Building Exteriors as Living Climate Controls

Humans have been building shelters to protect themselves since they moved out of caves 10,000 years ago.  Human shelters have evolved over time, but, as Michelle Addington talks about in her paper Contingent Behaviours, they have always had one a main goal: to protect us and separate us from the natural environment; to create an interior and exterior space.  The interior space, controlled through a multitude of tactics, ranging from constructed envelopes and mechanical systems, allow humans to achieve a greater comfort level.  In modern design, maintaining the indoor comfort level is a top priority, and designing efficient methods of doing so is one of an architects top goals.

aa221355509283572[1]A traditional Mongolian Yurt uses a very breathable and adaptable outer skin.

The Yurt is a great example of an early envelope that is actually still in use today.  Additionally many of the aspects present in the Yurt are translatable into modern buildings.  Kiel Moe’s essay Thermally Active Surfaces in Architecture he makes the argument that architects do not know enough about the inner workings of the technology they use.  While I don’t necessary find this true, I do agree that architects need to fully understand the technology they use.  One way that architects can achieve this is by studying the origins and precedents for the modern technology they utilize, just like Yurt are prime examples of adaptable envelopes.

I think that the outer envelopes of buildings are one of the most important design aspects.  As Addington says, “The exterior walls of a building [are] mediating elements, negotiating between the needs of the body and the extant environment” (p. 13).   However, there are many methods to choose from when designing a building’s outer skin, and they often only work well in specific climates.  So it is important to pick and choose specific elements depending of the site and climate conditions and overall goals of the site.

800px-southwest_corner_of_central_park_looking_east_nyc[1]View of Central Park showing the incorporation of nature into the city fabric.

As the population condenses in cities, cities are going to need to be increasingly biophilic and the envelopes of the buildings are going to be crucial to keeping cities natural and livable (Beatley).  To maintain nature in dense cities, facades need to be green, breathable and open to the environment, without compromising efficiency.  To achieve this, they need to draw on multiple environmental design strategies, curtailed for the specific climate, but most importantly they need to incorporate living nature.  I still am amazed at the idea of living green walls, where the façade that mediates the weather and maintains the inner climate control can actually be built from living plant forms.  Not only does this aid in design, but it is aesthetically pleasing, good for the environment and helps clean the city air.  This is why cities need to built using nature, because it makes where we live a more livable place.

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Citations:

Addington, Michelle. Contingent Behaviours.

Beatley,Tim. Biophilic Cities. Island Press, 2010.

Moe, Kiel. Thermally Active Surfaces in Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Jane Jacobs and Sustainable Societies

Sysytems, Sites and Building examines systems at a multitude of levels from the global scale of the weather to the minute diagram of a window detail.  Recently we have begun to narrow down in scale and discuss more specific, smaller systems.  Along with this we read excerpts from Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  This book as Jacob puts it “is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding” (3).  This attack is at the scale of the city and even the country.  Jacobs is pushing for a sustainable society.  However the ideas Jacobs raises can be applied to any scale.  She talks about how the steps that city planners are taking are making the situation worse and how the priorities of the people in charge are not all for the best.  She says, “This is not the rebuilding of cities. This is the sacking of ones” (4).   The  idea of sacking of cities is very applicable to the way some policies are still being run today, from the scale of building unnecessary highways and interstates but also moving down to buildings, like malls or strip malls that are still being constructed incredibly unsustainably.  Jacobs book also discusses many problems with the instated policies.  I think it would be very interesting for policy makers in every field of construction to take a more sustainable approach.  Instead of making LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings a goal make LEED buildings be the standard.  This standard would be hard to put in place but as Jacobs says, “Cities are an immense laboratory of trial and error, failure and success” (7), so perhaps over time the standard would increase to a level approaching LEED or beyond.

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At LEED Platinum, Oregon’s Independence Station is the highest ranking LEED building.  It runs on 100% renewable energy.

The idea of energy and policy is interesting and connects to the focus of the past couple lectures, which dealt with energy transfer and how buildings in a sustainable society could be kept at a reasonable climate.  In class we discussed how many techniques for maintaining temperature efficiently are nowhere near perfected and new sustainable designs are constantly being thought of and modified.   This process is again a trial and error method where designers must experiment with what works and what doesn’t combining different techniques for specific sites until something works.  This design method only works if designers are not shy, and put developing concepts out into the world to be critiqued and molded into bigger and better ideas.  Ideas that even seem absurd like an automated underground bicycle garage, when put out into the real world can be used to create solutions to very real issues.

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giken-underground-eco-bike-parking-system-designboomc

Actual Underground Bicycle Parking in Japan.

Citations:

Independence Station:

http://www.jetsongreen.com/2008/02/independence-st.html

Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage Books, 1961.

Underground Bicycle Parking:

http://www.designboom.com/technology/giken-automatic-underground-bike-parking-system/

Workshop Exercise: Psychrometric Charts

City: Chattanooga, Tennessee. 35 Degrees North, 85 Degrees West. Elevation 688ft.

Chart Basics:

– If the temperature is 80 degrees and the Relative Humidity (RH) is 40% the dew point is 53 degrees.

-The humidity ratio would decrees by .01 if a space was cooled from 90 degrees, 60% RH to 68 degrees, 50% RH.

