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Small Scale Big change

Wrapping up the class we had a great guest lecture. One of the things they talked about was the Living Building Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to use human perception as a design tool, create more energy, find was one thing can have multiple uses, and use less energy in the construction process as well. The Challenge also deals with the idea of Net Zero energy by staying away from materials on the Red list such as asbestos and PVC. The more the guest lecturers talked about the challenge it hit me! John Quale talked about something exactly similar a few weeks ago. The topic was Carbon Neutral Design. The 2030 Challenge says that every 5 years we should try to reduce the regionally allowed fossil fuel consumption by 50% and then eventually in 2030 the consumption will be reduced by 90% of what it is today. This can be achieved with by designing buildings that balance the amount of carbon released with the same amount  offset and designing climate responsive buildings that require little energy or only renewable energy. This directly relates to the Living Building Challenge in that they employ cradle to cradle design, regenerative design, and vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture, architecture before industrialization and mechanization, did not waste so much carbon and had to be climate responsive because no one had electricity and all the other modern technologies that we enjoy today.

The idea would be to use on site generation to reduce energy demands and the 2030 Challenge also outlines that structures should be daylit, surfaces must see air flow, masses must be thin, volumes must be vented, water instead of air must move heat, and air must flow in the natural direction it is flowing. As the guest lecturers, the Burke couple,  talked about, we should also insist on the rights of humanity to coexist with nature and recognize that all flows will come through the building over time.

The Meti (Modern Education and Training Institute) Handmade school in Bangladesh is one example of cradle to cradle design. It is made of bamboo and mudworks/cobwalling. The use of local materials is an economic and ecological advantage. The school is based in group learning, having a positive attitude for learning, revealing hidden potential in children, and a reverence for nature. Sitting/studying cubbies are built into walls and a vertical garden facade keeps the building cool and the earthen walls from eroding.   The teachers, students, and parents helped build the school themselves.


Studio Project: Directing and Transforming wind. Working in nature

Using the properties of wind to our advantage. How can one element in a building, like the facade, have a multitude of uses and benefits.

1. Computational Fluid Dynamics

Computers are used to calculate the interaction of liquids and gases with hard surfaces. Algorithms simulate turbulent flows among other flows. CFD software is used by NASA, missile manufacturers, airplane fabricators, and now architects. Physical modeling is defined by equations of motion, radiation, and enthalpy. Fluid occupies a volume but obviously cannot flow through a solid so it must be forced around. (red/hot colors indicate the flow being forces around a hard solid. Cool colors indicate a free-er flow).

This brings us to the Venturi Effect. As the cross-sectional area decreases, the velocity of the fluid increases. It is a jet effect that happens when a space becomes constricted and fluid pressure is reduced.

Laminar flow is calm and gently hugs a surface as it goes around it. Turbulent flow happens when there is a rapid variation in velocity and pressure, or other chaotic property changes. In my building, my facade directs wind flow into the building for natural ventilation. However, if wind gusts were too strong then the force of the wind would create turbulence on the outside of the facade.  At the site located on the High Line in New York City, the wind flows mostly from the west and south over the course of the year. The wind speed is increased slightly in this area because of the breeze that come off of the Hudson River, which is to the west of the site. In plan, the wind is directed across the southern and eastern facades enveloping the building and ventilating through these sides as well as a partially open western facade. The wind speed reduces as it travels further between the facade and throughout the building. 

2. Solar Shading Studies and Daylighting and the Building Envelope

One of my inspirations for the facade of this project was Ned Kahn and his structures “Microturbines” and “Articulated Cloud.” Both are highly influenced by the wind. The facade is made of the same material, which highlights the movement of the panels.

In my structure, my first concerns were about ventilation and the effects wind can have on a building and the atmosphere within. Then I varied the materials to consider light and the diffusion of light as well. Surfaces allow, partially allow, or block completely harsh southern light entering the building. Without the facade there would be drastic differences in temperature throughout the day. The facade acts as multiple layers that retain thermal energy as well as solar shading. Something I did not plan for but realized is that the facade allows for passive heating (although in New York I would still use mechanical systems for parts of the year). During the winter when the solar path is lower, direct sunlight steams in which in the summer the layered facade bounces the sunlight around and on most of the levels mostly indirect light is let in. New York City is at 40.7 degrees Latitude north. Therefore doing some math, The summer azimuth is 72.8 degrees and the winter azimuth is 25.8 degrees from the horizon.

lighting of building without facade: 

With a facade there is protection from the elements as well as a strategy for which to use the elements.

