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December 9, 2011 / bjh3ev

Guest Lecture: PARABOLA

The most interesting question that I walked away from the PARABOLA presentation with was the request that we don’t forget the ancient techniques and let them be completely overshadowed simply because we’ve developed new technologies. This is evident in their TIMEPIECE project–that uses the direction and diffusion of light to generate the orientation of its program. Important events are marked on the floor and walls using an oculus, reminiscent of the most famous oculus found in the Pantheon in Rome.

These two structures come from time periods thousands of years apart, and they were constructed with entirely different programs in mind. However, it’s interesting to note that its still relevant to define the relationship between program and building with something like the light from an oculus’ path. Despite the advances in technology that have been developed in the years since the creation of the Pantheon, architects aren’t ignoring the power that comes from where light hits structure–rather they’re still using it in addition to the newer technological advances.

November 30, 2011 / bjh3ev

Light: James Terrell

I spent a summer in Pittsburgh, PA a couple of years ago, and one of my favorite parts of the city was the Mattress Factory museum–a literal mattress factory converted into installation museum that houses really fun as well as thought-provoking pieces. (If you’re ever in Pittsburgh I cannot recommend a visit enough.) They have a series of Photographs don’t do his work justice, but these were the pieces that really struck me–and I think it’s pretty interesting to think about how these light qualities can harnessed and used in architecture.

A really fun piece to experience was “Danae”, 1983:

From a darkened entryway, you walk into a long, white-walled room. On the far wall stretches a rectangle in lavender grey. As you move toward it, you slowly realize that instead of a painting, or a solid plane of any kind, it is an opening into a smaller room saturated with ultraviolet light.

That instance of realization, when you get close enough to see that you can put your hand through what was, a second prior, a solid blue square, is really cool.

My absolute favorite to experience was “Pleiades”, 1983:

You approach the gallery through an inclined corridor so dark that you are virtually without sight. At the top of the ramp, you sit in a chair and face blackness. After your eyes adjust, an amorphous sphere of grey-white, or perhaps red, begins to appear, more a presence than an object. As you look harder, the form becomes smaller. You turn away for a moment and back again. It grows and glimmers. But the source of light itself is constant and still.

Everyone who enters the pitch-black room treats it with reverence, so the experience is almost spiritual–you’re devoid of a major sense, so your brain fills in the gaps however it wants, which ends up being the creation of light.

Above are the plans/section/elevation, but the experience is actually a bit more like this:

Being curious, of course I used the flashlight on my phone to look around the space before I left (when it was empty), and doing so did decrease the experience the next time that I visited. It’s interesting how existing in a mysterious space that your brain essentially makes up from scratch can be really fulfilling.

November 29, 2011 / bjh3ev

Assignment 05: Applying Systems Principles in Design

My final studio project for the semester is the design of a POD hotel adjacent to the High Line Park in New York City (specifically sited at the corner of 14th St. and 10th Ave.). To give a brief description, the organization of my building follows the archetype of a combination apartment and retail space, with the upper floors devoted to the PODs, and the lower to public gathering spaces and a restaurant.

The projects in my studio were developed in tonal storyboards, which forced us to think early on about surface qualities, the effect of light and shadows, and the feel of our building’s priority over the logistics. This is an early iteration of that process, and it shows my goal for light within the building–separating spaces based on the light quality, so controlling it to be more present in the lower public floors than above, etc.

In the following diagram, I’ve explored the light exposure, shown by yellow arrows, in the summer and winter months–with summer sunlight directly accessing the the exterior courtyard space between the POD bands, and winter sunlight reaching into the lower floors and heating the large public space. The areas that need to be welcoming and receive the most natural light are highlighted in pale yellow, while the private PODs are shaded gray and need less direct light.

In the summer months, hot wind approaches from the southwest, and will primarily be blocked by the South wall of the building, although the heat that this adds will have to be diffused up through the courtyard exterior space. In the winter, the wind comes from the northwest and will filter up and through the building, providing ventilation.

At a small scale, these diagrams show how one POD in the hotel would receive light. The only direct exposure to the sun is through the spaces in between the wall bands, so there would always be a compelling juxtaposition of light and shadow within–that would need to be supplemented by artificial light above the sink and the desk. The bed receives no direct light in the evening (this diagram shows the sunlight coming from direct South). The thickened walls of the POD, with their selective openings achieve the desired goal of creating interesting light patterns–and since the POD rooms will be primarily occupied at night, their supplementary artificial light sources are expected, not undesirable.

