SMa.rt column: The virtues of a low-rise city (part 1)

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow has long advocated a flat city: This is a city whose buildings are mostly no higher than four floors. Six years ago we discussed the merits of a low-rise city concept for Santa Monica. Today these virtues persist and have gained even more prominence since we last wrote about them. It is worth revisiting the earlier discussion (with a few minor changes for today’s reality):

In this first part of two articles, we’re going to dig deeper and discuss the benefits of such a low-rise city. The most important benefit is sustainability. Since the cleanest and closest source of energy is the sun, which is relatively abundant here, we can design our buildings for maximum photovoltaic profit, especially with solar collectors on the roof and with future advanced photovoltaic glazing:

The problem with high-rise buildings is that they are bad neighbors, shading and preventing their lower neighbors from receiving their photovoltaic sunlight, and blocking access to the natural afternoon breezes that could be used to meet the needs of more expensive energy-consuming ones Compensate for air conditioning. So tall buildings create the detrimental “race to heaven” effect as buildings try to outperform each other to get taller to get sun for electricity and access to wind. Technologies are being developed that can enable photovoltaic gains from walls, windows and other surfaces, but we need to reduce energy consumption TODAY as we know from warnings from the Paris climate conference. The limited roof areas are our best source of energy today. In low-rise buildings, the solar on-roof supply is inevitably geared more closely to the building’s energy requirements than in medium-sized or high-rise buildings.

Three- to five-story low buildings are usually 33 ‘to 55’ tall, but because of the permitted parapets, elevators, etc. the friendly atmosphere of our city.

After all, low buildings are more viable (resilient) in the event of a catastrophic earthquake when the city limps with reduced water and electricity availability. This is especially true if the quake occurs on the San Andreas Fault, which separates the city from its widely dispersed sources of energy and water.

In the second article next week we will discuss the other numerous benefits of low-rise buildings for the future of our city.

Mario Fonda-Bonardi for SMa.rt

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow: Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Planning Commissioner; Ron Goldman, FAIA architect; Daniel Jansenson, architect, building and fire protection officer; Robert H. Taylor, architect AIA; Thane Roberts, architect; Sam Tolkin, architect; Marc Verville retired accountant; Michael Jolly, AIRCRE

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