Monday, September 30, 2013

localized design

h & p architects of vietnam are a full service firm and specializes in localized solutions based on sustainable design and construction. of great local interest is their "blooming bamboo home" that is designed to local specifications (frequent flooding, abundant bamboo):

it sits above the ground and can actually float to avoid damage due to water ingress. it is a modular, multipurpose dwelling that is easily modified to suit different needs:

There are elements of passive heating and cooling evident in the design – the roof contains sections that can be opened or closed depending on the weather. They also act as a light source for the upper level of the home. Other sections of the house can be “opened-up” as well; there are several fold down exterior decks, and patio doors. Again, encouraging the flow of air throughout the home.

as per the architects:

“The structure’s framework is made from small bamboo pieces, fiberboard and coconut leafs, which can be finished with cladding that suits its local climate and regional materials, offering an adaptable piece of vernacular architecture. The flexible building is able to be mass produced and can be constructed by its users in just 25 days… offering an affordable solution for housing… It also engages local communities with their culture and vernacular architecture.”

most importantly, this dwelling is low cost. when mass produced, a basic home costs only $ 2000.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

teaching sustainability

smith college in northampton, mass has taken a lead in teaching sustainability through ceeds (center for the environment, ecological design and sustainability):

With environmental sustainability an increasingly dominant issue of our day, CEEDS exists with one purpose: to graduate women who excel at integrating knowledge across disciplines in support of environmental decisions and action. We meet this goal in a variety of ways, from connecting students to green initiatives and academic pursuits to supporting faculty who desire to deepen their understanding of salient environmental issues of today.

building scale in sustainable living takes a cadre of individuals trained in it's techniques, approaches and thinking. similar initiatives are taking shape at other institutions as well.

an interesting demonstration project at smith is the bechtel environmental classroom which is one of the first few buildings in the world to adopt the living building challenge:

It uses solar panels to generate more energy than it uses on an annual basis, and Smith students and the building’s designers vetted all of its building materials to ensure that they were the most sustainably sourced materials available.

it has a simple functional feel and could be replicated the world over.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

passive cooling

in rajasthan, india - outdoor temperatures hit 45 c in the summer. ancient indian architecture turned to an elegant solution to keep buildings cool - the baoli - the hindi word for stepwell - they are bodies of water encased by a descending set of steps.

this cnn report highlights a new building by the architect manit rastogi who has designed the pearl academy of fashion in jaipur:

"When water evaporates in heat, it immediately brings down the temperature of the space around it," he says.

While traditional stepwells often go many stories below ground level, Rastogi's go down just four meters. However, the effect is the same and -- like the ancient Mughal palaces before it -- the academy enjoys its own microclimate.

in the heat of the rajasthan summer, the academy maintains a temperature that is 20 degrees lower than the outside because of the baoli indoors and the application of some other ancient ideas:

It's not just the stepwells that are involved in this process of "passive cooling" -- the general term applied to technologies or design features that cool buildings without power consumption.

The whole building is raised above the ground on pillars, creating an airy and shaded pavilion that is used as a recreation and exhibition space. Here, according to Rastogi, the walls are made from a heat-absorbing material that creates a "thermal bank" -- so the warmth is slowly released at night when the temperature drops.

Centuries ago, latticed screens or "jaali" filtered direct sunlight into the palaces. The effect was decorative and helped reduce the heat. Likewise at The Pearl Academy, a latticed concrete screen runs the length of the building and provides a cooling outer skin.

"We've been able to demonstrate that good green building is not only cheaper to run; it's not only more comfortable to live in -- it's also cheaper to build," says Rastogi.

an external view of the pearl academy:

these passive cooling techniques have been introduced in all indian government buildings.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

living building

seattle's bullitt center is considered a living building - it is a 6 story, 50,000 square feet structure utilizing never before seen sustainability solutions. it is a showpiece of the bullitt foundation - a seattle-based sustainability advocacy group. the goal of the bullitt center is "to change the way buildings are designed, built, and operated to improve long-term environmental performance and promote broader implementation of energy efficiency, renewable energy and other green technologies in the northwest." it is a beacon for us all:

"The most unique feature of the Bullitt Center is that it’s trying to do everything simultaneously," says Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes. "Everything" includes 100% onsite energy use from solar panels, all water provided by harvested rainwater, natural lighting, indoor composting toilets, a system of geothermal wells for heating, and a wood-framed structure (made out of FSC-certified wood).

most notably, it is built without using any red-listed materials (material deemed harmful by the living building challenge). fast company describes the challenges of doing that:

The building materials industry is notoriously opaque, so Bullitt often had to call companies directly to ensure that their products didn’t contain, say, pthalates or polyvinyl chloride (PVC)." In the end, we were making some acts of faith that people are not lying," says Hayes. "We did the very best job that we could, and we are reasonably confident that it’s the very best job anyone has done today."

Bullitt even convinced Prosoco, a company that makes water sealants that are sprayed on the outside of buildings, to create a new formulation of its product that doesn’t contain pthalates--or cost any more than the old version. Sometimes, it seems, all you have to do is ask. In order to make it easier for other buildings to follow suit, Bullitt plans to publish its findings online.

The foundation also made it easier for other buildings on the West Coast to get high-performing windows from Schueco, a German company. "We got the manufacturer to make windows with wonderful performance characteristics, and a local company got an exclusive license to make them for the West Coast," says Hayes. Now that manufacturer has multiple orders for the windows in the region.

tenants began moving into the building in january 2013. for more information or to contact the bullitt foundation, see:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

passive solar

passive solar has been with us since 1600, perhaps even earlier. this link takes you to an excellent primer on this intelligent approach to heating a home. it offers the following definition:

Passive solar heating is the use of solar energy to heat a building without mechanical or electrical energy. The architecture and construction capture, store, and distribute the sun's energy. Every building with windows exposed to the sun is passively heated, but heat losses may exceed the solar gains. Accordingly, if the passive heat gain is to reduce heating costs, the system heat losses must be minimized. Ideally, the concept includes mass to store daytime solar heat for nights, increasing the usability of the gains.

the reference traces the history of passive solar, it's key concepts as well as techniques for application. a must read for those thinking about building a new home or adapting their existing dwelling for more sustainable living.