An Introduction to Bau-biologyBy Mike Haslam
25 February 2002
Bau-biology, literally building-biology, started as a recognised discipline in 1974 in Germany under Dr. Anton Schneider and has since spread to New Zealand, the USA and in similar forms to other parts of the world.
Its principle concern is the balance between nature, the built world and man. More precisely, it examines the interaction between all living things, their natural and their built environments, particularly the impact of buildings on the health and well being of people.
Bau-biology strives to holistically integrate human constructions with ecology and in this respect it sits within a Gaian sensibility of all life being in a symbiotic relationship with the Earth: a series of feedbacks and flows of a self regulating eco-system.
Bau-biology springs from a positive conviction of this integration of building, environment and man. However, out of this comes a critique of the standards of the present day building industry which remains formidable: a catalogue of illnesses and poor health derived from building materials and constructional processes which are out of tune with our biological and psychological well being: we so often live and work in buildings containing plastics, toxic treated timber, toxic paints and glues, air that is too dry or too damp, poor ventilation and within an electric stress climate. As a result indoor environments are created where the pollution levels are 20 times more toxic than outdoors leading to allergies, headaches, sick building syndromes and even cancers. We on average spend up to 90% of our time in doors! Those of us that work in stress inducing environments should at least be able to enjoy the home as a healthy and restorative refuge.
Bau-biology attempts to illustrate paths and methods towards healthy building, accordingly there are twelve principles involved in this and in the creation of a healthy internal environment - the Bio- climate:
The use of natural and preferably local materials i.e. materials with little man made alteration to their natural state like timber, hemp blocks, earth walls and sheep's wool. This has much to do with the low level of embodied energy involved in their manufacture but also in the inherent qualities of natural materials which appear in the following principles.
A reduced dependence on rare and unsustainable raw materials not just in construction but also in energy sources for the building.
Breathability of walls: a building should be seen as an organism which must breathe and the walls as our third skin. Materials should be chosen which allow the transfer of air and moisture through the building envelope. This not only helps avoid condensation in and on the building fabric but also this diffusion process helps with the necessary air exchanges for a well ventilated room. Timber, straw and earth walls are appropriate for this.
The use of hydroscopic materials for the natural regulation of room humidity: relative humidity of a room should not fall below 40% and not rise above 70% for the health of the occupant and of the building fabric. Hydroscopic materials like clay renders and earthen floors help reduce fluctuations in air moisture content and reduce condensation.
The use of absorptive materials to help neutralise and filter pollutants in the air: again, materials like clay renders, timber and earth walls are appropriate when used within a breathing wall structure.
To seek a balance between the use of thermal mass like brick walls or earthen floors to receive the sun's rays for heat storage and of high insulation to keep the heat within the building.
The use of the sun's energy where and when possible - both passively and actively - and use of radiant heat sources rather than convection within the house. Radiant heat sources are closest to the sun's energy and what our bodies are attuned to, heating surfaces more than the air.
There should be a total avoidance of toxic materials which off-gas particles. Formaldehyde based glues are frequently used and are a prime offender, certain paints and preservatives are similarly so; healthy organic alternatives exist.
There should be no increase in radioactivity levels within the building, both from radon and from altered low frequency cosmic radiation. Higher frequency microwaves result from changes induced when low frequency ones pass through materials like reinforced concrete and these should be minimised as their effect on health can be detrimental.
There should be minimal change to the earth's magnetic field within the building - high use of steel and reinforced concrete should be avoided as they can be disruptive to this.
Electromagnetic fields in the house should be reduced especially within sleeping areas. Ideally materials should be electrically neutral so as not to disturb the human organism, materials such as timber, hemp and cork.
Consideration should be given to colour, harmony and proportion in form and space. An understanding of proportioning systems and man's relationship with them is important in design and, when so much of green architecture is to do with building envelope, it is important to remember that joy in form and space are equal concerns.
These principles form the backbone of the Bau-biological approach to building and the creation of a healthy internal Bio-climate. Implicit in the principles is the connection to the Earth, particularly in the sourcing and use of materials and their effect on the environment. In the use of the sun's energy Bau-biology deals with the integration of landscape and building, in optimising solar orientation for the building and in how plants might be used as shelter in winter or shade in summer.
Finally, Bau-biology looks at sustainable community structures, based on the above principles transposed to the larger scale. It champions eco-villages as potential self-regulating eco-systems benefiting from the economies of scale that a community can offer without so many of the disadvantages that cities can bring with them. The use of renewable energy sources, of waste recycling including composting and reed bed systems are all investigated with the intent of achieving a holistic integration of man and environment.
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