Why We Build Buildings Twice Low Voltage Electrical Systems NOT Passive Solar
Why We Build Buildings Twice
Before our projects are actually constructed on a site, they are built first in our studios, in a comprehensive computer model. Working closely with specialized experts in each of the disciplines involved, we model every system in the project... not just the architecture, but the lighting, plumbing, ventilation, communications, etc. - It's all virtually integrated and assembled in our studio before it's physically Read More →
Low Voltage Electrical Systems
This article is somewhat technically oriented, but it is also about the larger picture. Our design focus favors taking forward-looking, intelligent advantage of emerging but proven technologies. What we are doing 'under the hood' enhances our work with improved economies and performance - weaving the technical with the artistic, the poetic with the practical, the dreams to the realities.  So even seem Read More →
NOT Passive Solar
One of the most common misunderstandings we see about our high performance architecture is that we are preoccupied with passive solar design - which is actually something we don't have any particular interest in.  It's easy to see why this confusion happens: Passive House (or Passivhaus) sounds just like passive solar, and both are associated with lower energy use in buildings. That's about where the si Read More →
Why We Build Airtight Architecture
Passive House architecture: Healthy, comfortable places to live and work that use a fraction of the energy of mainstream construction. Many people presume this must be all about insulating really well, and while that is important, the amazing performance of a Passive House project actually begins with extremely well controlled ventilation. As much as forty percent of the energy loss in a building built to current Read More →
Shading Data - No Guesses Allowed
One of the many aspects of site specific architectural design now standard practice in our pre-design research process is to acquire a forensic understanding of the shading conditions that will alter how our architecture will be exposed to the sun over the course of each year.Designing high performance buildings, there is far less room for intuition and assumptions commonly taken for granted in the design and const Read More →
Cakes Left Out in the Rain
That natural forces will act on, and ultimately destroy, any contribution we make to our built environment persists as one of the few things we can be sure of about the fate of any building. For architects, this presents a challenge somewhat analogous to that of medical professionals who, destined to ultimately surrender the battle associated with our desire for immortality, heroically strive to help u Read More →
Building Legacy Architecture
Building with durable, inorganic materials such as SIREWALL means spending more initially to create buildings that will not burn, rot, or otherwise decompose. What are the implications of designing buildings that will stand for generations rather than years?A brook trout swims freely... within the boundaries of the streambed. Both the stream and its inhabitants are constantly changing, but the stream structure change Read More →
The Fulcrum of the Power Grid
The railroad system that spans our continent represents one of the most ambitious historical achievements of our nation. Our infrastructure of power utilities gradually eclipsed that incredible achievement in both scale and significance. We are the beneficiaries of over a century of ongoing investment in the distribution of electricity. This incredible asset is poised to play a major role in facilitating our transiti Read More →
Designing for Natural Light
One of the first things we do with a new project is build a detailed and accurate three dimensional computer model of the land and its physical features from a survey. The survey work is usually completed using both a laser theodolite and satellite GPS data. The topographic model created from this data is calibrated with the specific altitude, latitude, and longitude of its physical location on the planet. This co Read More →
The Intelligent Choice
Europeans have lived with high energy costs for a long time, and have a strong pragmatic awareness of the costs associated with heating and cooling buildings. So it may come as no surprise that the leading standard in energy savings comes to us from Germany: The Passive House standard. It's not a brand - anyone with the knowledge and desire can use these technologies. The advantages are clear: a means to create be Read More →
The First Step to Net Zero Energy
A 'net-zero energy' building generates more energy than it needs. The most important item in Net-Zero design is reducing the demand for energy. This is the main principle behind the Passive House concept, so it should be a natural progression for architects designing to the passive house standard to also pursue Net-Zero Energy. A passivhaus project is already over half way toward being a Net-Zero Energy project.Here Read More →
Steer Clear of Toxic Tile
Most ceramic wall or floor tile is now manufactured out of the United States, and the use of highly toxic heavy metals in the glazes is common. Most of the tiles you will see, especially in retail outlets, were manufactured in China, or in Cambodia or Vietnam by Chinese companies. The environmental impact of the manufacturing practices of these companies is severe, as are the health risks to laborers and regional r Read More →
