comprehensive ally with the environment having as a premise the concept of “integrating” architecture with bioclimatic design techniques as opposed to the “isolating” of architecture because of non-renewable technology and resources.



In order to create a -sensitive architecture- for Yucatan we should take as a starting point: an analysis of our topography, site conditions, vegetation suitable to our climate and soil, the prevailing winds in the region, sunlight, protection from hurricanes, insects, humidity, cultural and economic issues and characteristics, specific needs and requirements of the client, and so on and so forth.



As designers, builders and clients, we all should adopt an ethical mentality and commitment to the global effort to lessen the effects of climate change and do our part, contributing intelligent decisions and actions that assist in guaranteeing the quality of life for generations to come.

3.-REASONS FOR A TROPICAL, BIOCLIMATIC DESIGN: GEOGRAPHICAL AND CLIMATOLOGICAL CONDITIONS OF YUCATAN


-We are geographically located within the tropical strip, having a predominantly hot and humid climate.



-The humidity increases during the rainy season, and particularly at night when it cools down. There are mainly two prevailing wind directions that exist: a fresh breeze from the northeast and a hot land wind or "sueste" from the southeast, as well as "chikinik" (from the northwest) which predicts bad weather or “north“ in the winter season.



-We have a marked rainy season from June until approximately October; heavy rains with electrical storms in the summer.



-We are located in the natural trajectory of the onslaught of hurricanes originating in the Caribbean Sea.



-The amount of solar radiation is high throughout most of the year, very much also affecting the heat emitted from the reflected rays of the sun. The solar angle descends as well as reduces its aperture in the winter.



-The topography of Yucatan is predominantly flat.



-As a peninsula we are surrounded by sea-coast.



-Insects during the rainy season.




-Having relatively easy access to water we can plant vegetation suitable to the region that adapts itself to the climate, as well as some species that grow without needing special care and irrigation.



4.-THE WAY TOWARDS A GREEN DESIGN PROCESS: POSTURES OF CRUCIAL IMPORTANCE.


-Being more conscious of our surrounding climate.
-Noting which positive points we have and how to exploit them when it comes to considering a project.
-Being conscious of the problems that can stem from the extremes of our weather conditions.
-Comprehensively implementing design strategies visualized by the project, tapping into the enjoyment of our climate and the natural inclination of our architecture out towards the exterior, and resolving, in tandem, the critical points of our climate by both natural as well as mixed methods supported in design techniques and existing technology.
-Contemplating design solutions based on the “do more with less” concept, simplicity in lifestyle, energy saving and rational use of resources.
-Devising landscape design as an essential part of the project.
-Thinking about the possibility of investing in alternative power generation technologies and systems such as solar, mixed (CFE and solar panels), wind-driven, solar water heaters, as well as thermal conditioning systems in outer walls and ceilings. These decisions should be contemplated keeping in mind the vision for a sustainable architecture, environmentally or economically, under a financial plan for a medium-term return on investment.

5.-GREEN SUSTAINABLE DESIGN CONCEPTS: APPROACHING AN ARCHITECTURE FOR YUCATAN.
A.-CARING FOR RESOURCES: DOING "MORE WITH LESS”.


Obtaining resources with a "more with less” concept, using multifunctional space concepts and avoiding areas for temporary or possible use. 
Making use of avant-garde materials and systems and those which are characteristic to the region that can be adjusted sensibly to economic resources, work force resources, and so on.
Designing with bioclimatic principles (or passively) produces more economic-responsive structures and those in tune with the environment; in other words, sensibly using the renewable resources provided by nature such as the sun, wind, water and land.



B.- ORIENTATION OF THE BUILDING.


Positioning the project with a north-south exposure allowing for the flow of the warm winds coming from the southeast as well as the cooler northeast-breeze, having in mind to thus create cross-ventilation and thereby reduce needing to use air-conditioning units. Moreover, giving consideration to the fact that the areas opening to the north have a greater amount of sun protection.




C.- TRANSPARENCY AND RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR.


Opening the indoor spaces to outdoor spaces such as terraces, patios, ponds, fountains, and gardens to create an inside-outside bond and connection simultaneously generates conditions such as transparency, thus achieving a greater feeling of spaciousness in addition to such characteristics as the contrast between light and shadow, and a sense of freshness and serenity by using water as well as the finishing touches of greenery in plant life.



