I had the pleasure of presenting with my good friend Allison Bailes at the recent RESNET conference in Orlando. While watching Allison present, he made the statement that the Canadians or perhaps the Swedish invented Building Science. It didn’t really hit me then, but this weekend, pondering my own house and sustainability efforts in preparation for a panel at the upcoming ACI Conference I realized that Allison is perhaps short selling our fine industry. I think we can make a case for Building Science as the oldest profession.
We’ve been putting dwellings together for a very long time. We’ve been building huts for at least 25,000 years. Evidence for even cruder shelter stretches back as far as 30,000 years. It’s very likely that we’ve been crafting rough shelters to keep out of the elements considerably further back than that. Any of us today working to survive in the wilderness would do what we can to stay warm, dry, out of the wind and feel more safe than we would otherwise.
Many moons ago I visited Mohenjo-daro (awesome website Dr. Mark Kenoyer!) in Pakistan. It’s an archaeological site, part of ancient Harappan civilization. It’s somewhere around 5000 years old and had toilets, street drainage systems and a variety of other mod-cons. You need only look at the archaeological record to see that we’ve been doing building science as long as we’ve been building. And of course, as we’re human, we’ve been improving as we go, forgetting much of what came before, making mistakes, discovering
new (and old) techniques and materials. We continually blend the best (and worst – Amish miracle heater anyone?) of what we have today with the knowledge of our forbearers to advance the state of building science. That is my point really – not only is Building Science the oldest profession – but that we are all building scientists in the applied fashion. We tweak and adjust our structures, we do stupid stuff, but we also do brilliant stuff. We orient our tents to face the opening away from the prevailing wind, we orient our homes to take advantage of the sun (except when we do a stupid thing like bring a design from England and plunk it down in New Zealand facing the same direction it did in England – Ooops – the Sun is the other direction down there! – Thanks to Ben Adams for telling me about that).
Vernacular architecture is the fancy term for recognizing that we build our dwellings to take advantage of what’s locally available to us and address the local conditions we face. We generally make mistakes when we don’t at least understand the vernacular and ensure that whatever design we are proposing takes the same care to address the environment. We’ve gotten lazy with our vernacular in no small part because of our current (and temporary) abundance of cheap fossil fuel.
High ceilings in hot regions, steep roofs in snowy regions, openings positioned to catch ocean breezes; that’s us evolving, that’s vernacular and that’s building science – we’ve been at it a long time. So thanks Canada (and Sweden) for “modern” building science, but building science is old, perhaps even the oldest profession.