Stories tagged architecture

Jun
25
2010

Did you know that making bricks emits more carbon each year than air travel? It turns out that for each brick made in a kiln, 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide are spewed into the atmosphere. With 1.23 trillion bricks made annually, those emissions add up.

Luckily, there's an architect-cum-chemist who has discovered how to make bricks out of sand, microbes, and urine. Ginger Krieg Dosier, an assistant architecture professor in the United Arab Emirates, had apparently been experimenting with growing bricks for years before she finally happened on the right combination. She still has some issues to work out in the design, but her technique could produce bricks as hard as marble!

According to Metropolis, which gave Ms. Dosier a Next Generation Design award for her work, "If Dosier's biomanufactured masonry replaced each new brick on the planet, it would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by at least 800 million tons a year."

Mar
12
2010

Science Friday logo
Science Friday logo
Courtesy Science Friday
It's Friday, so it's time for a new Science Friday video. This week,

"What is the future of sustainable architecture? Washington University's Tyson Living Learning Center in Eureka, MO, achieves the Living Building Challenge--a set of green guidelines that measure a building based on its performance. The building's architect Dan Hellmuth, of Hellmuth & Bicknese Architects in St. Louis, and Kevin Smith, associate director of Tyson Research Center, point out some of the Center's greenest features."
Jan
17
2010

Earthquake and hurricane proof

Haiti housing resource
Haiti housing resourceCourtesy jasonpearce
Housing for Haitians may already be on hand. Sturdy, earthquake and hurricane proof, shipping containers often sit empty in port yards because exporting empty containers is not cost effective.

Pernille Christensen, at Clemson’s School of Architecture, along with Martha Skinner and Doug Hecker, have been working to develop a method to convert the shipping containers into homes.

“Because of the shipping container’s ‘unibody’ construction they are also very good in seismic zones and exceed structural code in the United States and any country in the world,” associate professor Hecker said.

“You get people back in their communities and it strengthens those communities,” Christensen said. “They work on their home, not a temporary shelter, and then they work with their neighbors to rebuild the neighborhood. It leads to a healthier and safer community. And these are places often in dire need of better housing.”

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Learn more about shipping container housing

Oct
23
2009

A solar home and a rainy day DC: This is the University of Minnesota's "ICON" solar home. Even beyond MN solidarity, ICON was one of my favorites. It ended up getting the top scores in the engineering and lighting competition, and 5th place over all.
A solar home and a rainy day DC: This is the University of Minnesota's "ICON" solar home. Even beyond MN solidarity, ICON was one of my favorites. It ended up getting the top scores in the engineering and lighting competition, and 5th place over all.Courtesy JGordon
Ahoy, Buzzketeers. Sorry, it’s been a few days since I’ve posted, but, see, I’ve been traveling… to the future.

By the way, I consider the east coast to be the future, because, you know, whatever time it is here… it’s an hour later there! I often call my friends in New York just to ask what I should expect in the next hour. “Loneliness,” they say.

But this weekend I too got to see the future with my own eyes. And I will tell you this: the weather is awful, but the houses are pretty sweet.

I attended the final two days of the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in Washington DC. Art did a post on the Decathlon last week, but here’s a quick refresher: the Solar Decathlon is an architecture, design and engineering challenge, sponsored by the US Department of Energy, in which colleges and universities from around the world (mostly from the United States) compete to build the best solar-powered home. The houses are judged in ten categories: architecture, engineering, market viability, lighting design, communications, comfort zone (temperature and humidity), hot water, appliances, home entertainment and net metering. The intention is to build a home excelling in those categories that gets all its energy (and more, sometimes) from the sun. The houses in this competition were all approximately 800 square feet, and designed accommodate one couple each.

