Think in Reverse

Ending with the larger picture, and where we must go from here December 9, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 9:40 pm

I enjoyed revisiting the book Cradle to Cradle, by Michael Braungart and William McDonough this semester after reading it six years ago to use as a basis for my Roanoke Valley Governors School application essay.  Clearly this book was way over my head as a rising freshman in high school but I knew even then that there was something extremely intriguing about this new way of thinking that I wanted to learn more about.  Even at that stage in my education I was able to recognize that this book was something revolutionary.  I think that its pretty cool for a book to be able to capture the attention of both students and professionals- clearly at extremely different places.  Whether in their precursors to studying making or stuck in their current ways of making this ideology can be understood and applied.  We as architects create structures- and because these structures use a lot of materials and energy, our choices regarding our structures have a tremendous effect on the earth.

Throughout the semester we have looked at things like pollution, material life span, energy trails, lost energy, ect.  All of which architects have control over.  Rather than saying that our problem is that we are consuming too much or using too many materials in our structures, Cradle to Cradle is saying that the way we consume is not designed properly.  The authors of the book, a scientist and architect, are proposing we completely start over from the way we have been consuming, building, even thinking thus far and that this needs to happen NOW.  This is where the actual Cradle to Cradle concept comes in.  The authors say that so far we have been living by the Cradle to Grave approach which means that a materials life begins with creation and ends with disposal.  Cradle to Cradle is a bit more complicated but overall it is the idea that anything we create should be used over and over and over again producing zero harmful waste.  The book says that all materials we create (and therefore used in architecture) have to be of two types: technical nutrients, or biological nutrients.  Technical nutrients can be used in the continuous life cycle as the same product without ever losing integrity or quality (something that’s never really been achieved, but this is the goal).  So far the best we have been able to do with technical nutrients is downcyle them – more commonly known as recycle but that term kind of implies something more than were actually doing.  Biological nutrients are organic materials that after use can be disposed of in any natural environment, decompose into the soil, and provide food for smaller life forms.  I found an awesome systems diagram on the internet showing the operation of a regenerative or ‘cradle to cradle’ based society.  The web was drawn in an attempt to show the connection between the biological and technical sides of the system (termed organic and metal cycle in the image).



In conclusion William McDonough has been somewhat of a celebrity to me ever since I read this book that opened my eyes in the eighth grade to true ideas of sustainable living (not just living less bad).  I am so honored to be at a school that continues to push these types of ideas in our studios beginning very early.  For me it began with my 2010 critic Fatima Oliveri, who happened to work at that time atWilliam McDonough’s firm here in Charlottesville- something that gave her EXTREME credibility in my eyes.  In a similar way that this book has shaped my design motivations I think this class has as well.  Before in studio we were able to mention that we were considering a certain system, or material study, however never knew how to execute it.  I believe after taking this class I have developed the tools necessary to explain myself fully with whatever system I wish to incorporate into my building.  To be able to see the enormous leap I think we have all made in being able to incorporate so many different types of systems into our studio projects this semester gets me so excited to see the progression we can make on this topic during the rest of undergrad and on into grad school.  I can’t wait to see where designing with sustainable systems will take me! (McDonoughs firm????) J


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!


“Air Tightness to Avoid .” Passivhaus Institute. N.p., 23 Sept 2006. Web. 8 Nov 2011.


Butcher, Bill. “Passivhaus diaries, part 10: The roof.”, 21 Sept 2009. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <;.

“Center for Energy Efficient Design (CEED).” Passivhaus Design Atelier. N.p., 2010. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

Craven, Jackie. “Exterior Siding Options.”, n.d. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

“Envelope – Thermal Enclosure:.” Carbon Neutral Design Curriculum Materials Project. The American Institute of Architects, 2009. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

“Exterior Sheathing: Your Home’s Undercover Security Guard.” N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

Feist, Wolfgang. “Thermal Insulation of Passive Houses.” Passive House Institute. N.p., 23 Sept 2006. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

Firestone, Rebecca. “Green Compliant Plus.” Quantum Builders Brings Passive Houses to California. Green Compliant Plus, 06 Aug 2010. Web. 7 Nov 2011. <;.

