Think in Reverse

Assignment 5: Applying Systems Principals in Design November 29, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 5:34 am

Building Introduction:

My final building this semester is both a rehabilitation center and housing complex for wounded war veterans. The lower floors of the structure are where the more public program is located including a full length pool, three gyms, a weight room, a lobby and a café.  The upper floors house 48 individual apartment units, counseling rooms, and offices.  The two major programmatic considerations I have continued to incorporate in my design are the allowance of sun to the adjacent highline, and the importance of private outdoor areas for each apartment unit. Below I have organized my explanation of the systems in my building beginning with wind and ventilation and second looking at sunlight and thermal heating.


Axon notes:

The axonometric diagram of my building is highlighting the exterior planted spaces on each floor of my building in grey.  I mentioned earlier the importance of individual private space for each apartment and this diagram helps to show the non tradtional ratio of exterior to interior space for each level.  The yellow and blue colors are showing the repetition of the two floor plans that begin at level seven and continue to level twenty.  My goal in planting on these surfaces is to provide both evaporative cooling for the adjacent gyms and apartments; and to provide roof insulation for the rooms below the planted surfaces.  Because of the way my apartment units are organized one garden can serve both of these purposes for two different apartments.  In one study done in Japan it was found that a roof garden can reduce the temperature of the roof slab from 60 C to 30 C in the summer.  In addition, the same roof garden served to lower the temperature of heat flux into the adjacent room through evaporative cooling by 50% too.


Evaporative Cooling and Apartment Ventilation (Plans):

The next image is showing both the placement of the private gardens in relation to each apartment and also the natural ventilation strategies that occur because of strategic window placement.  In New York City the prevailing wind is generally from the West.  However in the warmer months of the year the wind comes more from the Southwest and in the colder months from the Northwest.  In my ventilation diagrams I have angled the blue arrows (representing airflow) as coming from the Southwest.  This is because this passive ventilation would be used only for cooling, which is only necessary in the warmer months in New York City.’s_prevailing_winds_come_from


Sun Chart from the Highline (Joiner):

As I began to examine the way my building would manipulate sunlight I found it helpful to chart the sun path from a point adjacent to my site on the highline.  I knew from the start that I wanted my design to obstruct the natural light that currently warms the highline as little as possible.  By first charting the sun throughout the year at this point on the highline with no building in the site I was able to overlay my multiple iterations, to make sure that my openings on the lower floors would continue to correspond with the sun paths in the winter.  By allowing the sun to come through as I have I was able to preserve a large amount of the micro climate that pre-existed my structure on the highline.  On our visit I found this area of the park a very pleasant one and dreaded the idea of blocking the warm sun with a site enveloping skyscraper.

Dark Room Photos:

As a further study on this large scale manipulation of the sun I recreated the summer and winter solstice sun angles with a flash light in the dark room to try and show the actual cone of sunlight that would occur on the highline at these times.  The green dotted lines help to highlight the highline edges and the orange dot marks where I stood while I took the panoramic pictures used in my sun chart above.  The photos on the top half of the page show what the sun might look like during the winter on the highline, allowing much more sun through the lower floors around the orange dot and warming the lower floors public outdoor patios.  While the lower half of the page shows how the upper floors block the suns access to the highline (no light reaches the orange dot) and in turn the private gardens receive the majority of the rays, allowing the residents to take full advantage of the light for personal planting.


The last image is showing a simple line drawing of the four elevations of my building.  The center two elevations have highlighted in black the large voids that allow the sunlight to reach the highline in the winter months (what I was talking about above).  The sun rays in the upper left corner are drawn at the solstice angles I have previously mentioned: 25.8° and 72.8°.  With my staggering of each apartment unit I was able to create an overhang that allows the winter sun onto the private balconies while preventing the summer sun from coming in more than a few feet.  This small window of direct sun in the summer is enough to use for private gardens but is unable to reach the inhabitable space.



