Article magazine # 126


Editor’s: Please, open the window


Text: Ștefan Ghenciulescu

Ask anyone, any intellectual (or even an architect, for the matter), what is more environmentally friendly – a house or a block of flats? – and for most of them the answer will be the house. In fact, it is not. I am not referring to individual examples, but to houses in general: the individual home today fatally involves a periphery location, which means occupying natural land, waste of resources – with less efficient infrastructure for transport and facilities etc., longer commutes – so  more pollution. Plus a bad ratio between usable square feet and the envelope and many other issues.

edito ConcreteHouse_foto de cosmin dragomir

We have grown accustomed to the fact that sustainability is applied by the authorities in the most reductionist (and fatal) way possible, thermo-insulating acres of facades. But I believe, and it’s not just here in Romania, that when it comes to the city and architectural problems, even the people most dedicated to ecology have issues separating the “natural” image from proper sustainability. Before technical solutions and standards, it is first a matter of large scale strategy, and then, I firmly believe, a matter of common sense. This common sense tells us that density is more sustainable than urban sprawl, but that it ceases to be socially and culturally sustainable when it involves the destruction of urban heritages or urban green spaces. It’s a question of balance, and of putting together the context and the purpose. It is definitely good to have solar panels on the roof, but I think it’s more important to have the house open to the south and, at the same time, shade the opening through architectural means – from overhangs or pergolas to shutters.

I must admit I have serious doubts about some aspects of the idol of our times, the passive house. Its fundamental principle is isolation. And it’s not just just a question of insulation, but also of essential functioning, such as not opening the windows in winter, using for ventilation only sophisticated mechanisms. That is a house protecting nature, but also keeping you away from it; a cocoon as self-sufficient as possible, and passive – also in the negative senses of the word.

This issue covers a special project – Concrete House in Bucharest, designed by Bogdan Gyemant-Selin – which discusses fiercely but judiciously all the clichés about sustainability. It is a house that speaks of social responsibility and discreet innovation. And yes, it is a house ventilated through a complex bio-mechanic process: you grab the handle and open the window.