Geeking Science: Architecture

Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Fighting White Boxes (mentioned in Septembers writing exercise) can be an uphill battle. One of the ways to win the war is think about the architecture of the building.

Ready for Geeking the Science of Construction?

Let’s start with a life hack which I find very helpful. Electric wiring and plumbing are expensive and time consuming, and architects and construction crews like to put all of that together for several reasons. Less cost of running wires and pipes. But also so they can get on the business of building while waiting for the government inspectors to sign off so the walls can be closed. Which means bathroom, kitchen, and elevators are all going to be in close proximity to each other. Going to a job interview and want to have one last bathroom trip before sitting in the reception area waiting for the interviewer to free up, look for the elevators – the bathrooms will 90% of the time be somewhere in that core column. Just walk around the “block” until you find them. At a house party and trying to find the downstairs bathroom, find the walls adjacent to the kitchen. Likely the bathroom is near there, that or the stairs. If the downstairs bathroom is full because the party is already full swing, go to the second story and find the space directly over the other bathroom or the kitchen.

There is so many cool things about architecture!

Photo by Diana Davolyte on Unsplash

How about pagodas? These tall delicate buildings made completely of wood with their large overhangs look like a strong breeze will destroy them. They are also one of the most earthquake resistant building styles in existence. The wide eaves, the wooden central column, the box-style construction, all contribute to a building which sways and stays. If you would like to see related videos, check out the link in the Bibliography under Kalovic. The wide eaves also contribute to controlling heat entering the building during the summer, but the shallow nature likely allows the low angle winter sun in for warming the building during the cold months.

Talking about controlling heat and cold without massive amounts of air conditioning and heating – which those big monster skyscrapers with their glass sides require, let’s take a stroll through the north and south. In old school Philadelphia, the buildings are close together – row homes in fact. These retain heat making winter bearable. They are not meant to be lived in during the summer – that is what porches and parks are for.

In the south (and throughout the world in warm climates), houses and entire towns are built to catch prevailing breezes. Multi-story buildings make use of the “heat rises” principals and pull air flows through from the bottom to the top of the house. Awnings and porches are welcomed additions in the summer, and can even double the house footprint. The porches on my house in the Carolinas add 20% to my modest living space during the warm months (my house is about 900 square feet, so I love my porches).

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at

The push to be “modern” (read, European materials), can be counterproductive when one forgets the past. The “air cooler” (see DiStasio – warning, some of the physics are suspect. They might be looking at the wrong reasons for the benefits they are seeing.) which everyone talked about in 2016 and 2017 of forcing airflow through small holes to make the inside of a house cooler amused me because, well, Ottoman architecture. Have you seen the widows with the small deep holes? Combined throughout the house, heat can change easily but slowly when the indoor/outdoor are different, averaging out extremes of a cold night and hot day.

Mr. Holland (see Bibliography) collected a lot of examples of how returning to study native buildings can give a better idea of using less imported materials, making the buildings more responsive to the local environment, and more sustainable for maintenance and climate, all the while being aesthetically pleasing for the culture. Things like curved roofs protect against cyclones (hurricanes), using reeds with hollow stems for their insulating properties, circular buildings to protect against monsoon rains, and window placement to collect solar heat and create cross-ventilation. 

The geeking science list for architecture goes on and on. Flying buttresses, keystones, spiral staircases, …. add them to your writing to make the world more real. Tie the environmental problems people face to the houses they choose to live in. In Urban Fantasy, does the person live in a shotgun house or a penthouse? In a fantasy, is it a “Winter is Coming” or “Afternoon Siesta” culture? For a science fiction, how long does it take them to abandon the old colony ships and build their own places? Break the white box.


DiStasio, Cat. “The amazing Bangladeshi air cooler is made from plastic bottles and uses no electricity.” – last viewed 11/12/2019.

Holland, Oscar (CNN). “What traditional buildings can teach architects about sustainability” – last viewed 11/12/2019.

Kalovic, Alen. “Shinbashira – pagoda’s exceptional earthquake resistance.” – last viewed 11/12/2019. (Author deleted the article in 2022.)

Kipnis, Nathan. “Natural Cooling Strategies.” Mother Earth News. – last viewed 11/12/2019.