System Resilience

Ecological systems are complex and full of variables. As demonstrated by the Bay Game in lecture it takes several factors (and players) to make the right decisions in improving, in this case, the Chesapeake Bay’s health. As one decided to either use money for more sustainable practices or more conventional methods, the consequences and results were recorded and charted over time. In this game, the bay’s optimum health was the ultimate goal of each team, and in each round of the game there proved to be some drastic changes. However, systems are not all about changes. Resilience is also an important property of a system.

According to Brian Walker and David Salt, resilience is “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, and feedbacks”. It is the ability of a system to roll with the punches, so to speak, in order for the system to retain its identity.

Lastly. Resilience is also not a static property, it is dynamic. As Walker and Salt have described, resilience is “not about not changing”. In fact, if a system were to be stubbornly only one way, it would have poor adaptability in the event of a radical disturbance. Thus, “being resilient requires changing within limits -in fact probing those limits”.

One example of poor resilience brought up by the Metropolis blog, is the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan that worked smoothly until the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2010. Based on a 1960’s US nuclear reactor model, it depended on an electric emergency cooling system. However when electricity failed, the reactors melted. Ecological disasters such as this one in 2010 go to show the unpredictability of transformations in nature and the inherent need for resilience to survive through them.


Brian Walker and David Salt, Resilience Practice: Building Capacity to Absorb Disturbance and Maintain Function

Light as a Medium

Natural lighting is an incredibly powerful yet delicate medium that changes every moment of the day. According to Baker and Steemers “light is the medium that reveals space, form, texture, and color to our eyes.” In consequence, architecture is a tool to enhance natural lighting. By it’s form and shaping of light, a structure can dance with light in different ways at different times. As Frank Lloyd Wright said, “light is the beautifier of the building.”

Many architects have worked extensively in this arena, light is no new fascination. Among them Louis Kahn has been regarded as a master of light and space by working with shadows. He once declared that “even a room which must be dark needs at least a crack of light to know how dark it is.” Thus shadows belong to light and must be understood and studied as attentively as light.

According to Thomas Schielke of ArchDaily, there are three types of shadows (which have been identified by Leonardo Da Vinci): attached shadow, shading, and cast shadow. Attached shadow is the kind that falls on the body of the object itself, “like a cantilever roof causing a shadow on the facade” (Schielke). Secondly, shading is the contrast between light and shadow, between brights and darks. Lastly, cast shadow is the projection of the object’s shadow into its surroundings like the outline of a building upon the street.

One of Louis Kahn’s well-known works is the extension to Yale University Gallery of Art. Given to him in 1951, this commission was his first major commission. Here pictured are several images of the art gallery, as well as its tetrahedral ceiling with Louis Kahn himself. He incorporates all different types of shadows in his works, and his fascination with light continued through his entire career of few but poignant works of architecture.

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 3.35.02 PM Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 3.33.48 PM

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Light shapes our perception of a building and how we interact with it. Returning to Baker and Steemers Daylight Design of Buildings, “light is energy”. It is transformative and evolving. In an architect’s palette, they can filter, angle, and reflect light (and so much more). The techniques of integrating natural light into buildings is an age-old part of architecture that can never be replaced. Although artificial lighting and switchboards are prevalent in modern architecture, I believe the human capacity for love of natural lighting will always be greater.


Baker and Steemers, Daylight Design of Buildings, Chapters 1-4

Schielke, Thomas. “Light Matters: Louis Kahn and the Power of Shadow”.

Hanok – Korean Vernacular Architecture

South Korea has blazing summers and freezing winters. These Hanok were made from the natural resources of earth, stone, and wood in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Clay tiles were used for the roof, (afforded by nobility) and thatch was used for roof by common folk.

Here is a Hanok diagram: Hanok

Plans and sections of Hanok from Architeutis project Elastico:

exploded with plansPlans and Sections

The traditional Hanok design has curved corners cantilevered over the porch areas for rain protection and a raised foundation for drainage. There are cool wooden floors, “maru”, for resting in summer heat as well as “ondol” stone floors which are heated by fire or stoves underneath to stay warm in the icy winters. There are tiled roofs and paper  sliding doors to provide sun and wind shields.

Here is the Climate Consultant Psychrometric Chart for Ulsan, South Korea:Psychrometric chart

According to this psychrometric chart, Korea has very hot and humid summers paired with very cold winters. It is a country with all four seasons as well as two rainy seasons. Some of  the best design strategies to combat this extreme climate are listed by Climate Consultant as: ceiling fans (for hot days), and internal heat gain (from equipment, lights, and occupants) from tightly-sealed and well-insulated homes for heat in bitter winters. I utilize these strategies in my design (focusing on the extreme heat and cold of South Korea).

Additional photos:

Inside Hanok


For passive design purposes, concentration was placed on ways to heat and insulate in winter and cool down through ventilation in summer. In addition the sun was also a factor of both seasonal designs.

