Buildings Are for People: Human Ecological Design

Buildings Are for People: Human Ecological Design

by Bill Caplan


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Buildings Are for People: Human Ecological Design by Bill Caplan

Buildings are for People: Human Ecological Design offers a new approach to the process of conceiving architectural design, one that considers the interactions of the built environment with people and the natural environment. The book exposes our visceral and experiential connections to buildings, and how buildings intervene directly with our ecosystem, natural environment and sense of place. It brings to light our ability to utilize a building's surfaces, shape and materiality to synergize with the energy and forces of nature for a more green and sustainable architecture. It points out many of the roadblocks to successful design including issues in education, the profession, regulation and the industry's institutions, providing an awareness that heretofore is rarely discussed. Most importantly, Buildings are for People: Human Ecological Design highlights the obvious, that buildings are built for people, a fact that seems to have been overlooked in the last half-century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780993370618
Publisher: Libri Publishing
Publication date: 07/01/2016
Pages: 324
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

With a passion for people-friendly design and an engineer's understanding of sustainability, Bill Caplan explored and photographed architecture on five continents from human and environmental perspectives. He devoted the past decade to reconciling the physical, sensible and operative manifestations of architecture, culminating in Buildings are for People: Human Ecological Design. Caplan’s career has evolved from founding a multi-national sensor company engaged in diverse programs from the human genome to space exploration, which he headed for 34 years, to establishing a think-tank for the built environment. He holds a Master of Architecture from Pratt Institute and a Materials Engineering degree from Cornell.

Read an Excerpt

Buildings Are for People

Human Ecological Design

By Bill Caplan

Libri Publishing

Copyright © 2016 Libri Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9933706-7-0


PART 1: Buildings Intervene

1: Interfaces Enable Change

Architecture spawns interfaces – common boundaries that define a rule of order.

* INTERFACIAL ARCHITECTURES – Natural and Manmade Transformations

On a cold December morning while letters tapped on a tablet's glass interface composed a chapter of this book, snowflakes fell gently, blanketing white. Thoughtful taps on the tablet's lit letters were interrupted by occasional glances at snow-laden branches. From my sheltered room, perceptions of nature, people, buildings and energy came together through manmade interfaces – viewed though a glass window, expressed through a computer's interactive glass surface. Touching the "send" icon transformed words made visual by energy – ideas, feelings and metaphors – into text transported by energy, email processed by interfaces – all controlled by interfacial architectures.

The tablet computer is a manmade electro-mechanical interface, transforming touch and the body's electrical properties into optical and electrical parameters. Thoughts and sounds, through electrical and mechanical inputs, become visible and audible symbols transmitted as electrically coded data. Eye–brain and sensory system interfaces – human interfaces – mediate these symbols; evoking thought, emotion and physical response. The window too is a physical interface, separating interior from exterior yet transmitting light, view, sound and heat. Both of these glass interfaces were created by people, their performance regulated by their architecture.

Outside my window, water droplets crystallise, energy embodies in a frozen state. Delicate fractal patterns of lace form snowflakes, patterns exploding from the droplets. Fragile nothings knit together, floating to earth. Almost weightless, they accumulate in a blanket losing identity to the white mass – densely heavy or fluffy and light. Layers accumulate, gaining structure, pattern, texture and potential energy from fragile snowflakes to an aggregate mass, capable of chaotic disintegration or catastrophic energy release. Somewhere a snow bank emerges, feet-thick layers accumulate on a mountaintop. Layers blanket layers above a village – beauty, muffled sounds and serenity. Suddenly a small sound from silence, an artful snow-shift cleaves on a gleaming sunlit day, crackles and rumbles – an avalanche assumes mass and power. Order explodes in chaos, and chaos quiets to order – new architectures of energy and interfaces emerge. Then it melts, sublimates – disappears.

This natural progression results in a complex series of states and unstable interfaces: water | air, crystal | air, crystal | crystal, fluffy | dense, snow | ice, blanket | layer, layer | layer and layer | chaotic-fragmentation. Each physical state embodies interfacial characteristics, like a blanket of snow insulting a cabin roof or dormant spring plants. Even in a fleeting moment of a liquid transforming to a solid, or to a gas, an interfacial architecture exists – it is a rule of transformation between environments or systems. Each interface possesses an architecture. Each interface mediates an exchange of energy, molecules, particles or physical state. Their performance is determined by nature's architecture.

When a building materialises from an architect's ideas to an assemblage of components, built interfaces crystallise with materiality, structure, pattern, texture and physical qualities. They too embody energy in a complex series of states and interfaces. Each interface mediates exchanges of energy, molecules and particles, and sometimes a physical state. Each interface possesses an architecture created by human intervention. Each interface interacts with the architectures of nature and each interface interacts with people.

