03
Jul
08

The Green Wave of the Future is on Top

Greg Callaghan is as enthusiastic as all-get-out about green skins, and it’s easy to see why. “Living” buildings accomplish the feat of being greener than green. The many benefits include better air in the immediate area, plus an overall reduction of harmful gases released into the atmosphere in general; insulation against cold, heat and noise; and a way to utilize water which would otherwise pour down the drain or possibly even cause flooding. Callaghan says,

Green is the right word to describe the flora-embracing features now being incorporated into new and old buildings across the US, Europe and parts of Asia. We’re talking garden rooftops, multi-levelled terraced gardens, lush foliage draping exterior walls and vast, internal, Babylonian hanging gardens.

Of course every instance is different, depending on location, budget, whether the building is new or already existing, whether the installation is hydroponics-based or soil-based, and many other factors. But in general, the green roof consists of a multi-level sandwich, starting with the structural support. Then come the vapor control layer, thermal insulation layer, support panel, waterproof layer, drainage layer, filter membrane growing medium, and the glorious crown of vegetation. And that’s not even getting into the subject of green walls. When the surface treatment is right, masonry is provided extra protection by the plants it hosts.

The green roof concept started out cautiously, with small, short-rooted plants and grasses. Currently, over a hundred species of plants have been found viable for the purpose, and improvements in filtering, coating and barrier technology have made possible the use of shrubs and even trees. When dirt is the growing medium, many favor deciduous plants, because the yearly shedding of their leaves exposes the dark soil which can then absorb the sun’s heat for the building’s use. A properly designed green roof, garnished with some solar cells, can take care of itself by collecting and pumping its own water supply.

In the average city, at least forty percent of the energy consumed goes into the maintenance of its buildings — and a lot of that is spent either heating or cooling the interior so human habitation is possible. Green skins save energy for both those purposes — one report says air conditioning costs can drop 25% and overall electricity demand by 50%, and that’s just considering the inside. Outside, studies indicate that a sufficient number of green roofs can cool down the whole urban area by two or three degrees. When there’s a sweltering heat wave, even a seemingly small increment counts, and it’s been estimated that in Manhattan, for instance, greening just one-fifth of the roofs could accomplish that difference. In fact, if we slide on over to GreenRoofs.org, there’s a page of potential benefits that might astonish even the most ardent environmentalist.

The hard-headed, no-nonsense city of Chicago, which used to be known chiefly as the hog butchery capital, now wears the uncontested laurel wreath for its amazing number of buildings with vegetated roofs. In the last year alone, Chicago planted over 500,000 square feet of greenery over its residents’ heads. The City Hall set the pace, and there’s a lovely page about it here.

Australia was leery of innovation, but in the five years since Michael and Robyn Thomas produced their comprehensive and still very relevant paper for the government’s Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage, an ongoing drought has made believers out of quite a few skeptics. One of the showpieces planned for the green-skin revolution in Oz is the two billion dollar renewal of an entire precinct of Sydney, including two towers designed by Jean Nouvel and Norman Foster.

Callaghan’s article emphazises the ARCOS building in Japan’s Fukuoka City (pictured) which takes the green roof idea a step forward with not one many green roofs, 15 stories of them, like the icing on a tiered wedding cake. More great photos of this startlingly radical office building are here.

The only thing better than a green roof is an accessible green roof. When it’s created not just for energy-efficiency, but for people, it can provide the desired refreshment and even the company of birds and little animals. Sometimes you don’t need to consume the fuel and the time for a day-trip to the country. Half an hour under a tree can renew the spirit wonderfully. Remember the old Carole King/Gerry Goffin song, “Up on the Roof”?

On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me.

SOURCE: “Green skins ” 06/21/08
photo courtesy of tanaka_juuyoh, used under this Creative Commons license

02
Jul
08

AGS Case Study: West Side Skate Park, Albuquerque

Who would have thought such an exquisite degree of planning could go into a skate park? The project undertaken by Morrow Reardon Wilkinson Miller (MRWM) certainly proves that collaboration with the widest possible team can pay off in terms of the wow factor. In the Building Sitework chapter of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, Gregg Miller relates every step in the creation of this large-scale in-ground skate park. Here’s the overview:

The majority of the basic elements of the skate park utilize standard construction details and methods. The unique aspect of this project is the modification, application, and combination with these elements that makes them more “skate-able.” …. The arrangement, spacing, and connection of elements was resolved and refined in concert with the grading design. Through this process, the majority of the schematic design remained intact. Modifications were made to establish grades to acceptable slopes and to provide better internal circulation.

