Working with Existing Structures

There is a science to working with existing forms and structures. It t- : m prised of a peculiar mixture of theory, research, and practicality-i ^r ence of "found objects." It does not attempt to build from scratch, but what exists and works to transform it to something useful or relevant. T~ c French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss has described it as bricol-ii£~ Practitioners are bricoleurs, which translates rather clumsily as "en-ii£~:cned tinkers with what is at hand." In an age of increasing scarcity, su: - j: person is potentially a kind of hero, someone who can see with différai' t". es and utilize available resources. A lack or problem is not seen only .it- - arden, but an opportunity. A bricoleur can see what was, is, and can * - a splendid continuum—one that must come full circle. Whereas most ir r >pers destroy before rebuilding, restorationists rebuild to recapture i; glories, and designers prefer a clean slate, the bricoleur works from tu«; as-umption that the true potential of a house, a block, a whole town, or an :her existing area, has scarcely been tapped. The most humble objects car transformed. There is a human dimension to bricolage. Reflecting m -t> sensibility to maintain continuity, the bricoleur tries to listen and to ■nenutv the voice of a place as expressed through its history and inhabitants, j transform is not to inoculate with misplaced status. When restoration leads to social displacement, it has failed. The benefits of restoration accrue first to residents of the immediate community and subsequent! others who are attracted by the change.

Whether bricoleur or restorer, the usual way to begin renovation an existing structure is by insulating to reduce reliance on fuel consu, tion for heating and cooling. To insulate is not to block out light, howe In almost any house, factory, or office, or other building, sky lighting sho be first considered to create soft, beautiful, changing light. Light shafts be elaborate or can be like simple boxes lined with reflective material 1' aluminum foil.

Once a structure has been tightened up and the lighting establish the next logical step is to add passive solar elements. This need not be coi plex. Most often it will consist of the addition of a sky light and a windo greenhouse to the south side of a building. Both provide some solar gain, but the psychological effect created is important as well. The structure will become more alive, responding to clouds, rain, sun, and the changing diurnal light cycles. Solar conversion can take a number of forms. The building and site are the primary constraints on what these will be.

A purely architectural strategy for absorbing and retaining solar heat is a trombe wall built onto the exterior of the existing brick, stone, or masonry, south wall. A trombe wall is made up of a transparent wall added adjacent to the original wall which acts as a heat absorber. Sun-warmed air, heated between the walls, rises and enters the building through vents at the top as cool air is sucked into the trombe wall via lower vents. The day cycle heats the house. Whereas in winter vents are closed at night, in summer the cycle is reversed and the trombe wall vents are closed during the day when hot air is exhausted straight out the top. At night exterior and interior venting are opened to cool the building. Here at Falmouth the offices of the local paper, the Enterprise, receive partial heat from a trombe wall.

Another possibility for solar conversion is the addition of a passive solar greenhouse placed on the most southerly oriented side of a house or building. Generally this represents the integration of a biological element, although a solarium without plants is an option. A greenhouse addition will heat the adjacent house during the middle of the day, but cools very rapidly at night. Assuming there are plants in the greenhouse, some heat from the house will have to be bled into the greenhouse. In some instances attached greenhouses have led to greater overall fuel consumption but there are several ways to avoid that problem. We, of course, favor the solar-

algae fish tanks developed at New Alchemy which store day-time energy for night heating. A more orthodox solution to heat loss is to install insulation or night curtains which both insulate and reflect back into the structure the long wavelengths or radiation that would normally return to the night sky. Such curtains can be mounted on tracks under the glazing with automatic or hand controls. Another possibility is a night curtain made of an inexpensive material like polyethylene suspended horizontally over the growing beds and pulled over a wire support at night. In the last century, night curtains were placed on the outside of a greenhouse and unrolled at night like a roller curtain or Venetian blind. The combination of a night curtain with the fish tank heat storage has the greatest potential to conserve both money and heat. Although improving existing housing is a greater challenge than building from scratch, there are few houses that cannot be improved dramatically. Insulation, opening to the light, and adding bio-shelter elements are basic ingredients.

People worry justifiably that tight buildings which have been well-insulated and have less exchange of air will feel or smell stale. Household poisons abound in many materials and cleaning products and these, in addition to cooking gases, and other smells, can make houses either dangerous or unpleasant-smelling or both. There are many ways to have both fresh air and tight houses. One obvious solution is not to use dangerous products, like some of the vinyls (new car smells of vinyl are toxic), and products like oven cleaners. Another is to install an air-to-air heat exchanger which is a simple box-like device consisting of a fan which replaces inside with outdoor air by forcing it through thin, plastic baffles. Outgoing air flows inward in thin films, giving up warmth to cool incoming air and allowing up to ninety percent of household heat to remain inside while replacing used air with fresh. A homebuilt heat exchanger is easy to make and can be done for as little as one-hundred dollars.

