The True Value of Our Environment

“The services of ecological systems and the natural capital stocks that produce them are critical to the functioning of the Earth’s life-support system. They contribute to human welfare, both directly and indirectly, and therefore represent part of the total economic value of the planet. We have estimated the current economic value of 17 ecosystem services for 16 biomes, based on published studies and a few original calculations. For the entire biospehere, the value (most of which is outside the market) is estimated to be in the range of US $16-54 trillion per year.” (Costanza)

Aside from the absolutely staggering sum of money Costanza and his colleagues estimated above, a statement such as this calls into question shortsighted decisions which heavily impact the environment for the sake of financial gain. The problem here lies in the fact that given, for example, in an investment enterprise such as harvesting lumber in the Amazon, there is real and often quite considerable financial gain for those involved with selling this lumber while the human and other living inhabitants of our biosphere must pay the price. All too often there is a disconnect between those directly involved in deforestation and the remaining population who inadvertently creates the incentive and pressure to produce cheep lumber. Further propagating this negative feedback loop is the condition in which that small group of individuals benefiting from the sale of lumber is naturally incentivized to propagate and continue their fortunes and is in turn given the power to do so by their profits. In a perverse way it is easy to place blame on any one industry like forestry, oil, natural gas fracking or coal energy but, as with the ultimate placement of the costs, the blame rests fully on us all. In the end these environmentally destructive industries only act as representatives of their constituency.

What is interesting however is the implications of the empirical evidence Costanza and his colleagues presents in appraising the monetary worth of the natural environment. It would be easy to discredit such practice as impossible or unwise but Costanza argues that we make decisions about the value of things such as nature’s aesthetic worth and the value of human life everyday. He uses this tactic to place monetary values on natural capital and ecosystem services in order to uncover the true cost of nature’s exploitation. While largely incomplete, these data can help us estimate thresholds at which the true costs of our resource extraction overcomes their benefits in the only language that can be understood across any political boundary and social status; money.

As a final note,

I would like to propose a future most grizzly. Imagine a scenario in which we superseded our means as a species and created a catastrophic crash in the environmental systems on which we rely. As any good post-apocalyptic novel would tell you this is not too hard to imagine… but perhaps that, is not the scary part. What if we, being the incredibly resilient and resourceful creatures that we are, survived this crash and implemented technology to create a completely artificial support system in which every once-living factor on which we once relied upon was replaced by machines. Given the human determination to survive and our unprecedented resourcefulness, the scariest part about such a scenario is its daunting plausibility and the fact that such a state could ultimately become: SUSTAINABLE…


Costanza, Robert. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital.” Nature. 1997.


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Assignment #5: Desigining the Luminous Environment

In constructing two different rooms with respect to two very different programs for their interior lighting conditions I first looked at the type of experience I wanted to create in each space. The quality, rather than the quantity, of light took a roll of greatest importance.


The Band Practice-Room

band room render

Band Practice-room Lighting Conditions

In this room the focus was placed primarily on creating a well-lit environment throughout the day while limiting harsh shadows or glare which would make reading sheet music difficult. At the same time I wanted to create a space that would be inspiring and comfortable for those who would inhabit and utilize the room. A source of inspiration came from the Christ of Light Cathedral which exemplifies beautiful lighting conditions that pervade the interior. To achieve a similar phenomenon my band practice room is fitted with a ceiling of curved louvers which reflect and refract incoming southern light, directed towards the back wall but throughout the year will not fall directly on the floor space. In addition, I included a wall of louver elements of a similar geometry intended to capture afternoon light. Finally the second story window directs natural light to fill the interior.


Christ Of Light Cathedral

The Chapel of Light

This temporal chapel is intended to provide a non-denominational space of meditation and prayer suspended from the rest of the world outside. I primarily achieved this by providing a high contrast condition between the cave-like interior and the brilliantly lit light wells. These become an object in themselves as light bounces through a curved back wall and floods out over an empty alter which can be used to place any relics or religious artifacts or worship. In addition there are two light slits along the edges of the walls and ceiling bathing the walls in near-parallel, highly textured light. There is also a space above the chapel that could be vegetated and use as a meditation garden which would dapple the incoming light creating a truly inspiring, ephemeral space.

