The 5 Biggest Energy-Related Building Design Mistakes of the 60s, 70s and 80s

Energy-Related Building Design Mistakes
The cramped, cubicle-focused offices of the 80s have been largely phased out over the last two decades.

The 60s, 70s and 80s brought numerous important technological innovations with them. From the space era to the computer revolution, many of the most important technological developments date back to this era.

While the post-WWII era resulted in massive technological and economic growth, it wasn’t such a great period for architecture and building design. In fact, the postwar period is renowned for its highly dated and inefficient architecture.

The flaws of mid-to-late 20th century building design go beyond the aesthetic. Many of the buildings constructed from the 1960s until the early 1990s also featured poor layouts, low quality construction materials and a lack of natural light sources.

In this blog post, we’ll look at five of the most troubling energy-related architecture and design mistakes of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and explore how they’ve been fixed in the 21st century building designs of today.

Cubicle-focused office design

Whether you’ve worked in a 70s or 80s-style cubicle workspace or simply seen one in films, you’ll no doubt have noticed that workplaces – prior to the 1990s – were all about isolation.

Workers were isolated from each other, situated in cubicles designed for focus and self-containment. Today, cubicles have been largely phased out in favor of working environments that are more open and collaborative.

Cubicle-focused office design has numerous downsides, from poor natural lighting to reduced productivity. Thankfully, it’s been largely phased out and replaced with offices that are more open, airy and geared towards productivity and collaboration.

Small windows and low natural light

Buildings constructed during the 70s and 80s are renowned for failing to focus on natural light. Small windows and excessive artificial lighting are hallmarks of many buildings from this era – features that most people would prefer to live without.

There are a variety of reasons for the lack of focus on natural light in this era. One of the most convincing is the theory that, because energy was inexpensive, the period’s architects had no interested in conserving it.

Unlike office layouts, which are easy to modify, the small windows of many 70s and 80s buildings are tough to fix. From health to productivity, the design of many late-20th century buildings is far from ideal when it comes to lighting.

Thin and noisy studded interior walls

Many buildings constructed during the late 20th century have thin interior walls that allow noise to travel. These studded walls were built due to their low cost, allowing developers of the era to spend less on the interior layout of office buildings.

Like many design and construction trends of the late 20th century, they have a range of negative effects. One of the biggest is the noise transfer that they allow – a serious problem that affects many offices and workplaces in dated buildings.

Studded interior walls also allow heat to travel between rooms, as these walls aren’t thick or insulated. This can present problems in office buildings in which heated and unheated spaces have adjoining interior walls.

Inefficient and subpar air circulation

Poor air circulation is a major issue in late 20th century buildings. In fact, it’s such a serious problem that many buildings from the era have been diagnosed with “sick building syndrome” – a situation that leads to serious ill health effects.

Sick building syndrome (SBS) has been linked to poor air circulation and ineffective HVAC systems. Buildings constructed from the mid-1970s until the 1990s have been linked to the growth of sick building syndrome and its health effects.

Fresh air is one of the most important components of a productive, healthy office. A staple of effective building design today, it was unfortunately valued far too little in the 70s and 80s, with architecture (and human health) suffering as a result.

Cramped and inefficient floor plans

Cramped hallways, crowded offices and minimal space to maneuver are classic signs of mid-to-late 20th century building design. While open offices emerged in the 1990s as the modern standard, older office buildings often have tight, cramped floor plans.

Inefficient floor plans have a variety of negative effects. Not only do they make the working environment less comfortable and productive for people, they also reduce the ability of natural light to flow throughout the workplace.

A remnant of outdated office design, inefficient floor plans have largely been fixed over the past two decades. While largely solved in commercial building design, the issue of overly busy floor plans remains an issue in the residential world.

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