“Even though developments in analyzing and simulating the interior environment have revealed the remarkable variability and transiency of that environment, we stubbornly cling to the belief that the envelope supersedes all – acting as a barrier to the exterior, container of the interior and determinant of all extant physical phenomena. Essentially, we privilege that which we know, that which we see, that which matches our image of a permanent and static architecture.” (Addington)

Thermal comfort has long been a driver in the way we think about design. Indeed, many would argue along the lines of the Dahl and Eva article “Hot and Cold,” that design as we know it only came about from the desire to control external thermal conditions. As we read in the Addington article, the 20th century saw the advent of HVAC technologies which were seen as the answer to the loss of efficiency due to optimal working environments. The rapid growth of large scale commercial and office buildings required constant, homeostatic conditions for the uninterrupted flow of business. This too came in response to alternating shifts in the way access to outdoor air was perceived. By the mid 20th century, the mantra “Build tight, Ventilate right.” took precedence over any ideas of outdoor ventilation and access to nature.

a5f10__Omer-Arbel-designrulz-001There has since been a radical response to this lingering line of thought. Biophilic architecture is not only designed with its ultimate impact on the environment in mind but also an increasing emphasis on the relationship between its inhabitants and the surrounding natural environment. The picture to the left is of a project completed in 2010 by Canadian architect Omer Arbel. The home is unique in that every interior room has a corresponding exterior room. The boundaries between these are intentionally implicit in some cases creating a quite stimulating condition of threshold ambiguity. Unlike the cases previously mentioned, this home challenges our idea of a definite thermal envelope. As noted in the readings architecture has long been thought of as the control of the external environment but it is projects like this that blur the lines between landscape and architecture and force us to think about the role of the built environment in an entirely new way.

To paraphrase Bill Sherman in one of his lectures, “The human body is a complex adaptive system and if it is never stressed its resiliency Is diminished over time.” As we’ve learned in lecture and in the readings our skin does not directly sense temperature but rather thermal gain or loss. What this means is that while shifts in the external thermal environment may result in slight discomfort we are rarely in any real danger of bodily harm so long as these shifts are not too drastic or for extended lengths of time. I refer to my previous week’s blog post in which I proposed an extension of our perceived acceptable comfort limits. To prove just how resilient the human body can be, just r-WIM-HOF-ICEMAN-large570look at the case of a Dutch man who holds the Guinness World Record for being fully submersed in ice for 1 hour, 52 minutes and claims to enjoy the physical challenge of subjecting his body to extreme cold. (Sterling)  Though his external body temperature drops to degrees above freezing during his feats, his internal temperature remains constant. This, he offers, is achieved by conscious mental control of his autonomic nervous system (see the TEDx video here). Though he is quite obviously an extreme case, his story provides us with an interesting possibility. What would our world be like, as one could imagine in the case above, if our built environment were designed with little to no regard for thermal control? Or better yet–imagine, perhaps, the opposite; a world in which architectural design returned to focus on thermal and natural systems rather than the stifling hermetically sealed envelope of the past fifty years.

Sources:

 Addington, Michelle. “Contingent Behaviours.” Energies : New Material Boundaries. ed. Lally, Sean. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley , 2009.

Dahl, Torben and Kristensen T. Eva. “Hot and Cold.” Climate and Architecture. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010.

Sterling, Toby. “Wim Hof, Dutch ‘Iceman,’ Controls Body Through Meditation.” Huffington Post. 22 May 2011. Web.

