Techne: The Carbon Calculator for Buildings and Sites

The Center for Sustainable Building Research, image via www.csbr.umn.edu

At the University of Minnesota’s College of Design several projects have been developed to advance more cost-effective, more environmentally aware buildings, infrastructure, and even communities. One very useful program they’ve developed falls under the Building Evaluation category. It’s called the CBSR Site and Building Design Carbon Calculator. What does it do? It measures the carbon footprint of any building or site. In other words, it measures greenhouse gas emissions from sites and from building development. Even better, it can be used by both professionals and the general public alike, for either existing or future structures. Indeed, after downloading the calculator, which is very well-researched and comprehensive, it is clear that this tool is self-explanatory and very easy-to-use.

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Techne: The New and Improved SketchUp

Gizmo navigation of SketchUp, image via depts.washington.edu

If you have ever used SketchUp, you probably really like what it does, which is basically allowing 3D viewing and modeling of everything from furniture to cities, as the website declares. At the University of Washington’s [design machine group], researchers in Computer Science and Architecture have decided that SketchUp needs some additional functionality. Why? Because, as they say, while “SketchUp may displace the use of physical models in design, [it] has not eliminated difficulties in the ad-hoc navigation of digital models by non-experts, which often occurs during design reviews.” In fact, as they see it, SketchUp’s mouse navigation requires a great deal of skill. Keyboards and mice are clunky and difficult to use when examining 3D computer models, especially for non-designers, i.e. those who are unfamiliar with using the software frequently.

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Techne / HEED: Possibilities for Energy Efficient Design

HEED, image via www.energy-design-tools.aud.ucla.edu

While many people are familiar with UCLA as a university, because it is so large, it’s difficult to track all the different important studies conducted there. Yet many of these can directly improve the lives of people right now. Take for example the HEED, or Home Energy Efficient Design program, developed at UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design. Begun back in 2002, it was created to help literally everyone improve the energy efficiency of their homes. For free.

What is it? Basically, HEED provides a set of tools that help anyone and everyone re-design housing to be more energy efficient. Even better, it can be applied to both new and existing structures. And while it was initially developed for California homeowners—they were identified by their utility providers—the software has since been reconfigured so that professionals in the building industry can also use them. The software now can be used by architects, contractors, engineers, and of course, individual homeowners. This free, downloadable software incorporates several advanced features that allow both individual DIY-ers and professionals to restructure and redesign the efficiency of new and existing structures.

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Techne: Zofnass and Sustainable Infrastructure

Natural World credits, image via www.gsd.harvard.edu

In the design industries, sustainable ratings are too often parsed for single structures. What makes this approach inefficient is precisely that it fails to account for a more comprehensive approach to promoting sustainable strategies. Moreover, what comprises “sustainable” in one rating system may be completely ignored by another. Rather than implementing such piecemeal methods, the design and building industries need to consider a ratings system that accounts for categories ranging from resource allocation to quality of life issues.

Enter the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. It grew out of a studio from 2008, but the program has long since grown beyond its original vision. The program has created Envision, a voluntary certification system. Envision helps cities and infrastructures deploy sustainable strategies “for the design, delivery, and operations of large-scale urban developments and infrastructures.” To help users navigate all its features, there is a downloadable manual.

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Techne: A Living Lab of Renewable Energy

Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall, CMU / © Daderot

Carnegie Mellon University has a building in its School of Architecture that is a lab. No, the building does not house experiments, it is the experiment. It is called the Intelligent Workplace Energy Supply System and it provides the Energy Supply System (EES) for Carnegie Mellon’s Intelligent Workplace, which is part of the School of Architecture’s Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics. It is a physical construction from 1997 that consists of offices, meeting rooms, and work spaces for faculty and students, all located atop the Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall.

What’s the goal? To study the viability of providing power, cooling, heating and ventilation to a building using thermal energy and renewable, bioDiesel fuel. The specific investigations range from design and installation to evaluation of both individual components as well as their ability to work efficiently in concert with one another. Ideally, once all this information is compiled, more comprehensive design strategies can then be identified and used by architects everywhere. (more…)

Techne – Space Pen: Drawing in 3D on the Web

Extending a kitchen wall, image via depts.washington.edu

With the advent and proliferation of tablets, using a pen to annotate or even sketch is becoming more and more useful, if not necessary. Enter the Space Pen. Now, you can sketch or annotate 3D models on the web. Developed at the University of Washington’s Design Machine Group, this tool provides an ideal interface with another of the group’s projects, Spot, the daylight measuring tool for architects.

Is Space Pen really as simple as it sounds? Can you really just draw and edit any 3D model? Yes. But it is not just that you can draw on any surface, it also recognizes certain basic shapes to aid in the drawing process. It also automatically renders a 3D floor plan from one’s model in real time. Another boon is the addition of a “light pen” allows users to add directional light to the drawing. It’s also free. (more…)

Techne: MIT’s Mediated Matter

L-system as a cellular automaton algorithm in an associative modeling environment. An example of morphing, branching geometries found in plant systems that develop as integrated structural support. The model was based on a complex algorithm that factored for growth and generative factors as well as decay and structural requirements. via MIT

The MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group is perhaps not the first choice of exploration for architects and architecture students. What does “mediated matter” have to do with the design of urban and suburban space and structures? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Because the goal of this group is to develop “novel processes that enable and support the design of physical matter,” using computer design combined with “biologically inspired fabrication.”

Below, I look at three projects developed and directed by Neri Oxman, an assistant professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab. Professor Oxman also received her PhD in design computation from MIT.

