This study provides a critical analysis on the changing notion of comfort standards in building systems through a critique of Cole, Robinson, Brown and O’Shea’s (2008) “Re-Contextualizing the Notion of Comfort”. Diverse climate conditions across several locations around the world highly characterize standards of comfort met through the construction of residential and commercial buildings, thus the understanding that people derive comfort based on the normal weather conditions in their respective locales. Various standards for buildings –where people use spaces for habitation or work, ensure comfortable living in accordance to distinct climate conditions. Climate change, in this case, poses a challenge to fulfilling various comfortable living standards, for such can influence changes in existing methods, hence calling for flexible innovations.
There is a clear understanding that climate varies in different places. Some places experience all four known seasons in a year while others only get periods of enduring sunlight and rampant monsoon rains. That has entailed people in various parts of the globe to live in distinctive ways. Their responses to the calls of their corresponding environments usually lean towards their need to feel comfortable. The current problem of climate change brings further challenges therein.
In that wise, comfort is a subjective issue – one that could satisfy people based on the climate of their location. There may have been attempts to frame a unified standard of comfort for habitable structures, but such have not met success – an issue that will receive further discussion in this study. Variations in comfort are inevitable, as institutionalized by existing standards for buildings – residential or commercial, prevailing in different nations. Additionally, the challenge imposed by climate change provides a compelling front to reconsider current comfort standards towards enhanced flexibility and other relevant innovations. Within this study, an inter-study critique of Cole, Robinson, Brown and O’Shea’s (2008) “Re-Contextualizing the Notion of Comfort” will seek to provide an ample purview of the foregoing concerns. This study will explain the difference of comfort standards as influenced by climate variations. The influence of climate change will provide a vital thrust to the study.
Conventional Vis-à-vis Dynamic Comfort Models
Cole et al. (2008, p. 324) made clear their intention to investigate further on the involvement of climate change in recreating an appropriate context for a new notion of comfort, with much focus centred on commercial, rather than residential, buildings. The introductory statements reflect the need for incorporating comfort standards for buildings suitable for the given climatic setting. Indeed, under conventional comfort studies as asserted by Cole et al. (2008, pp. 324-325), a unified standard will not work optimally for all settings; for example, compromising what is suitable for snowy areas with those of tropical settings would inevitably result to a solution that may not work in the best way for both situations. Furthermore, geopolitical and cultural differences defy universal best practices (Centre for Alternative Technology, 2010, p. 1). While the study in question focused mainly on implications of colonial period building policies, it drew a compelling case disputing the feasibility of a universal standard. The case of Kenya, which took off from residual influences from its former colonial master United Kingdom (UK), did not develop its housing in accordance to the expected outcomes of applying the UK system. Education – also inherited from the UK, played a crucial role in the continuation of using the inappropriate yet normal UK-style housing prevalent in Kenya (Centre for Alternative Technology, 2010, p. 7).
Thompson’s (2002, pp. 2-3) classification of climate zones into four tiers: cold, temperate/maritime, hot arid and hot humid, brings forth the notion that creating a comfort standard in the form of building systems universal to all climates would meet several complexities. Buildings built in places with cold climates – mostly found in the northern parts of Europe and North America, require the installation of space heating systems. Temperate or maritime places across coastal regions experience long summers, rendering the use of thermal comfort mechanisms necessary only during short winter periods. People living in temperate or maritime areas use fans and air conditioners, yet buildings designed suitably can suffice such for ideal ventilation. Hot arid and hot humid regions do not require warming apparatuses, but require proper ventilation instead to counter high temperatures during daytime (Thompson, 2002, pp. 2-3). Additionally, assessment of comfort based on climate must give due consideration of environmental conditions such as the following: air temperature, air movement, relative humidity and mean radiant temperature. Those conditions could influence heat loss, which happens through radiation, convection and evaporation. Giving due observation to the foregoing is essential to explaining the maintenance of the normal body temperature of 37°C (Thompson, 2002, p. 4). Building construction should thus take note of the abovementioned considerations to satisfy climate conditions in terms of the succeeding factors mentioned by Thompson (2002, p. 19): form, orientation, level of glazing and openings, thermal mass and internal layout.
Hawkes and Coleridge (2010, p. 1) emphasized on the importance of keeping thermal conditions at a stable rate. In relation to the foregoing discussions, maintaining body temperature to 37°C is crucial. It is thus important to induce adaptability for people and the respective climate conditions of their locales so that they would be able to live comfortably. In that case, gauging thermal comfort through appropriate mechanisms is essential, despite studies reflecting it as just a state of mind. Identifying certain facets of thermal comfort could enable better interaction with the given climate, especially in light of the challenge imposed by climate change (Hawkes and Coleridge, 2010, pp. 15-16).