Assessing the Building Envelope has many of the same finding as analyzing the daylighting conditions. My building has a double envelope, or for lack of a better term, a multi-envelope. The palimpsest of layers of material is highly logical based on the wind direction and sunlight. The interior spaces of the building respond to the facade in that interior art panels and walls only run north to south like the facade, continuing to regulate the flow of air. There are also many outdoor to indoor spaces where you experience the wildness of the wind flows taking their course through the facade. Again the material is important. The glass is tempered, meaning it was reheated then blast cooled for strength against bending, impact, and thermal stress. The glass ranges from 3/32″ to 1/8″ and it still lets in light because it doesn’t have reflective coating. Glass is a poor insulator however, hence another reason for the multiple layerings in the facade. The facade also has the ability to adapt where, instead of cladding on a column and spindle system, the panels can be employed by the wind to move. It would be  possible to generate energy through the facade in this way but my initial intentions were for the experiential effects see from the inside as well as the High Line.

This short animation shows what one panel could be replaced with :

2 of ? in a series of Things I didn’t know

Ignore the Russian. How cool is the “Moses Bridge” in the Netherlands. It looks like somebody parted the waterway and you can walk right through it. From a distance all you can see are peoples’ heads and then they come out on the other side completely dry. Architecture creates blocks or channels for systems to flow through. It is very exciting how something considered impossible can become the inspiration for design, and then it becomes probable.


There are many more problems with the bridge/trench than positive outcomes. If it rains it is unusable. If the river rises even a little then it will flood and it is unusable. That part of the waterway is unusable by boats because they can’t pass the bridge. Kids seem to like running and fishing off of it though.

However! Universal Studios used this trick when they filmed ‘Ten Commandments’ in 1956. That I did not know. The film industry thought of it first, except with glass walls holding the water back and major wind effects!

From the eyes of a child

For our studio project we are designing a children’s art gallery that will have 12 apartments for resident artists, studios, and house exhibits from children, teens, and part of the Whitney collection. I had never heard of such a project specifically aimed at children…until I did a little research. There are art galleries and interactive studios for children in various places around the world, except they do not have live-in artists.  There are some in Australia, one near Boston, and a few others. There is even one in New York City on Charlton Street called Children’s Museum of the Arts. They have classes for 10 months old up to 15 years old, keeping in mind each age group’s stages of development.

Children like to touch things and crawl on the floor. They are curious about dark spaces but are also afraid of them. They like to be messy. When encountering a tree they like to imagine climbing it and being on top of the world. Everything is a little magical. I think from a handful of professions, architects are well aware of their child selves. There are railings that kids cannot get through for safety, there are lower windows, there are crawl spaces, there are colors and textures to catch their eye.

Lam: Perception

Translational associative abilities of the mind allow us to differentiate between structural elements and introduce stimuli caused by movement or changes in illumination.

Color: Literally color highlights moments in a building by drawing attention to itself. We perceive bright colors to be interesting. However, we also have an expectation of color at a given time of day. Direct sunlight varies through the day and higher luminosity is associated with warmth. A lack of that information, or expected situation, is visual “gloom.”

Brightness: Order in the visible environment has ties to how bright or dark and room is. In various social or work situations, a measured degree of luminosity is necessary. The direction, shape, and brightness of light dictates the level of comfort and security a person feels in a building. In regards to brightness, contrast is key in how we perceive a space. if there is a harsh edge between very dark and very bright we feel anxious or excited. If the overall brightness is a soft glow, the atmosphere is more relaxed and probably intended as a space to stay awhile.

