Archive for the 'Architectural Research' Category


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, 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


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


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


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


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower

three views Price Tower

In The Atlantic, Wayne Curtis explores an Oklahoma landmark, the Price Tower. Way back in 1952, a pipeline entrepreneur named Harold Price asked for a three-story, three-quarter-million dollar building and ended up with a 19-story building that came in at over two million. Finished in 1956, it was, says Curtis,

…easily one of the more bizarre towers ever built. Wright, who is best known for his low Prairie-style buildings, had a complicated relationship with tall buildings, calling one an “incongruous mantrap of monstrous dimensions.” Yet late in life he created drawings for a 528-story skyscraper featuring atomic-powered elevators with five cabs strung vertically in each shaft. (It was never built.)

Despite his aversion to height, it was Wright who talked the businessman into the 19 floors, although it doesn’t seem to have been a difficult selling job. Price’s son later joked that the Price Tower was basically 18 floors that existed to hold up his father’s office on the penthouse level. It stands today as the tallest example of Wright’s architectural accomplishments. Apparently there had been plans for a number of New York City high-rises on Wright’s drawing board, back in the 1920s, but none were ever built.

After passing through other hands, the Price Tower eventually became the property of an arts center, which remodeled part of it into a hotel in order to support the more culturally relevant sections. More recently, the owners had a new arts center designed by world-class architect Zaha Hadid, but funding problems have kept the actual construction of it on hold.

Upon personal inspection, the author found the tower to be interesting from the outside, not quite looking like the same building when seen from different viewpoints. The interior is replete with many triangular features, and being inside it definitely gives the observer a different feel than any experienced in more conventional, rectangle-based structures. The author calls it a space “almost perfectly scaled for human occupation,” thought it did start out with a couple of problems, like leaky windows, which had to be dealt with. Curtis quotes Wright on the virtues of the triangle, then remarks, “This statement, like much of the architect’s writing, recedes further from comprehension the longer one considers it.”

This building is characterized by a lavish use of copper inside and out.
In Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, the chapter on metals discusses copper, along with its alloys bronze and brass, as having such properties as conductivity, resistance to corrosion, and malleability, so it’s available pre-formed into all kinds of shapes. The advantages are offset by a not very good strength-to-weight ratio.

The inspiration for the basic structure of the Price Tower was arboreal. Wright was neither the first nor the last architect to take the tree as an exemplar. He designed the “trunk” as the sturdy service core and cantilevered the reinforced concrete floors off it. Without the need for weight-bearing columns around the periphery, the architect was free to treat the shell as an almost purely decorative element. Like a tree’s leaves, the copper fins protect the interior from direct sunlight, and the myriad textures that result from the various external ornaments make a very eye-pleasing arrangement.

While visiting the building in order to write about it, Curtis waited out a rainstorm inside and fancied that it felt like being in a safe, snug treehouse. Unlikely as it might seem, Bartlesville, near Tulsa, is also the home of structures designed by other noted architectural firms, such as John Duncan Forsyth, Bruce Goff, Welton Becket, Edward Buehler Delk, Clifford May, and HOK. So, whether it’s regarded as radically innovative or simply bizarre, the Price Tower is in good company.

SOURCE: ” Little Skyscraper on the Prarie ” July 2008
photo courtesy of ercwttmn , used under this Creative Commons license


Venturi, Scott Brown, and the Future of Architecture

Sendai Mediatheque

At Archinect, Steven Song examines the ideas of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, as set forth in their book Architecture as Signs and Systems: for a Mannerist Time. Here it is in a nutshell, Song’s summation of what these two enormously influential writers are saying.

The book revisits the architectural duality of ‘signage’ and ‘shelter’, introduces the concept of superimposed activity patterns as a design tool for deriving physical form from social conditions, advocates a reassessment of our ideas of context in architecture, and discusses the relationship between form and functional flexibility, ultimately advocating rule-bending mannerist architecture for today’s post-industrial Information Age.

That’s a tall order. But first, what is mannerist architecture, and what rules does it want to bend? The answer is, any rules that don’t address the needs of the particular instance at hand, which are likely to be many and varied. “Function”, for a building, needs to mean a lot of different things, and some of them are mutually exclusive. Increasingly, the needs for inclusive and sustainable design are part of the whole. Sometimes it’s impossible to follow all the rules of every system involved, because of the overlapping, superimposed way they are. And the mannerist approach is to figure out which are the best rules to break, for the good of the whole.

Song discusses the two major roles of architecture, as defined by Scott Brown and Venturi: architecture as shelter, and architecture as signage. Signage doesn’t only mean advertising, but has to do with communication, decoration, information, and symbolism. Put them all together, and you have a “decorated shed,” a phrase which they coined.

