Blog

09
Mar
2016

Solar Power becoming dirt cheap

A new product will make solar energy dirt cheap.  Solar power used to have a payback of about 20 years. The lifespan of photovoltaic (PV) panels was about 20 years, making solar a difficult sell given the high cost. We knew one day the price of PVs would become cheaper than fossil fuels and that day is not far off. While oil prices are coming down, so are PVs –the price of solar and other green technologies are offering affordable options to renewable power.  In fact, some projections see the cost of solar becoming cheaper than fossil fuels within five years.  Researchers developing the new solar cell made with perovskites (current technology uses silicon), project the technology will cost just 10 to 20 cents per watt. Currently, solar costs around 75 cents a watt.  The  U.S. Department of Energy projects 50 cents per watt will allow solar power to compete with oil.

A new start-up Oxford Photovoltaics is commercializing the product.  Meanwhile, solar cells made with silicon are also coming down in price.  All this is great news for achieving net zero at an affordable cost. Solar power, green architects virginia

01
Feb
2016

Creating layers of value – What’s good for environment is good for business.

We consider a project unsatisfactory if it’s just beautiful.  We consider a project unsatisfactory if it’s only green — or only functional.  We consider a project falls short if it’s not a good fit for it’s natural setting or urban context.  We seek to create layers of value.  Case in point:  We were asked by Norfolk region based Haynes Furniture to do a facelift on their exterior facade.  Our solution – create a facade that is beautiful but also shades the entrance glazing from unwanted heat gain.  Beautiful and functional.  We wanted to transform the parking lot to one that was full of trees and native plants that filter stormwater before it reaches the endangered Chesapeake Bay.  Beautiful, native to place and green.

We believe by adding layers of value our clients get more for their investment.  Good for the environment, good for business.green architect Norfolk

 

28
Dec
2015

Low-energy solutions

We humans, occupants of the habitat we call The World, find ourselves in a predicament – confronted by a changing environment, we must adapt and do so quickly, achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 (See Ed Mazria’s 2030 Challenge). Advocates of biomimicry point to nature, with 3.8 billion years of R&D, as a source for cost-effective, low-energy strategies.  I recently read about the “Ripe Chair,” a project by Andreas Konradsen, part of the DON’T RUN OUT exhibit held in Paris this week, where a steel frame chair was submerged in salt water to naturally weld the joints.  ripe_chair

This process recalls one the Romans used in the production of concrete – they compacted volcanic ash and lime in forms submerged in sea water.  The mix, when in contact with sea water, underwent a chemical reaction to form concrete more durable than today’s.

Those of us architects focussed on sustainability think a lot about creating zero-energy use buildings.  The energy that goes into the production of materials used in buildings is equally important with the embodied energy associated with materials attributed to many years of a building’s life cycle costs.

Among the many materials buildings employ, concrete is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases (an estimated at 7%).  The Roman’s knew how to produce low-energy concrete, how is it we continue to produce high-energy Portland Cement when there are solutions?  Research into alternatives, such as Belite Cement, is underway and Drexel University has produced a low-energy concrete.  There are other researchers exploring low-energy solutions.  Once these alternatives are on the market, I’m hoping the building industry can move quickly embrace the DON’T RUN OUT philosophy to integrate these technologies into new construction.

 

 

26
Oct
2015

Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center of Virginia: Engaging people is key to a building’s success

We design with the philosophy that engaging people in our buildings is key to a project’s success.  We think a lot about how to create opportunities for discovery, for collaboration, for a conversation with nature… Take for example, The Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center (LCEC).  We designed the roof as an vegetated garden/overlook to the Rivanna River.  This is where a visitor first arrives and the roof signals the building’s larger goals: to connect to the Lewis & Clark story, and to engage the visitor with nature.  The vegetated roof is to be planted with species gathered by the explorers on their journey west.  The overlook, with a replica of a ship in the foreground and the Rivanna in the background, recalls to the visitor that the exploration was carried out by river.  The building also teaches about water, how precious it is, how it is the source of life: the roof water is directed to a riverstone channel that flanks the stairs descending to the exhibit space.  Water is collected in a basin at the entry below and the visitor crosses a bridge to enter the building – again, references to Lewis & Clark’s river journey as well as modern concerns about the environment and the importance of water quality.  The building is designed to achieve LEED Silver, and its many sustainable features are teaching examples for visitors.  Best of all though is how active the center is with community activities.  The building teaches about the Lewis & Clark’s journey, about nature while serving as an ideal setting for the activities organized by LCEC.  It is gratifying to see our goals realized.  IMG_1463IMG_1478

05
Oct
2015

architects and community engagement

We believe in win-win solutions. Obstacles can be surmounted with creative thinking and a few skills. One area where architects can make a difference is in the public arena. An example: Using an design skills in 3D modeling, I was able to explore and propose a sewage tunnel that relocated a neighborhood sewage pumping station away from our neighborhood.

Here’s the story:

My neighborhood in Charlottesville, Virginia was faced with the threat of a much enlarged sewage pumping station (we already didn’t like the one we had much less the idea of one 4x it’s size). Engineers were paid to develop alternative options each of which had some impact on someone. No one could agree. The cheapest solution was to target the one in our neighborhood and without agreement, we had no doubt we’d see a new enlarged facility in our midst.