“Unusual and Unique House Design: 23.2 House by Omer Arbel, Canada.” Interior Design 2014. 3 Sept. 2013. Web

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October 16, 2013 · 11:03 pm

Technology is not THE Answer

There was a point in Western history in which the nascent blooming technology of the 20th century was THE answer to all of our emerging problems and complications associated with an economy and industrial infrastructure that was rapidly expanding. We quickly learned to rely on technologies such as automobiles, artificial lighting, automated machinery and assembly line production. Today, the only thing that has changed is the flavor of technology; we have smartphones to watch our stocks and tell us what the weather is going to be like for the day, advanced computer algorithms to analyze and predict consumer buying trends, and of course there is always “an app for that”. But in an age in which our growing population is putting pressures on our environment and systems, can we rely on the next new thing to bail us out of impending troubles? As our class looked at psychometric charts and through the readings it became clear to me that we have largely lost sight of an incredible potential for positive change: ourselves.

heating graphIn a sense, compared to the rest of the animal kingdom humans are unremarkable creatures . We are like any other organism in that we have the capacity to adapt to changing environmental conditions. However, of recent we have become increasingly complacent to be totally dependent on technology to function in the modern world. One of the best examples of this that came up in class is our ability to change external thermal conditions. We hyper-regulate our external conditions, creating an artificial state conducive to consistent, perfect homeostasis. This is especially true of developed nations in which well lit,  air conditioned buildings are the norm. This has not always been the case as you can see from the graph to the left which outlines the past 2000 years of heating and cooling technologies.

graphThe point I’m trying to make is that humans have existed for thousands of years depending on our natural bio-mechanisms to keep ourselves alive in a constantly changing thermal environment. To the right is a psychometric graph with a bounded box outlining our “comfort zone” relative to humidity and temperature. In the past half century this box has been getting smaller and smaller. I challenge that rather than changing our external environment we can change ourselves and our acceptable definition of “comfort” to displace some of the negative consequences of keeping our buildings within such a small window. We can suppress our urge to automatically start looking for some expensive new application of technology to make heating and cooling more efficient for the alternative of a sweater. Another example of human behavior change which could trump any technology can be found every time you use the restroom. It’s common practice to wash one’s hands after using the facility and proceed to either dry your hands on paper towels or use an electric hand dryer. In the US, the average person consumes about 749 pounds of paper every year, adding up to 187 billion pounds for the entire population. (Martin) One way we could make a dent in this waste would be to forego these two “technologies” altogether and simply use our trousers. A simple change in our behavior could cut out thousands of tons of unnecessary waste from our landfills from the paper towels, packaging of new hand dryers and paper towels and the hand dryers and dispensers themselves when they have come to the end of their lifespan and ultimately get thrown away. The simple solution is often the best.

In conclusion, we need to think of technology is not an ends but rather a means. What needs to happen is not an external change to technology but rather a change in the way we, as human, behave and expect. As David F. Nobel stated in the Lechner reading, “There are no technological promises, only human ones, and social progress must not be reduced to, or confused with, mere technological progress.” In the end technology is only as useful and efficient as the complete human system it is inserted within. Our cultural habit to look to technology as our first as our only solution to a problem as related in the Moe reading as the “Machine Mentality” should be shifted to a more  practical human mentality. Technology, therefore, should be thought of as AN answer rather than THE answer. 

Sources:

Lechner, Norbert. Heating, Cooling, Lighting : Design Methods for Architects. New York: Wiley, 1991.

Martin, Sam. “Paper Chase.” Ecology. 9 Oct. 2013. Web. http://www.ecology.com/2011/09/10/paper-chase/

Moe, Kiel. Thermally Active Surfaces In Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.

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Assignment #2 Precident

The East Coast Greenway: www.greenway.org

The East Coast Greenway is the nation’s most ambitious long-distance urban trail project.   By connecting existing and planned shared-use trails, a continuous, traffic-free route is being formed, serving self-powered users of all abilities and ages. 3,000 miles long, the Greenway links Calais, Maine at the Canadian border with Key West, Florida. Alternate routes will add another 2,000 miles to the ECG trail system. (Greenway.org)

This project, started in November of 1991, provides hundreds of cities along the Atlantic shore region with an inviting place to experience nature and connect with other members of the  community. In addition to acting as a linear park, the Greenway provides those within access a safe route to commute, as the trail doesn’t run alongside street traffic. As for the composition of the trail, the website describes it as, “A linear park [that] will be entirely on public right-of-way, incorporating waterfront esplanades, park paths, abandoned railroad corridors, canal towpaths, and pathways along highway corridors.” Though it does not exclusively utilize converted rails as my project proposal did, the project informed my design by confirming that it would not fall into one of the biggest follies that ambitious public works projects often face: apathy. While the health benefits of trail use and exercise are widely publicized, this precedent provided me with the proof that the biggest driver in my proposed system change would likely work as the Greenway had. What it relied on most was the assumption that the public desire to use a long-distance trail network would be there in the first place.

