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‘Residents have their own part to play,’ project’s architect explains

I write as an architect who had the honor of designing the Solar Village (we began in 1979)… I may be writing this as an individual, but many others, including engineers, physicists and sociologists, both Greek and foreign, contributed to the design. I do so because on many issues the residents are certainly right. They themselves might be able to do very little about some of the problems but many other problems might not exist at all – or to a lesser extent – if they themselves contributed in a way that I will explain below. I will not concern myself with the lack of maintenance, which basically affects the central energy systems, their operating costs, the energy consumption measurements, or the leaks, nor can I reply to each resident personally. Certainly these are serious problems and something must be done, as they will only get worse if they are not addressed. What I will refer to, however, are the solar, or passive systems. I would like to show that the ecological energy design still has a purpose. In effect, the entire village is passive. Even with the current specifications, the insulation is of a high standard. All the houses are south-facing and not overshadowed by other buildings; they face away from the easterly and particularly the westerly sun that heats the building in summer, while the north-south orientation of the facades allows for the proper ventilation of the buildings. These specifications alone contribute (invisibly and noiselessly) to considerable energy savings. Generally, however, in order to exploit the energy benefits of the buildings to the full, there has to be a minimum input from the residents. That is what our grandparents did; not only were they more aware, but they couldn’t do otherwise, unlike us who simply go out and buy an air-conditioning unit, making our own small contribution to atmospheric pollution… instead of shading a west-facing windowpane. Before the residents moved in, they were given briefings by OEK. It is certain that many of those lessons have been forgotten over the years. First and foremost, they should raise all awnings in the winter months to allow the sun into their homes. According to photographs of the village taken on December 11, 2007, a sunny day with low temperatures, it is clear that most of the homes were not correctly exposed to sunlight, whether out of ignorance, indifference, unwillingness or because the awnings were torn or stuck. In spring and fall, the awnings should be raised or lowered according to the outside temperature and only secondly according to whether there is sunlight or cloud cover. In summer the awnings should be lowered. If there are evergreen trees (one very positive factor in the village is the amount of greenery) these should not be shading the solar systems. One problem that is hard to solve is the conversion of greenhouses into rooms for ordinary use because of a need for more space. The greenhouses were not designed for that purpose and by definition have a larger glazed area, therefore greater temperature variations. Filling them with furniture lowers their effectiveness. In some houses there is a provision for nighttime insulation of passive systems. These should be used as they reduce heat loss. It is important that all the homes are ventilated throughout in summer. When it is hot during the day and cool at night, night ventilation cools the house and reduces the temperature of the walls, floors and roofs, which then radiate cooler temperatures throughout the house the next day. What would I do differently if I were designing the village today, 30 years later? Very few things, including: – Reducing the number of systems used for research purposes. I would mainly use simple south-facing windows. – An emphasis on passive systems (although the entire settlement is basically passive) and fewer energy systems that require high maintenance and operation costs. – Adding a small, separate entrance to the detached homes so as to restrict heat losses when the entrance door opens. – The installation of ceiling fans in all rooms; they use little energy and cool rooms considerably. In the meantime the only thing I can tell the residents is that a little care on the part of those who are not already making an effort, will make a difference to the environment, to their homes and make their own lives more pleasant. Perhaps OEK could look into the possibility of including improvements to the village in a program subsidized by the European Union? Extract from a response to the article above, from the architect who designed the village, published in the January issue of ECO.