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2010 Upjohn Research Initiative Program – Grant Recipients

Congratulations to all of the 2010 recipients!

Climate Camouflage: Phase lll High Performance Masonry Enclosure

Principal Investigator:

Jason Oliver Vollen, CASE Center for Architecture Science and Ecology | RPI | SOM, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Abstract: The Building Envelope as Energy Transfer Station

Biotic systems have evolved a myriad of strategies to take advantage of the same forces with which we continue to struggle: the constant flux of light, humidity and temperature. While nature takes advantage of local climatic conditions to diversify and thrive, we have traditionally tended towards mitigating these same conditions, often framing bioclimatic phenomena as the antagonist to our discipline.

The building envelope represents the greatest potential energetic gain or loss, as much as 50%, and thus offers the greatest opportunity for energy savings. By seeing the building envelope as a transfer station for energy to match fluctuating resources with fluctuating demand we can significantly reduce the need for exogenic energy resources.

The High Performance Masonry System harnesses bioclimatic flows through a mass based modular curtain wall system for effective thermal balance through the synthesizing of multi-scalar color, texture, and morphology that balance thermal energy across the façade by taking advantage of temperature differentials, material properties and fabrication processes in changing localized environmental conditions. Strategized on principles from bioanalytics, energy flows through the building enclosure are harnessed to off load excess thermal loads, and cool internal load dominated structures through combined passive and active processes incorporating heat transport through material and thermodynamic technologies.

In Phase III ,we propose: 1) to fabricate, in coordination with industrial ceramic manufacturers, a building scale curtain wall module designed and prototyped during Phase II, and 2) to conduct ASTM C1363-05 performance tests on this prototype to gather critical thermal performance data.

Composite Architectures: Sustainable Applications for Computer Automated Fiber Placement Technology

Principal Investigator:

Mike Silver, Architect in independent practice


This proposal explores sustainable applications for s-glass and palm-fiber reinforced “green composites” fabricated using a multi-axis, CNC FIBER PLACEMENT ROBOT. (Fiber reinforced composites are much lighter and stronger than steel. S-glass for example, has a tensile strength of 150 ksi while steel is only 50 ksi in tension. A 100’-0” long beam made of concrete and rebars is approximately ten times heavier than the same span made from composites.) The principle aim of this investigation is to design and build a high-strength, composite structural membrane that integrates multiple functions in a single production process. This ultra-light composite system will control natural daylight and thermal conductivity while providing for shelter against the elements. Our prototype will have a very low carbon footprint. It will be affordable, strong and environmentally benign. Our specific goal is to produce a 1/10 scale sectional prototype of a double curved, composite surface made using a CNC milled hydrocal mold shaped to form walls, floors, ceilings and windows. In order to evaluate the architectural potential of this innovative technology we will apply the lessons learned during fabrication to the design of a 1,000 SF prefabricated house designed for the victims of Haiti’s recent 7.0 magnitude earthquake. (The house will be rendered on the computer, digitally tested using finite elements analysis software and materialized in a series of test case rapid prototypes.) This project will specifically tackle the problem of energy conservation in architecture by reducing the time, weight, embodied energy, labor and materials recourses needed to build a fully functional building envelope. (Conventional construction techniques require the expensive integration of multiple trades working to organize disparate materials into an integral whole. By collapsing these “skin and bones” designs into a single, ultra-light “frameless” skin an enormous amount of time, energy, and natural resources can be saved. The computer’s ability to produce non-standard taping geometries with locally differentiated ply depths also helps enhance the structural and sustainable performance of a fiber placed part.) Proprietary software, developed at each stage of the project, will be written to help visualize and fabricate the final design. All of this work will be conducted in a close collaboration with the Department of Textiles at Cornell University and with a composite fabricator located in Schenectady New York.

Lower-Technology, Higher-Performance Construction

Principal Investigator:

Kiel Moe, Northeastern University


This research focuses on lower-technology, higher-performance construction systems. Such an approach improves the performance of design practices and buildings not by adding ever-increasing layers of technology, systems, intricacy, specificity and coordination to our practices and buildings but rather by questioning and strategically editing the unwarranted complexity that dominates our buildings, practices, and lives. Today, given current economic and ecological realities, there is considerable efficacy in de-escalating building technology in order to advance practice. An optimal approach to de-escalation is through more solid and simple monolithic construction systems that are yet capable of achieving the performance perhaps evident in a multi-layered, higher-technology building. Further, such simpler assemblies also engender the critical capacities of durability, adaptability, and resilience generally not possible in the excessively additive mentality of contemporary construction logics that are driven by a dynamic of obsolescence. A shift to lower-technology approaches stands to trigger a set systemic benefits for our buildings and practices that will advance practice in this century. Buildings can and must do much more with much less in this century. This grant funding will sponsor extensive analysis of the thermal & moisture migration behavior using WUFI and THERM analysis, the respective embodied energies using LCA analysis, as well as the structural and construction parameters of lower-technology building assemblies such as load bearing masonry, site cast air-entrained lightweight concrete, concrete SIP panels, rammed earth, amongst others. Documentation of the systems analysis coupled with case study examples will help advance the argument for lower-technology approaches. Thus, the primary outcome of the funding would be a peer-reviewed report/article of the analytic results for dissemination that articulates the performances, constructability, logic and advantages of these systems. The report will ultimately also form a chapter in a book publication entitled Lower-Technology, Higher-Performance Architecture.

Smart Sun-Shading: A Demonstration of Smart Thermo bimetals as a Building Skin

Principal Investigator:

Doris Kim Sung, University of Southern California


Challenging the traditional presumption that building skins are static and inanimate, this applied research project examines the replacement of this convention with one that posits the prosthetic layer between man and his environment as a responsive and active skin. Using sheet thermo bimetals (TBM), a smart material that automatically curls when heated, building surfaces can self-ventilate and reduce its dependency on mechanical air conditioning. With today’s digital technology and driving interest in sustainable design, this simple material can transcend its currently limited role as a mechanical device to a dynamic building surface material as well as expand the discourse of the performative architecture.

Funding is sought to test the TBM by fabricating and installing a large dynamic skin/canopy in the outdoor courtyard at M&A in Los Angeles where the change in temperature sways throughout a single day. The canopy will be a massive, aesthetically-stunning surface, made primarily of individual, parametrically-designed bimetal tiles weighed down by a unique slumped glass mass. Using advanced modeling software, patterns and prototypes will be developed to optimize the curling performance of the surface and to determine the ideal tension-based form, eliminating the need for cumbersome foundation systems. In addition to testing the self-ventilation properties of this system, the new surface will introduce TBM as a smart sun-shading device, closing when heated and opening when cooled, as well as double as an energy-capturing and energy-storing surface in select areas. The extra capacity of energy capture and storage will be in the form of experimental thin films (ThermoDynamic Film and PowerWrapper by The Paper Battery Company) seamlessly laminated with the bimetals.


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