We interact physically and cognitively with our built and natural environments, through their physical interfaces, as well as our own human interfaces. Interfaces are more than a common boundary: they are an architecture of transition.

* ARCHITECTURE INTERVENES – Affordance and Intrusion

The mere presence of built architecture constitutes an intervention in our ecological system. This physical materialisation, be it a building or infrastructure, intervenes with people's lives as well as the natural environment. It provides affordances as well as intrusions.

"We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives."

Winston Churchill

Our built environment consists of manmade interfaces that bear directly on people and their communities and the elements of nature. Their interventions embody forces that intercede in our quality of life physically and mentally. They are intrusive, enabling and permeable at the same time, interacting with the community and nature, influencing both (Figure 1).

As an intervention, architecture is the sum of its material, experiential and performative manifestations, materialising the aesthetic and programmatic creations of the architect, and the operative functions of the engineer. Therein lies the power of design.

Each segment of the intervention is common to at least two environments, providing some combination of material, experiential and performative qualities; bridging those environments whether comprised of the structure's mass or its void, whether a barrier, portal or a permeable membrane. Each segment is an agent that regulates the transition of the environments it separates. In the hands of the architect and engineer, an architectural intervention can accomplish wondrous things.

Walls, roofs and floors enclose, divide and delineate space. They articulate architecture. More than just partitions or physical barriers, they facilitate change and exchange, managing the flow of energy from one space to another such as the passing of light, air, view and people. The components of built architecture are not passive objects: they are its active members – interactive within their physical assemblage, with people, with the program and with the immediate environment. Not only are they crucial to a building's physical function, but also to the exchange of energy and to human perception. A key to human ecological design, a building's components often merge, mingle and actively influence interactions in an indiscernible way.

Viewed through the lens of architecture, the components of architectural design are the means of materialising organisation, form and essence. The architect conceives a physical solution to a client's objective, the logic and spirit of its expression – the program environment, form and aesthetics. The architect develops a concept – expressed by the plan, structural philosophy, elevation, section, logistics and materiality. The product of this concept is the architecture, the creative response to a functional purpose, a physical interface that embodies the crystallisation of thought. The architectural interface emerges as an aesthetic form that invites and enables experiential interactions, a material form that intervenes in the built and natural environments.

Through the lens of architecture, interfaces emerge from the building envelope expressed by materials and form: arrangements of mass and void, texture and tone, space allocation and flow pattern. The form's characteristics define the occupant's environment. To the architectural designer, it includes the aesthetic and qualitative aspects of form, shape and volume.

Although building envelopes have existed since the earliest days of building enclosures, the term "building envelope" is loosely defined and means different things to architects, engineers, urban planners and developers. For example, in the context of local zoning regulations, the building envelope represents the three-dimensional building limit regulated by height, setbacks, use and other restrictions.

Through the lens of engineering, the building envelope is physically interactive. To meet the needs of the architect, the engineer's envelope comprises a coalition of mechanisms. Together they form a shell composed of barriers, filters, ports, supporting structures and operational systems. The barriers, filters and ports are mechanisms to accommodate porosity, passage, storage, deflection and obstruction. In its entirety, the engineer's envelope serves a physical function to withstand weather, to regulate air, acoustic quality and thermal exchanges, and to facilitate, catalyse and mediate changes in the state of the enclosed environments.

These material, experiential and performative perspectives bring to light a broad range of opportunities afforded by the properties of a building's surfaces and materiality, both the exterior and interior. Once recognised in this light, they become part of the designer's consciousness and toolset. Materialisation is the bailiwick of architects; mechanisms are the specialty of engineers.

Designing ecologically responsive architecture requires an additional lens, the holistic lens of human ecology with its broad perspective. The human ecological lens sheds light on numerous relationships among the program, its users and exterior influences, as well as contextual interactions with the community, the existing built environment and our ecosystem.

The lenses of architecture, engineering and human ecology challenge us to consider building design from multiple perspectives, enabling a designer to discover new potentials afforded by a human ecological point of view.

These interfaces that we build catalyse interactions – between our built environment and people, and our built environment and the natural environment. They are active and passive boundaries of materials and energy, intermediaries for both matter and the mind. Interfaces of the built environment take many forms that enable matter to interact or serve a function. Our built interfaces have the same ability to induce change as the interfaces of nature, creating order and wellbeing as well as chaos.

Built architecture's influence derives from its design; design defines its influence. Unlike snow, built entities do not disappear. Their substance enduringly interacts with the natural environment and enduringly affects the people in its sphere of influence.

* BUILDINGS ARE FOR PEOPLE – Human Shelter Human shelter has evolved from creations of nature to creations of science – from earth and stone caves to curtain wall systems and high-technology structures. The architecture we build is replete with enabling opportunities to enrich and sustain life; energy is the animating force. Once built, it projects its influence with physical interaction and sensory stimulation; therein resides its ability to affect the world we live in . New buildings impact all facets of human ecology – people, the built environment and the natural environment.

