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Architecture and Entropy Ethel Baraona Pohl / CĂŠsar Reyes NĂĄjera dpr_barcelona

Architecture and Entropy. What do we think or talk when we refer to Sustain and Develop in the last years and for the forthcoming future? How can architects confront their work and ideas within the paradox that any new building, any new city will inevitably disrupt the natural ecology?

The order and disorder state Architects often look for new ideas and technologies to improve the quality of their work and the way that it affects the environment. However is a well-known data that the construction market has the potential to emit more than 250 tons of CO2 per year1 and architects, as technicians, needs to start looking for a better development of technologies and better use of materials and energy, in order to make them more efficient. These technologies must be consistent with the environment and compatible with nature, using materials and services without destroying them. The ecological footprint is the measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems and construction and urbanizations have a great impact on it. Ecological Footprint expresses the total resource consumption and waste generation within a territory in terms of the amount of bio-productive area needed to support consumption and waste generation, according to the Global Footprint Network’s website definition2. Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.3 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste in every field of human activities. Starting with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, we started turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend. Also, the carbon footprint is another way to measure the impact of our activities in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced in

daily activities and calculate ecological and carbon footprints based on the findings of

1. William L. Kovacs, http://www. html?artId=22779 2. 3. Carbon Footprint LTD accessed Nov 10, 7:39am CST

units of carbon dioxide3. We clearly know that our lives depends on the resources of the Earth’s natural systems and lots of studies are constantly telling us that we are consuming the resources so fast and if we continue consuming like that, by the mid-2030’s we’ll need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles. “People consume resources and ecological services from all over the world, so their footprint is the sum of these areas, wherever they may be on the planet.” The Living Planet Report, 2006

1. Ecological Footprint © Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan). Territory size shows the proportion of the worldwide ecological footprint, which is made there. 2. Living Planet Index living_planet_report_2008.pdf According to WWF’s latest Living Planet Index, we are consuming the earth’s resources 30% faster than they can be replanished.


Number of planet Earths


n n n n n n

World biocapacity

1.0 0.8 0.6 0.4

Built-up land Fishing ground Forest Grazing land Cropland

“25% of the world’s population lived in cities in 1950, 50% of the world’s population lives in cities today”. Ricky Burdet & Deyan Sudjic, The Endless City”

-Ricky Burdet & Deyan Su djic, The Endless City

Carbon footprint

0.2 0







Construction and demolition waste (C&D waste) consists of unwanted material produced directly or incidentally by the construction or demolition industries.

images: opossite: Construction waste CC*: dpr_barcelona this page: 1. Ecological Footprint by Component Source: Living Planet Report 2008 WWF 2. From the state of New York 2006 CC*: Aurbach 3. Shangai by night

Searching the equilibrium Even technicians are convinced, and lots of architects amongst them, that soon or later science has the capacity to solve any crisis or any lack of energy and materials; it is only a myth since it is not possible to create energy nor matter infinitely, without degradation of the biosphere that provides the original resources. However it is possible to find attempts outlining practical solutions based on economics and technology that ring attention on an environmentalist ethic as an effective solution to what is a cultural problem. What if we go beyond and try to restart the sustainable development topic talking about some other theories that are useful to present new paradigms in areas where we need to transform our lifestyles and economies to put us on a more sustainable trajectory? In 1972, a significant event made a substantial overview about the understanding of the environmental problem. The international association of scientists, policy-makers and business leaders known as The Club of Rome, presented a report on the status of the world population and the predicted chances for humanity in the future. The report, titled Limits to Growth4, had a distinctive sense of urgency about the patterns of growth. Also, at the same time, some other important texts dealing with ecology were published, like the articles of Barry Commoner, Howard Odum and Edward Goldsmith. In this context and just before the Limits to Growth publication, in the year 1971, Nicholas Goergescu-Roegen, a Romanian mathematician, statistician and economist, published his book The Entropy Law and the Economic Process5. In this book he started talking about the term Bioeconomics, as the study of the dynamics of living resources using economic models and using environmental elements as protection issues related to economics. He introduced into economics, the concept of entropy and used the First and Second Laws of thermodynamics to explain the relationship between energy, matter and economic process. The first law of thermodynamics refers to the conservation of energy and basically states that a thermodynamic system can store or hold energy and that this internal energy is conserved. The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the universal law of increasing entropy, stating that the entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium and is used to explain the phenomenon of irreversibility in nature. When designing a building or a city, architects should notice about the relationship it has with the natural environment and how they interact, looking for the reconciliation between techniques and nature. It does exist a theory which could make significant contributions to the way we think architecture: it is the dĂŠcroissance movement (de-growth), a theory that has been related to politics and economics ideologies that advocate to a gradual decrease in economics outputs. DĂŠcroissance supporters believe that downscaling production is the only solution to the environmental problems currently faced by mankind.