The neighborhood was frustrated with the options presented by engineers.  I decided to see if I could find an alternative option. Using a 3D sketch program (SketchUp), I developed a model of the surrounding area and introduced a flat plane at the level of the existing pumping station. With this datum established I could better visualize where the topography might accommodate a relocated station (while not an engineer, I made an educated guess that the new station would likely be at or around the same elevation of the existing one). What I discovered was that local sewage and water authority site was at around the same elevation as the pumping station, separated by a ridge. This was a lightbulb moment – I realized a tunnel might be a viable solution that everyone could embrace.

RWSA-OPTIONSA neighborhood up in arms can be a powerful force and the tunnel idea might not have found legs but for the energy put forward by the neighborhood — after all, the tunnel was more expensive than enlarging the existing pumping station.  The neighborhood’s activism rallied the support of the Charlottesville City Council.  The engineers liked the idea.  An agreement was reached.  Funding was approved.

Last week the tunnel boring machine arrived in our neighborhood having tunneled from the sewage treatment center to our neighborhood. It did take a village and the many skills of its inhabitants contributed to the implementation of a happy solution.   Architects do have a unique set of key problem-solving skills and the combination of public engagement combined with creative thinking and visualization skills all contributed to that finding of the win-win solution.

16
Sep
2015

Sustainable design requires creative solutions

A sustainable architect needs to solve for more than would the typical designer.  I liken our process to solving the Rubic’s cube – where all the goals, challenges and givens must be in alignment.  The typical architect might be solving for the nine squares/side cube, we are solving for the 16 square/side Rubic.  Take for instance HEDS-designed RiversEdge House: Good urban design suggested house be sited in alignment with street grid.  Classic #PassiveSolar approach would rotate the primary windows toward south and shade with deep overhangs.  But the street grid wasn’t on a north-south axis.  To solve for both passive solar and urban siting, we angled the front wall toward south while maintaining the overall orientation to that of the street.

This project was designed as part of the RiversEdge community and speculative – we were the developers.  We know first-hand that passive solar takes advantage of free energy from the sun at no additional cost to the builder – a win-win solution.  RiversEdge5-heds

31
Aug
2015

Harness the Sun at the Community Level

huangbaiyuhouse_blog

Design for passive solar home in China proposes wind turbine and vegetable gardens on roofs.

Passive solar design is well understood yet little considered at the community design level. New York City planners had the foresight to lay out the NYC street grid with solar aspect in mind. For community planners, considering solar path is so simple yet largely ignored.  Imagine laying out streets and houses around the sun so that rooms enjoy daylight without solar heat gain, where front and rear yards are oriented on the north-south axis and sideyards to east and west. Thus floor plans can more easily be adapted to locate the service spaces to the north (kitchen, closets, baths) and living spaces (living, dining, bedrooms) to the south.  This simple idea can have a profound effect on the long-term energy use of the individual homes and of the neighborhood collectively and with little or no cost, has big marketing potential. Community developers and planners should wake up to the logic of this win-win solution.

village_blog

The design of this new community in China (team led by Allison Ewing while Partner at William McDonough + Partners) was designed to take advantage of solar path at all scales of design, from the community to the room.

 

28
Aug
2015

Charlottesville VA architect Chris Hays interview with Home Style Green

Charlottesville VA architect Chris Hays Interview with Home Style Green

Charlottesville VA architect Chris Hays talks with broadcaster Matthew Cutler-Welsh about how homes can improve your life.  The covered outdoor space of the Dogtrot House has transformed the lives of its inhabitants who spend their waking hours in the courtyard space during the summer and shoulder seasons.  It’s gratifying to see how a well-designed home can make life better.  Listen in ITunes

Green Style Home

13
Aug
2015

Allison Ewing shares her green design expertise at Hanley Wood’s Vision 2020 Symposium

Allison Ewing shares her expertise on green design at the Hanley Wood Vision 2020 Video Symposium. She discusses why the building is at a Darwinian crossroads and it’s time to evolve an Architecture of the Fittest. Architects must find solutions that are attractive to home developers who will build 75% of new housing in the coming decades. Nature, with 3.8 billion years of R&D has a lot to teach us about adaptive — and cost effective — strategies in a changing environment. Ms. Ewing discusses how bigger is not better, rather connecting people with the landscape is fulfilling, and how creative designers are finding clever solutions to living richly in a small setting. She tackles creating the zero energy home, the use of low-embodied energy materials and new technologies such as 3D printed buildings which will transform how we build. Some researchers are even exploring buildings which are self-assembling, patterning processes on nature.
https://twitter.com/Ewing_Allison, https://www.facebook.com/HaysEwingDesignStudio, https://www.linkedin.com/pub/allison-ewing/b/929/710

27
Feb
2015

adaptation

Lichen grows on the sunny side of the bark of a tree, capitalizing on the warm of the environment. I’m fascinated by the compass termite amitermes meridionalis, native to northern Australia, that builds its nest like a sundial.  The long axis of a nest (which look like a tombstone) runs north to south to minimize exposure to intense mid-day rays.  The south face of the nest is made of a higher thermal mass material – cob, the north face made with straw bale.  Its air conditioning system involves small capillaries as intake and a large central chimney as exhaust, a wonderful example of thermoregulation. 

With 3.8 billion years of R&D, nature proliferates in well-adapted solutions — solutions solved in context and the context is EARTH.  Learning from nature, taking nature’s advice, is the premise for the book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, authored by Janine Benyus.