Obtaining and using solar energy (through both photovoltaics, for turning light into electricity, and solar thermal, for gathering heat from solar radiation) is, of course, a major focus in the houses, but there was a lot more to the houses’ innovations than the arrays of solar panels. Everything is engineered to use as little electricity as possible, so windows are placed to get the maximum amount of light during the day, hot water is used to heat the house and (in the case of Minnesota’s house) dehumidify the air (see the picture and caption), and everything was carefully insulated according to the environment the house was designed for. In Arizona’s house, for instance, the windows on the southern wall were filled with water, which would absorb heat during the day, and radiate it back off during the cool night, while the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign insulated their home so thoroughly that they claim it could be heated with a handheld hair dryer. Many of the houses used energy so efficiently that they would—over the course of a full year—produce more energy than they used, and could feed the surplus electricity back into the grid, essentially selling it to the power company.
Team Germany's house took first place: I didn't get to go inside this one, but the outside was very... cubey. But, located even further east, Germany is far in the future, so naturally things would be a little different there.
Team Germany's house took first place: I didn't get to go inside this one, but the outside was very... cubey. But, located even further east, Germany is far in the future, so naturally things would be a little different there.Courtesy JGordon

I was able to get into 19 of the 20 houses (the line to the house that took first place, Germany’s, was just too long), and they were all quite nice. None of them had the feeling that I think is sometimes associated with “green” products—that is, that they won’t do whatever they’re supposed to do as well as the products we’re used to. The things that seemed “off” to me were design decisions that weren’t necessarily associated with energy use (I’m just not into wet bathrooms, I wouldn’t want an exterior door opening into my bedroom—that sort of thing). The problem I had with most of the houses was, ironically, that they were too nice.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The second place house. Not a great picture. Imagine the rest as looking like this, but stretched into a rectangle. This was the only certified "passive house." Its insulation and air exchange system make the house extremely efficient to heat and cool.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The second place house. Not a great picture. Imagine the rest as looking like this, but stretched into a rectangle. This was the only certified "passive house." Its insulation and air exchange system make the house extremely efficient to heat and cool.Courtesy JGordon

In ensuring that the houses would be both very energy efficient and very comfortable, almost all of the teams ended up with pretty expensive projects, even though the contest limited the houses to a footprint of about 800 square feet. This site lists estimates of construction costs of the homes, and as steep as they are, I’m not sure they’re totally accurate—maybe it was just gossip, but some of the architects were saying that a couple teams’ projects ran up to and over a million dollars, which doesn’t seem to be reflected on the Solar Decathlon’s official page. Only Rice University’s house, built for a lower income couple, was less than $200,000 dollars. Most of the homes cost several times that.
Team California walked away with 3rd place: A man wearing a garbage bag admires the elegant $450,000-$650,000 home from outside.
Team California walked away with 3rd place: A man wearing a garbage bag admires the elegant $450,000-$650,000 home from outside.Courtesy JGordon

I understand that these are prototype structures, and that their costs would be significantly reduced if they were mass produced, but even dropping $100,000 off a $600,000, 800 square foot house still leaves you with an awfully expensive house that most people (including the designers) would consider too small for an average family. The homes were built with particular markets in mind, and those markets were generally young, professional couples (with money) or retiring couples (with money), but if the point of the competition was to make progress in sustainable design… well, that doesn’t make much sense. Sustainable solar architecture has to be something that most of the people in the world could afford to take advantage of. Even if everybody in the world who could afford to buy a very small, half a million dollar solar powered house did, I don’t think it would make much difference to the planet’s consumption of non-renewable resources. It would be interesting to see family-sized solar homes built, or systems that could power an apartment complex… something like that. I’m sure the architects and engineers involved would be totally capable of that, but it wasn’t the nature of this competition.
ICON's desiccant dehumidifier: A chemical solution (basically road salt and water) sucks moisture out of the air as it passes through the clear tube. Heat from the solar thermal panels "recharges" the solution when it gets too saturated. Way more efficient than compressor dehumidifiers
ICON's desiccant dehumidifier: A chemical solution (basically road salt and water) sucks moisture out of the air as it passes through the clear tube. Heat from the solar thermal panels "recharges" the solution when it gets too saturated. Way more efficient than compressor dehumidifiersCourtesy JGordon

