Living comfortably without air conditioners during summer in Taiwan might be unimaginable for many people, but writer Lin Tai-ling (林黛羚) believes it is possible — and easy to accomplish. Her latest book, Old Houses Made Green (老屋綠改造), features more than a dozen residences. Homeowners, living in places ranging from a Taipei City apartment to a three-building brick compound in Taichung City, changed their abodes to make them cooler and less humid.
As a landscaping student at Tunghai University (東海大學), Lin frequently traveled abroad with her classmates to study the creations of renowned architects like Peter Walker and Peter Landon. After graduating, Lin moved to Taipei and began working as an editor for home design magazines. Though she covered some of the most luxurious residences in the country, Lin was constantly struck by one thing.
“In school, I had been taught that the form of a building has to relate to its surrounding environment. After graduating, I began reporting on interior design in Taiwan. I thought, ‘Why is it so different than what I had been taught?’” Lin says.
She became less interested in covering luxury residences, and began gravitating toward homeowners who had “greened” their homes, doing renovations on their own (and often on a tight budget) to make their living quarters more environmentally friendly.
Since 2009, Lin has published six popular books, four of which focus on sustainable residential architecture and are filled with photos, technical drawings and tips for low-cost remodeling. Known by her nickname Aling (阿羚), Lin also keeps a popular blog focusing on sustainable design and lifestyle at alingling.blogspot.com.
Accompanied by her miniature pinscher, a rescue dog, Lin recently sat down at a coffee shop near her Hsinchu home to talk about the benefits of green architecture and how we have plenty to learn from our grandparents about home building.
Taipei Times: Your book emphasizes the importance of air circulation and natural light in architecture and interior design. Do you think that architects pay enough attention to these factors?
Lin Tai-ling: Earlier on they did, before there were air conditioners or dehumidifiers. Architects did not want residents to feel hot in their houses and complain, so they always had to consider that angle. But after air conditioners became commonplace, they began to think that all they had to do was to make the house look nice and they could depend on air conditioners for air circulation and temperature control.
TT: A lot of the homeowners in the book used building methods that were seen frequently 30 years ago or so ...
LT: A lot of people see sustainable architecture as a recent development. But as one of the homeowners I interviewed for my book put it, people are supposed to live in “green” buildings. Our grandparents’ homes would have been considered green architecture.
They had to think about what the direction the wind was blowing from, how the sun was shining into their windows, how to deal with humidity. Now if a building wants to reach the nine indicators [for EEWH, Taiwan’s green building certification system], then its production cost will be very expensive. But it’s wrong to think that a person has to have a lot of money to make their own home more environmentally friendly. Our grandparents didn’t use air conditioning. They paid attention to how the wind blew and installed windows accordingly to make their homes comfortable. To help absorb humidity, they left an open space of about 100cm below their floorboards. That doesn’t cost a lot of money. All they had to do was to be aware of the environment around their house.