The preceding studies incorporate the conventional comfort model, which further highlights the importance of the shift asserted by Cole et al. (2008, p. 324) with climate change being the catalyst. In this wise, a re-contextualized notion of comfort could surpass differences in climate, geographical and socio-political features – all of which defy the possibility of a universalized standard of comfort through building systems. Indeed, re-contextualizing comfort would enable the emergence of more dynamic and adaptable innovations that could transcend limitations to universality. For instance, the introduction of green buildings, which requires building users (termed within this context as “inhabitants”, as against “occupants” under the ambit of conventional comfort research) to engage in operating building systems rather than be conventionally passive, has brought forth better flexibility in light of changing climate conditions (Cole et al., 2008, pp. 326-327). Collaborative systems in the form of integrated design processes, performance assessment measures and post-occupancy evaluations add greater value to dynamism required from re-contextualizing comfort (Cole et al., 2008, pp. 327-328). The antecedent innovations of comfort re-contextualization could provide a framework for a universally applicable comfort standard for buildings, with the main premise lenient towards flexibility to climate change and greater agency (Cole et al., 2008, pp. 326-330).
Moreover, Thompson (2002), Hawkes and Coleridge (2010) and the Centre for Alternative Technology’s (2010) exhibitions of the conventional comfort model has its limitations on the context of physiological comfort. It is in this wise where Cole et al.’s (2008, pp. 331-335) considerations on other facets of comfort gains great significance, for such provide for the dynamism of re-contextualized notions of comfort. Expansion towards considering the psychological, behavioural and social factors of comfort enhances greater interaction of inhabitants in responding to environmental shifts such as climate change. Consideration of said factors alongside physiological comfort would entail the formation of interactive adaptivity. Characterized by participatory measures, greater inhabitant interaction between other inhabitants and building systems could result to a flexible yet healthy mechanism enabling adaptivity to changing climate conditions (Cole et al., 2008, p. 333). Whereas challenges in incorporating such a mechanism exists, strong communication lines between involved parties – building designs and inhabitants, for example, could eventually transcend those (Cole et al., 2008, p. 335).
The dynamic comfort model outlined by Cole et al. (2008, p. 324, 326-335) does not just draw important implications to the problem of climate change. Further development of communication mechanisms in fostering better engagement among key players (inhabitants, building managers and systems designers, among others) could strengthen the movement towards a universal building standards policy. The Centre for Alternative Technology (2010, p. 9) stressed on the “life and death” quandary of regulating building standards, as those require the suitability of economic, political and cultural facets of any given setting. The presentation of Kenya as a failed case (Centre for Alternative Technology, 2010, pp. 5-8) shows a strong (albeit conventionally sensible) instance of implementing building regulations that are not adaptable to the inherent conditions of the nation. Applying and redeveloping the dynamic comfort model under critique in this study could pave way for a standardized building regulations policy applicable in various settings. The implementation of strong communicatory mechanisms, as it enables inhabitants to have more agency, could transform the likes of Kenya’s setting towards a more interactive one transcending the limits of politics, culture and the economy. Such stands as a suitable case-in-point for Cole et al.’s (2008. p. 335) recommendation for further studies on the re-contextualized comfort model.
Retaining favourable and sustainable thermal comfort levels for developing building standards is crucial for maintaining stable living environments for inhabitants. Cole et al.’s (2008, p. 324) vision of a dynamic model in comfort provisioning supports the foregoing thrust as discussed by Hawkes and Coleridge (2010, p. 1). Green building systems, for instance, facilitates innovative ways for using natural ventilation as an ideal way of keeping room temperatures steady. Sustainability, in that case, would follow in the form of minimal usage of environmentally compromising mechanisms of maintaining standard thermal conditions such as air conditioning (Cole et al, 2010, p. 326). At the same time, preserving ideal levels of thermal comfort in green buildings could foster an interactive process within co-inhabitants, between inhabitants and building systems designers and managers and between inhabitants and the environment (Cole et al., 2010, p. 326). Thus, auxiliary research in this respect is crucial for the further advancement of dynamic comfort levels for maintaining thermal comfort.