D.-GARDENS, LANDSCAPE DESIGN.


Creating a comprehensive landscape design, visualizing the lot as a “whole“, using gardens and tropical vegetation from the region to provide green visual finishing touches that reduce the reflective rays of the sun and glare, providing its surroundings with an element of freshness, as well as creating shaded areas.



E.- SOLAR MANAGEMENT.
-SOLAR RADIATION AND NATURAL LIGHTING.


Due to high solar radiation present in the region, it is necessary to protect the building by means of eaves,overhanging roofs/ceilings, trees, and elements that will temper the direct impact to the interior. Those walls that receive direct radiation on them for extended periods, as for example those located on the south and west, preferably should be treated with some form of insulation. Moreover, it is important that all areas have sufficient and natural light, avoiding at all costs making use of artificial light during the day.



- SEMI-SHADED AREAS


Filtering sunlight at interval points between the interior and the exterior, through the use of pergolas or repetitive shading elements, to lessen the impact of direct radiation and the reflective rays of the sun.



F.-PHYSICAL HANDLING OF WIND.
- LOCATION OF WINDOWS.


The correct location of windows in a space plays a very important role when it comes to creating ventilation that generates comfort parameters, being possible to physically manipulate the wind as to both direction and strength.



- VERSATILE WINDOW SYSTEMS.


Using a mixed system of pane or shutter-style windows (preferably aluminum) which can efficiently be manually operated, as well as allowing flexibility for controlling wind and light. Proposing the use of sliding or hinged windows depending on the design.Making use of screens as protection from insects.







- WINDCATCHERS


Implementing windcatchers (“wind tunnels”) where required for natural ventilation into the interior.



G.-ARCHITECTURAL ELEMENTS AND BIOCLIMATIC TECHNIQUES
AREAS AS THERMAL CUSHIONS


Placing the service areas, trees to the west in order to form a thermal cushion and thermal protection towards other areas. 



- EAVES


Making use of large eaves for protection from the sun and rain.



- HIGH CEILINGS


Attempt proposing, whenever possible, the use of high ceilings which force the hot air to rise, thereby maintaining the lower strata cooler and livable.



- PILES


In coastal structures, making use of piles or stilted foundation for protection from hurricanes and sea swells or tidal waves, preserving the coastal dunes to aim at avoiding erosion, as well as raising the floor from sand level to guard from humidity and insects.



H.- ALTERNATIVE POWER GENERATION SYSTEMS.


Make use of alternative power generation systems, such as solar panels and solar water heaters, as well as wind-driven systems.



“ANY WORK OF ARCHITECTURE THAT HAS BEEN DESIGNED, ANY WORK OF ARCHITECTURE THAT EXISTS OR HAS THE POTENTIAL TO EXIST, WAS DISCOVERED. IT WASN´T CREATED. THE CENTRAL DESIGN ISSUES OF ARCHITECTURE ARE: HUMANS AND THEIR HISTORY AND CULTURE; SPACE; LIGHT; HOW THINGS ARE PUT TOGETHER; AND RESPONSIBILITY TO THE LAND. GOOD DESIGN INVOLVES AN UNDERSTANDING OF THESE ISSUES AND PURSUING THE QUESTIONS THEY RAISE UNTIL YOU MAKE APPROPRIATE DISCOVERIES. ARCHITECTURE IS A PATH OF DISCOVERY” (GLENN MURCUTT).

“TO A GREAT DEGREE, THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS IS A DESIGN CRISIS. IT IS THE RESULT OF HOW THINGS ARE DONE, HOW BUILDINGS ARE CONSTRUCTED, AND HOW LANDSCAPES ARE USED. DESIGN IS AN EXPRESS STATEMENT ON CULTURE, AND CULTURE RESTS FIRMLY ON THE FOUNDATION OF WHAT WE BELIEVE TO BE TRUE REGARDING THE WORLD” (SIM VAN DER RYN).

AZ - Alberto Zavala Arquitectos- All Rights Reserved © 2011 Yucatán, México.