Gradient of Light: Caused by 3 dimensional shapes enhancing or resisting light. Textures on the surface of objects or the material of objects deal with light differently. Some reflect, some create shadow, and some obscure all together. A surface can be matte or glossy, like a photo print.  Also, instead of increasing the number of lights, you can increase the quality of light to achieve the desired gradient. However, the eye adapts to the light rapidly

How we See: The experience of observation is the first way we see. It deals with the state of mind of ‘where we come from’ and ‘where we are headed.’ It depends on the individuals essence and place in their life at the time of seeing. Then many of the principles of light already discussed, such as color, form, brightness, contrast, and temperature, come into play.

The absence or presence of focus is another factor in the way we see. The degree to which it stands out is important. If the focus is obscure then we call it a distraction. Example: the Houston Astrodome. Localized lighting, instead of broad scale lighting, increases the focus. 

Adaptable structures for desert light and comfort

Senscity Paradise
Universe Las Vegas, NV /USA and
Acropolis Universe Dubai/UAE
Behnisch Architekten + Transsolar
Project Study: 2004-2005

The objective of the 61 acre project is to create an educational space and a leisure space in the desert. Families will become familiar with nature’s laws while in a tempered microclimate. Essentially, it will be an oasis in the desert that reduces consumption of non-renewable energy and instead use progressive sustainable design to cope with the extreme temperature range, sun, and wind.

Seen from above it looks like flowers. They allow real vegetation to grow under them in the harsh climate. Metal alloy structures stand 30 meters tall and the “petals” in total range from 91 meters  to 300  meters wide. The translucent petals shelter from the sun and also generate energy, up to 20,000 Mwh per hour.Photovoltaic panels, solar collectors, and a wind turbine in the stem will exploit the climate to generate thermal energy and air conditioning.  Pipes in the petals and stem will allow water to evaporate and interact with the hot, dry air outside. The panels were also designed to be mechanical to control shade and light by letting light through in the winter and blocking it in the summer.

The big flowers would be white reflective metal.  All buildings would be built below road level and the paths, gardens, and waterways run above. This provides additional protection from the harsh climate.

According to an article in 2005, the project was due to be completed in 2008 and was designed with the assistance of the Transsolar Institute of Stuttgart and is one of the world’s most advanced projects in the field of sustainable architecture.

According to a lecture in 2008, the project is now a conceptual project. The experience is magical, inventive, inspired, and also rooted in mechanical engineering. It is conceptually significant but has not been built yet for the reasons that it is such a large and expensive project. 

Behnisch Architects are based in Stuttgart, Boston and Los Angeles, Behnisch focuses on environmental design or “the pursuit of excellence in the built environment, while carefully respecting both needs and available resources”.

The term sustainable design in the U.S. is often misused. Design must also take into account an individuals personal health as well as environement, economy, and culture.

Independent Research: Interaction of Flows and Spaces of Vizcaya

Vizcaya: “prosperity is a condition of great achievements; it is not their cause.” –geoffrey scott. James Deering was a Manufacturer and Philanthropist.

New wealth from industrialization in the late 19th century took on Old World aristocratic culture such as country homes, summer estates, horseback riding, fox hunting, yachting, and art collecting to name a few. The “Gilded Age” was particularly fascinated with the Italian Renaissance but in excess and at a larger scale. It drew largely from Baroque philosophy.  Deering acquired a large sum of land to build and also in hopes that the land will always be preserved against a changing world.

As you walk in:  The gate displays in its crest the Spanish ship Caravel Vizcaya. Spaniards used to harbor in Miami before Spanish American War and named the bay Biscayne Bay after the Province they left, Biscay.  Deering even put the crest on his private flag. The gates are Italian and many other aspects in the house and gardens are inspired by Pisani palaces. Just inside the gate there is a statue typical of Pisani, Venetian Admiral, palaces that is a depiction of “South” the Noonday, an imagination of Indians in Miami.  There are many statues around the gardens but this one, one of a happy black youth clad in plumes and crowned by the sun, is the first in a long list you encounter on the grounds.

Mercury and Neptune are the next statues flowed by the formal Plaza and fountain, of which its architecture is similar to Longhena’s Santa Maria della Salute in Venice. The Shell, the Spanish Caravel, and the Sea Horse motifs appear all over Vizcaya.  Another water work and rare bo-trees are next in your path before you see the house. The house is made of Limestone and locally excavated rock with fossilized formations.