Contemporary society has a lot of blurred boundaries, many of them obliterated by modern communication devices that erase the distinction between public and private space. People can act like they’re in public (for instance, go shopping) when actually occupying a very private space (a bedroom with a computer in it). Our cities are replete with people walking around talking to themselves because they are schizophrenics, and with people walking around talking to themselves, but not really, because they’re attached to some kind of electronic gadget with a human, or at least a machine, at the other end. The first group would be locked up if there were anyplace to put them – because it’s considered insane to talk, for instance, to a deity that, being all-powerful, presumably doesn’t even need gadgets. The second group is considered normal.

What does this mean? What does it mean for cities, and for architects? Since we can now do so much from so far away, why do urban centers survive? Because people like one-on-one transactions with those they must trust, and enjoy seeing interesting strangers, and welcome the possibility of chance meetings with friends. Urban centers will continue to not only survive, but grow. Real estate prices will keep going up as land becomes more scare and sought-after. As a result, architecture needs to be more flexible. Adaptive reuse needs to mean something more than changing a building from one type of structure into another. It needs to mean that a space can serve several purposes within one week, being adaptable at short notice and able to change back again. “Wiggle room” is the answer, and the authors give the industrial loft and the Italian palazzo as examples of flexible space. Others that come to mind are the church parish hall and the hotel ballroom. There follows some discussion of flexibility, derived from the ideas of Kevin Lynch.

Another example they offer is the hotel whose lobby seating area serves the welcome desk during the day, and the bar at night — it’s multi-use, but nothing needs to be physically moved. The tradeoff between flexibility, and the drudgery of moving partitions around, is one of the arguments against flexible space. Also there’s a philosophical argument: If it can be anything, then it’s nothing.

Pictured above is the Sendai Mediatheque, designed by Toyo Ito, whose reductive analysis of architecture finds only three elements: plate, tube, and skin. Another school of thought sees four elements : floor, column, wall, and window. Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi are looking for more.

SOURCE: “Shifting Paradigms Part 1 | Renovating the Decorated Shed” 05/15/08
photo courtesy of yusunkwon , used under this Creative Commons license


The Inevitability of Building Information Modeling

Ronda Bridge visualization

“Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job,” the old saying goes. That’s the gist of John Tobin’s plea for universal adoption and fullest possible use of Building Information Modeling (BIM). Tobin’s career has focused on 3D technologies. Now the principal architect at EYP Architecture & Engineering PC, he has also taught at Rensselaer School of Architecture.

His message is to not rely on the same old convention of two-dimensional drawings to visualize a project when there is a so much better tool at hand. And likewise, don’t send a man to do a boy’s job. Don’t think of BIM as just a fancier way to produce two-dimensional drawings. It’s a whole new world. Tobin says, “We would be better served to look beyond using BIM merely as a more powerful representation tool, and instead to treat the models we create as proto-buildings.”

A BIM model is the first iteration of a building, Tobin says, a true prototype, because proto means first. Once BIM gets its hands on a project and is used properly, what you get is less like a picture of a building, and more like a building. What you get is virtual construction.

Like anything else in life, the full realization of the BIM promise depends on attitude, the willingness to learn, change, co-operate, and share. New ways of thinking are called for. For instance, Tobin says:

After working with BIM for several years, many architects find themselves modeling in ways that don’t necessarily make sense if 2D representation is the end-goal.… A segment of the architecture profession is moving beyond representation, and embracing a proto-construction mentality, carefully but inevitably.

Tobin suggests that contractors have a head start on architects when it comes to adaptability, and discusses the options for interoperability, including the National BIM Standard (NBIMS), about which he is optimistic. He breaks down the chronology of BIM history into generations, and, along with the great examples and many illustrations, this is really why it’s worth reading the original article:

BIM 1.0 – CAD on Steroids, but still doing the traditional representation.
BIM 2.0 – The Big Bang in Reverse – this has to do with solving the design/build dichotomy. Now we get into the 4th dimension, which is time, and the 5th, which is money. Then came analyses of energy and environment, and the drive for interoperability, all wrapped up in a steep learning curve.
BIM 3.0 – Post-Interoperability: This era is in its infancy, and the quicker we help it grow up, the better. Just think of the advantage: Unlike any architects or builders in history, we can build a thing twice (or as many times as it takes) without the dreary agony of tearing down masonry or pulling out wrongly placed components. We get an infinite number of do-overs, without the sweat. What’s not to like?

Wiley’s BIM Handbook is just what’s needed to get up to speed on this vital topic. It includes everything you’d want to know about BIM, and case studies, too; a universe of information in a very accessible format, starting off with a chapter called “BIM Tools and Parametric Modeling Interoperability.” Other chapters approach BIM from the viewpoints of the architect, engineer, owner, facility manager, builder, subcontractor, fabricator, and family dog (just kidding.)

The visualization of Ronda Bridge, at the top of the page, was tagged by its creator with the labels Autocad and Maya.

SOURCE: ” Proto-Building: To BIM is to Build ” 05/28/08
photo courtesy of Ziuth2008, used under this Creative Commons license