Opaque Dining November 15, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 7:57 pm

During our recent lecture on light where we spent the majority of the class in the dark I couldn’t help but be reminded of a new trend of fine dining that I had recently heard about- “Opaque Dining”, or dining in the dark.  This concept originated in Europe but is quickly gaining popularity in places like Las Angeles and New York City.  The idea is that dining in complete darkness lets you become much more aware of your other senses- more specifically taste, smell, and touch.  This experience manipulates scientific principles of sense perception to shape a new way of experiencing food for the diners.  The participants claim to discover new flavors, textures, and smells from everyday foods such as plain yogurt or potatoes.  A cool fact I discovered while researching Opaque Dining was that all of the waiters hired for these types of restaurants are either completely blind or extremely visually impaired.  These individuals also serve as guides for the diners into the pitch black dining room.  Once the people are seated and are served their first course out of five they are told where each type of food is on the plate indicated by a time on the clock (exp. Fish at 3 O’clock).  Certain foods have become dark dining favorites such as any finger food or soups that can be sipped from a mug with a handle.  I think this experience sounds really cool and would love to try it one day.  Being able to notice the changes in sense perception that occurred in the dim room during lecture such as the increased peripheral vision and greater sensitivity to noise was really neat to me and I would love to experience this type of sense manipulation in a restaurant setting.  We should have done this while we were in New York!!




Assignment 4: The Center For Energy Efficient Design and Passivhaus Thermal Insulation November 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 4:15 pm

For Assignment 4 I examined The Center for Energy Efficient Design (CEED), In Franklin County, Va. (20 minutes from my hometown, Roanoke, Va.) After attending a lecture at a church in Roanoke on this local project. CEED is an extension of Franklin County high school, a small school in an extremely rural area of Virginia, with a goal to raise awareness and knowledge on renewable energy technologies and Passivhaus design. This building includes both a classroom and hands on laboratory where high school students study topics like hydroponics, aquaponics, and biodiesel production. This building is not only a tool for our youth but it is also open to the public so that builders and contractors can see Passivhaus systems in action, so that they can more easily apply these in their own work.

In my previous blog post I listed all of the systems and technologies this learning facility includes. Due to the timing of the beginning of this assignment I chose to focus on the thermal insulation of this building. After doing extensive research on the Center for Energy Efficient Design I found that there were no construction or detail drawings of it. For the first portion of my project I attempted a detail drawing of the joint that occurs on the front façade of the CEED between the roof, exterior wall, and bay windows. I had to use multiple sources and condense a large amount of information to be able to create this diagram. There doesn’t seem to be one specific way to insulate a window joint in Passivhaus design but the similarities between other Passivhaus images were enough information. Below I will list the main components of this joint diagram starting at the top of the drawing.

1. Air barrier between roofing material and moisture barrier

2. Fiberglass insulation

3. Rigid board insulation

4. Loose fill insulation in frame

5. Argon gas filled, triple glazing coated glass

This composition of materials aims to prevent the most thermal bridging possible, which is the way most heat is lost from buildings.

Passivhaus certifications incorporate very high standards of insulation. The Passivhaus rating is the highest energy standard in existence ‘with the promise of slashing the heating energy consumption of buildings by an amazing 90%.’ These homes are primarily heated by passive solar gain and internal gains from the inhabiting individuals and electrical equipment. This method works because these homes are insulated so well and because they are virtually air tight. All of the numerical information I could find on these insulation standards were unfortunately in metric units and Euros which makes them difficult for us to imagine, however I found one source very helpful in understanding the difference in heat loss from a typical European house and a Passivhaus house. In the chart below, the U-value, or thermal heat loss coefficient, shows the amount lost through a regularly insulated wall (external wall area of 100 m² with winter temperatures of -12 °C outside and 21 °C). The U-value shows how much heat (in Watts) is lost per m2 at a standard temperature difference of 1 degree Kelvin (inverse of the R-value we talked about in class).

A compact service unit is a system used for both heating and ventilation in passivehaus’s that provide a combined services approach that reduces installation costs. For this type of system to meet the total heat loss of the home the U-value of the walls and roof have to be extremely low. The range of U-values these materials must have to be used in this type of construction is between 0.1 to 0.15 W/(m²K). Any typical construction insulation material is able to meet this level of insulation however the issue is how much of it is necessary. Below is another table from the same source as the one above showing the thickness that would be needed if we were to insulate with some of the materials most homes use today.