Now, what exactly are these elements? They are all standard concrete applications, either flat, sloped, or vertical, but it’s the imaginative way they’re put together that makes this park such a treat. They’re combined into features such as volcanoes, which are transitioned ledges with flat tops, and pyramids, which are multi-banked structures. There’s a thing called a sofa, which is a notch running laterally in a bank, and another called a loveseat, which is a protrusion at a bank’s corner. Since skaters like to jump over things, they have vertical separations and horizontal gaps to jump over.

Everything is grouped into two main areas, a section called the Trenches, mostly made from cast-in-place concrete around a central plaza of brick. This is described as a liner-flow area, replete with walls, banks, ledges, gaps, rails and steps. Separated from the Trenches by a grassy area is the Dogbone, a feature combining three bowls with a ¾ pipe. These bowls are from 8 to 11 feet deep, made to resemble the backyard swimming pools where many skaters learned their trade. The brick area pays homage to the University of New Mexico’s brick plazas, and the Trenches to the city’s system of drainage arroyos. Another part is modeled after a supremely skateable California bridge.

This illustration from Architectural Graphic Standards (from page 726) gives some idea of the meticulous planning that went into this unique recreational facility.

Miller goes into great detail describing the composition and formation of the various parts. The concrete paving, for instance, has to withstand not only skateboards but trucks, in the Trenches area, because they have to get in there for maintenance. So some of the concrete flatwork is six inches thick, reinforced by steel. The four different kinds of joints are enumerated and described: expansion joints, cold joints, cold-keyed joints, and control joints. The concrete retaining walls are of course not just walls, but skateable elements also, and vary from 8″ to 24″ in thickness, while part of the retaining wall is an aggregation of granite boulders with two-thirds of their bulk above ground. Both banks and ledges are composed of numerous variations on a theme, with different heights, widths, lengths, slopes, and connections.

The success of the project is attributed to the expertise of the consultants, namely, professional skateboard maestros who are usually on tour displaying their skills. All their ideas for exciting features were pulled together by an architect into a site plan. MRWM’s implementation of the plan started off with 3-D modeling, and at each step, everything was checked again with the experts who had envisioned the plan. Some changes and improvements were made along the way, but the park essentially came into reality matching the initial dream.

SOURCE: “West Side Skate Park” 2007
photo courtesy of striatic , used under this Creative Commons license

01
Jul
08

The Gilman Ordway Campus at Woods Hole

“Building for the Future” is a thorough case study of a high performance building, the Gilman Ordway Campus at Woods Hole Research Center. It lays out the basic principles the design team started with: a tight building envelope, efficient mechanical, lighting and office systems, and the optimization of natural light and ventilation. The Performance Overview section starts by noting that the energy monitoring system provides the numbers for evaluating the performance, a subject that definitely needs research.

The relative dearth of performance data for high performance buildings, combined with the ongoing need to educate the public and design communities about advancements in building technologies and performance, led us to include a whole building energy monitoring and data-logging system in our building design and construction plans.

A network of 75 sensors reports on what goes on throughout the building. The numbers are crunched, and charts are produced which display the current state of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and of the sources and loads of the energy flow, and even of the weather conditions. The comprehensive monitoring system keeps track of the solar thermal system and thermal exchange heat pump and energy recovery units.

Woods Hole is a venerable institution where science, education, and policy all support the prevention of environmental degradation, and especially the stewardship of the earth’s forests. The Gilman Ordway Campus was designed with an ambitious environmental agenda in mind, to produce more energy than it uses, and to do that without using fossil fuels or causing any harm to the surrounding environment or the world at large.

All the design consultants and the people from the Center itself collaborated from the start as a design team. It was especially important, because of the nature of the institution, that forestry concerns be addressed in the best possible way, using sustainably harvested, certified wood. The soils science department of Woods Hole Research Center keeps working to refine the rainwater collection system and the wastewater system, the latter with a denitrifying septic system. One of the intentions was to be sure the project was reproducible, so most of the building systems came from readily available “state-of-the-shelf” technology.

Finished in February and occupied in March of 2003, the Gilman Ordway Campus is the work of William McDonough + Partners with Mark Rylander, who is a partner in the firm, as the project manager. He also teaches at the University of Virginia School of Architecture and has been chairman of COTE (Committee on the Environment) and in 2005 was one of the Solar Decathlon judges. This is an annual competition among teams of college students to design and build houses that are both energy-efficient and attractive.