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Assignment #2: System Diagram for Proposed Bike Infrastructure

assignment 2 diagram 1

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October 1, 2013 · 3:16 pm

Airline fare analysis: comparing cost per mile

an interesting source on airfare costs per mile

Rome2rio Blog

NB: A version of this blog post first appeared as a special guest post on Tnooz.

As we continue to improve the Rome2rio multi-modal search technology, we are starting to integrate pricing data into the system to help make sensible routing decisions and better inform our users. After all, price is an important part of the decision process when choosing between routes or modes of transport.

Prices for trains, buses, ferries and taxis tend to be more constant than airfares, which fluctuate with supply and demand. However, airfares do follow certain obvious trends; longer flights cost more, and some airlines are more expensive per mile flown than others.

We decided to model airfares using some simple parameters. To do this, we examined the economy class airfares displayed by Rome2rio to users over the past 4 months, totalling some 1,780,832 price points. We grouped the airfares by distance and selected…

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Project #2 Preliminary Proposal

assignment 2 sketch 2In a country entirely developed around an automobile infrastructure, American cities, suburbs and the interactions that take place within them are entirely structured around the paved road as the primary means of transportation. On the larger scale, airports and interstate highways dominate long distance travel. In recent decades the negative health consequences and environmental impact from fossil fueled transportation has come to light suggesting the need for a fundamental change in the way we live and, more importantly, travel. My proposal for this project is to intervene at one critical point in this developed system of travel to develop a transcontinental web of bicycle roadways, sparking a revolution in the way we think about travel and helping break our addiction to oil.

I plan to achieve this by retrofitting abandoned railroad lines into cycling trail highways. This technique has already seen much success in instances such as The Great Allegheny Passage and Rails to Trails organizations. The American railroad system connects existing cities as the once primary means of goods transportation but as the interstate highway began to dominate during the early 20th century this shifted in use to the cheaper tractor-trailer and automobile or airplane for long distance transportation. This left thousands of miles of rail lines abandoned. Their long, often unbroken paths and clear land ownership makes them perfect to be utilized as trailways.

assignment 2 sketch 1Some of the health and societal problems this project would hope to address include social alienation due to suburban sprawl, respiratory problems associated with dense traffic and smog in the city, stress and obesity attributed to long daily commute times as well as a long host of others both direct and indirect. The automobile has been attributed to increased dependance on fast food, decreased community involvement and decreased physical activity resulting in a positive feedback loop, further increasing our dependance on the automobile. My aim is to break this cycle at its core, eventually eliminating the need for automotive transport on the personal scale.

In the long run, my hope is that travelers–many of which, young adults–will choose to use these cycling paths as a serious alternative to automotive and airline travel. Along these long distance trails small cities would spring up to accommodate travelers. Conceivably, many of these cities would, through recursive feedback loops, develop on average a days travel by bike apart. My sketch to the right outlines some of the key differences between these two types of cities. Being born of a bicycle and pedestrian motive infrastructure these cities would have a relatively small optimal population and environmental footprint as daily commute times would determine the maximum radius of the city. This could result in the formation of a “new” typology of American living that would closely resemble a subsistence based tribe. Communities would be close and involved, and physical activity would be an integral part of daily life.

Sources:

abandonedrails.com

eastcoastgreenway.org

Tranter, Paul J. “Speed Kills: The Complex Links Between Transport, Lack of Time and Urban Health.” Journal of Urban Health (2010). 155-166. 24 Sept. 2013.

