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Climate-adaptive design: reshaping homes and offices for a warmer world

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By Supriya Verma

· 3 min read

Rising temperatures: a new challenge for homes and offices

The global climate change phenomenon has turned cooler regions hotter, with Canada and Europe witnessing unprecedented temperature increases. These areas are adapting to a weather pattern they were not originally built to withstand. With people spending approximately 90% of their time indoors, it is imperative to design homes and offices that can cope with these changing conditions without increasing carbon emissions.

Learning from traditional heat-resistant architectural designs

Embracing the Moroccan riad design

Incorporating the concept of Moroccan riads, which minimizes solar gain through courtyards and water features, could provide a solution for homes and offices. This traditional design effectively cools the surrounding buildings, creating a comfortable microclimate. This cooling mechanism is not only aesthetically pleasing but also crucial for safety during extreme heat.

Adopting the shuttered Spanish villa approach

The concept of external shading found in Spanish villas can effectively block heat from entering buildings. External shutters, awnings, balconies, and light-colored walls can significantly reduce heat absorption and help maintain cooler indoor temperatures.

Harnessing natural air movement through Iranian windcatchers

Traditionally used in the Middle East, windcatchers can channel cool air into warm spaces, offering a sustainable solution for air conditioning. Even without constructing a wind tower, similar airflow can be achieved through judicious use of windows and doors.

Utilizing the ivy-covered Italian house concept

Covering houses with plants like ivy can reduce extreme heat through shade and evapotranspiration, minimizing the urban heat island effect. Such green cover can reduce energy use, offering cooling in the summers and insulation in the winters.

Additional architectural concepts for climate adaptation

Drawing inspiration from South Asian stilt houses

Stilt houses, traditional to many South Asian countries, offer a clever solution to mitigate the impacts of flooding, a growing concern due to climate change. These houses are raised above ground level on stilts, protecting them from rising water levels and enhancing air circulation, which helps cool the interiors. Modern design can borrow from this concept by raising the foundation of buildings in flood-prone areas, which would also provide the additional benefit of creating shaded outdoor living spaces beneath.

Emulating indigenous Australian architecture

Australia's indigenous population has long excelled in constructing dwellings suitable for their harsh environment. Structures like the Gunyah, huts made from materials like bark and grass, are designed for maximum air circulation and minimum heat absorption. Modern dwellings can incorporate such principles, using local and sustainable building materials and capitalizing on design elements that facilitate airflow.

Implementing Japanese machiya design

Machiya, traditional Japanese townhouses, exhibit brilliant design adaptations for a variety of weather conditions. With an elongated layout, these structures ensure maximum ventilation and daylight in each room. Their wooden lattice façades facilitate airflow and provide shade, while deep eaves protect the interior from harsh weather. These elements can be adopted in modern architecture, reducing reliance on artificial lighting and cooling systems.

Applying the Scandinavian green roof concept

Scandinavian countries have a rich history of green roofs—roofs covered with vegetation. These green roofs provide excellent insulation, keeping homes warm in winter and cool in summer. They also increase biodiversity, reduce stormwater runoff, and lower urban heat island effects. As we move towards more sustainable and resilient architecture, green roofs present a compelling adaptation technique.

Our built environment plays a critical role in climate adaptation. By taking cues from traditional designs around the world, we can create spaces that are not only responsive to a changing climate, but also reduce our environmental footprint. These adaptations can also enrich our aesthetic environment, demonstrating that sustainability, climate adaptation, and beauty can indeed coexist.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Supriya Verma is the Chief Sustainability Officer of Belnor Engineering Inc. in Toronto and founder of The SustainabilityX® Magazine. In 2019, she was recognized internationally as one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 in Sustainability Leadership and was awarded McMaster University’s prestigious Alumni Arch Award in 2021.

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