Rylander wrote the Sustainable Design chapter of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition and here, from that chapter’s Introduction, are some of the topics it covers:

…site ecology, alternative urban infrastructures, mobility, socially-responsible design, water conservation and treatment, heat island mitigation, energy efficiency, renewable energy integration, design for disassembly, adaptive reuse, recycled, recyclable and reclaimed materials, healthy material redesign, efficient construction protocols, daylighting, indoor air quality, commissioning, post-occupancy feedback…

There is truly more to sustainability than meets the eye.

Pictured: the pier at Woods Hole

SOURCE: ” Building for the Future” No Date Given
photo courtesy of andjam79, used under this Creative Commons license

30
Jun
08

Louisiana Architect Trey Trahan

It’s always enlightening to examine one particular architect’s methods and ways of thought, which Liz Martin has done in a substantial interview with Trey Trahan FAIA of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This comparatively young professional has found himself in the news lately as a person who bears watching — in the best possible way, of course. When asked by the interviewer if he finds a particular project inspirational, he moves the conversation to a different plane by talking about his grandfather, who impressed on him the idea that we’re not just here to suit ourselves, but to help others whenever possible. Trahan says,

My grandfather was a humble and extraordinary person that started with very little and worked very hard, and he did it with such dignity….He was a simple and quiet man that spoke only when he had something to say, but was terribly genuine. It’s the characteristics that I think great architecture possesses.

Trahan was also strongly influenced by the words of Le Corbusier, whose declaration that “creation is a patient search” grounds his philosophy. Trahan summarizes the process:

You learn a little; you work really hard. You learn a little more and then you work harder.

He talks about how easy it is to be taken in by an idea that seems, at first, to be the one, only, and inspired solution. Often, on closer examination, the perfect answer turns out to be more sizzle than steak, and the conscientious creator needs to start over again by re-stating the basics: the program, the uniqueness of the place, the cultural influences at work, and of course the client. Then, more study and testing. To be real and right, architecture has to satisfy on all levels. Simplicity is an important value. In general he feels that most of our lives are impeded by too much clutter.

When asked about how being a Louisiana native has affected his life as an architect, he is enthusiastic about the rich diversity of the area in terms of its population. His firm is working against the perception of Louisiana being something of a backwater where innovation doesn’t show up. He thinks it possible that the state can move into the creative forefront in architecture as well as in other areas.

Trahan describes himself as excited by new materials and processes, and at the same time willing to go back to old materials, for example in the design of Holy Rosary Catholic Church Complex where an elegant solution was found in the combination of an old material with a new process. The needs of the project led to the study of an old, primitive form of concrete called bousillage.

When the original bid for the construction turned out to be more than twice the budget, the firm turned to the new technology of building information modeling and created 3D computer files which a milling company used to produce the cypress boards that form the building. This brought the cost back within range, with the additional benefit of using a material whose interplay with light is very satisfying to the architect and many other who admire the building – including more than 30 magazine editors who included stories about it in their publications.

This project also offered a great opportunity for intensive collaboration, which Trahan sees as very important. Before the Holy Rosary project started, he hosted a day-long meeting with all the contractors and sub-contractors where he impressed upon them the importance of their work not only as handlers of physical construction components, but as artists whose contributions were essential to the aesthetic result.

Perhaps the most socially significant role played by his firm was the renovation of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. This was by many as a vital step in recovery for the whole state of Louisiana, in terms of morale, because it symbolized the rebirth of the city of New Orleans and pointed toward the return of normalcy. Even though the building is not “his” in any sense, Trahan calls this project the most fulfilling experience in his career up to this point.

More recently, the firm has gained media attention as one of those chosen to work on the Make It Right! project, for the rebuilding of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, which has become well-known through the participation of actor Brad Pitt.

SOURCE: ” Trey Trahan Defining Local Architecture at a Variety of Scales” 06/03/08
photo courtesy of raybdbomb , used under this Creative Commons license

27
Jun
08

BIM Revolution Not Quite Here Yet

An interesting article in The Economist suggests that the revolution in BIM (Building Information Modeling) is, at least for the present, mainly wishful thinking. By and large,

… fancy graphics tend to be used only for conceptual purposes and play no role in the detailed design and construction of the finished structure. For the most part, this is still carried out with old-fashioned two-dimensional elevation and plan drawings, created by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD) software. “It’s still a 2-D profession,” says Shane Burger, an associate architect at Grimshaw…

With CAD, you draw your picture, and the software makes it malleable, so it can be changed, added to, combined with another. With BIM, you put in the facts of the case and tell the software what you need, and it draws the picture. It seems that many practitioners are still in a CAD headspace, unable to make the leap of imagination that would really put BIM to work for them.