Chapel Lighting Conditions

Chapel Lighting Conditions

Photo credits:

Christ Of Light Cathedral:

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Lighting: the good the bad and the shadowy

Desire for lighting

Much of Sherman’s lecture an the Dahl reading focused on lighting in technical terms and practical applications of windows and artificial lighting in architecture. However, it was Lam’s excerpt on lighting on human perception and experience that really caught my attention. Dahl points out:

During the day, we generally expect bright interior conditions, with wall and ceilings cheerfully illuminated, since they take the place of the sky and sunlit surroundings. At night , we expect the environment to be less bright, and luminance levels in the same space can be far below those appropriate during the daytime without making the space feel dark or generating feelings of gloom or sensory deprivation. Our eyes adapt to gradually changing luminous conditions during the cycle of the day and night, so that at night a candlelit room may be perceived as being brightly illuminated. The apparent brightness is high, even though the measured brightness or luminance is very low. (Dahl)

He considers current lighting standard codes developed by lighting engineers as fix-all solutions as blind to the truth that lighting plays a crucial part in the way we perceive an environment. He argues, instead, for quality over quantity. Without this in mind, the indiscriminate implementation of light as an end in of itself leads all to often to uncomfortably over-lit artificial spaces (ie; a 70s office building or Campbell Hall). It’s important to remember that we can use light to our advantage, intentionally manipulating it in all its aspects to create an environment and sensorial experience architecture alone cannot achieve.

Theater stage lighting

Clever implementation of lighting may be used consciously to create an experience or mood. Nowhere is this better seen than in the case of movies and theater. Color, intensity, direction and spread of light produces in the audience feelings of danger, joy, sadness or mystery. More to the point, lights have the capacity to focus the viewers’ attention on particular elements over others. That’s why the theater seating is always dark–we are allowed to be completely absorbed by the performance, forgetting our place and moment as spectator.

Unintended side effects of modern lighting

A common thread in my developing thought process fostered by this class has been to look at consequences of our modern civilization in contrast to the biological animals, we as humans, have been developing from before the advent of technology (in this instance, as early as agriculture). In the case of lighting, I have wondered how a relatively recent saturation of lighting has affected thousands of years of evolutionary body physiology. One interesting change is that of a disturbance of our earlier circadian sleep patterns. As I found in reading “The Myth of the Eight Hour Sleep” by Stephanie Hegarty, before the 17th century it was accepted fact that people slept in two segmented blocks; the first beginning about two hours after dawn followed by a two hour period of activity before a second sleep block. Virginia Tech historian Roger Ekirch found that during this period people often wrote, talked, contemplated dreams or had sex. So what happened to this delightful nocturnal reprise? “Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century… He attributes the initial shift to improvements in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses – which were sometimes open all night. As the night became a place for legitimate activity and as that activity increased, the length of time people could dedicate to rest dwindled.” (Hegarty)


New York at night

The irony of this modern ailment resonates strongly with me as I lie in bed typing this very sentence well after midnight. I know, however that I am not alone, as the pressures and stress of the modern life affect nearly all of us (especially in the academic realm). But fortunately as we learn more about things like the effects of lighting on perception and biology we are armed with the ability to use this to our advantage and protect ourselves from its possible negative consequences. For instance, I have turned off one of my lights and kept the other indirect and in the warm spectrum to intentionally create an atmosphere of comfort and prepare my wary mind for sleep. Still, I can only imagine the long-term effects that have began to arise from the ever-lit mega city and the lamentable dwindling of visible starlight around them. We have entered an uncertain age in which too many children of the new millennium will grow up never knowing true darkness. Light pollution from millions of cars and street lights paint a picture of absolute obsession with artificial light that can be seen from outer space. Is this necessarily such a bad thing? If so, is there anything that can be done about it? Are we perhaps, too far gone?


Hegarty, Stephanie. “The Myth of the Eight Hour Sleep.” BBC News Magazine. 22 February 2012. Web.

