Towards the End of Air ConditioningAndrew Cruse
Comfort is the energetic and symbolic nexus between citizens and cities. It simultaneously describes the thermal relationship between a body and its environment, and the social one between the individual and larger groups. Architects are professionally predisposed see buildings as the primary context for comfort. Yet, shifting focus from the building to the body highlights how clothing responds to and shapes contemporary notions of comfort in ways that buildings cannot. The dominant concept of thermal comfort that developed during the twentieth century relies almost exclusively on conditioned air within sealed building envelopes. This air is kept at “ideal” steady-state conditions so that an average body maintains homeostasis with the interior climate without the occupant’s conscious attention. Yet, comfort is not the result of a simple interplay between the body and an enclosed volume of air; instead, it results from the dynamic energetic exchanges at the narrow boundary layer around the skin. Clothing, not air conditioning, is a principal mediator of such comfort. Exploring this energetic boundary focuses attention on the beginning of a new approach to comfort and the end of air conditioning.
Driven in part by global climatic instability and a focus on energy use, attention to comfort is increasing. Architects typically bracket comfort within normative practice, focusing on improving the efficiency of materials and systems we already use.1
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