When the client says, “How will it look from over there?”, the elegant and stunning pictorial answer can be shown, and that’s cool. But there’s so much more to BIM than dazzling graphics. The amazing virtual walk-through is negligible compared to the real power and beauty of BIM. The thing to keep in mind is that a building information model is a digital representation of both the physicals and functional characteristics.

Traditionally, one of the embarrassing possibilities, once construction starts, is discovering that a basic law of physics is being violated, as two things, such as an air duct and a beam, try to occupy the same space at the same time. In building information modeling, the word “information” is there for a reason – because the best part of BIM is the huge database of everything you could possibly want to know about every part of the building at all times. Like the weather or any other system, a building is subject to the so-called “butterfly effect.” Tweak something over here, and something over there is affected. With BIM,

the model is based on objects, which are solid shapes or voids with their own properties. The model also includes information about the relationships between these objects, so that when one object is changed… any related objects are automatically updated.

In a large project, the number of stakeholders can grow to monstrous proportions, and BIM keeps them all on the same page. Time is an added dimension, so processes can be followed through the life cycle of the building. All the stages of design, construction, and facility management are taken into account and automatically updated. Energy use, lighting, heat flow, acoustics, and many other factors can all be kept track of. The most important thing is the sharing of resources and information across platforms and environments.

The author points out that the early adapters are the more flamboyant, high-name-recognition architects. Because their creations are so complicated and unusual, there’s really no other choice. What’s needed is BIM across the board; it needs to be a plow horse as well as a show pony. Apparently this is happening, as the General Services Administration now requires BIM technology for all the projects it funds.

Of course, accurate cost estimation is a huge incentive, now more than ever. When the digital prototype is the main reference, it’s possible to calculate very finely the quantities of materials needed. Perhaps even more important, every detail necessary for compliance with regulations is spelled out. MIT professor William Mitchell estimates that inconsistencies and clashes can eat up from 2 to 5% of a budget. This is interesting, because that’s about the same percentage range as it costs to make a really good green building. So, thanks to BIM, it seems that a building could be made greener (costing 3% more) and smarter (saving 3%) and still end up with about the same price tag, when all’s said and done. With the cost of energy and materials going up, and the cost of information going down, it looks like the BIM revolution will go forward.

Pictured: the Eden Project, in England. The geodesic domes were BIM-designed.

SOURCE: ” From blueprint to database ” 06/05/08
photo courtesy of just_laze , used under this Creative Commons license

26
Jun
08

U.S. Green Building Council Makes Revolutionary Change

the Solaire in New York

John Tepper Marlin likes the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Standards, and he enumerates the reasons in a Green Building News article, which also delineates what he sees as a very big problem, and predicts how the problem might be solved. The reason why we listen to Dr. Marlin is clear: he is an expert who has published fifteen books about the complicated economic realities of large cities, chiefly New York. He served in the office of the New York City Comptroller for over thirteen years, as both Chief Economist and Senior Policy Adviser. He knows all about the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and also about the not-so-good aspects of LEED certification, one of which he describes as follows:

If the estimate is accurate that half the cost of LEED certification is USGBC’s fee, this is very high compared with other certification programs, where the bulk of the cost is for meeting higher standards. One can hope that the certification cost will drop by the end of 2009 as more certifiers are accredited.

Before getting into that, however, let’s look at what Marlin likes about LEED: just about everything. The LEED point system is broad-based, transparent, and easy to follow, and the most basic level of approval is not too difficult to attain. There’s flexibility built in, and scalabilty and expandability. Independent third-party certifications are recognized. Builders have gotten on the bandwagon, and are anxious to achieve LEED’s blessing, which is a major selling point. Using green products has become fashionable. Leaders in the construction industry have adopted a LEED-friendly attitude, and willingly aim for the best recognition they can win under the system. It gives them a well-deserved reputation for civic responsibility, which is always a plus.

The downside of LEED is, the process is slow as molasses in January. Marlin cites the numbers for New York City as an example: Four years into the LEED program, only 15 certifications had been issued, out of 294 registered hopefuls. This, obviously, will not do.

So, here is the new procedure, which Marlin feels is not getting the attention due to such a major shift in policy. Starting in 2009, USGBC will continue to set the standards, but will outsource the certification process to the bodies accredited by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), who will then do the certifying. In other words, GBCI will become an Accreditation Agency that will give third-party certification bodies their licenses to issue certificates to individuals, companies, facilities and products.