Gröndahl, Mika. “Energy & Environment.” New York Times 30 April 2009. n. pag. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <;.

Insulation Outaouais. Insulation Outaouais, n.d. Web. 7 Nov 2011. <

“Loose Fill Insulation.” Do It Yourself. Do it Yourself, n.d. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

“Passivhaus.” Structures, Building With Integrity. Sage Island, 2008. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

Skeen, Michelle. “Structures Design Build earns certification for low-energy school.” Roanoke Times 10 Feb 2011. n. pag. Web. 8 Nov. 2011. <;.

“Solaripedia.” CEED Passive House Certified in Virginia. Webkey, 2011. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

“Styrofoam, Blue Extruded Polystyrene Foam.” Dow Plastics. Dow Plastics, n.d. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.

“Weather-Resistive Barriers.” Technology Fact Sheet. N.p., Oct 2000. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <Craven, Jackie. “EXterior Siding Options.”, n.d. Web. 8 Nov 2011. .>.

“What is a Passive House?.” N.p., 2011. Web. 8 Nov 2011. <;.


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.”


Assignment 4 Interim October 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 11:54 am

1)      SUBJECT

For Assignment 4 I chose to examine 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 passivehaus 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 passivehaus systems in action, so that they can more easily apply these in their own work.



An unbelievable amount of systems are applied to the Center for Energy Efficient  Design.  Below I have listed these.

Technologies used:

passive design

earth berming

south facing orientation

solar glazing

solar appropriate overhangs

thermal mass

geothermal energy


solar water heaters

electricity-producing wind turbines

rainwater harvesting

energy-efficient appliances

daylight harvesting

cross ventilation

indoor air quality insulated shading

energy efficient landscaping

            water saving fixtures

            green roof application

For my Project I plan on focusing on the insulation used in the CEED, since that has been our main focus in the most recent class lectures.  I was intrigued by the simple drafted section image that Bill put up of a highly insulated wall that he mentioned simply came from a building standards book.  I think that exploring a detailed part of a building such as a wall or joint section will help me to get a better understanding of the actual construction techniques used in passivehaus building. So far in studio we have only built models at much smaller scales than what I plan to attempt for this project. This unfortunately forces us to edit out many layers of information that are essential for a built structure to function.  Also, by showing this in 3D I hope to be able to make the material palette and proportions a little bit more understandable and interactive to my classmates than the images that we have seen of these sections are.

3)      SOURCES


I would like to physically model an insulation section of one of the highly insulated exterior walls of CEED, or of an eaves joint showing the two different types of insulation occurring on both the wall and roof.  This model will be at either ½”=11 or 1”=1’ scale.  In addition to this I would like to draw some diagrams similar to the one below (which is NOT of my building) showing more detailed construction drawings of what is happening at a few of the important joints of the CEED.



Assignment 3: Energy Systems: from the Body to the World October 18, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 3:42 pm

I found diagramming the energy I used in four hours more understandable when using two types of diagrams.  The first is a web of connections that focuses most heavily on the trail of energy flow that happens before any of my actions are completed or choices are made.  I originally began diagramming with my 4 hour schedule placed to the far left of the piece of paper, preparing to diagram what would happen as a result of these choices.  However, I slowly began to squeeze more and more connections in front of my schedule (in the left margin).  First the energy source, then the production of the source, then the raw materials, ect.  I realized from this draft of my diagram that the exact purpose of this assignment was to discover and better familiarize ourselves with the extremely complicated and long energy flow that has to occur BEFORE we make our daily choices.  In my final draft of the first diagram I placed my schedule towards the middle of the page.
The second diagram attempts to show the amounts of each source I used in the above diagram, by proportioning arrow thickness to the amount that I used in the four hour period.