Lam, William M. C. Perception and Lighting As Formgivers for Architecture. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977.

Photo credits:

“New York at night”

“Theater stage lighting”

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Assignment #4: Design For Comfort

Dubai Crescent (Ergoform)

Curitiba Bus Stop in Brazil (Trendland)

To begin thinking about the design of the bus stop I did a simple internet search and came up with a handful of quite interesting and innovative bus stop precedents. The Dubai Crescent project shown to

the right installed a number of sealed glass and steel structures that use mechanical air conditioning to shelter waiting passengers from Dubai’s aggressive daytime heat. Given the relatively inconsequential environmental impact (especially compared to the city’s enormous malls and world’s largest indoor ski slope) I wouldn’t necessarily argue that the airconditioned

bus stops aren’t a practical and cheep solution to keep residents comfortable. But in the desert, which experiences huge daily temperature swings from hot days to cold nights, perhaps large heat sinks could have been utilized to smooth out the peaks.

In the case of the micro-climate around the Culbreth  Road bus stop extreme heat is not the primary obstacle to thermal comfort of temporary inhabitants, especially considering the bus stop’s peak usage will only be when school is in session and in the daytime and late afternoon hours.Assignment 4 stereographic solar projectionAssignment 4 orthographic solar projection

The psychrometric charts reveal that cold winters will be a major design challenge. This is particularly difficult to overcome as passive heating techniques quickly loose efficacy below 50ºF. This leaves about 75% of the time outside the comfort zone during the winter. Its possible that I may have to consider the implementation of heat pumps for the particularly brutal cold nights when fellow a-schoolers are waiting to head home at 2am. The summer on the other hand will benefit frAssignment 4 psychrometric winterom cooling via air circulation which a you can see from the wind rose diagrams below.Assignment 4 psychrometric summer

The sharp edge condition of the parking garage in conjunction with the railroad and grounds lawn clearings funnel accelerated winds straight through the site. In both the summer and winter months the prevailing winds are primarily coming from the south-south west with more violent and erratic speed spikes occurring in the winter.Assignment 4 Wind Diagram-02

Bus Stop Design:

My intervention will incorporate various design features to expand the thermal comfort zone for waiting passengers. All design elements are passive; following the logic that it is-after all-just a bus stop and the 15 minute-or-so wait in a low traffic bus corridor does not justify the implementation of expensive measures such as photovoltaics or geothermal conditioning.

bus stop plan-01

bus stop render 2.2

My aim was focused on keeping the thermal bubble warm in the winter and pleasant in the fall and spring under the assumption that in the hottest months of the summer, the primary users of the bus stop–students–wouldn’t be around. I also kept my primary focus on regulating wind flows and shading as these two factors play the largest role in determining the thermal conditions of this particular system. bus stop render 1.2


Foiret, Cyril. Creative Bus Stop Design. Trendland.

Crescent: Dubai AC Bus Shelter. Ergoform: Think. Create.

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[“You don’t get out much do you?”]

IMG_20131026_175505_792 Oliver and I did a little urban exploring one day last week. Our travels took us to the far eastern edge of Charlottesville were we found the old mill building by the Rivanna. The architecture and weathered bricks were absolutely beautiful in the Golden hour of the afternoon. We looked around for awhile and found what we presumed to be the water purification plant not too far away. At the time it was great to just enjoy the afternoon outside away from studio. But we still couldn’t help but to notice the single pane windows and radiators suspended from below the sawtooth windows (you can see them directly behind me). Not to mention the tall tapered smokestack and water tower. This just goes to show that the things we’re learning in lecture have very real applications outside of studio. We can’t get away from it!meIMG_20131026_175619_625

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Assignment #3: Part 2

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 12.39.28 PMDesign Primer


The goal of my primer is to utilize the traditional technologies of the passive cooling systems gleaned from the case study of stilt houses on Inle Lake in Central Burma to be used in the design of habitations in similar climates. These may include places such as the marshes of Florida and Louisiana or villages along the Amazon in South America. As you can see from the psychometric chart above, there is an overwhelming period of the year that – using traditional passive cooling systems – is still outside of the established range of comfort. The region is extremely humid and often very hot yet the people who live in the city of Yewnghew still manage to live prosperous lives. Though careful analysis I posit that it is because of the unique thermal c0nditions found above the water which the inhabitants’ architecture utilizes that they are able to remain comfortable year-round.

