Heat refuge as an architectural type has become more prevalent in recent years, as urban centers have experienced record-high summer temperatures. Temperatures leave some of the most vulnerable city-dwellers in mortal danger. Heat refuges tend to be hosted by existing urban places. In London last summer, “cool spaces” were found in parks, sports centers, libraries, universities, and even in Tate Britain.2
Red Cross Austria hosted a cooling center in a municipal district office,3
and Caritas Vienna opened “climate oases” in parish gardens throughout the city.4
Some defining criteria for these spaces have been established. They should be open to all members of the public, free of charge; have at least one staff member present, have a sign indicating maximum occupancy; provide access to free drinking water, access to toilets, access to people with disabilities; provide seating, provide air conditioning or an alternative cooling system.5
They are defined by function rather than by form.
Zürich has traditionally been exempt from the kind of temperatures that cause heat refuges to appear in the urban landscape. Lechbinska Gallery cools itself in summer by opening windows. But how long can this privileged situation last?
This project proposes to open Lechbinska Gallery as a heat refuge during the months of July and August 2023.
The art space already fulfills many of the criteria listed above. It is free and open to the public, has at least one staff member on duty, has access to free drinking water (a sink), access to toilets; could easily provide seating (folding chairs), and could easily indicate its maximum occupancy.
The question of cooling is more complex. The art space must always be cool enough to responsibly house works of art; to safeguard their material and cultural value. This means a temperature of between 18 and 28°C depending on season and climate; 18-24°C in temperate climates.6
The temperature recommended by hospitals and nursing homes for safeguarding humans – their biological, social, intellectual, spiritual, and any other kind of value – is 26°C.7
Over 50% of Switzerland’s residential cooling demand proceeds from buildings 20 years old or fewer,8
despite the fact that these buildings account for only 17% of the Swiss building stock.9
The reasons for this are architectural: qualities like “higher window-to-wall ratios, higher thermal insulation and increase in airtightness”,10
not shared by older buildings. On the contrary, many “older” buildings (pre-1945, in the studies cited) are intrinsically suited to passive cooling. The building that houses L-Art Space was built in 1896, and benefits from the thermal mass of 60-80cm solid masonry walls, thickest at ground level. The space has the potential to be cross-ventilated, as long as the front and back doors are both open. The space is not made overly vulnerable by windows, as several have been walled over, and those remaining in the street-facing (northwest-facing) part of the gallery are spared the worst of the summer sun.
These are parallel facts, from which parallel conclusions emerge. First, a space accommodated to the needs of art can also accommodate itself to the needs of humans. Second, the older building stock of a city can be put to work in service of newer climatic needs. If somewhere a fan must be plugged in (because we are no longer in 1896), so be it. The point is the meeting, which is not necessarily a perfect alignment: that an existing space with existing functions, which is simultaneously a historic space with historic assets, come to meet present humans with present needs.
And so, within the scope of this project, the art space temporarily becomes a piece of civic infrastructure. Its accessibility, plumbing, shade, and ventilation temporarily become its most important attributes.
Of course, there may not be a heatwave in Zürich in the summer of 2023. Or, it may not be hot every day. Or, it may be so hot that the idea of a passively cooled cooling center becomes cruelly ironic. The question of need is flexible and elusive.
Title borrowed from the 1981 documentary by Markus Sieber, Werner Schweizer, Marcel Müller, Patricia Loggia, Thomas Krempke et al.2
Criteria adapted from <https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/criteria_for_cool_spaces_in_london_summer_2022.pdf>6
According to the Australian Heritage Collections Council <http://manual.museum.wa.gov.au/conservation-and-care-collections-2017/preventive-conservation-agents-decay/relative-humidity-and>7
Silva, Ricardo, et. al. “Opportunities for passive cooling to mitigate the impact of climate change in Switzerland”, Building and Environment
208 (2022): p. 109 https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/construction-housing/buildings.html#:~:text=Buildings%20in%20Switzerland&text=At%20the%20end%20of%202021,%2C%20Vaud%2C%20Aargau%20and%20St
Silva, p. 14