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ON A sweltering summer’s day the temperature in the Lordos residence in old Nicosia hovers between a very manageable 24 to 25.5 degrees Celsius.

There is no air-conditioning. Instead, the tall courtyard walls and green leafy vegetation allow the garden temperature to drop substantially, providing night time cooling.

The prevalent northwest breeze is filtered and cooled by the canopy of vegetation before it enters the house to be vented upstairs where bedrooms placed in the southeast benefit from the naturally conditioned air.  

Fans placed in the right place can recycle air and drop body temperatures by two or three degrees. And it’s all much cheaper than air conditioning.

When it’s 42 degrees Celsius elsewhere in Nicosia, it is 35 degrees in the beautiful courtyard.

A recently launched study wants to help people and experts create more houses like that.

The Biovernacular Project is a two-year endeavour that started on July 1 under the auspices of Nicosia municipality with an impressive list of goals presented at a news conference this week.

Although the home belonging to architect husband and wife team, Andreas and Zoe Lordos, is not part of the study and the couple is not involved in the project, the scheme aims to recapture the essence of what makes houses like the Lordos’ so effective, and cheap.

The key is the traditional builder.

“The traditional builder has managed to get conditions of maximum temperature comfort inside building units and outside houses without significant energy expenses,” the project’s organisers said on their website, www.biovernacular.ac.cy 

“Cyprus was once dominated by zero-energy houses - the adobe [mud-brick] houses - and healthier individuals,” said Andreas Lordos.

“Then came progress” in the face of energy demanding modern buildings.

But a well-designed house can be up to 30 per cent cheaper because of savings in energy consumptions, Lordos said.

The couple live in a restored factory and their office next door is a 200-year-old adobe building. 

“There are ways to limit energy needs without extra costs,” Lordos said.

“You just need to be careful and understand the implication of small things.”

It turns out that one square metre placed in the wrong place plus poor ventilation is enough to raise costs, but a fan placed in the right place may reduce costs.

Traditional craftsmen and builders, he said, had developed an intuitive sense of building for our hot and arid climate over thousands of years.

“Most of this knowledge has been lost,” Lordos said, adding that the buildings that instil this wisdom are case studies to be carefully examined. 

Or it not lost, then perhaps put aside. For example, old houses had doors between rooms to allow buildings to cool during the night and expel heat. Houses shared walls with neighbouring houses so there was a smaller surface to attract heat. In contrast, regulations now require a distance of three metres between a plot boundary and a building, and so courtyards have become a privilege for the rich who can afford bigger plots, Lordos said. 

His point is that North European standards have been adopted in Cyprus even though they are not relevant. Cyprus is hot and arid. Germany is not.

Even where historical buildings in Cyprus have been restored, traditional practices have often been ignored, necessitating the fitting of air conditioning and heating units.

The Biovernacular Project hopes to help people have beautiful houses that are kinder on their pockets and the environment. 

“We need to adopt a new standard for sustainable development, today more than ever, to tackle today’s needs without taking away from future generations the ability to tackle their own needs,” Nicosia mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis said at the Biovernacular Project news conference this week.

And although craftsmen and builders gave us impressive buildings in Cyprus’ old towns that are famously cool in the summer and cosy in the winter, there aren’t many “scientific studies” on how this is actually accomplished, said the project’s coordinator and Nicosia municipal civil engineer, Agni Petridou.

Most studies have been theoretical, or else have focused on local construction and construction elements, “while data and measurements are collected only in few cases,” she said.

“This particular research programme is called to cover the gap,” Petridou said.

So buildings within the Nicosia city walls and neighbouring Kaimakli - the selected target areas - will be studied, registered and evaluated for factors such as orientation, how much sun and shade they get, ventilation, and building materials, Petridou said. 

The project targets historical buildings or those constructed with contemporary materials but aiming to maintain a historical character.

The organisers want to include a variety of buildings, so will include in the study both listed and non-listed buildings as well as some that have been restored and others that have never been restored. 

To begin with, about 100 will be selected - half in the old town and half in Kaimakli - with researchers noting elements such as construction type, orientation and the like to help them narrow down a selection. 

The buildings should share measurable similarities and differences, for example sharing similar orientation but differing on whether or not specific historical elements were maintained.

Out of those 100 buildings between eight and twelve are due to be selected by the end of the year for a more in-depth analysis. 

Researchers will measure the buildings’ bioclimatic data, i.e. how the environment affects living conditions, as well as the temperature and humidity levels. 

Working under the auspices of Nicosia municipality, the research team includes experts from the University of Cyprus, Frederic University and the Cyprus national committee of Icomos, the international council on monuments and sites

The researchers will work on parallel projects from creating a model to simulate buildings’ energy performances, which will require data from the meteorological services to factor in Nicosia’s weather conditions. 

The team aim to figure out how buildings can be technically upgraded to be independent from extraneous units such as air conditioning and heating units. 

There is also disseminating results to town planning, stakeholders, and even academic journals. A small booklet for professionals will be set up to incorporate suggestions. 

At present, the town planning department imposes a wide array of restrictions on how historical and listed buildings can be renovated, but these mainly concern appearance. But with EU directives imposed on the energy performance of buildings, the Biovernacular Project may eventually be implemented in legislation, said one of the researchers, Maria Filokyprou, from the University of Cyprus.

Biovernacular has a budget of €101,306 with the University of Cyprus adding €28,400. It is co-financed by the European regional development fund and Cyprus’ research promotion foundation (2009-2010).

 

 

 

For more details visit www.lordosarchitects.com or www.biovernacular.ac.cy