Climate Change Response through Performance Assessment
Methods of rating energy performance of buildings have become instrumental in gauging the effectiveness of climate change responses. Cole et al. (2008, p. 327) have emphasized that those methods are crucial in fostering dialogue between players. Scott’s (2006, p. 1) study, related to the foregoing, spoke of the efforts of the European Union (EU; through the EPBD), UK (through the NHER and BREEAM), United States (US; through LEED) and Australia (through Green Star) in coming up with rating standards for building energy performance. Each standard pertains to a comprehensive system of rating buildings based on their energy performance to ensure the stability of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in accordance to the Kyoto Protocol, which in turn would curtail advancement towards climate change (Scott, 2006, pp. 1-12). Scott (2006, p. 13) recognizes the dilemma of confronting climate variations across different parts of the globe in implementing an international building energy performance rating. Cooperation within members of the international community is necessary to bring forth domestic experiences towards the reconciliation of varying concerns, which could result to the formation of a streamlined global standard (Scott, 2006, p. 13-15). Nevertheless, such effort remains challenging due to different domestic contexts. However, with such a unifying standard in place, countering climate change – a phenomenon that has an imposing effect on comfort standards met through proper building designs, could receive a welcome boost.
An important incentive derived from the preceding responses to climate change is the reduction of CO2 emissions. Cole et al. (2008, p. 323) asserted that growing movements on reducing CO2 emissions have provided people with a new concept of comfort. In that light, comfort is no longer just a probable and undeviating idea. It has expanded its paradigms towards a more dynamic sense where calls for better participation are highly encouraged. Stronger partnerships between different stakeholders to lessen CO2 emissions now serve as key to understanding the idea of comfort in light of concerns surrounding climate change. In the process, innovations challenging normative thoughts on comfort will come to the fore, as it involves the dissemination of different aspects of building design. Implementation of new methods is a crucial first step; knowing the ones in charge of instituting new processes and identifying whether they are capable of doing so is the key to ensuring a smooth flow in the process. Keeping adaptability in mind is a necessary ingredient to innovation. Flexibility in terms of design favours the need of inhabitants to experience better adaptability, hence entailing better levels of comfort. Monitoring and regulating building processes and aspects would come next as a fundamental step towards maintenance, which would then entail a smooth progress in building management. Encouragement of feedback and interaction among inhabitants and occupants could generate better recommendations. The foregoing aspects of developing building designs in light of the climate change problem characterize the evolving notion of comfort (Cole et al., 2008, p. 335).
Effect of Climate Change
An indispensable facet of Cole et al.’s (2008) study is the problem of climate change. Such is because climate change, in itself, could urge people to deviate from their current standards of comfort in order to meet the ideal temperature they need to live. Maintaining the normal body temperature of 37°C is necessary for people to remain comfortable. Fulfilling that in light of climate change would entail particular recommendations.
Cole et al. (2008, p. 323) explained that countering climate change through the reduction of CO2 emissions have given people a new sense of comfort, as it leads towards better engagement and cooperation to ensure sustainability. Thompson (2002, p. 2) shared the same thrust by saying that it is necessary to lessen the usage of energy in buildings in order to prevent the advancement of climate change and its effects. Efforts to ensure better efficiency in reaching the goal of lesser CO2 emissions have led to the institution of building energy rating systems, and calls to establish an international standard are well underway, yet with particular difficulties stemming from the inherent differences of each setting (Scott, 2006, p. 14). Hence, there is an emerging paradigm of comfort achieved through responding against climate change. Climate change now urges people to prevent compromising their comfort standards due to changes in temperature and weather conditions. Additionally, fulfilling measures to prevent climate change must go beyond physiological comfort by including psychological, behavioural and social aspects, made effective through stronger communication ties between different players leading to interactive adaptivity (Cole et al., 2008, pp. 330-331).
Thompson (2002, pp. 18-19) laid out certain reflections on building design standards in relation to climate change. A daunting concern revolves around the necessary changes in designing buildings that might take place due to climate change, as seasons may change in length and occurrence and divergences in maximum temperatures might occur. There is also a possibility that temperatures might worsen due to the effect of regulatory measures against climate change, alongside perceived design changes required per varying region. Maintenance of thermal comfort is another necessary issue for resolution. Such could entail the adaptation of future building designs to mitigate urban heat and heat waves as well as adapt to changing characteristics of soil. The need to introduce technological innovations to solve comfort-related issues to climate change received further emphasis as a possible addition or modification to traditional approaches (Thompson, 2002, pp. 18-19). Overall, tackling climate change, under the foregoing context, would present a string of approaches requiring resolution for maintaining favourable comfort standards. In that sense, climate change would push for new building design standards made after the foregoing concerns. Introducing innovative measures corresponding to Cole et al.’s (2008, p. 331) model are crucial to maintaining favourable comfort standards in building systems amidst the problem of climate change.
