Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Architects talking energy - in Tokyo (Workshop 1)

By Dana Buntrock

Within a week of the events of March 11, Susan Ubbelohde and I, both professors in the Department of Architecture, felt we should open up a conversation with Japanese colleagues on the use of energy in architecture.  In a very short time, and with the help of both graduate students and employees in Susan's consulting practice, Loisos + Ubbelohde (many of them UCB alumni), we put together an intensive and very exciting 4-day workshop on natural energy resources and architecture, held in Tokyo from June 23-26.

Have you ever looked at the statistics on energy demand in Japan?

They look a lot better than the U.S. either per capita or in terms of GDP, so you might be wondering why we thought this was a good idea--especially since this is a crazy time for architects in Japan, with many regularly going up to Tohoku to offer pro bono services in devastated areas.

But there is the matter of a group of nuclear power plants that is still not fully tamed, resulting in reduced electrical supply: the other day was about 33 degrees Centigrade (91 degrees Fahrenheit) in Tokyo, and energy demand was within 9 percent of supply; summer shortages seem quite likely.  Clients have been told to cut their demand by 15% and architects, if aware of the resources around them, can play a role in these reductions.  Because of regulations like Title 24, in California we generally try to solve a problem while keeping energy demand down. That mindset, which we take for granted, is not one that has been shared by our colleagues in Japan.

Take toilets. When I first came to Japan a quarter century ago, toilets were in unheated spaces, and it was sometimes a shock to sit.  About 20 years ago, leaders in the industry came up with a nifty solution: a small heater in the seat.  Over time, more and more features were added: massaging and bidet features are common, newer ones have a little air fan for deodorizing, and I have seen high-end ones that lift the seat when you approach, play music, and light the inside of the bowl. (Those can cost over a thousand bucks.)   Somewhere along the line, the original reason for the heater itself became less important--I see few unheated toilet areas today--but a new household appliance became the norm.  Today, according to some studies I have read, toilets may consume as much as 4 percent of the demand at electric outlets in Japan's architecture.  They are found in most newer homes and in hotels, shopping malls, nice restaurants, etc.

And worse (as one of the guys we brought along for the workshop pointed out to me), in summer, that heat sent into the seat raises the demand for cooling in a room!  Space heating and toilets, still in conflict...

Why not just unplug it?  The one in my hotel room won't flush if I do.

That is a kind of silly example, but it demonstrates a point: in Japan, for some years, problems related to comfort have been solved by increasing energy demand in architecture.  With the loss of existing nuclear power and less desire to bring more plants on-line, the do-more-with-less approach we take in California offers an appropriate alternative.

But I just got a note from an architect who participated in our workshop, asking me to get some of our workshop materials on-line--soon!  I'll wrap this up today.

Next: Tools and technical toys

See all the entries on this workshop:

#1: Architects talking energy--in Tokyo

#2: California Collaboration: Activate a Cloud

#3: Technology & Toys

#4: Software for study and simulation

# 5: Where do we go from here?

Or see photos:

Everyday Wurster's site on Flickr