ARCHITECTURE OF THE EXTREMES:
Proceedings of the 11th PLEA International Conference
July 1994, Dead Sea, Israel
Yair Etzion, Evyatar Erell, Isaac A. Meir and David Pearlmutter
The Center for Desert Architecture and Urban Planning
In the decade that has passed since the first international meeting of PLEA, we have witnessed the ascent of global environmental concerns to the mainstream political agenda. This trend is manifested within the architectural community by a growing awareness that sustainable future growth demands a commitment to energy conservation and resource efficiency in the built environment, which may be gauged not only in immediate monetary savings, but in the context of long-term environmental costs as well. It is no longer sufficient to treat this challenge as a purely technical pursuit - but rather, as an approach to design in which the natural context of a place is embraced as a generator of form. It is the principles and possibilities of such a passive and low energy architecture for which PLEA still stands.
Nowhere is the urgency of this approach to architecture more apparent than in "extreme" environments - those hot and cold areas around the world whose extremes of climate accentuate both the need for improving thermal comfort and the opportunities for passive energy utilization. It is in this spirit that "Architecture of the Extremes" - the 11th PLEA International Conference, was held at the Dead Sea, Israel. At some 400 meters below sea level, conference participants reached not only the lowest spot on earth, but also one of the most remarkable for its extreme natural contrasts. The aridity of the desert, the succulence of the oases, and the unsurpassed salinity of the sea combine in a region whose fragile environment is matched only by its lure to visitors.
The Dead Sea and Negev Desert may be seen as a microcosm, a paradigm for extreme environments around the world. However, the challenges in such areas are not only climatic. Achievements in Israel reflect the problems faced by designers in many countries, where extreme conditions are compounded by a scarcity of conventional resources - making ingenuity and creative use of alternative, renewable sources of energy and water all the more critical.
The attention necessary for appropriate planning is rarely attracted in such regions, which, traditionally viewed as hostile environments, have often remained sparsely populated. While the slow pace of development may have preserved some deserts from the massive interference common in other regions, it seems inevitable that global population pressure will dictate the need for settlement in more and more "peripheral" areas. It is these regions which may in fact serve as a proving ground for appropriate planning and design, allowing the physical and cultural needs of local populations to be fulfilled in a manner which enhances, rather than imperils, the ecological balance. It is in this endeavor which PLEA may play a leading role not only through individual acts, but through the dissemination of know-how to those for whom passive and low-energy architecture is the only viable option.
"Architecture of the Extremes" is, of course, not just about the desert. It is about the vast range of regions and localities in which designers or theoreticians may find inspiration in the qualities and contrasts of their local landscape. Indeed, the 11th annual PLEA conference brought together participants from 26 different countries, each with his or her unique contribution to the search for bioclimatic architecture. These Proceedings are a compilation of the many efforts so inspired.
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