It was still all very cool, and it’s neat to see what people come up with when they aren’t really bound by the above practicalities. Maybe seeing new, innovative features in beautiful little luxury homes will get people excited about using them on a larger scale, or implementing them into their older houses.
The ICON home's solar array: On the far left are solar thermal panels, in the middle are regular photovoltaic panels, and on the right are glass photovoltaic panels that can absorb light from both sides. The latter form a wall for the mudroom, and part of the awning above the deck.
The ICON home's solar array: On the far left are solar thermal panels, in the middle are regular photovoltaic panels, and on the right are glass photovoltaic panels that can absorb light from both sides. The latter form a wall for the mudroom, and part of the awning above the deck.Courtesy JGordon

I’ll toss some pictures of the event up with this post, but then I need to get back to trying to adjust back to the present time. I mean, for most of y’all, it’s like 3:00. But for me it’s like 4:00. I’ve got to get out and buy some lottery tickets before this wears off.

Oct
12
2009

ICON Univ of MN Solar Decathlon enty: crane lowers a section of roof onto the University of Minnesota's Icon House, which arrived on the Mall Oct. 2. The house arrived several days late because of transport difficulties.
ICON Univ of MN Solar Decathlon enty: crane lowers a section of roof onto the University of Minnesota's Icon House, which arrived on the Mall Oct. 2. The house arrived several days late because of transport difficulties.Courtesy Richard King/U.S. Department of Energy

20 Solar houses compete in fourth Solar Decathlon

I hope to one day live in a house that produces more energy than it uses. A competition between 20 such houses is going on right now on the Mall in Washington DC. The Solar Decathlon joins 20 college and university teams in a competition to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Points awarded in ten categories determine the overall winner. As of today (Mon) we have climbed up to 7th place(click for most recent rankings).

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Lots of ways to learn about solar housing design

I have been excitedly working my way through information as it comes in. You can follow a umn_solar_house Twitter feed and there is an ICON Facebook fan page. The Solar Decathalon landing page allows you to jump to photos, videos, and team websites(not working? Try the site map). The University of Minnesota's ICON landing page branches off into a blog, a virtual tour, and lots of educational pages about design. The media (WCCO News and Washington Post) and bloggers (myself included) will be all over this. I recommend GetEnergySmartNow.com's cheat sheet and their overview of the UMN ICON house. You can also download a 966KB PDF media kit about the Solar Decathlon.

Here's some wild video of a proposed new skyscraper with rotating floors that will be used to catch the wind and rotate to generate electricity to power up the building. If you're queezey on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the carnival, you might want to stay out of this building if it's ever built.

Oct
20
2007

Solar home design competition

Solar Decathlon: The public flocked to see 20 solar powered homes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)
Solar Decathlon: The public flocked to see 20 solar powered homes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)
The Solar Decathlon is a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The event took place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., October 12 - 20.

To compete, the teams must design and build energy-efficient homes that are powered exclusively by the sun. The homes must be attractive and easy to live in. They must maintain a comfortable temperature, provide attractive and adequate lighting, power household appliances for cooking and cleaning, power home electronics, and provide hot water. These houses must also power an electric vehicle to meet household transportation needs.

The Solar Decathlon is 10 contests in one

Ten separate contests were scored, then added together to determine the winner of the Solar Decathlon. Each division below is linked to webpage for more information.

Winner: Technische Universitat Darmstadt

This team from Germany came to the Solar Decathlon hoping to have an impact on people, and it's safe to say that this happened. Darmstadt won the Architecture, Lighting, and Engineering contests. The Architecture Jury said the house pushed the envelope on all levels and is the type of house they came to the Decathlon hoping to see. The Lighting Jury loved the way this house glows at night. The Engineering Jury gave this team an innovation score that was as high as you could go, and said nobody did the integration of the PV system any better. Darmstadt was one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest. All week, long lines of people waited to get into this house.solardecathlon.org

Learn more about the 2007 Solar Decathlon