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September 29, 2013 · 9:56 pm

Reading Response #2

In reading the first chapter of Peter Buchanan’s book, “Ten Shades of Green” and listening to Professor Sherman’s lectures there emerged in my mind a recurrent theme on the fundamental goals necessary to propel human interaction with ecological systems into a sustainable state: “diversity”. I first encountered a straightforward discussion of diversity in terms of systems this past semester while in Phoebe Chrisman’s course “Global Sustainability.” Among other things she made clear that in a biological system the greater number of species there were the more resilient the system would be to cyclical shifts and (more importantly) unexpected pressures. One is immediately reminded of the devastating asteroid impact of the Cretaceous Period and the resultant Ice Age that followed. While many prehistoric species were lost to the incident it was only because Earth had accumulated such a mass diversity of species that life sprang back even stronger than it had been before.

Roughly 66 million years later we are now faced by a potential biological disaster no less dire. Buchanan enumerates a long list of the impact of global warming on ecological systems. He states that we have to make a fundamental change in the way we live if there is any hope of halting the degradation of the natural world. However, as we have found in class and through the readings this is not possible through a single top-down change in policy or through more energy efficient building design. “It should be clear by now that green design, though not dauntingly difficult, cannot be achieved by any simplistic or formulaic approach: no single approach is likely to be adequate, let alone appropriate or even applicable, to all situations.” (Buchanan, 19). This quote elegantly embodies the shift in mindset and dialogue that needs to occur in the coming liminal decades. Rather than individual sustainability efforts competing for fruition or even merely coexisting, we need to approach possible solutions through systems based thinking. This way, the positive feedback loops of efforts made–for example–through better architectural design, shifts to comfortable living standards and changes to consumerist behaviors will create a multiplicative effect rather than a mere cumulative effect.

The importance of diversity can be seen across disciplines and scales. For instance, look at the impact of diversity on agriculture. For years it has been our response as a competitive, consumer-based economy to increase crop yields by streamlining the once natural growing process and dedicating large swatches of land to a single crop. This has a major downside however. When pests or soil nutrient deficiencies threaten the crops viability we are forced to use more and more pesticides and fertilizers. But as Marie Haga wrote for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, this is neither ideal nor necessary. She writes that “Brazil has one of the most active and innovative agricultural research systems in the world… [It] would not have been able to create such a unique and strong agricultural system if not for the crop diversity.” (Haga) A system of small scale farming using regular crop rotation methods reduces the risk of large crop failures and thus such a strong dependance on unsustainable, inorganic agriculture.

So too is the case of the exploration for solutions to present-day issues such as world hunger, social unrest, our dependance on oil, and a full range of problems caused by the ever widening disparity between classes. Buchanan asserts that interdisciplinary collaboration between fields is the only way to realize a truly sustainable future. In reference to designing green architecture, Buchanan states, “Devising a fully green design often requires a greater range of skills than any architect can provide. Engineers of various sorts make crucial contributions tot eh design, as might ecologists, hydrologists and geologists, horticulturists and landscape architects and various other specialists–including those with intimate knowledge of local climate, materials and crafts.” (Buchanan 20)

Put simply we cannot, as the old saying goes, put all our eggs in one basket. The resiliency of a system relies heavily on the diversity of its integral parts. On scales ranging from the global to the individual we must embrace the diversity of Our condition for in any given scenario there are far too many dynamic factors to predict with absolute certainty any one outcome. It is this uncertainty (and thus the possibility for negative outcomes) that is neutralized through diversity.

 

Sources:

Buchanan, Peter. Ten Shades of Green : Architecture and the Natural World. New York, NY: Architectural League of New York , 2005.

Haga, Marie. “Crop Diversity, the Key to the Success and Future of Brazilian Agriculture.” Global Crop Diversity Trust. n.p. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

Ristinen, Robert A, and Jack J Kraushaar. Energy and the Environment. New York: Wiley, 1999.

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September 23, 2013 · 1:32 pm