The POD units will receive sunlight in all seasons, but due to the drastic differences in the angle of the sun in the summer and winter, the most direct sunlight will be experienced in the winter months–which combined with the thermal mass of the concrete walls will help in naturally increasing the temperature of the POD.

November 1, 2011 / bjh3ev

Assignment 04: Flows and Spaces_Outline

Subject of Study

I’m interested by the subject of the Passive House, focusing in on the windows utilized in different houses, and seeing how exactly the goal of passive heating/cooling is reached then optimized.

Outline of Argument

The advances made in Passive House technology could possibly be used in architecture that isn’t trying to conform to the more strict environmental regulations that are used to classify houses as “Passive,” “LEED,” etc. By looking into the differences between the standard window and the Passive House windows–and seeing if the more energy efficient one could be applied outside of the Passive House system, or if it has been so optimized that it wouldn’t be applicable elsewhere.

Method of Research

There are a couple of Passive House organizations that have really informative websites that I plan on using to start my research. Passive Houses are most common in Europe (specifically Germany), so I see the homepage of the ‘Passiv Haus Institut’ ( as being a great resource, as well as the US organization ( There are also the original research projects–and the papers that were published on them–from the early 1990s that should provide all the background I need on the initial development of the Passive House.

Intended Form of Final Product

I would like to explore (and present) the elements of the Passive House through a number of diagrammatic series. These could show the profressive development of the elements, different iterations that are commonly used, or the effect of the systems in different climates–it really depends on where my research takes me. The diagrams will definitely focus on the effectiveness that different types of windows used have towards achieving the goal of passivity.

October 18, 2011 / bjh3ev

Assignment 03: Energy Systems

Choose a four hour period in a typical day and track all of the points at which you are consuming some form of energy to provide heat/cooling, light, comfort, transportation, metabolic function, and any other uses.

I spent the last summer in Charlottesville, but I would occasionally go home to Northern Virginia for the weekend to relax and hang out with my friends. On a typical day, this would be my schedule:

12 – 1pm: wake up, shower, and get ready to leave the house

1 – 3pm: get picked up in a carpool and drive about 20 minutes away to Noodles & Co

3 – 4pm: drive back to go to someone’s house, watch TV or swim in the pool.

Research and diagram the webs of energy networks that provide for your needs, mapping them locally or globally.

I attempted to make an energy web for this ‘typical schedule’, and the following is the first draft of what I came up with. I did a little research, but mostly focused on determining which sources of energy, from solar power to derived electricity were involved in every aspect of my typical day. I started noticing the interconnections between the energy sources–which I had a bit of trouble portraying in my first attempt.

So I tried diagramming again. With more research I could trace specifically where my sources were originating. I found out exactly which power plant supplies electricity to my home, and the break down of sources that Dominion uses to run the plant (mostly coal, but also nuclear, gas, and small amounts of other fuels). From there the only thing I could’ve traced for the electricity source is exactly where the coal and uranium mines are. I had a bit of trouble determining the source for the different types of heating and cooling that I experienced, but I generally attributed it to coal and oil as the sources. Water was another interesting source that I experienced, because of the difference between the filtered water that I directly acquired from Fairfax Water, and the untreated (or less processed) water that went into the production of pretty much every other energy source. The acquisition of food could have created an energy web all by itself–from the location of the farms for each ingredient, to the additional sources of energy that makes those farms run. The production of gasoline was similarly interesting to electricity production, and I found some interesting statistics on where the U.S. acquires most of its unrefined oil (Canada, actually), so it was surprising how much transportation is necessary for all the imports that the country does there.

Name three ways that you could have the largest impact in changing the global impact of your web, at the scale of the individual, the habitable space and the infrastructural network.

On the individual scale, the easiest way to have an impact on energy use is to decrease the extent that I take advantage of different energy sources. When I’m just at home, do I need to turn on the air conditioning or can I just change into shorts? When changing locations do I need to bring my car and use more gasoline or can I walk or carpool with other people? Small changes in daily routine can make a big impact if you just quickly look at the alternatives–like using a battery powered alarm clock instead of one that has to be plugged in all of the time.

Changes that can be made at the scale of the habitable space is similar to those at the scale of the individual. If using a fan requires less energy than turning on the air conditioning, then use the fan. The pool that I swim in has a water heater because it’s in a shady part of my friend’s backyard, but what if they had built it in a sunny corner? Design choices that take advantage of sun and wind energy are some of the best ways to decrease artificial energy use (and therefore use less energy because it undergoes less steps to refinement).