-The RH is 8% when the dry bulb temperature is 78 degrees and the wet bulb temperature is 50 degrees.

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Climate Response:

-Chattanooga is a humid temperate climate that is extreme, it is HOT is the summer and COLD in the winter.

-Chattanooga sits on the Tennessee River at the base of Lookout and

 

Signal Mountain with Missionary Ridge to the East. This means that downtown Chattanooga is in a valley type situation.

-Chattanooga is most in the Comfort zone during April, May and September, with most of the days falling in May.

-High Thermal Mass (Night), Natural Ventilation, Internal Heat Gain, Passive Solar and Sun Shading are passive design strategies that work well in Chattanooga.  Internal Heat Gain is most effective.  Evaporative Cooling does not work well in Chattanooga.

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 2.43.02 PM

– Chattanooga can move from an 11% comfort level to a 59% comfort level using only passive design strategies.  The biggest issues are on the winter months when it is very cold and the summer months when it is hot and humid.  During these months air conditioning must be used to maintain the “comfort level”.

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Assignment 2 Explanation

I hate shopping malls.  From suffering through traffic and parking on a treeless black inferno to immersing myself into the American consumerist culture – nothing about the experience is enjoyable.  Sadly, occasionally I need something that can only be found at a mall. This is why I propose a redesigning of the Suburban Shopping Mall.

The current shopping mall is an unsustainable air-conditioned cube, that forces shoppers and employees to travel, by car, to an enclosed environment where nature and the outdoors are almost completely hidden, except for a few skylights and some topiaries.  One of the most obvious unsustainable practices championed by the suburban shopping mall is the phenomenal waste of energy through a number of poorly planned systems.

First is the overall design of the massive structure.  These malls are placed far from city centers, in areas that are usually cleared for the mall through a process that involves destroying many acres of natural wildlife habitat.  Then the air conditioned boxes are placed in the center of a sea of black asphalt creating a heat island, which means even more energy is devoted to cooling the mall.

Another wasteful energy system is how goods and people access the site – by car or truck.  Suburban malls are impossible to walk or bike to.  They are like an oasis surrounded by a desert of pavement and car traffic.  Additionally, it is basically impossible to find a product that is Made in the USA.  This means that an enormous amount of fuel was used to transport these products overseas, truck them to warehouses and then distribute them around the country.

For me, one of the least attractive aspects of the suburban shopping mall is the lack of community and social system.  The current mall set up creates an atmosphere that almost no one (other than the occasional teenage sweethearts) wants to spend time in.  Employees don’t make friends with employees in nearby stores and when they get off their shifts they don’t hang out and get coffee together, they leave immediately.   This is because the mall atmosphere is not a place most people want to be, most people go there by necessity and get out as soon as possible.

Systems Diagram Current and Future Mall

As a future designer I see an enormous potential for improving nearly everything about the suburban mall.  First, I think malls should become urban mall and moved into the city, where since 2007 more  than 50% of the worlds population is living (World Bank).  With a transition to an urban shopping mall, a number of issues would start to fix themselves: people wouldn’t need to spend time in the car and in traffic to get out to the mall and the some of the social and community networks would already be in place.

The ideal urban shopping mall should be more than a mall – it should have a multitude of uses.  In addition to being a shopping center, it should be a living area where people want to be and is intertwined with the urban fabric with sidewalks and bike lanes.  The mall should even have apartments above the shopping area, in a effort to truly create a place that people can live in.  Unlike current shopping malls, products should be domestic or even local, which may even inspire a greater sense of community.  Imagine a shopping mall designed to be like a farmers market, where shop owners and employees interact and create an identity for the space.

Another important aspect of the urban shopping mall is the construction process.  The downtown urban fabric is fundamentally different than the suburban, space is very important and cannot be wasted on useless acres of roof and parking lot.  A great way to navigate the parking issue is to construct subterranean parking as the foundation of the mall itself.  IKEA is a master of this parking scheme and the IKEA building model is a wonderful place to start because massive IKEA shopping centers take up relatively little surface area considering the amount of interior volume. In addition to underground parking, the urban mall needs to make use of the roof space, by either following the IKEA solar panel model or possible a green roof system that is accessible to the public.Ikea-VA-1024x357[1]

This IKEA shopping center in downtown Atlanta, Georgia takes up almost no surface area with parking and the photovoltaics on the roof generate 1MW, that is, 1 Million Watt-hours of energy every hour (Strata Solar).

Urban malls will also need to be designed sustainably taking environmental design conventions into account.  These environmental design methods should include solar panels, water management/runoff collection tactics, planning for the path of the sun, natural ventilation systems, and the important use of natural lighting.  Most importantly however, is that the urban shopping mall should be a place that is one with nature.  Plants and shrubs and trees should be an integral part of the mall and should keep shoppers and employees open to the outside world instead of isolated.  While all of these things can not be enacted at once it is important that developers begin to think about the changes and plan for the future.

Systems Diagram Current and Future Mall

Citations

Strata Solar. Accessed 2 October 2013. http://www.stratasolar.com/spotlight/commercial-retail-atlanta-ga/

World Bank. (2013). Data retrieved 2 October 2013, from World DataBank

     database.