This is good for two reasons: first, it will bring the U.S. in line with the best practices already adopted by other countries that have been doing things differently and more effectively. This has to do with the “Who’s watching the watchers?” question that always haunts such bureaucracies. Separation is needed between the organization that sets standards, and the organization that decides whether these standards are being met. The offices and officials who are doing the accrediting must maintain the highest degree of credibility themselves. Otherwise, the potential for mischief is enormous and unacceptable.

Second, the new method should clear up the equally unacceptable backlog of buildings awaiting judgment. There could potentially be hundreds of third-party certification bodies, each one holding itself to the most stringent requirements, because it wants to retain its accreditation when it comes up for renewal by the top-level overseers, the GBCI.

In summary, Dr. Marlin says:

USGBC’s move to open up its certification process to outside certification bodies, and to focus on accreditation, is a very good sign that the green-buildings program is going to catch up on its backlog and to be credible, so that the public will know whether or not the claimed standards are actually met.

He will be tracking the success of this far-reaching and much-needed change on his own City Economist website.

Pictured: the Solaire at 20 River Terrace, New York City’s first LEED-certified building (2004).

SOURCE: ” Green Building News – USGBC to Accredit LEED Certifiers” 06/06/08
photo courtesy of Payton Chung , used under this Creative Commons license

25
Jun
08

BIMStorm Coming to Your City?

Los Angeles

BIM is of course Building Information Modeling, and here’s how it became a storm. In Cadalyst, Kenneth Wong reports on how 133 participants tested a hunk of technology called OPS, short for Onuma Planning System, also known as a “Web-based BIM collaboration platform.” And what a platform it is. In virtual attendance from Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Canada, Mexico and the U.S., this group took on the challenge of re-inventing 60 square blocks of Los Angeles. They answered the question of what would happen if, as Wong puts it,

…a bunch of idealistic architects, designers, building owners, contractors, and consultants decided to do away with the professional hierarchies, business protocols, and legal constraints that have long prevented them from working together? What if they converged on a destination and simply spent the day exchanging ideas about the high-rises, hospitals, firehouses, and schools they envision building there?

BIMStorm LA, as the event was officially dubbed, was the brainstorm of Pasadena architect Kimon Onuma. It was a case of technology in search of an application, the technology being Saas, or software-as-a-service, which was developed by Onuma’s company and named OPS. We’re talking about open, interoperable data standards, meaning the players could come in with ArchiCAD, Autodesk Revit, VectorWorks, or any number of other programs that operate under Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) standards.

This was the super-stoked collaboration track, nicknamed the Woodstock of BIM, because the idea behind it was to shake loose from the old ways and throw everybody together into one big sandbox to be as playful and inventive as they wanted — not only architects and engineers, but code reviewers, specialists in Leed certification, green consultants, and structural analysts. After a 24-hour Internet session, conducted in real time with no lag, 420 virtual buildings had been created over 54,755,153 square feet of territory.

One enthusiastic participant was analyst Karen Weber, who specializes in green roofs. Although energy-modeling BIM software is fully aware of solar panels, it doesn’t seem to have caught up with the concept of green roofs, to Weber’s regret. She’s excited about hybrid roofs — the combination of green plantings with solar panels. Roofs get hot, as hot as 200 degrees, and she’d like to see those solar panels, which function best in the high 70s, to have plants for company, to cool them off. The green roof not only looks nice, but saves, she says, lots of money over the life of the building because of several factors.

How will all these green roofs be watered? Weber has a plan for that, too. The area of the architects’ and planners’ imaginary playground would contain around 300 fire hydrants. Their annual flushing wastes millions of gallons of water, which she would like to see gathered, stored in cisterns, and sent up to the green roofs. And why not? Cities are certainly crying out for ways to do many things better, including the conservation of resources.

Another participant, Jeffrey Ouellette of VectorWorks, said,

It’s a really interesting exercise. You can find out relatively quickly how feasible it is to build two 20-story buildings instead of a single 40-story building on a site very early in the design process. A lot of architects struggle with that early design stage because they need to get the feedback, the data, that really matters, in a timely fashion.

Going by the evidence of BimStorm’s own website it appears to have designs on several more cities. One comment notes that the old ways have been proven to cause a built-in wastage of 30% of the professionals’ time and energy before construction on a project even begins. People are liking this idea of real-time collaboration that can bring problems to light before they even become problems. One even proposes the radical idea that, in many cases, the best solution would be not to build.

Comments from BIMStorm participants verge on sounding like religious conversion or falling in love — this thing is rocking their world, and they want more. Urged ahead by the visionary Onuma, they want the future to come faster, which will happen when everybody in the industry gets on board this thing.

SOURCE: ” The Summer of BIM ” 04/01/08
photo courtesy of olasisucsd , used under this Creative Commons license




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