What Plants Can Teach Us About Storing Energy
Biomimicry: What plants can teach us about storing energy... Good bye, fossil fuel dependency! The main challenge with sun and wind energy is storage. Because the sun isn't always shining, and the wind isn't always blowing, we need to be able to bank away renewable energy when it's available for times when it is not. A team from Harvard is learning how to do just that... from plants. They are looking to photosynth Read More →
Breathing Clean Indoor Air
Optimum interior air quality has become an increasingly prominent concern in my work. Passive house interior air quality is pristine because highly filtered fresh air is constantly being exchanged with the interior air. The passive house standard requires filtration systems that achieve a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of 12 or better - meaning dangerous contaminants have been removed from the air, Read More →
Design for Future Abundance
The classical English pattern of using the village commons (that communally owned and used land which was available for pasturing private livestock) did not involve a conflict between public and private welfare as long as there was enough land. However, as herds increased, the over-grazed land became less productive so that the herdsmen had to increase their stocks in order to stay even, and thus the commons were des Read More →
Optimizing Walls for Energy Performance
We assign a very high priority to comfort in buildings - specifically, thermal comfort. One of the basic distinctions between being inside' and 'outside' is that when we are inside, we expect to be comfortable. We essentially live in two climates - interior and exterior - and the construction assemblies that make up the floors, walls, and ceilings of our buildings, often referred to as the building envelope, mediates Read More →
Designing with Sheets of Light
One of the most exciting and interesting aspects of architecture is lighting design, and emerging technologies are creating an ever expanding horizon of design possibilities. This is a flexible 'light sheet' that provides high quality lighting while eliminating many of the constraints and challenges traditional lighting options impose. This new medium for lighting combines the mechanical, electrical and light s Read More →
Phase Change Materials
Putting Nature's Magic to Work For Us: Phase Change Materials We see it all around us, all the time; temperature changes make stuff freeze, melt, or vaporize. These 'phase change' transformations, in which molecules change from one state of matter to another, are so common we take them for granted. Ice cubes in a drink, no big deal!But there are some interesting physics involved in every instance of these little m Read More →
Details and Intention
When we experience good design - whether it is the design of a product, a service, or an environment - seemingly small, nuanced details we may well not even be conscious of will often exert a powerful influence on our perceptions. Even without knowing why, we are drawn toward the intentions of our benefactors. We like what they are up to. We appreciate what they provide without really needing to understand why or how Read More →
Art and Science of Architecture
In Western culture, science and art are often thought of as existing in separate worlds. Our higher educational institutions support this notion, for example - coursework is generally offered in the arts, or in the sciences. Yet we need look no further than the rise of Apple to recognize this is a false choice. In design, and in life, art and science are dance partners to the music of quality and innovation.Louis K Read More →
Three Dimensional Point Clouds
Technical innovation continues to rapidly and profoundly impact the practice of architecture. Here is one example: We can now perform a three dimensional laser scan of any built environment, rapidly collecting the locations of millions of points in space, creating a digital file housing a massive bundle of data known as a 'point cloud'. This point cloud can be 'read' by the three dimensional modeling software that pl Read More →
Zero Net Energy Owners Speak Out
A Zero Net Energy Home produces as much energy as it consumes, resulting in zero net energy bills and zero net carbon emissions. But the story does not end there. Zero Energy Homes have many other advantages over standard homes and so-called 'green' homes. They are very quiet, they provide fresh filtered air, they are very comfortable, and they are very sturdy homes. When the modest extra cost to build a Zero Read More →
Designing with Thermal Analysis Tools
Our buildings are designed to isolate the interior climate from the exterior climate, which means we need to consider every way energy moves between the interior and exterior, including the roofs, walls, floors, doors, windows... literally every square inch of the places where heated or cooled spaces encounter the outside world. Most of these 'boundary conditions' consist of a variety of materials assembled in fair Read More →
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