Architect Jenny Bevan, of the Charleston firm Bevan & Liberatos, gave a TED talk called “Our Disposable Architecture” in that fair city on Tuesday. She spoke about sustainability in architecture, essentially pointing out that whatever you may think of this or that style of design, buildings erected using traditional techniques not only create beautiful buildings but lasting buildings – architecture that lasts for generations, often hundreds rather than the 40 or so years (and shrinking by the decade) timespan associated with most buildings erected in the past several score of decades. She’s in the right city for that.
Bevan describes how many features considered merely ornamental (I use “merely” with a wink) play a role in adding to the life of a building and reducing its cost of operation and maintenance.
An example I often use is the cornice. A properly designed ornamental cornice directs rain to drip down parallel to the side of a building so it won’t get into joints on the way down. A poorly designed cornice – “abstract,” as Bevan put it – often leads rainwater directly into a building. It’s no wonder this building will have a shorter lifespan. Most modernist buildings have no proper cornice at all. These days, some modernist buildings seem to have roofs canted inward and downward, as if designed to collect water and funnel it right into the maintenance budget of the building owner!
In the screenshot on top she compares buildings with porches to buildings with glass curtain walls. Whereas porches – which in Charleston generally face the south and the west – bathe a building in shade during the hottest parts of the day, a glass building acts like a greenhouse, collecting heat. In the porched building the air conditioning (if it is necessary at all) works with nature to keep down the temperature and the electricity bill; the glass building forces the air conditioners to be on all day, since it is working against nature and must work all that much harder to cool “And you’d think they would know better,” said Bevan, pointing to the glass box. “This is a college science building.” (Eruption of laughter.)
I ran an extraordinary passage written by Jenny Bevan for a Charleston newspaper in my post “What young people want,” on June 18, 2014.