While anything but an ideologue, MIT’s Andrew Scott does have an agenda. “I’ve always designed buildings that are, you might say, pragmatic in the way they use materials or light and how they’re sited,” he says.
Scott’s well known in the world of environmentally-oriented architects. He’s chaired an international conference on sustainable building design; done studies for IBM and Daimler-Chrysler, among others, on that same issue, and won a high-profile design competition for a Washington-based, energy-wise sports museum.
The associate professor of architecture also has a portfolio well-stocked with innovative buildings. Most are in his native England, but an apartment building that scrimps on energy — and was designed with the aid of colleagues in MIT’s Building Technology Group and of students — will soon go up in southern China.
In seeking to create environmentally-oriented buildings, Scott’s working fertile ground. It’s estimated that simply repainting the roofs of California’s black-lidded commercial buildings white would cut their air-conditioning costs by 40 percent — and maybe spare Californians some of this summer’s threatened blackouts.
That, moreover, is a fraction of what would be achievable with a concerted attack on energy waste. Take Scott’s museum plan. His design featured a futuristic, wing-like roof. That building element — shaped using stateof-the-art systems for computing air movements in and around buildings — would have slashed air-conditioning costs by pulling air through a special, breeze-dispensing “chimney” linked to it.
The roof would also have been made up of photovoltaic panels. These, says Scott, “would have produced enough electricity so that the building would sometimes have been feeding power back into the grid. Overall, it would have been a net producer of energy.”
The problem is, the building never got built – mainly because needed funds weren’t in place. And in fact, ambitious goals are often frustrated by real-world issues, which besides simple cost concerns may include worries about whether innovative technologies or materials will really work.
So while Scott and his colleagues continue to explore leading edge approaches, the architect’s also working on how to make a big impact using mostly traditional materials — wood, concrete, rock — and innovative design concepts.
One soon-to-be-built result is the barn-sized expedition center he and a collaborator have designed for Outward Bound, the well-known sponsor of outdoor training programs. The building, to be sited on an island off Boston, will rely on simple strategies like a “sun-scoop” window that feeds light into a north-facing lobby area, and a roof-line venting system that can be opened in summer and closed in winter.
Still, it will need no air-conditioning, and use much less artificial light than conventional structures its size, among other things. The result will be energy costs an impressive 40 to 50 percent below those of conventional buildings its size.
What does this mean for the potential in innovative building design? Scott notes that the built environment accounts for half the U.S.’s emissions of carbon dioxide, a major factor in the global warming threat. As a result, he says, “if you cut the energy use in buildings across the board by even 10 to 15 percent, it would produce huge environmental benefits.”