The research I did on my second diagram was what helped me more accurately determine the amounts of resources I was using in the four hour period I diagrammed in the first image.  I tried to show using the sankey method the amount of each source using arrow thickness.  Looking at sankey diagram examples while researching I found the amount of lost energy that we have no control over really surprising.  I know this assignment is supposed to make us aware of the energy trail we have tied on to all of our minute actions but I couldn’t not make note of these losses.  This is the point in the infrastructural network I believe needs to be given the most attention.  The efficiency of our energy extraction from some resources (Coal/Nuclear import) can be less than 50%(energy that actually reaches us).  I believe that another renewable and more efficient energy source needs to be looked into to replace coal, or the methods of extracting coal need to drastically change.  25% of the total energy in the United States comes from coal even though it is so inefficient and is considered the world’s most polluting fossil fuel.  The extraction necessary for coal mining is also tied in first place with nuclear energy as the energy source with the most dangerous extraction process.

At the scale of habitual space the most energy I saw lost was through heating and cooling leaking out of buildings. We talked a little about this in section when we discussed some basic ways to easily reduce this occurrence. One was to not let just one material separate you from the outdoors.  A windows glass pane is an example of this and we talked about how in the winter it can be freezing in studio beside a window because the cold from outside transfers easily through just one material.  Multiple layers are much better at insulating.  Grade space and air pockets that separate you from the outdoors is taking this idea of material insulation a step further.  By creating a pocket of air separating the inhabitable space and outdoor space the air serves as an insulator in itself.  Aside from keeping the cold out, air infiltration and leakage from the home is another way heated air can be drawn from the home and wasted.  The articles on the internet that I read have seem to come to a consensus that this happens mostly from small holes and cracks in the homes joinery, the most heat being lost from the edges of walls and roofs, windows or doors.  These joints can be constructed with more precision or more insulation can be applied in specific areas.

At the scale of the individual choices I made, I found the most lost energy occured while using a gas stove.  After doing some research I found that wood stoves are much more efficient than gas stoves.  However, if I don’t want to buy a whole new stove (which I don’t, and this would also create unnecessary waste) a smaller step that can be taken to reduce this heat loss is by using a pot or pan with the same diameter as the burner.  This is such an easy change and makes complete sense.  I know this piece of information is the one way this assignment will immediately change my choice of pot or pan and I will no longer grab the closest one.



Industrial Ecosystems October 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 12:09 pm


Industrial ecology is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems. This study involves the application of systems science to industrial systems, while taking into account the environmental interactions and impacts of the processes and products involved (; In the article “Industrial Ecology”, by Valerie M. Thomas, we are taught about the aims and strategies of this science, while given an example of an industrial ecosystem at work in Kalundborg, Denmark (

Thomas begins by explaining the importance of examining both energy and material flows in an industry, and starting to think about ways to use resources in a sustainable way in order to better protect our environment. The article tells us that some approaches to industrial ecology are ‘systems analysis, industrial metabolism , materials flow analysis, life cycle analysis, pollution prevention, design for environment, product stewardship , energy technology assessment, and eco-industrial parks.’ As we talked about in discussion, Thomas mentions the importance of material efficiency and life cycle. Over the past century changes to more efficient and therefore environmentally friendly resources have shown us that it is possibly to at least lessen the carbon emissions involved in world energy use.

Another proposal Thomas mentions in this article, that I thought was really interesting, was to introduce the substitution of services for products. This would mean that customers do not seek out physical products but rather an individual to come and perform a service for them. The example given is of killing weeds with pesticides. If an individual were to go to the store and buy a bottle of pesticide they would also be contributing to the large carbon trail connected to the manufacturing of that pesticides container and contents, the transportation needed to ship that pesticide to the consumer, the energy needed to sustain the home depot that the consumer bought the pesticide from, ect. If an individual were to come to your garden and treat those weeds for you the idea is that less waste would result from this and that only the specific amount of pesticide you need would be provided.