Proponents of décroissance argue that current economic growth is not sustainable over the long term because it depletes natural resources and destroys the environment, and because it fails to help populations improve their welfare significantly6. When we talk about economic entropy we refer to a semi-quantitative measure of the irrevocable dissipation and degradation of natural materials and available energy with respect to economic activity and is closely related with social entropy, as social equilibrium as well. We need to work and live with the understanding of ecology as the knowledge that human beings are compatible with the balanced natural processes. As Georgescu-Roegen says in his essays, it’s obvious that if we want to fabricate “better and bigger” products we’re going to produce “better and bigger” waste and we can’t just close our eyes in front of this reality. Even if we have a high developed recycling industry in some cities, the fact is that it doesn’t exist free of waste recycling, because every industry has its own wastes.

“The number of people living in slums is projected to double by 2030. Since it first appeared in the 1820s, the word slum has been used to identify the poorest quality housing, and the most unsanitary conditions.”

-The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003. UN- HABITAT 2007

Now, a series of solutions coexist for the environmental design problem, starting with the very typical focus on increasing energy and resource efficiency to reduce the overall impact on the environment. Architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart attack the idea of efficiency itself7. McDonough and Braungart point out that the ‘eco-efficiency’ strategy inevitably makes the assumption that some degree of damage to the environment is acceptable and their Cradle to Cradle8 theory is closely related with the décroissance argumentations in the efficiency field. But the effectiveness of technological innovation as a source for social and cultural change is questioned in light of the limited amount of knowledge that we have about the environment.

image: Housing problems all around the world CC: Karl Mueller

7. Christian Alexander Lukachko. A Culture of Environmentalism: An Ethics-based Response to the Environmental Crisis and its Implications for Architecture. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 2004 8. McDonough , William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things. New York: North Point Press, 2002.

An attempt to define architecture’s metabolism Under this approach our team has been exploring a way to superuse or supracycle agricultural byproducts to develop construction materials for low cost housing projects in Latin America9. The initial approach was to recycle these abundant by-products as cementitious matrix reinforcement. After several attempts it has been noticed that a combination of lime, pozzolana and maize fibers can be used to produce construction elements.

“There is not the slightest doubt that sustainable development is one of the most destructive concepts” -Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen

At this moment is being investigated ways of implementing the material in construction components as blocks or tiles. However it is necessary to consider and design, from the first approach, the way the composite is going to be managed after used as constituent of construction materials. For this reason some efforts or the research are conducted to propose ways of closing the life-cycle of the material. In this sense, special attention has been given to the fact that intensive harvesting methods accelerate soil erosion. Fertilizers and chemicals used in the agriculture and industry often result in the salinization and soil acidification, contributing annually to the desertification of more than twenty times the surface area of fertile land than nature can provide. Soil acidity is one of the most limiting factors for development of agriculture in the tropics. This acidity is in fact one of the major limitations for maize planting. After used as a construction material constituent, it has been noticed that due to its chemical composition, it may be feasible to use the composite as acidity correction material in agricultural soils. By other hand, it is intended to apply this composite in the development of low-tech housing projects in rural areas, enhancing the use of local workforce and strengthening vernacular constructive tradition by using rapidly available resources like lime and vegetable fibers. This project is an attempt to see our activity as ‘social-technicians’. It is also a long-term experiment in order to see the possibility of developing a closed-cycled material that may represent a kind of architectural metabolism. In this sense is recognized the fact that our profession can be materialized due to the materials that biosphere provides us and that part of our task is to return them in a useful way in order to reach the equilibrium described by the second law of thermodynamics.

9. Reyes Nájera, César. Potential of Maizelime Pozzolana Composite to Develop LowCost Housing Components. Proceedings


Ethel Baraona Pohl, CĂŠsar Reyes NĂĄjera


mayo 2009

Architecture and Entropy  

What do we think or talk when we refer to Sustain and Develop in the last years and for the forthcoming future? How can architects confront...

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