This engineering solution is the most common one for improving the quality of air inside houses or buildings. There are biological solutions, as well, which can purify and improve air continuously. The enjoyment to be found in the air of a forest or a meadow breeze is not illusory. Vegetation interacts rapidly and efficiently with flowing air to improve its quality and smell and these beneficial natural processes can be duplicated indoors. Placing clusters of plants near a window is an effective and simple ecological solution. The plants breathe during the day, giving off fresh oxygen and purifying the air. When there is no suitable window, a grow lamp can sup-

port a cluster of plants. Spraying the plants with inorganic solutions combat the pests and diseases of household plants would obviously de!~ the purpose of biological purification, however.

A lidless aquarium, filled with tropical fish and floating aq; plants which almost cover the surface of the water is a very effective purifier. Such aquatic plants are available from tropical fish suppliers. I aquarium must be near a window or flourescent grow-lamps should placed overhead to shine on the floating plants. During the winter lam and window light combined will induce biological activity and effective purification and the floating plants will add oxygen and moisture to d stuffy, inside air. If there is a sufficient volume of water and plants, as the is in the greenhouse in our house, the relative humidity will be increased a point at which the temperature of a house can be kept lower without a' noticeable difference. Often the inhabitants suffer fewer winter colds. One , year our New Alchemy co-founder Bill McLarney took this idea a step further and moved it downstairs. He put a series of children's wading pools in his basement, suspended grow lamps from the ceiling beams, and filled the pools with fishes and plants. He called his basement McLarney's swamp. For plants there were cattails, bow rushes, arrowhead plants, and water lilies, all the emergent water plants, in fact, that he could find nearby. He then stocked his pond with tilapia from New Alchemy. These he retrieved periodically with a hook and line and ate. He maintained that watching the pools filled with exotic fish, frogs, crayfish, and minute aquatic animal life, made a northern winter, away from Costa Rica, bearable. Whenever his furnace went on, the intake air passed over the gently moving aquatic plants and the warmth of the pools filtered upstairs when the furnace was off.

Augmenting the strategies of insulation, lighting, and some form of passive solar heat gain, active solar application includes hot water and house heating. By implication, pumps, switches, and controls are involved, although, in actual fact, there is no hard and fast line between active and passive. Some passive systems use arrays of controls and some active ther-mosiphons are mechanically passive. Photovoltaics are active in the sense that they trigger electric currents that are subsequently channeled into useful work. Whatever the definition, active solar systems have a place in retrofitting and rebuilding. It can be impractical to think of rebuilding housing unit by unit. In neighborhoods with row or tenement housing, it makes good sense, when some general agreement can be reached, to work with

Roof Top Farm and Park

■-.e entire block. On a block scale, available options go up and per unit costs n down. A further advantage to block scale is that there is a greater thermal ¿nd spatial mass in terms of area and heating capabilities to work with. Ingineers describe this as a favorable surface-to-volume ration. It takes less r-.ergv, and fewer materials or space, to accomplish a given task.

A block of row housing can be redesigned and rebuilt to be almost T\«:lusively solar-heated and to provide a garden environment all year. In nc design the block is insulated at both ends, and on the side away from r e street. The entire roof is a combination greenhouse and hot water col-rvior. Hot water for all the houses is stored in a long, stainless steel tank \nat runs along the north wall for the full length of the interior of the —eenhouse. It is painted black and is heated by direct solar radiation and - v the collector in front of the greenhouse. The storage tank helps to heat greenhouse and provides metered hot water to the residents. The greenhouse is connected to a common basement via ducts to prevent over-

Inside Roof Top Farm and Park heating. During the day, hot air is stored in the basement and at night it percolates upward to warm residents. The greenhouse also acts as roof insulation, retarding heat loss from the upper story ceilings. The greenhouse could serve as a commons and could be a safe and beautiful combination of roof, park, and garden. There is a strong argument for neighborhood-owned development corporations that would rebuild and operate the overall structures and support elements. In Kansas City the infrastructure for such ventures is being created through Developing Neighborhood Asso-

csio ns (D.N.A.s) which are self-financing organizations involved in com-- ::v betterment and education. Their approach to real estate is to own apartments, and commercial properties which they make available fer viie or rent, thus making it possible both to rehabilitate existing facilities .mi: :o design and create new ones.

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