Another strategy mentioned in the article is to use waste products as raw materials. A great diagram of a industrial ecosystem that does this, in Kalundborg, Denmark is given. Another website I found helped to describe this same diagram in a little more depth ( “At Kalundborg, steam and various raw materials such as sulfur, fly ash and sludge are exchanged in what is the world’s most elaborate industrial ecosystem. Participating firms each benefit economically from reduce costs for waste disposal, improved efficiencies of resource use and improved environmental performance.” A specific example of this is that the gas capture from the oil refinery is now sent to the electrical power station, and is expected to save the plant the equivalent of 30,000 tonnes of coal a year. This is just one way in which Denmark serves as an international leader in promoting sustainable development. I find this industrial ecosystem inspiring and encouraging in the efforts the United States should be taking to ensure the health of our earth.







Assignment 2: The Bay Game and the interface between natural and cultural systems

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 2:46 am

1)                 In my diagram, I focused specifically on the role cattle farming plays in the bay game, since that is the position I was assigned, In the Rappahannock watershed. In order to make the diagram read a little easier I outlined the choices the bay game gave me in blue. The main elements in my system are the cattle, the food fed to the cattle, the cattle’s waste, the meat produced, the nitrogen and phosphorus produced, the profit, and the bay health. The connections are all of the arrows that connect these elements. A few examples are waste that gets pickup up by runoff which leads the runoff to carry the chemicals in this waste to the bay; Or the choice to farm sustainably and therefore make a little less profit that you did previously. The goal of this system is either to make a profit or to help the bay, or to do a little bit of both. For all cycles of the game I farmed sustainably, and covered my cattle’s waste. However, I could have taken a step further in sustainable practices by also buying a device to remove the nutrients in the waste. My goal was to try to both make a profit while helping the bay. I was ultimately successful, with overall a gradually increasing profit.

2)              It was mentioned in class that the way the bay game measures bay health might not be the most accurate approach. In the game, only the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water are stressed as harmful effects on the bay. Before doing more research, I thought that these two things were all that the game took into account when making the bay health charts. I believe a fault in the game is that we’re not informed on more of the harmful effects of each practice and what these do to the bay. I believe more transparency in this aspect of the game would help to make it more understandable and applicable to real life.

I found a great website from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Manure Management and Water Quality that gave additional information about the multiple ways that beef cattle farming can damage water quality and threaten marine life ( A few ways not mentioned in the bay game: life threatening bacteria and other pathogens in cow manure can not only harm certain marine organism but can also make the water unsafe for us to drink, and even touch-causing a greater disconnect between the inhabitants in the watersheds and the bay itself; and also by over grazing and trampling of cows near river and stream banks that can cause erosion problems and also increase the rate at which the harmful chemicals from the manure are washed in.

3)               After playing this game I feel much more strongly about advocating for a healthier Chesapeake Bay. A real world strategy that I believe will improve bay health is by creating strict government regulations on the amount of harmful chemicals each type of development can contribute to the bay. In our most recent discussion section we talked a lot about what it will take to get people to live more sustainably on a global scale. Some thought that awareness would help or even be the solution while others believed that more concrete and enforceable goals had to be set. I think that unless there is a huge breaking point in the bay system that affects the large majority of the population in a negative way, the people must be forced to change. Although we are past breaking point now, most do not see the fragile systems of the bay that way and continue to practice what works economically for them, while continuing to do harm to their environment- a classic example of tragedy of the commons.

These government regulations would have to be put on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus emitted from each development. However, after developing a deeper understanding on other harmful bay practices other regulations, more regulations may need to be included. An example of one of these additions may be a law against the destruction or development of stream and riverbeds, so that natural runoff systems and stream contours are preserved.

