Posted by on Jan 24, 2017 in architecture, sustainability | No Comments
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Nice work, Darin.

Darin Johnstone was my thesis advisor while I was at SCI-Arc. He was an incredible mentor and a devoted instructor, he took my project on without ever having worked with me and was remarkably insightful and motivating. I felt like I ended up with a great project, and now, ten years later, Darin’s still continuing to collaborate with students to create more great projects.

This project is a collaboration between SCI-Arc and Habitat for Humanity, a low-budget house that certainly doesn’t look like it. Constructed for $165 a square foot, the elegant lines and compelling angles frames some very lovely spaces and produce a refined, elegant aesthetic. I’m glad to see work from SCI-Arc heading in this direction, particularly with Darin at the helm.

Nice work, Darin.

Photos by Joshua White

Urban Air is Blowing Up

Posted by on Nov 19, 2012 in Art, sustainability | 2 Comments

Last week was a big week for Urban Air, being published in The Architect’s Newspaper, SHFT, co.exist, and the Huffington Posttwice. I had the pleasure of helping Stephen Glassman with some of the images on this project, and it’s really amazing to see how much momentum it has gained.

The idea of the project is to turn billboards into greenboards- armatures for vegetation within a typically barren urban condition. The first one, set to be installed in Los Angeles, will replace advertising with bamboo, water, and wifi that provides information on the project and the climate. It’s a great idea, and half way through their kickstarter campaign, they’ve raised over $30,000.

Check out more info on Urban Air here and help bring a green billboard to LA by donating on kickstarter.

Andreas Karweger on DSCs

Posted by on Sep 26, 2012 in architecture, sustainability | No Comments

Andreas forwarded his paper to me for the upcoming ENERGY FORUM in Bressanone IT this December. Andreas describes using DSCs (Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells) as a two-way solar device, both producing energy and mitigating solar radiation. Read more below:

The use of photovoltaics (PV) is not only limited to generating electricity but can, in fact, also play a major part in energy-saving strategies. With respect to daylight control, in particular, semi-transparent photovoltaics provide a wide range of façade applications.

The transparency of crystalline-based solar modules is determined by the distance between each cell: the closer the cells to each other, the higher the total photovoltaic output of the panels. In the course of a research project carried out at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT, Germany), scientists have investigated and compared the energy efficiency of three buildings with façade-integrated PV, located in Fortaleza (North Brazil), Florianopolis (South Brazil), and Frankfurt a. Main (Germany). All façades of the three buildings contained windows with integrated semi-transparent crystalline solar cells. Since the transparency of all PV windows was only 30%, significant energy savings were achieved during the summer months due to a reduced need for cooling. At the same time, more energy had to be spent on artificial lighting inside the building. “However, we were able to counter this side effect by installing a lighting control system,” explains Evelise Didoné, one of the researchers at the KIT.

An entirely different way to control the transparency of photovoltaic building façades involves the use of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs). Unlike common silicon solar panels, the photoactive layers of DSCs use photoactive dyes to convert light into electricity. The fact that the organic photoactive layers used in DSCs are extremely thin, enables the manufacturing of solar panels with different transparency levels determinable by selecting different colors and thickness of materials. Rossella Corrao of the Department of Architecture at the University of Palermo, Italy, explains: “Although DSC modules have only eight percent efficiency compared to twenty percent of silicon panels, they can actually generate up to 15% more energy annually, compared with crystalline panels of identical KW. The reason for this is that DSC modules are more efficient under low-light conditions. Unlike silicon-based systems, the efficiency of DSCs does not depend on the light’s angle of incidence. Therefore, DSC modules don’t necessarily have to be pointed towards the sun; they can also be mounted in vertical or horizontal orientation without losing out on efficiency.”

Moreover, using DSCs in conjunction with glass façades “enables a two-way application of the façade-integrated PV elements by utilizing sunlight sources outside a building as well as any artificial light sources inside the building, thereby significantly extending the daily operating period of the system,” Corrao continues. Corrao’s current research at the University of Palermo includes developing innovative solutions to boost the light absorption properties of building components. One of her research projects investigates whether glass block-integrated DSCs lower the thermal resistance (R-value) of the material to an extent that matches future EU building regulations. Corrao’s findings show that increasing the number of cavities within a glass block from one to two or more leads to a further reduction of the R-value. Furthermore, using DSCs to create these additional cavities in glass blocks is definitely an option. Glass blocks with integrated DSCs could, therefore, not only be used for electricity generation but would also provide much better insulation properties than ordinary standard glass blocks.