Here is the proposed design primer: Seasonal Diagrams


35 plan+sec hanok

Sophany, Ouch. “A study of traditional vernacular architecture in Korean” Architectural Division of NRICH, South Korea

Homes that Mediate Climate

Our homes mediate climate in large part through their materiality. As in Torben Dahl’s Climate and Architecture, there are four types of architecture driven climates: tent, cabin, stone house, and cave. The progression of climate stability is shown from a tent climate (that changes temperature rapidly to match its surroundings) to a cave climate (which fluctuates much slower, over the period of a year). The types that are more stable in temperature, are more embedded in the Earth.

Humans are not the only architects on Earth; animals must also make shelter. For example, termites were praised by Dahl for their expert mound molding that provides advanced ventilation by thermal lift up through the surface shafts and keeps coolness lower towards the bottom. Plenty of other species of animals also live in homes made from the ground. Animal burrows can be inhabited by foxes, cats, wolves, lions, and many others. Burrows provide most of the same essential necessities our houses do like “constant temperature and humidity, protection from predators” (as mentioned in a webpage about Natural Resources). One additional thing these underground homes provide that ours do not is “refuge during fires”. Perhaps one can say that the ground itself may be one of the most ancient forms of insulation.

One instance of ancient underground architecture is the Cappadocian Cave homes located in present-day Turkey. According to the National Geographic, this World Heritage site once hid persecuted Christians fleeing Rome. The “fairytale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and chimneys” of soft rock were solidified from the ash of volcanic eruptions. Thus “human hands” carved into the rock to create a “network of human-created caves” with tunnels connecting towns and structures with “as many as eight different stories hidden underground”. It is truly a marvel that is still inhabited today.

Photo: Cave houses along cliffside

*Pictured above is the city of Cappadocian Caves, photograph by Paule Seux (National Geographic)

In conclusion, rock and earth has always been an important mediator of indoor and outdoor climate. Addington in “Contingent Behaviors” notes the “building as container of the body’s environment”. Architecture indeed has an important purpose of stability in creating shelter, which means maintaining an environment of livable temperature. And while humans may be adaptable to many climates, architecture serves as the “third skin” according to Dahl (clothing being the second). Our homes and architectural structures mediate stability for not only our comfort but also our continued survival.


Natural Resources

National Geographic

Dahl, Climate and Architecture, pp. 54-89.

Addington, “Contingent Behaviors”, in Energies, pp. 12-17

Where should we look for comfort?

So much of our lives revolves around managing heat. From our bodies to our homes, we shape both the internal and external environment to suit our needs. As in Lechner’s Heating, Cooling, and Lighting, there are forms of progressive barriers that promote our thermal comfort like clothing, canopy beds, and the walls of our buildings. Even our skin is a fascinating envelope of heat that works like a “biological machine” as Lechner said to dissipate waste heat and control heat loss.

As described in a previous blog post, we should not strive to build the same well-controlled, air conditioned, and heated box to fit in every environment, but work towards discovering a diverse range of ways of passive design strategies to naturally reap rewards of comfort from what the environment provides. Thus, there is value in looking at our original building methods. According to Daniels from The Technology of Ecological Building, buildings of the past were characterized by “small windows” (to reduce heat loss), “building masses with high storage capabilities”, and “low standards for heating and sanitary systems” (requiring less energy and complications). In the example of materiality, the building masses of natural materials that stored the heat so well in colder seasons did not overdo the temperature in the hotter seasons. Also heating by tile stoves could heat multiple rooms through a system of shafts and wood combustion did not produce damaging products released into the environment.

One interesting example of an old structure is the Water Castle in Glucksburg. It created an unintended climate from building a water moat around it. Although Daniels says it’s original purpose was “for safety and protection”, the moat produced many facets of comfort. It reflected more sunlight towards windows, while the surrounding air was made cooler by the water’s surface (reducing summer’s antagonizing heat), and retains heat somewhat at night because water cools slowly (due to it’s high retention of thermal energy). Thus looking at instances of purely natural features of comfort with passive construction shows it’s use and ease.

In a modern mindset of creating evermore progressive barriers to the wilds of the outside (with advanced air-conditioning and heating), the treasures of potential passive energy sources from wind, water, and sun, are left unharnessed. Why should we employ such effort in extracting and transporting fuel from below the surface, when energy is all around us? In accordance with this week’s workshop on reading the psychrometric chart for comfort using different design strategies, there was a lot of comparisons between passive and active designs. Although the highest hitter in terms of comfort could be found in air conditioning and heating, much of the energy used was unnecessary when looking at simpler passive designs that could produce a bulk of the same effect in a more direct and succinct way. For example matching wind protection designs for a structure in a very windy environment better targets the problem than simply using the default method of turning up the heat. Thus, in these respects, we should use more passive energy designs to partake in the stream of energy that already flows around us -using the system instead of creating barriers to it.