As I mentioned above, the Center for Energy Efficient Design didn’t provide any information on the internet about the complexity of the insulation composition it used, which allowed me to infer what I believe they may have used. The model I have made is of a “compound system” insulation system. Termed this because of its use of two major insulators instead of one. This system takes up more space than the latter, but judging by the thickness of the walls in the CEED section I believe more than one main insulation material was used. I modeled a section cut of what I believe the CEED insulation looks like, with a ½” cut away of each succeeding material allowing the viewer to get a larger look at the surface of each. While some materials used in my model were the real thing (wood,fiberglass fill, and rigid foam) others are only visual representations of what the material would look like.

Below I will further explain the labeled layers in my model:

1. Exterior Siding

Exterior siding is used mainly for aesthetics. This material is nailed both to the sheathing that lies directly behind it but also through to the studs in the walls. The sheathing is typically a thin panel of plywood. I have guess that the siding used one the exterior of the CEED is engineered wood. This material is made with wood products but has a uniform wood grain since the finish is man made. Some forms of engineered wood siding are oriented strand board, hardboard, and veneered plywood.

2. Moisture Barrier

Weather resistive barriers are placed in between the exterior sheathing and the structures siding. This layer protects the home from moisture infiltration, and is often times referred to as house wrap. “By keeping building materials dry, a weather-resistive barrier improves building durability, decreases maintenance costs, and reduces the risk of moisture-related problems such as bugs, mold, mildew, and rot.” This layer acts as a drainage plane, draining the water that does get through the exterior siding down through the air barrier that is left between the moisture barried and the siding. To retain system integrity this layer must be installed very carefully by a professional.

3. Fiberglass Fill

Loose fill insulation can be made from materials such as cellulose, fiberglass, and rock wool. This form of insulation is broken down into shreds or granuels which allows the fill to conform to any space. When built by a professional loose fill is applied using speical blowing equipment. This type of instalation helps to lessen the amoutn of gaps that can occur in roll instalation. Fiberglass fill is also very fire resistant.

4. Vapor Barrier

The vapor barried layer that lies between the two major insulation types in this compound system is the second level or moisture infiltration protection. This material not only keeps the exterior moisture out but also keeps the interior moisture in. activities such as cooking, laundry, and bathing all produce a large amount of water vapor. If this vapor reaches the loose fill insulation cavity it can convert to liquid within the insulation and significantly lower the insulations R-value. Without this barrier moisture would collect in the fiberglass layer causing the fill to mat and compact.

5. Rigid Board Insulation

This type of insulation has a higher R-value per inch than fiberglass insulation does. The microscopic closed cell structure of this material gives the foam its unique properties. This rigid foam as we know has very low thermal conductivity but it also has a very high resistance to water penetration and high compression strength.

6. Airtight Envelope

Airtightness is essential to avoid construction damages caused by moisture infiltration. However this layer should not be confused with the vapour barrier. A vapour barrier is a diffusion tight layer. This envelope allows some vapor diffusion. The installation of this layer is extremely tedious and the envelope can only be effective if the layer consists of one undisturbed airtight layer enwrapping the whole volume of the house. This is a separate layer from the insulation because insulation materials are generally not air tight. The accuracy of this amterials correct installation is especially important at joints in the structure, as we know from thermal images in class this is where most buildings loose their heat. This envelope should also not be confused as being an insulation material responsible for stopping heat transfer.

7. Drywall

Drywall is a material made of porous plaster and is used for the interior finishes of walls. This material comes in sheets and is nailed to studs behind it.