Another reason why I think strong regulations are necessary is because in the game we were able to learn about the short-fallings of green incentives and taxes on major nitrogen or phosphorus contributors. An example of this occurred in the game where by leaving your land fallow, you could actually make money. It seemed a little funny that this could happen and although once figured out it seemed a good strategy, in real life this practice gets us nowhere. The goal should be to produce enough of a certain commodity to satisfy human needs, while either continuing or enhancing environmental quality, making the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources, and “sustaining the economic viability of farm operations” (

I believe that this strategy would increase the bays health almost immediately, but would take a while to level out economically. In class the day we couldn’t get the game to work we talked about how if everyone would chose to practice their trades sustainably, that the prices for sustainable food would rapidly decline. This effect is based off of the simple rule of supply and demand, and since all of the new food would be sustainable, then the scarceness of the product would be lost and the price would therefore have to drop. Perhaps to plan for this effect the government regulators could enforce the new laws in small intervals, helping to provide a more gradual transition both environmentally and economically.

In conclusion, we learn from our Meadows reading that in order to stay a healthy system, we have to keep manipulating our goals and strategies along the way. Rather than getting stuck in one zone of existing we have to listen to Donella Meadows when she tells us to stay humble and stay a learner; “What’s appropriate when you’re learning is small steps, constant monitoring, and a willingness to change course as you find out more about where its leading” (Meadows, Pg. 180).

Optional Feedback on Improvements for the Game:

In class it was mentioned that the beef cattle farmer specifically has too few choices on the game. I however appreciated the fact that this position was kept simple and understandable. I don’t think any other choices should be added.  Also, before playing the game I think maybe we should be encouraged to test out different methods of farming, fishing, ect. I was a bit confused from the start on the goal of this game. It was made very clear that we could chose to either get rich or be sustainable or be a certain percentage of either one of these. However, I wish looking back that I had known we would have to write about our individual choices and the very specific effects they would have on the bay health. (Exp. Time lags in our changes taking effect). This would have led me to switch things up rather than to try and stay constant with my (somewhat) sustainable methods as I would have in real life.


Sun Diagram Redo September 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 3:20 pm














The solar window throughout all seasons that provides the most direct sunlight to my spot on the lawn is from 8:00 AM to 12:00PM.  In the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, it takes a little longer for the sunlight to reach the lawn as it rises in the morning.  This is because the pavilion and colonnade to the right of the rotunda block it from around 7:00AM to 8:00AM.  In the summer, since the sun is higher in the sky, it rises above the colonnade earlier and is filtered through a tree during this same hour.  In January and December the sun has the shortest solar window of uninterrupted, direct morning sunlight, which ends around 11:00 AM when the tip of a small tree gets in its way.  In February, March, September, and October the direct sunlight from the morning ends around 12:30PM when some of the larger trees on the lawn interrupt it.  In the warmer months of April through August (also when the suns angle is the highest) the window of direct morning sun is the largest and the rays are interrupted around 1:00PM with these same large trees.  From 1:00PM to 2:30PM throughout the year the sunlight is filtered through these trees, creating dappled light in the summer and spring and more harsh light in the cooler months when the trees have less leaves.  From 2:30 to 4:30 during all seasons the sun is direct once again.  In the winter the sun disappears from the site around 4:30.  In the more temporal months the sun first passes through trees at 4:30 then disappears behind the colonnade at 5:30; And in the summer the sun disappears at 6:00.

If I were to design on this site, I would love to take advantage of the seasonally changing tree cover that influences the amount of sunlight on the lawn so much.  I think if I were to design a terrace or outdoor sitting area for my structure I would place it in the dappled sunlight produced from 12:30PM to 2:30PM year round.  Perhaps I would create an outdoor café area since these are prime lunch hours.  This space would be a pleasant place to be because in the summer the fuller trees would almost completely shade you from the direct rays, and in the winter they would allow the sun to warm you.  When considering the enclosed program of my building, I would place larger windows on the east to take advantage of the direct sunlight that lasts from 8:00 to 12:00.  This would brighten the room in the morning to help students wake up and focus more on what they might be doing in that room.