“Disposable Architecture”

Porches on Charleston single house (l.) and buildings with inoperable windows (r.) (TEDx)

Porches on Charleston single house (l.) and buildings with inoperable windows (r.) (screenshots/TEDx)

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.

Well and poorly designed cornices.

Well and poorly designed cornices.

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.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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