The Entrance Loggia, as stated in “The Handbook of the House, Formal Gardens and Fountains of Vizcaya,” suggests movement through tall doors and the arrangement of yellow Roman baths, a statue of Bacchus, and Egyptian vases. The flow through the house continues with the Entrance Hall, Adam Room, Marie Antoinette Salon and so on around counter clockwise to the Tea Room and then outside to the gardens or upstairs to the second floor. The Second floor is where Mr. Deering’s quarters, a breakfast room, kitchen, and multiple guest rooms surround the inner court. Finally, servants, more guests, and a form of widow’s walk by the sea are on the third floor. There is a clear view from the front loggia through the inner court and to the ocean. All three levels have an  open concept to allow the wind to come in from the sea and circulate the air around the house.

In regards to the gardens, James T. Maher, author of The Twilight of Splendor, says “Suarez (Landscape architect) had looked with an artist’s eye past the noonday glare of Vizcaya down the long allees of history to the time of Xenophon and the beginnings of garden art in the west.”  The house is an epicenter of 15th-19th century antiques and art works in America because of Deering and the architect, Chalfin. Diego Suarez designed the gardens as dependent on views and not color for their appeal.  Using Palladian principles, the garden is set on an axis similar to the flow of the house. Fountains and splashing baths, in typical Italian villa style, make the gardens enchanting. A sweeping view over the reflecting pool leads right to the Sicilian casino. Statues of gods and goddesses and many of the fountains in the gardens were part of Italian villages and imported to Vizcaya. The parterres can be easily compared with Villandry in France or Villa Garzoni in Italy in that the overall landscape is picturesque and also the movement through the gardens is methodical and a consecutive procession. Trees are lined to guide your eye, your step, and the wind in a particular direction. At certain times of the day depending on the sun’s position, select areas in the landscape are meant to be revealed in a climactic moment or intimately hidden. the layers of gardens run parallel to the ocean and each one is a defense for the next layer from storms.

Italian Renaissance style gardens such as maze gardens, a theatre garden, a rose garden, and a giardino segreto, or secret garden, are extensions or on the periphery of the axial garden.  The parterres reflect the subtropical climate of Florida being sculpted out of wild jasmine instead of traditional English boxwood. This is in agreement with Italian villas, as intended, in that Italy is also a subtropical climate. All the allees and pockets of gardens create a romantic atmosphere, making Vizcaya a sought after wedding destination as well as an amazing assortment of art.

The winds blow from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean to the east with an average of 4 major storms hitting the coast every summer, mostly in September.  THe Sea Wall and Stone Barge create calm water between the sea and the house/dock for boats of Deering and visitors. Each end of the barge connects the Tea Room on one side and the Yacht landing on the other with bridges. The house stands behind it like a fortress.

According to records, Chalfin was very concerned with making the house withstand tropical storms.  The close relationship with the outdoors makes the house more Mediterranean and the open air circulation was unorthodox for America. The Loggias are the transitional indoor/outdoor space. There are no interior corridors but rooms are reached through an outdoor gallery. Venetian blinds and Bermuda shutters are on the outside of windows for sun and hurricane protection and when opened were concealed in pockets. The house is also raised above average tide to add additional protection from storms. Interestingly, The swimming pool, bath, and some fountains could be filled with could be filled with fresh water or sea water and the pool in particular had a stock maintaining balancing feedback loop system between itself and the sea.

Over time, Vizcaya has had to be resilient and often times had to restore.  On a regular basis, today and when Deering lived there, the grounds are constantly trimmed to perfection and the house is cleaned of the residues of humidity and sun damage. The system within the grounds is resilient because all the materials and plants are essentially local except for the imported sculptures.  The system works best when it is at a dynamic equilibrium however. Today Vizcaya is a museum therefore a key part of the system is the tourists as well as the staff. To keep Vizcaya functioning you need a steady flow of interested visitors and because you get visitors then the need for the house and grounds to be taken care of rises. As a result a precious historic landmark continues to be preserved and more people come to visit each year.


– Rybczynski, “Vizcaya:An American Villa and Its Makers (Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture).”


-Littlefield, “Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Miami, Florida.”


-Wharton, “The Decoration of Houses.”{read by Chalfin for his training}


-Stewart, “Historic Homes of Florida.”