Post #6: On Performance
Eric Tse
November 26, 2021

Making a building is an incredibly fraught (and often expensive) endeavour, with myriad challenges involving various stakeholders, sometimes with conflicting interests, spanning the physical and digital worlds. But still we take on the effort, with people often sinking their greatest wealth into their homes. And so it is our prerogative at EDGZ to make the most of every opportunity, for the client and the practice, by way of adding immeasurable value to each project – partly by exploring art in architecture, but also by maximizing its performative aspects.

Performative can be interpreted both in the sense of actually doing something as well as signalling some value. In terms of the former, a building should perform its physical function of containing programme and providing shelter to its inhabitants. And as stewards of the environment, this should be done in a way that is climate conscious, as we know now the significant impact of the construction industry on climate change (nominally ±36% of global energy use c. 2019).

Currently, it is my understanding that the European certification standard and set of building science principles defined by Passive House (Passivhaus Institut) is one of the best ways to achieve energy efficiency. I came to pursue PH after a couple good friends from grad school espoused its benefits in their Brooklyn project. At the time of writing, the rule of thumb is that Passive House buildings are an order of magnitude better than typical North American code minimum, i.e. resulting in 75-90% lower energy use (this will change as energy codes catch up, e.g. BC Energy Step Code). The fields of climate and building science are constantly evolving, and as such the importance of embodied carbon is gaining more traction (compared to operational carbon as tackled by PH), but suffice to say, these are the approaches that our profession and the construction industry must adopt in order to responsibly take our place in this changing world.

In terms of the latter reading of performative, i.e. signalling some value, sometimes this verbiage can be interpreted as being hollow or shallow, but actually here the intent is quite opposite – we endeavour to design buildings where the value is encapsulated in an impellent conceptual kernel that is expressed throughout the project, from macro tectonics to micro details. As well, the capacity of buildings to operate as expressions of soft power or social signifiers should be underestimated, in that for people's homes or institutional HQs or religious landmarks, they are often one of the strongest (if not the strongest) representations of identity and socio-economic position.
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