Ecological-Studios:

First steps in a users primer for reconstructing the recording studio's around green design and architectural practice


II) the core ecological design issues for eco-recording studio's


This section explores a microexample of the music industry, the recording studio, and the sustainability dimension of recording studios, envisaging ways of how studios can be transformed along green design principles.
Buildings are both a central part of the contemporary process of music making, and include at their heart many aspects of the energy resource and materials questions that making society in sustainable need to face. Today the making of music is invariably practised inside buildings of infinite varieties - from one person learning an instrument to vast ensembles rehearsing - these invariably occur in the regulated conditions of interiors, with a roof or a ceiling over the music, and a number of walls around it.

The growth of green architecture over the last thirty years has accompanied the gradual realisation that many ecologically suitable and practical features can be incorporated into buildings, and be designed using nature as the design template.
The effects of design and building decisions can be divided into three main headings; the Energy, Resources and Health. An initial point concerning energy is that buildings ideally should be designed using materials which need the least amount of energy to make and construct, and indeed should be constructed using low energy methods. Materials such as metals and plastics use considerably more energy to make than timber and stone, particularly if these latter natural materials are from local sources. Bricks need four times the energy to make compared to timber and a steel beam nine times that of a wooden beam. The building of a brick house is said to use twelve times as much energy compared to a light weight self-built timber house. Once built, the building should be designed to use as little energy as possible for the energy requirements, principally heating, lighting, ventilating, etc. Renewable energy would be the obvious ideal source of energy, and design could take advantage of buffer rooms and lobbies to protect inner rooms.
One primary aim of all green architecture is energy conservation, including embodied energy (the energy used in the creation and transportation of materials, as well as during the construction of buildings.) materials are fully or much more sustainable - in the way they are made, including how they will last potentially recyclable.) Another element is once the building is up and running the source of energy it uses once any building is up-and-running. The convention is the national grid, but it can be feasible to use renewable energy: solar, photovoltaics, wind, and water, or a combination of these energy sources.

Considerable advances have been made over the last two decades in practical and design terms in the integration of renewables into the design of buildings. Below the particularly unusual example of Real World is highlighted.
Resource issues are clearly important. Using renewable materials is usually the primary aim. The renewable dilemmas around rainforest woods is common western knowledge, though less well known are the issues around home grown temparate forest woods, such as half the softwood used in Britain derives from non-sustainable temparate sources. Buildings can be designed to be green resources themselves, recycling their own waste and water, for instance.
Health, is possibly the field the public are least aware of. It makes clear sense that materials are as non-polluting as possible, few look either at the toxic and other polluting effects that occur whilst building materials are themselves being produced. There are also health risks of any possible site for building; toxic wastes and high voltage electricity lines. Within any building there are the further issues of whether the building can 'breathe' thus helping to avoid 'sick building syndrome'; the health choices of either synthetic or natural 'gentle' materials, paints, stains and other finishes; and the effects of electromagnetic fields.

All these issues are clearly as relevant to the music world as for any other section of society. The attractions of Green architectural practise being incorporated in music industry buildings is, if one is committed to a non-nuclear future, primarily that one is helping solve the problem of lessening energy use and contributing to sustainability. It seems bizarre that the likes of U2 and Kraftwerk get involved in supporting Greenpeace campaigns against Windscale Power plant, yet demonstrate no commitment to designing alternative music making-energy interfaces, beyond Kraftwerk's Ralf and Florian's laudable obsession with cycling. It's also not difficult to imagine, maybe if you are of an apocalyptic turn of mind, alternative energy studio's being off the grid and self-sufficent, or indeed part of a self-sufficient community.
One view expressed about green studio's is that energy use concerning studio's isn't really the problem. It could be seen as similar to when a few years ago people were buying environmentally-friendly detergent. It wasn't people who were causing the problem, rather big companies like ICI who were the principle guilty parties, polluting rivers. By this line of thinking, studios consume negligable amounts of energy compared to electricity used to heat things or move things round. In this view, average studios if 'average' studios exist, use about the same amount as a medium sized house, the heaviest consumer of the units are for lights, and the real culprits are big factories which use exponentially vastly more quantities of power resources than the joe average studio household. The notion of an ecologically resourced studio may be viewed, from such a view, as a really 'weird' idea . Although they maybe as much as anybody into the green perspective, such an approach, and enquiring about how much electricity is used monthly in a small scale studio or the average length of making an album may be viewed as completely 'obscure' questions.

