Twentieth-century architecture was influenced by a single analogy coined by the great French architect, Le Corbusier. He proposed that ‘the building is a machine for living in’. This is very far from the truth. The mistake, at its heart, is that a machine is an inanimate object that can be turned on and off and operates only at the whim of its controller.

A building is very different because, although it is true that it can be controlled by its occupants, the driving force that acts upon the building to create comfort and shelter is the climate and its weather, neither of which can be controlled, predicted or turned on and off.

Machines are fixed, static objects, amenable to scientific assessment. Buildings are part of a complex interaction between people, the buildings themselves, the climate and the environment. The view that buildings are fixed also fits well with certain types of scientific analysis, of daylight factors, energy flows, Uvalues, mechanical ventilation and so on.

But this mechanistic view finds the more dynamic parts of the system (temperature, natural ventilation, passive cooling and all the multitude of human interactions) very difficult to model and, therefore, to understand. In houses it is often these ‘difficult’ parts of the system that change a house into a home, and the building intoa delight.

Considerations of daylight, energy, thermal insulation and the use of machinery, of course, cannot be avoided – but because we can calculate them does not mean that they are our only concern. If we could see heat, as the thermal imagining camera does, we would probably treat building very differently. We would know exactly where we need to put a bit more insulation or place a sun shade, which sun shade to use or which corner of the room is cold and needs a little attention.

We have to design for the invisible as well as the visible and so how is this to be done? Buildings have been traditionally designed using accepted premises (propositions that are adopted after reasoning) as well as, of course, on premises (the building and adjuncts set forth at the beginning of a building deed). Three principles on which all building should be based are:

1 design for a climate;
2 design for the environment;
3 design for time, be it day or night, a season or the lifetime of a building and design a building that will adapt over time.

Humans have been building on these premises for millennia and have evolved house types around the world that are well suited to particular climates, environments and societies. This was done by learning from experience, and with the benefit of repetitive tools and processes that help designers and builders through the
complex range of tasks necessary to actually put a building together.

One tool of the imagination that is often used when starting a design is the analogy. An analogy is used where two forms may not look alike but they function in the same way, just as Le Corbusier described a building as a ‘machine for living in’.

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