Computer simulations predicting the direct impact of color and transparency on the photovoltaic efficiency of DSCs are an important tool when it comes to the design of zero energy buildings. Janne Halme, professor at the Aalto University in Espoo, Finland, investigates the optimization of DSCs in terms of usability and power generation. In this context, Halme focuses on new ways of integrating DSCs in building designs rather than trying to optimize the cell efficiency. Transparency of the PV windows and the role of the esthetic appeal of the façade prevail over efficiency. Halme: “DSC efficiency has to take a back seat.”

straw as structure?

Posted by on Jan 16, 2012 in architecture, sustainability | 2 Comments

Felix Jerusalem’s design for a home in Eschenz, CH takes a fairly old material and repurposes it nicely for a contemporary architecture. With the exception of a concrete core, all of the load bearing elements are compressed straw panels with a inexpensive plastic sheathing. What’s remarkable is not only the load that straw can carry, but it’s a significantly better insulator than timber, so the assembly is both a structural element and the main insulator of the house. For those of you who aren’t familiar with building technology, there are a few other materials that can do this (concrete, rammed earth, adobe) but typically they are very difficult to assemble and you need a set of specialists… which is usually expensive. This technology is economical, efficient, and easy to construct, providing an interesting model for construction in areas with lots of straw.

from ::dwell

form follows performance

Posted by on Feb 2, 2011 in design computation, sustainability | 2 Comments

as architecture evolves into the post-bilbao economy, form can no longer justify itself. the argument that dynamic form will act as a catalyst for a regional growth has been disproven by years of an atrophying tourist market and crippled by diminished construction budgets. the current climate has legions of young architects struggling to find a raison d’être for the complex curves and intricate surfaces they have been trained to produce. websites like grasshopper3d and suckerPUNCH feature parades of exercises in technique, but proposals that are completely divorced from our current condition. the few designs that do reference ideas of sustainability, economy, or performance typically seem to be a post-rationalization of a design technique, rather than a rigorous investigation of how form could become a performative element.

the investigations into digital technique over the last two decades have provided architects and designers with incredibly productive tools- but little basis in how and when to use them. if design computation strategies are to be used to produce performative form, then how form effects performance needs to be interrogated more seriously. this post is the beginning of an index of how formal strategies can effect passive environmental strategies.

_passive solar

when most people think of solar power, the first thing that comes to mind are photovoltaic panels. while pv panels and solar thermal are necessary for many architectural projects in terms of sustainably providing power for refrigerators, lights, and televisions; pv and st panels should not be driving the discussion on sustainability. passive solar strategies allow a building to be heated or cooled without the need for any mechanized systems. while building orientation is the most important factor in a building’s passive solar performance, shading systems can be optimized off of regional information to provide shading when necessary and allow light in when desired. foster and partner’s beijing airport is an example of a shading system that was designed to allow direct light inside during winter and to block direct light during summer without any moving parts. in this case, the components were only used in certain locations, but it is easy to imagine a complete field condition of similar components or an entire architectural logic that was generated from them.


like solar power, geothermal energy is generally though of as a means of producing electricity. but in projects as varied from peter zumthor’s therme vals to maryann thompson’s geothermal house, architects have shown that geothermal energy can be beneficial passively as well. frequently architectural projects use geothermal energy to provide the heat necessary for radiant floor heating, but there could be formal conduits for a passive system. though toyo ito’s sendai mediatheque is does not utilize a geothermal system, it’s twisting tubes and floor-penetrating shafts could have as easily been informed by a passive geothermal strategy instead of a structural and conceptual base. as more and more climates are realized to be inappropriate for passive solar alone, there will be more research into passive geothermal techniques for providing climate control.

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_natural ventilation

natural ventilation is probably the oldest architectural feature- whether it was intended or not. there are two main strategies: using a shaft effect like the downdraft cool towers at the zion visitor center and using natural wind like the ventilation cowls at BedZED. both strategies are relatively new to contemporary architecture, but raise strong formal questions. how does wind penetrate the building so that other elements don’t? once inside, what formal qualities can be deployed to sustain wind flow? how does natural wind reach multiple levels? computational design strategies provide a unique opportunity to produce solutions that perform at a higher level than ever before- the investigations just need to begin.

Wave Garden by Yusuke Obuchi

hydrodynamics is, without a doubt, the item on this list that is the least investigated by contemporary architecture. like the others posted here, projects utilizing hydrodynamics date back to some of the earliest architectural constructs- like band-e kaisar in iran. the most compelling example of hydrodynamics in contemporary architecture is yusuke obuchi’s wave garden. this elegant design of an ocean-based power station draws energy from the friction caused the natural movement of waves under an amorphous structure. obuchi’s design is compellingly simple- a conceptually refined project that has radical insights into how we see construction and how it relates to the natural world around us.

