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Stoßlüften is one of those German words without a direct equivalent in English but it translates as ‘shock ventilation’. A new one on me. I first heard it last week when Angela Merkel used it when adding room ventilation to Germany’s hygiene advice to combat Covid-19. The five step advice now comprises social distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing, using the coronavirus app and the airing of rooms.

Angela Merkel extolling the virtues of the open air

Angela Merkel extolling the virtues of the open air



Stoßlüften is apparently commonplace in Germany where many open their windows twice daily even in winter. Mrs Merkel described it as ‘one of the cheapest and most effective ways’ of containing the spread of the virus.

Compare the concept of Stoßlüften to the low energy practice of draught sealing, low ventilation rates and partial heat recovery / partial air recirculation systems used with the best of intentions in many modern ‘low carbon’ buildings. I have never been comfortable with the idea of high levels of air sealing, low ventilation rates and air recirculation especially in homes where stale air can be dangerous for babies. In the light of the Covid-19 pandemic air recirculation, which is intended to conserve heat, must be seen as fundamentally unhygienic and no air filters can block viruses (bear that in mind next time you fly). There is thankfully an alternative which is very high levels of building fabric insulation combined with 100% fresh air ventilation heated upon entry using a cross-flow heat exchanger capable of heat recovery from the outgoing air of up to 90%. Oh – and Stoßlüften!

Another of the many changes to the way we live being brought about by Covid-19.

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New Skills

Tragic though it is Covid-19 will be as nothing compared to the coming perils of climate change and resource depletion.

What buildings will we be designing in this new normal and what new skills and knowledge will we need? I can’t see many airports, open plan offices or shopping centres being built any time soon. More likely warehouses and distribution centres, healthcare and social care facilities, homeless hostels and half way housing and houses with gardens. What are we going to build these buildings from and how should they perform? This article suggests that we mine existing buildings for their reusable resources and the time must surely have come to make zero energy design mandatory as it is essential we get to net zero carbon a lot sooner than 2050.

It's architecture Jim but not as we know it.

It’s architecture Jim but not as we know it.

As architects part of the fun is always learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge. One new skill will be looking ever harder at the potential for the adaptive re-use of existing buildings to serve our future needs such as the conversion of offices to homes. Existing buildings represent embodied carbon investments made in the past so their re-use allows us to avoid the carbon emissions resulting from the construction of new buildings. Another will be the techniques to thermally upgrade the existing building stock through a massive insulation scheme and a shift to electrical heating (where energy is required) powered by renewable energy. Maybe not ‘architectural design’ as we know it but important skills to learn.