Cities / International

When architecture is better than a yoga class


Keep calm and do yoga
photo by Rigmarole on Flickr

For many, January is the hardest month of the year. Christmas holidays have passed, excessive food and rest has done little to motivate, and there’s still a long winter of work ahead. What else!?

Well, in truth, what really makes me feel uncomfortable are the looming changes that make every new year unpredictable and slightly worrying.

What changes can I expect in 2013? Will I pass all my exams? Will I gain even more weight? Will my family be well? Will my city still be a nice place to live? Those and many other questions are the inevitable January burden, which normally wears off with spring’s warmth.

Still, we have other two months of winter to come; therefore I’ve decided to face my secret fears bravely and speak out, rather than stressing to death. Yes, sometimes talking about science and architecture is better than a yoga class.

And you can do it sipping on a cup of tea, instead of sweating buckets and pulling a hamstring in latex.

My first concern for 2013 is whether or not the quality of life in London will change for the worst. As an Italian, I am use to sunny skies and bike rides. Feeling home in a city amiably called “The Big Smoke” is not an easy task. Broadly speaking, the way our cities develop, even if most of us don’t normally think about it, has a huge impact on our wellbeing and the way we plan our future.

In terms of urban development, London’s major problem is definitely energy supply. In general, building energy efficiency is very poor, leading to an incredible amount of electricity and gas consumption. According to the assessment produced within the RE:FIT programme, the retrofitting scheme promoted by the Mayor, nearly 80% of CO2 emissions produced in London are from buildings.

And it’s not only a matter of air pollution: with gas prices so volatile, bills are likely to rise unexpectedly. Today, energy poverty is a question that no one is still so shameless to ignore.

Scared? I am.

My flat is already pretty cold. What if there comes a point where I can no longer afford to pay the bills? I am not a bloody penguin. And I’ve a bad cough already.

At the moment, some seem to believe that the right solution for energy supply in the UK is fracking. But this is still hugely controversial, both in terms of potential production and environmental and health consequences. Shale gas production is one of the issues that will be further discussed this year, and its adoption on a large scale would definitely reshape the country’s landscape.

A more reasonable solution for the future wellbeing of urban communities comes from Germany, and it’s called Passive House. A passive house is a building that reduces energy consumption, (and costs!) by improving the insulation of its structure and the performance of its appliances.

The potential for better energy efficiency is much bigger than the potential for energy savings by reduced comfort.

The website Passipedia explains: With contemporary available solutions energy efficiency can save 90% of the consumption while it will be hard to save 25% by lowering temperature, and so, comfort.

Seems that projects like RE:FIT are taking note of this international example to build a more sustainable city, tackling the question of fuel poverty and pollutant emissions at the same time.

Will the UK go for drilling or for retrofitting its cities?

Their decision will affect both my lungs and my pockets.

For this reason, among many others, I believe that an inquiry about sustainable cities and architecture, particularly with an international perspective, could answer many of our common New Year questions.

Every January we ask ourselves: “How will my life will change in the next twelve months?” We should remember that our cites and houses will play a vital role in this game.

Happy 2013.

And now, drop that chocolate bar and run to your yoga class. Making you lose weight is not part of this blog’s services.

By Lou


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