Does high-tech ecology exist?

Kolakowski, Marcin Mateusz (1997) Does high-tech ecology exist? Architektura & Biznes, 64 (11). pp. 12-19. ISSN 1230-1817

Architecture Like an Instrument (Pavilion 26) [A&B1997/11]

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The new tallest skyscraper in the German industrial district of Ruhr has been opened this year in Essen. The designers of RWE AG Headquarters, Ingenhoven Overdiek Kahlen & Partner, profess that their smart building is ecological, as environmental issues play the key role in their design philosophy. In his manifesto Evolution- Ecology-Architecture, Christoph Ingenhoven postulates that ecology should be an integral part of technology and industry, and result from evolution understood as a process of opposites complementing each other. The main ideas are: effectiveness, simplicity, entropy, and synergy.
The RWE building is 168m high (with its mast on the top). It is located in Passarea—a commercial district, also designed by Ingenhoven Overdiek Khalen, expected to spread the city centre area onto the other side of the railway tracks. The 30-storey-high cylinder seems light and slim against the bulky office buildings around it. Its form and function are realised simply and clearly, almost transparently. The main body of the building is covered by a double glass cylinder, with the lift tower outside—thus the interiors, free from the transportation shaft, can be arranged at will. The architects have suggested some possible arrangements of various storeys. The diameter of the building is just 32m long, which allows deep penetration of daylight. There are also three underground levels, two for parking, and one for conference halls, cinema, and banquet halls.
The declared ecology of the scheme is mostly achieved by thrift. After all, RWE is a power-supplying company, so it would be difficult to persuade them to conserve energy rather than producing more using alternative sources incorporated in buildings. The circular plan defines an energy-efficient body, which also bears wind pressure optimally—which is of paramount importance in a building that is so tall. As for air-conditioning, a special panel is used to regulate the temperature, ventilation, and sun intake. Three types of lighting can be chosen: for the night, for a cloudy day, and spot lights. The synergy, mentioned before, can be found in the integration of electrical, air-conditioning, and fire protection installations. They all cooperate and converge into a common element on the ceiling.
The double facade is divided by a 50cm-wide void, the outer skin being 10mm-thick insulating glass. The most interesting solution is the technique called “fish mouth”, which provides direct ventilation from the outside, enabling the users to regulate it. Heated between the two layers of the double facade, the air flows inside through the fish mouth whose width is regulated by a crank mechanism. The system had been tested and modified in three stages in aerodynamic channels. In the urban scale of 1:500, then 1:64, in order to eliminate noises, finally in the scale of 1:1. The circulation starts in the ventilation crates in the floor, and ends in another fish mouth at the ceiling. Apart from that, a mechanical air-conditioning system is activated when the windows get opened to their maximum width.
Yet, one needs to be cautious in expressing un¬conditional admiration for this solution. Double facades have recently been questioned as a productive technique, particularly in Germany. One of their disadvantages is the greater consumption of energy needed for cooling. Also the cost of building two facades instead of one is several times higher, so is maintenance and repair.
Finally, without the awareness of the purpose of economising, thrift for the sake of thrift becomes but a dogma, and it is not nature that profits from it, but rath¬er the owner of the bank account which is growing thanks to these “ecological” buildings—money that hardly ever gets spent on ecology.
As for the aesthetics, the designers believe that beauty is “a logical result of necessity, logic, sincerity, efficiency, effectiveness, simplicity, synergy, minimalisation, utility and relaxation.” Their cool, sober architecture can de¬finitely please RWE business people, but such aseptic forms seem fitter for cyborgs than for humans who declare sensitivity for the matters of nature. The vocation of the architect—to create beauty—seems to be more and more forgotten. What will replace it? Calculation tables?
An increasing number of architects advertise their work with the slogan of ecology. Is it not just a fashion, which, albeit laudable, blurs specific requirements? I think we should not be satisfied with just the green sticker. Is high-tech ecology possible? Surely technology can and should help create a more friendly built environ¬ment... The skyscraper in Essen is not a perfect example, but possibly an important innovative voice in the discussion.

Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K100 Architecture
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
ID Code:18012
Deposited On:27 Jul 2015 14:02

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