 Design Strategies in Two Seasons

The typology developed in Burma is unique in its capacity to accommodate for two markedly different seasonal climates. The first is that of the dry season, which is (despite its name) very humid and consistently hot and sunny. The monsoon season on the other hand is characterized by constant steady rain and often strong winds. The housing in this region and, more specifically, above the waters of the Inle Lake evolved a unique set of design modifications over hundreds of years to adapt to this particular climate.

stilt house diagram 1-2

Dry Summer Season

(1a) the window design: The hinge of the window rotates upwards rather than outwards, protecting the dwelling from direct sunlight-or radiative heat
(1b) elevation above water-level: the stilt construction allows for evaporative cooling from passing winds greatly reducing the temperature directly below the house
(1c) window placement: windows placed on opposing faces of the structure allow for cross-ventilation

stilt house diagram 1-1Monsoon Season

(2a) the thick natural fiber roof: doubles as a thermal and moisture insulator
(2b) the elevation above water: prevents the flooding that would otherwise occur inland
(2c) the and windows: open up shade the interior from the heavy rains while still providing for ventilation and light penetration.
(2d) [unmarked] the long overhangs and walkways: shield the interior from the strong relentless winds


Climate Consultant.

Erik. “A Boat Tour of Inle Lake – Nyaungshwe, Burma.” Around This World. 22 Oct. 2013. Web.

“Average weather and climate in Myanmar (Burma).” World Weather and Climate Information. 22 Oct. 2013. Web.

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Assignment #3: Part 1

Traditional Climate Control Techniques: Stilt-Houses on the Inle Lake of Central Burma


“Myanmar’s Climate can be described as tropical monsoon climate. It is characterized by strong monsoon influences, has a considerable amount of sun, a high rate of rainfall, and high humidity that makes it sometimes feel quite uncomfortable. The annual average temperature ranges from 22 degrees Celcius (72° Fahrenheit) to 27 degrees Celcius (81° Fahrenheit) year-round.” (World Weather…)

Experiencing dry and rainy seasons annually, the climate of Inle Lake is often hot and humid with alternating periods of intense sun and intense rain. With a low annual temperature of 72° F, the inhabitants of Central Burma strive almost exclusively for the loss of excess heat. As you will see below they succeed in doing so using nothing more than passive cooling systems.

Architectural Adaptations

stilt house diagram dry season

stilt house diagram monsoon


The photo on the left was taken in the city of Yewnghew, home to its own traditional building typography of the stilt-house. (Click here to see more photos of Inle Lake stilt-houses.) Ultimately, this arose from its particular set of environmental circumstances and climactic conditions. The lake is fairly shallow and provides much of the villagers’ food in the form of hydroponic gardens. To adapt to the modestly formidable climate, inhabitants have built their dwellings above the water supported by long pillions into the lake bed. As you can see in the diagrams, this allows for greater air circulation beneath and through the structures as well as placing them well above the flood waters of the monsoon season.


The water of the lake provides for evaporative cooling as well as acting as a large heat sink, absorbing heat in the day and releasing it during the night. The pitched roofs with long overhangs – traditionally constructed of natural fibers – serve a dual role of diverting rain water during the rainy season and shading windows and walkways from direct sun in the dry season. This compensates for the negative drawback of no shade from trees above. An excellent view of the closed and open windows (the former blocking direct sun and the latter open to allow for air circulation) can be seen in the photo to the above. The building typology of the stilt house can be seen in examples across the globe but each is unique in its evolution around different climates and cultures.


Climate Consultant.

Erik. “A Boat Tour of Inle Lake – Nyaungshwe, Burma.” Around This World. 22 Oct. 2013. Web.

“Average weather and climate in Myanmar (Burma).” World Weather and Climate Information. 22 Oct. 2013. Web.

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