December 7, 2011
Lab Report XIV
Sustainable. Green. Eco-conscious. These terms are bandied about in the architecture profession to signal the current way of approaching the built environment. What’s missing from this ongoing dialogue? Mostly it’s practical approaches that are light on technology. Too often, emphasis is placed on the back-end, specifically on the production of new, technologically advanced products. The […]
Sustainable. Green. Eco-conscious. These terms are bandied about in the architecture profession to signal the current way of approaching the built environment. What’s missing from this ongoing dialogue? Mostly it’s practical approaches that are light on technology. Too often, emphasis is placed on the back-end, specifically on the production of new, technologically advanced products. The issue of materials and the carbon emissions created during the building process, however, is often obscured altogether.
But these issues are top of mind at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture + Planning’s Innovation Technology & Architecture Center or ITAC. Here emphasis is on energy efficiency, practicality, and cost-efficiency.
125 Haus, image via ITAC
Tackling front-end energy efficiency and conservation head-on, the team at ITAC, headed by Joerg Ruegemer, has designed and built a house that boasts 90% more energy efficiency than standard building codes will produce. And it’s achieved almost entirely by using passive technologies. During the energy-modeling phase, 35 different simulations were explored. The reason for the exhaustive studies, Ruegemer believes, is that “the building sector consumes two-thirds (77%) of all electricity in the U.S. and is responsible for producing nearly half [italics mine] (46.9%) of US CO2 emissions in 2009 [alone].” But, he argues that through site-specific research and design combined with passive technologies, the projected 70 million housing units that will produced over the next 30 years can account for energy savings ranging from 30% to 45%. In fact, designing for site-specificity rather than simply using high-tech add-ons is a key to this project’s success. Thus, the team determined that in cold climates, their strategies would include an innovative, 4-inch thick insulation system, a heat recovery ventilation system, and making certain that the house was airtight. The house maximizes solar energy without using expensive PV panels. And it cost around $250,000 to build.
CRATE solar shading, image via ITAC + 3FORM
Then there is the building’s “skin”, a word bandied about all too frequently as architects try to get a handle on the deeper issues of design and construction. The word is overused and under-thought, but not at ITAC. In conjunction with researchers at 3form, a team made up of Professor Ryan E. Smith and graduate students, created solar shading called CRATE. It has an adjustable profile to conform to numerous shapes and the design can be modified to accommodate both energy and lighting requirements.
Interestingly, Smith’s team intended to investigate expensive technologies such as DIPV (Design Integrated PhotoVoltaics) and thin-film technologies, but they eventually created this egg-crate inspired design for solar shading. They realized this was a more feasible approach and let the results of the research dictate their further research, rather than going on with developing costly, high-tech products. The crate shading was more cost-effective and therefore more accessible to a wider array of users.
Accessibility and cost-efficiency are two of the goals for research at ITAC where teams are working on innovations that can be implemented now, rather than technology-heavy developments that will take years to put into production. The ITAC approach creates solutions that can be implemented immediately.
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Sherin Wing writes on social issues as well as topics in architecture, urbanism, and design. She is a frequent contributor to Archinect, Architect Magazine and other publications. She is also co-author of The Real Architect’s Handbook. She received her PhD from UCLA. Follow Sherin on Twitter at @xiaying.