To great discourse in 2018 from Allison and Chris at hays+ewing design studio.
To great discourse in 2018 from Allison and Chris at hays+ewing design studio.
Nature teaches us the importance of beauty for survival. Color in the plumage of birds, the smell of flowers are but two examples of natural selection to promote procreation (of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, consider the horny toad – not called horny for nothing). Nature doesn’t call this green design, it’s just good practice!
If a house or housing complex is not pleasing to the purchaser, it won’t sell. Consider Pruitt-Igoe, once touted as St. Louis’ panacea to housing for the poor. Even with subsidized rents, the building never reached 90% occupancy and was demolished after only twenty years. If it isn’t beautiful, it won’t sell, and even if it’s free, no one will pick it up from the roadside of housing detritus.
A lot of resources go into a building and the longer that building endures, the lower the environmental impact.
Architects must solve for a series of criteria: how does the building take best advantage of views, harness the sun and wind, solve the space requirements|adjacencies, optimize water and energy use, be resource efficient, nurture the local ecosystem, enhance inhabitants’ quality of life, and — delight? The architect’s goal in designing a green building is to find a solution that is an elegantly integrated whole. Beauty is not a trade-off for green design — beauty is essential to a building’s survival and therefore its environmental impact.
The focus of this discussion is achieving a zero energy home through the Passivhaus approach.
True or false – adding insulation has diminishing returns? True, doubling the thickness of a roof insulation doubles the cost while halving the heat loss/gain, and half of a half is a quarter and half of that an eighth…. So, “How low should we go?” as some have asked. The idea behind the Passivhaus program, developed in Germany, is to break through the cost barrier by sealing and insulating the bejesus out of an envelope till the need for mechanical equipment is eliminated (apart from fresh-air delivery). What about the applicability of the system to the mid-Atlantic region? According to Galen Staengl, Passivhaus-certified energy consultant, “It’s still an open question as to where the cost/performance balance is struck in in our region where cooling and dehumidification are also required.” Even with the adaptability of the approach to different climates still being explored, the program offers valuable insight into how we might crack the zero energy code.
The Passivhaus program is performance-based. To achieve the 4.7 kBtu/ft/yr goal, recommended R-values for walls are R-40, for roofs, R-60. At the Hickory Hall project at the College of Emory & Henry in Virginia consulting engineer Staengl says this is achieved with a wall system comprised of 2×6 studs with cellulose insulation and 2 1/2″ of EPS insulation outside of the sheathing – all building techniques well understood by contractors and resulting in a cost increase of only 5%. The Contracting firm of Structures Design Build, located in Roanoke, Virginia alters the DNA of the typical wall section by adding a modified Larsen truss outside of the studs and sheathing. The truss, truss joists turned on their side with the webbing removed, is filled with cellulose.
The Passivhaus approach doesn’t stop at the envelope. In the US, where the climate varies from hot to cold and somewhere in between, and where some parts see enough humidity to wilt Blanche Dubois’ curls, energy-efficient lighting and equipment, especially hot water heating, need to be addressed. And of course, all the other aspects we’ve discussed above are thrown into the stone soup of the Passivhaus approach resulting in a HERS rating of between 20-30.
One of the challenges of the application of Passivhaus approach in the US is availability of cost-friendly materials. Triple-pane windows, a must for the approach, are just beginning to show up in the marketplace. Happily many of the major window manufacturers are getting on-board and Marvin, Pella and Milgard all offer triple pane options. In Europe where energy codes now mandate a Passivhaus approach, triple pane windows have become the norm — and costs are lower than for double pane — the more stringent codes in Europe are affecting a radical change in the marketplace.
In addition to the significant energy savings of the Passivhaus approach, consider the indoor climate. A recently completed home in Virginia Beach uses triple pane windows and the temperature of the glass is ten degrees warmer in the winter. The increasedcomfort associated with a well-designed envelope is palpable and a nice side benefit to reduced energy bills.
In November of 2014 I wrote about the Not so Big Apartment and of Gary Chang’s clever Swiss army knife style apartment that transforms into 24 different spaces. I admired the inventiveness of Cheng’s project and the notion of living well in a small setting.
The topic of size comes up a lot at architectural conferences. The issue is an important one for obvious reasons – bigger homes require more energy to heat and cool and more energy goes into the construction materials. Clients however aren’t always so interested in the notion of doing with less. That’s not surprising in the US, home to the super-sized Big Mac and it’s cousin the McMansion.
At HEDS we think big, from the perspective of living well, is beside the point –size has very little to do with the qualities that foster a sense of well-being and happiness. Size is what builders promote in the absence of good design. This is size over substance thinking – size is a false prize.
We share our clients’ goal that our designs should contribute to their happiness and well-being. In pursuit of their happiness, we promote more substantive qualities such as homes that bring richness through CLEVER ideas. Other qualities we pursue in our designs: FUN, COMMUNITY at all levels (between siblings, within the family, with neighbors and the larger community), a connection with NATURE, and last but not least, COOL.
Teen filmmaker James Hill documentary showcases the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center’s green features. It’s great to see the next generation taking on these serious questions.
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 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.
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.
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.
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