The building sector is one of society’s largest consumers of fossil resources, currently in Germany up to 50% of all non-renewable energy resources are used in the production, operation and disposal of buildings.

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© ZRS Architekten – H-House

Yet half the world’s population lives in buildings fully or partially built with earth and other natural materials. Nevertheless there is still a strong lobby that believes that more efficient building technology is the answer to global problems of climate change and resource scarcity. Thus throughout the 90s and 2000s high-tech sustainability became the global trend in architecture pioneered by some of the first truly global architects such as Norman Foster and Richard Rodgers. This blind trust in technology to save us from environmental catastrophe is comforting because it allows us to continue under the illusion that we can carry living, building and consuming as usual, the ultimate comfort blanket.

In building technology the high-tech doctrine has led to mechanical ventilation and systems such as Passivhaus becoming more and more common in housing, office and public buildings in Europe and beyond. Often it is impossible to achieve the designed efficiency of these complex systems in operation and the technology hinders rather than benefits the end user due to its inability to adapt to different habits and preferences. Furthermore it has been proven that mechanical ventilation systems are detrimental to our health and general wellbeing, a malady known as sick-building syndrome.

An alternative trend is that of LowTech, in which natural building materials, healthy interior room climates and user flexible natural ventilation systems all play a key part. A number of projects and research initiatives such as the BE 2026 and ZRS Architekten’s H-House project have produced exciting new findings in some of the areas mentioned above. Yet the term LowTech in architecture has no fixed definition or quantification, currently it is a term that covers a huge rage of different applications and interpretations.

Over the course of the semester we will dig deeper into the LowTech trend based on a series of case studies, we will attempt to define an NBL LowTech standard for future projects and apply the necessary design strategies using the example of the participant’s semester design project.