This is an edited version of a piece by Scott Campbell that was originally published in the spring 2001 issue of Plan, the newsletter of the School of Architecture and Planning.
An international research program is underway at MIT to identify new technologies, and applications of current technologies, that will increase the environmental efficiency of Chinese buildings. The impetus for the research lies in the fact that buildings not only produce substantial amounts of pollutants but also use enormous amounts of resources and energy.
In the United States, for example, buildings now account for fully one-third of the country's energy use. It is projected that by 2094, housing will also account for a third of total energy use in China. Increasing the efficiency of the Chinese built environment, then, is an important step toward achieving sustainable world development.
Begun in 1998, the MIT program--a collaboration with six other schools in China, Switzerland and Japan--focuses on the design and evaluation of sustainable residential buildings in cities. Among the most promising approaches are technologies that focus on natural ventilation as an alternative to mechanical cooling, and on selected other strategies for passive heating and cooling.
Indeed, initial simulations suggest that natural ventilation, combined with nighttime cooling and thermal storage in the walls, would eliminate most of the need for air conditioning in Beijing on an average summer day. Several MIT professors in the Department of Architecture are involved in the project, which is funded by the Kann-Rasmussen Foundation and the Alliance for Global Sustainability.
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A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 26, 2001.