Climatically Responsive Clothing
In thinking through the relationship shared between human physiology, architecture, and the atmosphere it is desirable for me to speculate on scenarios of augmenting each, and how current technologies and natures may evolve to accommodate new human experiences given the ever-changing ecologies we inhabit. For this article I am especially interested in exploring (or acknowledging a condition thereof) the relationship between buildings, textiles and climate.
In the present era humans rely (in most cases) heavily on buildings and their mechanical systems to regulate their bodies internal temperatures from exterior climatic conditions. With rising temperatures and increased humidity due to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere there will most likely be an increased demand for not only spatial internal regulation of micro-climate but also external conditioning toward the regulation of body temperature that goes beyond what traditional textile technology or mechanical/energy systems can afford [at present].
Historically, there has been a multitude of research into mechanical systems and the conditioning of space for its role in architecture, but I believe that clothing may be an equally valid area of research for the future of human habitation. It may be useful for textile designers to explore recent areas of interests to architects, such as synthetic biology, chemical engineers, etc. Architecture, at least in academia, is vested in maintaining not only aesthetic levels but performative levels as well. Interest and research topics have expanded through the exploration of mechanical systems and responsive building facades to even more recent ventures in materials research (given increased understanding of decreasing scales of matter such as molecular and atomic structures). Sensors and actuators are now a common technology woven throughout a buildings mechanical systems and building facades to regulate internal temperatures from external climates undesirable to human physiology. Materials research has advanced to include materials which clean themselves with rain water and bleed when punctured. Installations by Philip Beasley sense and respond to the presence of inhabitants and changes in gases within the atmosphere.
With simulated climate forecasts for the coming century calculating rising temperatures (in currently habitable global regions) which may overtime become un-inhabitable to the human species, where unless you are able to properly regulate internal body temperature more efficiently, to be outside for any length of time would be unimaginable for the human species without proper intervention/adaptation.
With rising energy costs, political and social differences, and building technology so far unable to completely meet the demands posed by rising temperatures and more extreme living conditions, humans will [most likely] not evolve in the timespan forecasted to adapt to these circumstances (barring extreme genetic modification).
A few possible approaches to this circumstance may be taken into account; conditioning (heating/cooling) an exterior micro-climate, conditioning macro-climates of the Earth (atmospheric augmentation), self-regulating climatically responsive clothing, genetically altered human DNA (synthetically induced evolution). These are just a few examples but show a range of scales at which to approach the situation posed. For none of the given examples would we be able to fully predict all, if any, second-order consequences which could arise were they implemented over a large scale. For all that we know, augmented atmospheres (through such techniques and cloud seeding or feeding iron to the oceans to induce algae growth) could be just as detrimental [for instance] as the production of nano-particles that may enter into the human biological system (needed in the manufacturing of climatically responsive garments).
Without direct genetic manipulation of the human physiological systems or drastic atmospheric augmentation, it perhaps seems most feasible, and a currently viable solution (without foresight of the technology that will be needed in order for such a system to operate), would be researching climatically responsive clothing with a more integrated link with human physiology. This technology would impact not only the programmatic experience of the interior spaces of buildings (architecture) but a technological leap toward the adaptation of human physiological systems (via technological upgrades) and how we begin to inhabit exterior space without the need for energy-intensive conditioned spaces sealed off from atmospheric conditions.
Currently, buildings condition interior space based on a generalized standard of human comfort where an average is found for all occupants based on; a standard human being and external and internal conditions (even though each person’s preference, activity, or personal comfort level varies throughout a space based on any number of variables). This scenario too holds multiple approaches in the way that the circumstance could be addressed; interior conditioned spaces can become more heterogeneously conditioned based on a number of variables through a complex network of sensors both in the building itself and on the occupants within to create a multitude of interior conditions specific to the activity and each person’s unique physiological characteristics, or as a gradient of interior micro-climatic conditions where personal preference and activities are located specifically to that particular level of comfort found in the micro-climate. These examples have already been a part of architectural research and study, from Omar Kahn, Sean Lally, and Philippe Rahm. The reality is that for the time being systems such as these will be rarely implemented in their current state and even then only in certain circumstances, and does not address the multitude of interior spaces which would need to be reimagined and retrofitted to fit such a model (not just in terms of technology but also social aspects that would need to adapt). With the current economic, social, and technological state of things, these routes are unlikely [in the near future]. However, I am not suggesting that it can’t be done, just not likely in the near future on a large scale and perhaps not soon enough.
Rather than relying solely on a building or mechanical system (which require large amounts of energy to sustain) to generate either and homogeneous or heterogeneous micro-climate (while negating the exterior ecologies), it might be possible to consider advancements in textiles and materials research to fill in the gaps between the macro and micro-climate specific to each person’s unique physiology and geodetic location. This wearable technology goes beyond merely the addition or subtraction of layers and speculates to the next step in the evolution of human adaptation, where the materiality of the clothing itself adapts to become a part of physiological systems–an evolved epidermal layer which helps regulate and respond to internal and external stimuli (etc…).