We begin with a project that combines local and global-based knowledge as they relate to construction. The Rapid Craft project basically mines local construction designs and techniques and combines them with the latest design technologies. (more…)

Techne: The Eco-School

Fence constructed from onsite, reclaimed boards, image by author

There are a lot of different approaches to making buildings more efficient with finite resources, and some of them have been highlighted in this series. Strategies like green roofs, passive heating and cooling, as well as more advanced technologies like newer materials to fabricate solar panels, are all important developments. And as we have seen, different architects and designers have deployed these strategies successfully. Most often, however, these strategies are just applied to a single building. It’s rare that an entire campus will be built using multiple strategies that try to re-use, preserve, and even incorporate such approaches into the curriculum.

Enter Muse, located in Calabasas, California. The brainchild of actress Suzy Amis Cameron and rebuilt by Ecovations, a design/construction/consulting firm, the school exemplifies a sustainable approach on a grander scale. (more…)

Techne – NetLogo: Easy 3D Drawing from MIT

Components, image via ccl.northwestern.edu

There are admittedly many differences from architecture school and working in the profession. One major difference is that while in school, people are in a mode of exploration, and any and all tools to facilitate that exploration are welcome. By the time one reaches the stage of “doing the work,” the suite of tools becomes far more narrow: AutoCad, Revit, Ecotect (maybe), and the occasional 3D program like Rhino. And if a person decides to hang out their own shingle, the computer tools becomes even more limited because of cost issues, unless bootleg copies are something you want to risk. (more…)

Techne – See Spot Measure Daylight: Architecture Tools

image via dmg.be.washington.edu

The [design machine group] at the University of Washington is a cross-disciplinary group from the College of Built Environments and the Department of Architecture. It’s directive is to explore and develop ideas “that will shape the future of design and information technology.”

Their research projects range from fabrication tools to new ways of rendering large-scale models. Amongst the most exciting is the SPOT tool. First of all, this tool is free, so anyone, anywhere in the world can use it. And because it was developed for architects, its features have the needs of architects in mind. (more…)

Techne: Virtual Tools for CAD

Tool in Hand / Tool Engaged / Updated CAD Model - Images via vrcim.wsu.edu

Architecture professionals often agree that CAD applications, whether in the PC or Mac platforms, could use some help. Revit of course offers some dramatic improvements but not everyone uses it. So some Engineering faculty at Washington State University have come up with an alternative solution. The Virtual Reality and Computer Integrated Manufacturing Laboratory or VRCIM offers a unique solution for increasing the effectiveness of CAD-based design and visualization.

The approach is very simple: embed VR capabilities into CAD to improve the tools and effectiveness of CAD. Basically, we are discussing the ability to perform such simple tasks as visualization and tracking to complete haptics drawing within the CAD platform. This first step in improving CAD involves the construction end of projects using VR and CAD. Thus, one can envision the assembly and disassembly of projects using VR versions of mechanical tools such as wrenches and the like. And the functionality is easily adapted to haptic devices. And of course, the team has designed templates that can be easily implemented. (more…)

Techne: Educating architects with VR

Example of Modern architecture, image via www.learn.columbia.edu

Virtual Reality used to be the stuff of third-rate movies and tv shows with really fantastical plots that made one think, “how did these people get this job?” Fortunately, there are many university researchers who have constantly toiled at making real VR a useful and integral reality.

Take the VR learning site at Columbia. For anyone curious about western architecture there are some interesting structures to explore. It’s true that Columbia and the core Art History class that initially inspired this site is unfortunately Eurocentric: for example, French structures seem overrepresented. (more…)

Techne: UCLA Software

HEED, image via www.energy-design-tools.aud.ucla.edu

I am, admittedly, a big fan of UCLA. At least in the U.S., college loyalty begins and ends as an undergraduate and if you happen to receive your graduate degrees at the same school, well, the deal is sealed, as it were. But we’re not discussing the basketball team, here. We’re actually talking about academic programs and research.

And it just so happens that because UCLA is a research university, there is a lot of interesting research going on there. For example, at UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design, there is a program that was begun back in 2002. It’s goal? To help everyone improve the energy efficiency of their homes. For free. It’s called HEED, or Home Energy Efficient Design.

What is it? Basically, it’s a set of tools that help people re-design housing to be more energy efficient. That goes for both new and existing structures. And even better, while it was initially developed for California homeowners who were identified by their utility providers—the project began in 2005—the software was restructured to serve professionals in the building industry. That means it was re-made to serve architects, contractors, engineers, and of course, the homeowner to restructure efficiency for both new and existing structures. (more…)

Techne: Thinking Microclimates

Mapping conditions and occupant preferences and behaviors to create a thermal model, Image via www.cbe.berkeley.edu

Working in a large space, at work or at school, makes one extremely sensitive to the idea of microclimates. Whether there is a skylight or window that uncomfortably irradiates the immediately surrounding area, or if there is a thermostat that just can’t be set warm enough, everyone has experienced the discomfort of the unadjustable microclimate. It’s not unusual, though it might be a bit disturbing, to see a co-worker swathed in a blanket (I’m not making that up, unfortunately), or a foot-heater discreetly tucked under a desk. Or you might be one of the unlucky persons either stuck under the artful skylight or near a south-facing, floor-to-ceiling window. That’s because most office spaces are designed for a uniform, master-control HVAC system.

It’s important not to confuse the availability of different technologies with widespread, institutionalized use because to do so is to conflate two very different issues. So while this technology may have been around in bits and pieces, it has yet to be combined into comprehensive tools. And as for implementation, many in the architecture industry have experienced the resistance to both passive and advanced energy efficient technologies. (more…)