A few days ago, I was going through my father’s belongs, (the late Anthony Hars, Architect) and found one of his many writings. As I read it I was impressed by the way he thought about Architecture and how it relates to us and the environment. Close to 50 years ago he wrote about the correlation between allergies and building materials. He was a man of vision and a great Architect. Even to this day, we are slowly understanding how materials affect us and the environment. I would like to share it with you.
“A friend of mine, an M.D. insists that the AIA should be sued for malpractice. He says Architects prescribe environment without realizing what they are doing – “practicing medicine without license”.
While we change the name of Schools of Architecture to Environmental Design Institutes, etc, we have to send our A.I.A. research director to Poland to a conference on “Effects of Building Materials on Micro-climates” sponsored by HEW. There is nothing wrong with going to Poland, the problem is that practically no architectural research is being done in this country about relationships between design, specifications, and planning on one hand and the non-microbial health hazards on the other, allergies in particular. Over 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from some form of allergies, yet most architects never heard of methods of coping with that phenomenon. We indulge in specifying poisoning of the soil (as common practice) under concrete slabs for termite protection while lobbying against various pesticides. We are calling for durable materials and Industry creates them, (and nobody knows how to dispose of them, of course), but I have yet to see a material handbook warning about the health-hazard of any material (lead being about the only exception).
The importance of the air-electric climate and its possible control prompted, among many others, a team from the University of Jerusalem to investigate, measure and report its findings. Architects consider usually one aspect of this problem, in terms of flooring materials for operating rooms, ammunition depots, etc. Elsewhere, only the carpet industry did something to isolate the problem and propose some solutions, but carpet is only one type of building element.
Inner logic: The attitude of awareness. Awareness, not only of things that are “obvious”, but those more subtle. When huge concrete and masonry piles, like the Pruitt-Igoe Towers, St. Louis, (structurally, mechanically, etc – so sound) are being blown up at government expense – then we must come to terms with subtleties of our chemical, electrical, as well as social environment. An eminent elder statesman of our profession dismissed these gropings with”we are not post-industrial enough to go primitive” and as the cop-out of “wishful sons of rich capitalists”.
I have a substantial bibliography, leads, and ideas. In addition, I have plans and specifications for an allergy-free house with a controlled air-electrical environment-an experimental house (actual project) to be built later this year and next year.
There is a large amount of research behind this but mostly buried in learned journals and proceedings of exclusive conferences. A publication (book-form) as a result of all these investigations is almost a “must” as all those considerations would remain isolated efforts of individuals unless they are brought to the attention of each other as well as others, who have not embarked on similar enterprises, but are groping for answers to present and future problems of our existence.” – Anthony Hars, Architect
My father hit the nail on the head so to speak. Even to this day, many Architects, builders, and designers specify toxic materials. As a Sustainable Designer, I feel that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to our clients and the environment to specify non-toxic materials and design-build practices. As my father stated in 1972, 30 million people suffered from Allergies. According to http://www.aafa.org 50 million people suffer from allergies today and the number is increasing. It would be interesting to know the correlation between indoor air pollution from toxic materials and allergies. I will be researching and blogging about it in the coming month and will share my findings with you.