What is bioclimatic architecture?
It's the one that takes into account climate and environmental conditions to help achieve thermal comfort inside. It deals with design and architectural elements, avoiding mechanical systems, which are rather regarded as support.
Is this new?
No. It can be said that a lot of traditional architecture works according to bioclimatic principles, at a time in which artificial conditioning was rare and expensive. South oriented windows in North Spain, the use of materials with certain thermal features as wood or adobe, earth coating, the use of lime on walls in the houses of Andalucia, the location of villages...nothing is by chance.
But, does it really work?
Traditional techniques work, and in Spain we know it well: the coolness inside a thick-walled traditional village house at noon in August, the comfort of a traditional patio of Andalucia in a hot day, or how the sun entering through South oriented windows can replace heating in winter. If this works, don't you think it could be possible, through careful house design, to save an important percentage of conditioning expenses?
How much does it cost?
A bioclimatic house needn't be either cheaper nor more expensive, uglier or nicer, than any other. The bioclimatic house doesn't need the purchase and installation of complicated and expensive systems, but it just uses the regular architectural elements to increase the energetic performance and get a natural comfort. To achieve this, the bioclimatic design imposes a set of restrictions, but there still remains a lot of freedom to design according to individual taste.
What are its advantages?
There are several reasons to adopt bioclimatic architecture, retrieving ancient techniques and using new ones:
Then, why bioclimatic architecture is not well known?
Welfare concept has been evolving in a curious manner. As well as clothes mean much more that the need for thermal protection (and then we evolve towards the concept of fashion), housing means more than the need for a comfortable place to live, and may represent, for example, a status symbol. As that symbol, it must adapt to the established standards of status. Energy saving and taking advantage of sun may not fit these standards, but having an expensive conditioning system to overheat in winter and overcool in summer every single space in the house (even if it is seldom used) may do.
In despite of sporadic awareness campaigns, publicity takes pride every day to associate saving with discomfort and low status, and waste with easy living and prestige. And it gets the point: a lot of people associates saving to poverty. In fact the economical system needs us to consume as much as possible so as to keep the wheel going. It is not possible to see energy supply companies interested in new technologies for saving (how will they increase their benefits?), as well as conditioning manufacturers interested in alternative systems that bust their technology. Architects and builders don't either worry as far as their business goes well, and the consumer, with no information on the topic, cannot demand alternative products he does not know.
But governments, aware of the energy waste problem, promote research on the topic and generate new legislation and standards. For example, something as simple as good isolation in buildings to keep heat inside is a topic for legislation of increasing importance. And in a lot of countries institutions are appearing which perform research and spread bioclimatic knowledge among architects and builders (like CIEMAT in Spain). Hundreds of books have been written on the topic, and hundreds of projects related somehow to bioclimatic architecture have been implemented around the world.
Other related topics
Bioclimatic architecture deals exclusively with housing design and materials to achieve energy efficiency. Nevertheless, people interested in alternative architecture will find other terms related to this.