Rating buildings in terms of energy performance could push for the maintenance of particular comfort standards as measures to fight climate change are met accordingly (Scott, 2006, p. 15). There is an express admission that a universal standard of rating building energy performance could compromise inherent contextual differences – featured in the case of Kenya and its inefficient incorporation of UK-style housing standards from the colonial era (Centre for Alternative Technology, 2010, pp. 5-8). Nevertheless, there is a hint of optimism that an international standard would eventually take place – of course, without discounting challenges rooted in the domestic contexts of all nations. Much importance rests in participatory measures, which is a mechanism that would enable nations to share experiences and iron out individual conflicts in favour of introducing a standard suitable for international implementation (Cole et al., 2008, p. 333). Experiences coming from the EPBD of the EU, NHER and BREEAM of the UK, LEED of the US and Green Star of Australia largely provide valuable insights for the formation of an international standard. Nevertheless, the motivation of nations to cooperate proves to be an essential force to ensure that comfort standards stand safeguarded against the dangers of rising CO2 emissions and consequent climate change effects (Scott, 2006, p. 15).
Deconstructing the processes in constructing and maintaining habitable structures is vital towards making approaches to maintain comfort standards in the face of the climate change challenge. Cole et al. (2008, p. 335) noted the importance of pointing out particular implications, such as identifying agents responsible for implementing and deciding on building design and maintenance controls, instituting the kind of controls necessary for maintenance, monitoring and troubleshooting and encouraging feedback from inhabitants and occupants, among others. Such reflects an interactive picture between tenants (inhabitants and occupants) and building designers and managers, as they all work towards protecting their standards of comfort in light of the threat posed by climate change (Cole et al., 2008, p. 335).
In sum, climate change, in Cole et al.’s (2008) study, stands as an independent variable that could alter normative climate conditions, entailing people to implement shifts in their comfort standards through innovations in building designs. The challenge here would be that people who have lived under the same climate and weather conditions for a sizeable length of time would have to deal with drastic effects of climate change. Such will serve as an incentive to facilitate measures consonant to the re-contextualized sense of comfort. Interactive adaptivity, participatory measures and effective methods of rating energy performance, among others, could push for a flexible standard of comfort in building systems in the face of the drastic shifts provided by climate change (Cole et al., 2008, p. 335).
Cole et al.’s (2008) study fittingly responds to the challenge of climate change, as it deviates from conventional comfort approaches towards adapting flexible measures applicable in different settings. Climate change, in itself, calls for adaptable responses as changes in the climate could force people to incorporate new comfort standards for their habitable structures. Thus, gearing towards a re-contextualized notion of comfort through flexible anti-climate change solutions stands as an amenable position compared to the stagnant nature of conventional comfort. Further development of movements for the universalization of comfort standards could take place. Utilization of the dynamic comfort model to counter drastic shifts triggered by climate change could form stronger communication lines between key parties. In return, a flexible standard based on rational participatory, assessment and feedback measures could enable inhabitants to maintain steady comfort standards that are adaptable to climate change and sustainable in mitigating such phenomenon at the same time. For efforts of developing universal building regulatory standards, the dynamic comfort model could introduce future mechanisms through the prominence of dialogue between stakeholders. Stronger communication between different parties in the form of discussions, feedback and assessments could transcend political, economic and cultural limitations in different settings. Broader studies on regulating thermal comfort are another facet in which the dynamic comfort model could shape dramatically. Building systems similar to green buildings could push for future innovations in maintaining thermal comfort standards that are both interactive and sustainable.
Centre for Alternative Energy, 2010. Building regulation in the international context, CEM159. University of East London, unpublished.
Cole, R. J., Robinson, J., Brown, Z. and O’Shea, M., 2008. Re-contextualizing the notion of comfort. Building Research & Information, 36(4), pp. 323-336.
Hawkes, J. and Coleridge, T., 2010. Thermal comfort, CEM159. University of East London, unpublished.
Scott, C., 2006. Rating the energy performance of buildings, CEM159. University of East London, unpublished.
Thompson, M., 2002. Climate influences on the design of buildings, CEM159. University of East London, unpublished.