What is so important about design? Well, without the application of this discipline we would be making/consuming lots of things with an inbuilt failure outcome. A designer, architect or engineer’s mission is to avoid these disasters, in part at least.
There are numerous instances of these failures. One that stands out, at the moment, is the baffling use of black corrugated steel roofing on new Australian housing. I have no idea where this fashion trend started but it represents a design failure. Black does not reflect the heat of the sun but instead, soaks it in and heats up the space between ceiling and roof, guaranteeing an uncomfortably hot house. How this black roofing fashion took hold in Australia, where the hours of sunlight are very high, is very hard to understand.
There are two instances where black roofing might be acceptable. One is in very cool climates where the summer sun is very moderate. There is nowhere in Australia where this is the case (not even in Tasmania). The other instance is in winter months when the hot air generated in the ceiling space can be pumped down to the living areas for heating. This is only half sensible because, in summer, there will be an excess of really hot air in the roof cavity needing ventilation. But the sun’s capacity is likely to defeat any natural ventilation and most mechanical systems too.
Think of a Welsh village with black slate roofs and we have a perfect and pleasing roof material, quarried locally and appropriate for the climate. But black roofing in Australia? In sunny Australia, it is an uncritical fashion choice with a cost; the discomfort of living with excess heat and higher power bills (with the need for air-conditioning). The costs can go way over the initial design costs of getting it right in the first place. Similarly, the costs of poorly designed and made furniture are high when the items don’t stand the test of time and need replacing.
The solution is simple; using roof colours that will reflect as well as effective ceiling insulation. Architects, designers and anyone that can think through these kinds of issues are invaluable. They help make our living environments more comfortable and sustainable.
The challenge is for each of us to, query fashion, know when it is time to engage a specialist designer and to critically evaluate the long-term consequences of our purchase decisions.
Written by Peter Costello of Costello Design Studio