Lechner, Norbert. Heating, Lighting, and Cooling, Chapter 4
Moe, Kiel. Thermally Active Surfaces in Architecture, pp. 34-41
Daniels, Klaus. The Technology of Ecological Building

Week 7 Workshop Exercise

San Salvador, capital of El Salvador

Understanding the Chart

1. The dewpoint is 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In this situation the humidity ratio would change by .11. To calculate this ratio change you would first calculate the humidity ratio of the outside and inside conditions and then find the difference by subtraction.

3. The relative humidity would be about 40%.

Climate Response

1. San Salvador, located in El Salvador of Central America, is a consistently hot-and-humid climate city.

2. San Salvador is a sunny city, being close to the equator. Thus by the tilt of the Earth, it is biased towards warm weather. It’s tropical weather lends towards little temperature change between seasons.

3. The temperature falls in the comfort zone most often in September (similarly from July to November).

4. The most effective passive design strategies in expanding the comfort zone are: sun shading of windows, natural ventilation cooling, dehumidification only, and fan-forced ventilation cooling; while the least effective passive design strategies are: wind protection of outdoor spaces (it’s not a very windy city), humidification only, and passive solar direct gain low mass.

5. Yes, it is possible to achieve a high percentage of comfort in San Salvador’s comfort using only passive design strategies. The biggest temperature and humidity design challenges derive from San Salvador’s variability in rainy and dry seasons, because the design strategies have to adjust to each mode of comfort.

Click for Psychrometric Screenshots Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 5.35.22 PM

Architecture & Consumption

Architecture is like an extension of the earth. It is rooted firmly on the ground, and envelopes the movement and gathering of people in a safe space. However, as Peter Buchanan makes a point of indicating in Ten Shades of Green, architecture today deviates from its natural grace and is focused on utilitarianism. He strives to convey that architecture “has been reduced to little more than energy-guzzling packaging”. In place of natural shelter that early humans once found in caves, buildings are now shielding us from the outside in artificially lit and air-conditioned spaces. But why contain us in such well-controlled boxes, when we can harness the sun and wind to achieve the same goals of temperature control and light exposure? Our ill-grown dependency on nonrenewable refined energies that run our well-conditioned structures is a doomed countdown of resources.

Naturally, a first question to ask in analyzing our energy problem might be “Where is our energy coming from?” As noted in Energy and the Environment fossil fuels “supply about 85% of the fuel energy used in the United States”. In terms of the world’s use of fuel, our statistic is a bad example to use as a basis for comparison. However looking at that number critically because it belongs to those of us living in the US gives us an idea of our dependency on nonrenewable forms of energy like coal or oil. Alternatively, clean sources of renewable energy have become more and more popular as a prompt of design. One design project for Las Vegas, Nevada involves giant   white metal flowers that creates an oasis-like “Senscity Paradise”.  Simultaneously shading the park below while utilizing the power of the sun and wind, it is a perfect example of a modern design alternative to fossil fuel dependency. The landscape and energy conservation project, as detailed by Behnisch and Transsolar, “combines elements of a typical theme park, including a toy gallery, theater, auditoria, and restaurants with extensive public gardens, exhibition spaces, and a series of playgrounds.” Linked below is a brief article and pictures of the topic.

Perhaps one of the drivers that helped dig us so deep into dependency is the fact that we use so much fuel. Another statistic by the same reading declares that a citizen in a developing country uses less than one barrel of oil per year while a citizen from an industrialized country uses 20-60 barrels in the same time. This discrepancy is large and rather unpleasant to realize. Every time we leave the room with the light on, or turn up the air conditioning on a hot day, there is a cost. The cost of industrialized convenience and ignorance of use is a price that is made more visible every day.

Concerning where all this energy is funneled into daily use, architecture is a large player of consumption. Not only does Buchanan note that “construction and operation of buildings are responsible for nearly half the energy consumed by developed countries” he also lists that “artificial lighting is a “building’s biggest consumer of energy” (with the second largest being air conditioning in summertime). This vast effort to construct and control such an ambitious amount of energy is unnecessary. It is far less wise to focus on what structure can be placed in any environment than how architecture reacts to its surroundings -like the oasis in the desert of Las Vegas. Our approach to structure should follow certain solutions as described by Ten Shades of Green: meaning less day-time artificial lighting employed by deep set building plans (with few windows) and better ventilation and material designs (that can rely on the environment for most air support).

Tweaking our system starts by recognizing fault and the need for change. Clean renewable energy and buildings that breath in fresh air and indulge in sunshine, these are goals we can strive for. Thus as Buchanan puts it “green buildings are the inevitable, inescapable future of architecture.” If we want the Earth to be home to our future generations, then it is our responsibility to consume only what we need and leave behind a hospitable and welcoming environment.

Peter Buchanan, Ten Shades of Green, “Green Culture and the Evolution of Architecture”
Behnisch Architekten and Transsolar Climate Engineering, Ecology Design Synergy
Robert A. Ristinen and Jack J. Kraushaar, Energy and the Environment, Ch. 1