Other images of my model:

In conclusion, Passivehaus thermal insulation has very high standards but is able to function in an extremely remarkable way, especially when compared to traditional insulation methods. Passivehaus structures use natural systems and resources by capturing and channeling them in the most efficient ways we have discovered instead of relying on predominantly ‘active’ systems as the large majority of building and homes do today.  “High performance triple-glazed windows, super-insulation, an airtight building shell, limitation of thermal bridging and balanced energy recovery ventilation make possible extraordinary reductions in energy use and carbon emission.”  I found a few different statistics on the price difference between traditional building and it costs a on average a surprisingly small 14% more to build a Passivehaus home than a traditional one.  One website claimed as low as 10% more.  I have gained tremendous knowledge on all types of insulation for all types of construction methods as well as the most efficient joining systems.  I look forward to following the popularity of Passivhaus design locally and genuinely hope The Center for Energy Efficient Design will influence and inspire the rural community of Franklin County Virginia as its designers intended.  Not only could these structures change the way we consume energy but also I would love to see more nearby!


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The Lace Hill Over Yerevan November 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 2:40 am

In our last class (10/25) we were introduced to the concept of natural ventilation.  We began by talking about a few reasons why we have to constantly ventilate an indoor space.  A few of these reasons were that we have to ventilate carbon dioxide buildup, we use it to control the temperature of the space for comfort, to ventilate material off-gassing, and to control the humidity of a space.  We also examined a few ventilation strategies, both manmade (sailboat) and not (termite hill), that have been in very successful use for hundreds of years.

I would like to share a really unique competition entry that uses natural ventilation on the city scale- something we have not yet examined.  The project, named ‘Lace Hill’ is an urban landscape design that looks just like its name, designed to recall traditional Armenian lace needlework.  This ‘hill’ was proposed for the edge of the already densely developed city of Yerevan, Armenia and plans to cover 900,000 square feet.  The idea of a hill rather than a towering vertical monument came about as a way to ‘stitch together’ horizontal historic Yerevan and the adjacent country side.  Included in the program: a hotel, a residential portion, offices, retail shops, a cinema, a health center, underground parking, and tons of public green space, plazas, and terraced gardens.  Perhaps  most importantly the hill would also serve as an amphitheater providing seating for the viewing of Yerevan and Mt. Ararat.

The design of Lace Hill uses ventilation in two main ways: One, to regulate the temperature of its interior, and Two, tower-voids act as dramatic cooling towers for the larger city, helping to naturally manage Yerevan’s semi-arid climate.  The interior of Lace hill functions somewhat similarly to the termite mound we looked at in class in the sense that its sides are porous and it has a larger opening at the top.  The walls allow wind to come in, bringing fresh air into the space which is cooled on its way into the hill by the cooler pond water located in many of the tower voids.  The pantheon like opening at the top would function as the chimney in the termite mound does, by letting hot, stale air out.  The wind blowing around the hill would encourage this by creating a suction for the stale air  (just like the termite mound)

As I mentioned above, Lace Hill gives back to the city by passively cooling portions of it in the summer.  The Hill uses ponds in many of the hills tower voids to store the cooler temperatures that the City may reach over night.  During the day, the North breeze passes over these ponds, acting as a ‘giant evaporative cooling mechanism’ for the city below.

Another natural system that this competition entry takes advantage of is day lighting and sun exposure.  The program of the Hill is organized around these principals.  Maximizing Direct sunlight, All living spaces are along the long, meandering south face of the hill.  Also on this side window walls set deep within the terraces shade summer sun from both the cooling ponds and the void inhabitants.  “Offices, which need indirect light and where spectacular views are less valuable, are along the north face of the hill. A narrow office floor plate stepping down toward the south provides adequate, diffuse daylight. Retail, restaurants, exhibition halls, a cinema, and a health center line the promenade at the first level.”

In conclusion, this design offers an alternative to urban development as we know it, and applies natural systems as it does so.  A few systems I didn’t mention but that are still extremely important in the design are Geothermal wells, radiant floors, and recycled grey water irrigation.  Although this project is extremely far out, I appreciate the reconsideration of the traditional idea of monument that has been put into it.  In closing, the Lace Hill architects leave us with a few statements to ponder:

“Instead of shimmering glass, a growing productive surface.”

“Instead of a sealed building, open sun-drenched terraces.”

“Instead of a building that imports a fleeting image, a building that invests in performance, connectivity, and function.”