Traveling with the sole purpose of looking at architecture was a dream. I enjoyed each and every one of the buildings I visited. While some resonated more than others, my love of structural engineering and architecture allowed me to appreciate both the unique and the understated elements of these structures.
There are some themes in the discussions of these buildings that I hope stand out. The first few fall under the umbrella of natural—natural ventilation, natural lighting, and natural materials. As I emphasized throughout, the buildings I chose to visit were ones that used passive strategies to achieve their sustainability goals. Utilizing what already occurs in nature, letting it work to the building’s advantage, seems as if it would be common sense, but is actually quite difficult to implement. Compared to mechanical systems, nature is unpredictable. We can attempt to understand it, and by accounting for the range of possibilities we observe, utilize it, but it also means we have to be tolerant of more conditions—slightly warmer or cooler temperatures, less constant light, or higher levels of humidity. In return we not only gain lower energy costs, but reduce our environmental impacts that can multiply in a building over its years of operation. Additionally, with natural materials like wood and rammed earth, the structural characteristics are less consistent and therefore accounting for their behavior can be more difficult than for a tried-and-true concrete mix or a steel I-beam. That extra effort, however, balanced by their additional properties, such as thermal benefits or fire protection, which can be used to the designer’s advantage.
Another theme that encompasses quite a few of the explored buildings is a unique structural system. From rammed earth to diagrids to timbrel vaulting, these are not necessarily the common forms of construction we often see, unlike steel frames or reinforced concrete. As I have reiterated time and again, efficiency in structural design directly translates to lower embodied environmental impacts. It is also convenient that an efficient structure helps lead to an elegant structure, as many of the presented buildings demonstrate.