dwell on design ’10 – plywood office

Posted by on Jul 22, 2010 in furniture, sustainability | No Comments

this years dwell on design has come and gone and, as usual, new products abounded. the focus this year was more on innovative products, which typically were innovative in terms of use and fabrication. there were many manufacturers and design firms whose products and services had sustainability aspects to them, but it wasn’t the sustainability showcase we’ve seen in the past. it seems that in 2010, sustainability is more of a quickly-mentioned prerequisite for design, and not the focus of the idea. sustainability seems to be a concept that is important to be present in a design, but there seemed to be little emphasis on how well the design performed.

arianna huffington recently claimed that the BP oil spill is the first environmental crisis where polling shows that the US population hasn’t gotten greener. 3 mile island, exxon valdez, and even hurricane katrina had a correlating public shift towards more environmentally-conscious policies- but there hasn’t been a similar shift after the BP oil spill.

both of these phenomena seem to indicate that sustainability as it relates to design and politics could be at a tipping point- either the tide of public interest has hit its high mark and will recede to a more complacent position towards the environment or this movement will continue where previous ones slowed.

if interest in sustainability is to increase and we are to endeavor to live more harmoniously with our environment, it will be in part by designers who masterfully fold sustainability into their craft so effortlessly it couldn’t have been imagined any other way and excels because of it. chris jamison’s plywood office is one practice that does just that- using sustainability as a catalyst for great design, with everything from the strata of bamboo plywood in the stripes coffee table to tree-less hammock hammy.

wandering through dwell on design, plywood office was a stand out- it was the most compelling work of the show, great design that was spawned by both functionality and an ethos. if we are to become even more sustainable as a nation and as a planet, it will be because of more designers like plywood office.

New York Sun Works’ Vertically Integrated Greenhouse

Posted by on Jan 9, 2010 in architecture, urban agriculture | No Comments




New York Sun Works teamed with Arup and The Vertical Farm Project to create an interesting and architecturally well thought out entry for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. the Vertically Integrated Greenhouse solves two problems at once: by creating a facade system that incorporates agriculture into the skin food is grown within a building which reduces energy associated with transporting produce and solar heat gain is mitigated by the plants themselves. it’s an interesting idea, and creates a techy third option to the two methods of integrating agriculture into buildings, the rooftop garden and the enclosed agricultural zone.

while it’s a very interesting idea, I think it’s an idea that merits a 30 page essay of explanation as opposed to several paragraphs. some issues, like the crop-curtain wall integration, are very well thought out but the VIG is such a radical concept it almost poses more questions than it answers- while you might be able to put a $50 per square meter per year benefit to human productivity because of cleaner air, wouldn’t that cost be mitigated by the distraction of having agricultural workers maintaining the crops? would you really want farm integrated with your office? how does the energy reduction of the crops compare to energy costs of a hydroponic system of that scale and that inefficient layout?

the Vertically Integrated Greenhouse is a provocative project and an important one in how it could change the typical perception of agriculture and architecture. my suspicion is that farmers, architects, and others more directly involved with these fields are curious about v2.0

from ::cityfarmer.

global warming diagrams and maps from

Posted by on Dec 5, 2009 in data mapping, sustainability | No Comments


interesting social data on global warming from textmap looks at the use of different terms across the web and graphs frequency of their use, use of the terms by location, and how the terms relate to other terms.


urban aquaponics in denver

Posted by on Oct 19, 2009 in food, urban agriculture | No Comments

a fascinating article on a prospective aquaponic farm as a vehicle for urban renewal in denver. Urban Organics, the potential facility profiled, not only would provide locally grown food and produce, but also cooking, nutrition and sustainability workshops.

what’s interesting about this project, is that it is engaging the local community in sustainability and health on a very basic level. by providing both a model of how people could grow their own food and lessons in how they could create their own food production systems, Urban Organics is providing the opportunity to create a behavioral shift. I’ve written about this a lot on TOSD, but I feel strongly that we can create as many technological advances as we want, but until we actually start effecting our collective culture we won’t make any significant change. sustainability isn’t about having the most fuel efficient car, it’s about changing your behavior so you don’t use one at all. Urban Organics wouldn’t just providelocally grown produce and fish, it would give an entire community the vision and means to do it themselves.

from the ::denver post.

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the benefits of green roofs unveiled…

Posted by on Oct 4, 2009 in architecture, urban agriculture | No Comments

alexis rochas’ green roof @ the FLAT building. from ::youngandbrilliant.

gizmag reports that adding green roofs to an urban area the size of detroit would be the equivalent of talking 10,000 SUVs and mid-sized trucks off of the road. that would be incredible in itself, but I find myself wondering if 1/5 of the USA’s vehicular emissions are from the transportation of food, then what would the be impact if these roofs weren’t just green but agricultural? what would be the impact if the vegetation wasn’t just counteracting vehicles emissions, but actually replacing the need to have emissions in the first place?

from ::planetizen.