Evenso this perspective appears to completely ignore the Green Architecture and design dimension. There is, as has been mentioned, various notable advances that have been taking place in the field of Architecture and sustainability. Green Architecture is possibly the biggest thing happening in the discipline, and any number of architectural initiatives are unfolding. And many of these are surely applicable to the studio scenario. There is the sustainable dimension of using sustainable and natural products as much as possible - if not completely - which can be obtained from ecologically responsible materials outlets. You can use local materials, which is orthodox Greenthink, thus fitting into the neighbouring regional economy and acting locally. You can use the various Green support materials such as ecologically-sound non-toxic paints and lightbulbs, etc and you can refrain from using the various unhelpful materials, from concrete to steel, as much as is possible. If you're building the building from scratch you could build in wood, rather than brick, or if you live in a stone producing area, stone. Next there is the apparently controversial area of linking the electricity supply to an alternative source of power. These could be solar pannelling on a roof or roofs (think south facing north of the equator), although it may be a problem in maintaining a constant temperatures for acoustic considerations. The roofs don't have to be those of the studio itself though. In a windy area, wind power is completely feasible, and if a river (or rivulet) runs through it, or near to hand, mill or water power becomes a serious option. Photo-voltaic battery sources are another alternative energy option to consider. If needs be, and it probably would be any of these options could be backed up by being connected to the main grid.

Another area to be aware of, and already mentioned, is that of electromagnetic radiation and fields. There could be systems to shut off the current to the walls, because they create residual elecromagnetic radiation. These include fuse-box systems and detectors to work with the flows and fluxes of electricity. The air quality of the studio is important becuse often it's a sealed and enclosed space. As mentioned the priority would be to use as non-toxic materials as possible. Paints; adhesives, carpetting, and if wood is stained as low toxicity as possible. If plywood is being used, use presswood and ensure it is formaldahyde free.

From an aesthetic point of view as well as the health angle plenty of plants - particularly spider plants - are always good news. The spider plants particularly because they eat up the toxins in the air. Recording at night is beneficial because it keeps costs down, and coming off the grid will reduce pollution with less people using it.
And again from an aesthetic point of view, and a creative one making music in beautiful, maybe wild places, connected and close to nature, far from the world, deep within mountains or surrounded by old growth woodland or whatever you're into is surely good for the creative juices. Rural studio's, and the idea of the studio fitting into the rural economy could be a way to go. Urban studio's, which are the majority, I would have thought, can be depressing, alienating experiences which bring little to the quality of recording.

Green design, architecture and building fusing with the music world, eco-studio's and the like are only one particular small step in moves towards sustainability. What's been outlined here are a few possibilities on the cusp of making such a new hybrid. And although maybe not completely there quite yet, with developments in technology I think this cusp will be reached. Although these developmentsmay face challenging teething troubles (as someone wrote to me 'I don't know any musicians who would trust a wind-powered mixing-desk') it seems a next logical step for the forward looking in the two domains to take and make. Many in the music world, beyond the accountants, are into the green perspective, and similarly a fair degree in the green world are into whatever musics they're into.The exemplars and possibilities are in place. Surely it's a reasonable expectancy to envisage such a form of fusion occuring. It'll be interesting (and instructive) to see if, actually, such a track begins to happen, in the next few years, small scale or otherwise.

next