We experience a building in both corporeal and sensory ways as it serves multiple spatial, programmatic and environmental functions. The arrangements of mass and voids form spaces and interconnections whose surfaces, substance and volumes create material, experiential and performative interventions. Architecture's elements are the means for its expression – the substance of its form and the mediators of its environments.

Created from an arrangement of substances, volumes and voids that fashion the tectonic and aesthetic, the building envelope comprises the container of built design. The notion of a building envelope seems straightforward: a structure's shell – skin and form. But there is more. In addition to its tangible presence, the building envelope physically and chemically interacts with the environment and elicits human experience. Parsing the envelope's tangible and sensible interplay with human ecology renders an expanded consciousness from which new design insight can emerge.

Intervening in the pre-existing, the built environment creates new spaces and places that enable living. Architecture determines the qualities of interaction. Not only does it influence a program's efficacy and the character of the local built environment, it bears directly on the natural environment and a community's wellbeing, altering them all in some fashion. The physical entity amends the aesthetic tissue; its mass, tectonic and emissions interact with nature and nature's inhabitants. Recasting the path of natural light and shadow, the emission and reflection of sound, and the circulation of air and rainwater as well as people, this intervention in human ecology is a stimulus for human experience; one that transforms the visual, audible, thermal and experiential order.

Appropriating, adapting and fabricating shelters, we have carved or assembled dwellings from an extraordinary variety of natural and manmade materials such as stone, ice, leaves, thatch, textiles, rice paper, concrete, metal, plastic, earth and glass. Figures 2 through 7 exemplify this broad range.


Manifestations of the Building Envelope


The building envelope interacts with space, people and the environment in many ways. It defines and expresses the architecture.

All building envelopes have physical, sensible and operative characteristics that interface human ecology. All building envelopes have surfaces and substance that function as barriers and ports, empowered by means of their physical qualities and arrangement. By considering an envelope's interfaces from those perspectives, one can probe its potential for people-friendly and environment-friendly design.

Optimally, the elements of containment, expression and performance embody as one. Evaluating building materials and their potential for aesthetic expression, in conjunction with their physical properties and operating capabilities, enables architects to select those that enhance the performative qualities as well as the physical design. When aesthetic attributes work in harmony with their ecological universe, the users, the community and the client all benefit. In other words, overall benefit derives not only from how the envelope looks, but also from how the envelope works.

Materiality, Experience and Performance

Exploring a building envelope's relationships to the triad of human ecology – people, the pre-existing built environment and the natural environment – provides insight into many of the ecological efficacies that are available through creative architectural design. Each envelope context – its physical, sensible and operative manifestations – has a nuance that directly influences the way we live or the viability of our ecosystem.

A building envelope's 'physicality', the 'bricks and mortar' – its materiality – is an easily accessible context: it is the presence that occupies space and defines the building. In its 'sensible' context, the envelope affords an experience, enabling the visualisation, sensation and perception of shape, form, space, materiality and sense of place. In its 'operative' context, the envelope is the means for environmental and programmatic interactions, an interfacial system to weather the natural environment, control the flow of energy, manage the interior climate and enable the program.

Scrutinising surfaces, substances, barriers and ports in terms of their material, experiential and performative aspect enhances our awareness of architecture's multifaceted interface with human ecology. Embracing these distinctions generates a contextual approach to design inception, one that recognises these unique relationships in order to enable their holistic employment for aesthetic and performative potential – for how they look and how they work.

Each embodiment of the building envelope casts a sphere of influence on human ecology, one that can beneficially inform the design process. Each perspective provides a unique basis from which to scrutinise a design's potential, from its physical constitution, to our sensory impressions, to its corporeal and environmental interactions. Together, they describe its architectural presence within the community, its relationship to the existing built environment, its programmatic and environmental footprints, and the sense of place it creates.

They embody the tectonic and topographic qualities, programmatic qualities, emotive and sensory qualities and ecological qualities of architecture (Figure 8).


Excerpted from Buildings Are for People by Bill Caplan. Copyright © 2016 Libri Publishing Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Libri Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Buildings Are for People,
Foreword by Series Editor | Championing the Social–Ecological Context of Architecture,
Preface | Architecture Transforms Space,
Introduction | Human Ecology People – The Built Environment – The Natural Environment,
PART 1: Buildings Intervene,
1: Interfaces Enable Change,
2: Manifestations of the Building Envelope,
3: People,
PART 2: The Struggle for Green,
1: Sustainable Design is Human-centric,
2: Obstacles to Successful Execution,
PART 3: Human Ecological Design,
1: The Concepts,
2: The Parameters of Human Ecology,
3: Performative Expression,
4: Architecture: Interfacing People and Environments,
List of Photographs and Illustrations|,

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