As for the scale of the infrastructural network, I noticed in my research how much transportation is involved in getting the different types of energy to where they’re needed. The Noodles & Co. website ‘bragged’ about looking for local sources for their ingredients–but had only implemented a local grown program in Oregon, while my pasta in Northern Virginia needs to travel all the way from North Dakota. Locally grown ingredients shouldn’t be limited to boutique restaurants, the chains should really be taking advantage of the local ingredients too. The same transportation issue also exists with gasoline production. First most of the unrefined oil is imported, then the majority of it is refined in Texas, and finally it has to be transported from Texas to where it’s needed. What if there were more oil refineries, so the oil only had to be transported a long distance once?

October 4, 2011 / bjh3ev

Assignment 02: The Bay Game

This past week in lecture we participated in the ‘UVA Bay Game,’ a model developed by professors across the University’s departments that demonstrates the effect that our actions have on the health of the Chesapeake Bay. We posed as Land Developers, Watermen, Agriculture Farmers, Cattle Farmers, and Government Regulators to reenact the life of the Bay and see how different choices and scenarios would have an effect.

I was assigned the role of ‘Dairy Cattle Farmer’ in the James watershed. I had three options to select each game. First, chosen distinctly each turn, whether I wanted to engage in conventional or sustainable farming methods. Second, a one-time upgrade, if I wanted to upgrade from basic waste treatment to covered storage, then another one-time upgrade, to nutrient removal. And third, if I wanted to purchase any additional cattle, with a limiting maximum number.

Diagram the system including environmental processes, the role of decision makers, and interactions that you see as critical to two basic indicators of Bay Health, the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Describe an experience you had during the game play that led to a new insight about the system or a deeper understanding of the processes at work.

Throughout the game I was discussing the choices I made with the Beef Cattle Farmer sitting next to me; we were trying to see who could make the most money since we started off at very similar points. We happened to make exactly opposite decisions at the beginning–I chose to start sustainable farming immediately while she stayed conventional but upgraded her waste removal. A few turns later she switched to sustainable and I upgraded my waste removal. At first, because of the incentives that our regulator was offering, I was making significantly more income with the switch to sustainable (instead of the waste upgrade). The surprise came at the end of the game when our incomes had leveled out and we ended up with similar total profits, despite the variance that existed at the beginning of the game. This showed that even though switching to completely sustainable practices might seem not worth the immediate loss to profits, the choice to be sustainable averages itself out due to regulator interference and is completely worth it due to how much it positively impacts the health of the Bay.

Imagine and describe a real-world strategy to improve bay health through behavior change, market strategy, policy, or player choice. How would your idea potentially affect behavior of the economic and environmental models that the game is based on?

The factor that made me keep choosing to utilize sustainable farming and completely upgraded waste removal was the availability of incentives from my regulator. Ours were pretty extreme, so it was actually more financially beneficial to be sustainable than not. It makes sense that in the real world this wouldn’t be able to happen, because the government would just run out of money. However what could influence real farmers to make the switch is if governments offered a lot of incentives at first, then slowly weaned off of them–while still maintaining the point where sustainability wouldn’t become less financially beneficial than non-sustainable.

September 15, 2011 / bjh3ev

Vernacular Architecture: Washington, D.C.

After being asked in lecture to describe the vernacular architecture of my hometown, I started to think more about characteristic D.C. architecture and could only come up with national monuments and museums, which don’t really count as representatives of vernacular architecture. So I started doing a bit of research into what styles can be considered typical of D.C. and settled on the row house as a very common structure that can be looked at as an example of the vernacular architecture.

Unsurprisingly, the row house archetype responds more to social and cultural desires than to the climate of the area. Planners and architects in the nation’s capital are distinctly aware of the city’s presence as a symbol, which leads to very European and traditional designs that may not be the best suited for an Eastern American climate. The need to accommodate a large number of residents in a small land space seems to be the primary reasoning behind the construction of so many row houses, with a range from the ornate in affluent neighborhoods to the very basic and functional in impoverished areas. The row house doesn’t seem to react directly to the climate found in D.C. which has a huge range from hot and humid to occasional blizzards.

I also stumbled upon this case study on retrofitting a row house on Capitol Hill in D.C. that aims to update the efficiency of the building while conforming to historic guidelines. I thought it was interesting because their improvements included so much new technology that would allow energy-efficiency, which contrasts with examples we’ve seen in lecture of passive systems in buildings.


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