Today’s class brought epiphanies and surprises in many forms, and I am incredibly intrigued with how the human body continues being a point of focus. Sherman talked about our bodies as walking ecosystems, each of our organs acting as a habitat for bacteria to live inside of. It’s interesting to think of each of us as carrying our own universes inside of us, cycles and systems proceeding flawlessly without our knowledge. We aren’t self-contained, however. We are far from closed loops. Like any other living thing, we reach out and connect to the world around us, draw from its supplies of energy to keep us lively and healthy. Light from the sun colors the world and feeds our eyes, songs ring inside of our ears, wind passes through our hair and into our lungs. We are at the mercy of our world, intrinsically linked through the ecosystems of our own bodies to the larger ones around us. We are forced to connect with our world constantly, incessantly. We need oxygen for our hearts to beat, food for our bodies to work. Today in lecture it was mentioned that the interface between the air in our lungs and the blood that recieves it is between the size of a tennis court and a football field. Those that say we can turn a blind eye to our environment, or construct more ways to become further detached from it, seem to be unaware of the endless, unavoidable ways that our biological health reflects that of the world we live in.
Looking at the way we fit into the energy flows of the Earth is an interesting and arduous process, links can be drawn and followed, eventually all of them trace back to the sun. A lot of the infrastructural processes that we have instituted to benefit the human population, however, are wildly inefficient and far distanced from the sun as a source of energy. With each transformation of energy, a fraction of it is lost (mostly to heat). As it is transformed more and more, refined down to the specific end use, only a teensy percentage of the original energy has actually been put to use.
When looking at an action as simple as picking an apple, energy flows create a vast network of systematic infrastructures that we aren’t fully aware of. A few of these include the mass production of food that goes into our own diets, and the fertilization processes used to cultivate crops. Cutting down on this web of flows is the easiest way we can create a healthier world for ourselves because it wastes so much less energy. By simply choosing to eat non-processed, organic food, we are saving our energy expenditures by leaps and bounds.
Upon further research, I found that the best way for humans to use and waste unneccessary energy is by choosing to eat beef. The cultivation of beef for human consumption is by far one of the worst infrastructural endeavors in terms of the environment. The list of negative impacts is long.. In the United States alone, the total cattle inventory in 2012 was 89,299,600 (http://www.beefusa.org/beefindustrystatistics.aspx). Each cow brought to slaughter in its lifetime has consumed 284 gallons of oil from the production of corn feed alone. That means that in America, 284 gallons of oil per cow, nearly 90,000,000 times over, is an enormous consumption statistic. If those sparse natural resources were allocated elsewhere, our energy crisis and the problem of insufficient oil could be softened.
The implications of beef are especially unnerving in terms of the Central American Rainforest, because “We import more than 200 million pounds of beef from Central America alone. Every second of every day, one football field of tropical rainforest is destroyed in order to produce 257 hamburgers” (Earthsave). This importation is not even considering the resources allocated for the actual transport of beef itself. In the immediate scope of the United States and our individual ability to act, the first move towards a greener planet would be to abstain from beef, especially that which is imported from other countries. If the beef is bought locally, energy used for shipment is saved. If the beef is grass-fed, then a lot of oil (284 gallons per cow) would be saved.
Needless to say, even the smallest of our actions on a daily basis has huge infrastructural consequences, leading to our gargantuan wastes of energy as a nation, and the declining health of our planet as a whole. According to Ristenen, America consumes far more energy than it produces. And energy is something that can be refined and transformed to our benefit, due to its nature of never truly disappearing. Energy, by scientific definition, is something that can never be created nor destroyed. With every transformation of energy, some is lost as heat into the “background energy of the universe”. Buchanan states in “Ten Shades of Green” that buildings are beginning to be designed with a mile radius around them in mind. By taking into account the way architecture, like any other system, affects the world around it in a large way, we are learning to design our infrastructures as ecosystems instead of like machines.
In many ways, the human body can be seen as a metaphor for these systematic implications. Energy enters the system to complete a variety of functions, but inevitably some is lost through body heat. The planet works the same way, energy enters from the sun, does some work on various systems, then diffuses into space as heat. As architects, it is our job to learn to harness and make good use of the energy available to us, instead of soiling the Earth with its refuse.
One way to cut down on energy loss in a building system is by cutting down on heating and cooling expenditures, which takes up a large majority of total energy use (the breakdown in residential buildings can be seen here). Many buildings achieve this end through creative means, most of which incorporate the natural environment:
Green Roofing is an interesting and beautiful option that is becoming more and more widespread in cities.
Insulating materials are rated based on their R-value, higher means a more restricted flow of heat (and therefore better insulation). Insulating materials themselves are changing at a rapid rate to more natural, environmentally friendly options such as soybean foam, sheep’s whool and cotton.
By paying attention to the world around us, we as architects can help transform the human role in destroying the world into a dynamic, healthy, sustainable relationship. According to Buchanan in “Ten Shades of Green”, “a sustainable culture cannot be vulnerable to excessive instability, social breakdown or a return to ways disprespectful of earth. [It is our job to] ensure economic opportunity and social equity. Creativity is the unfolding of natural evolution and moment by moment happenings, transcending ego in favor of eco and playing a part in the flowering of earth”. Instead of soiling and disrupting natural ecosystems, it is our job to work alongside them and leverage them to our advantage. We are, afterall, walking miniature ecosystems ourselves.