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2008 Upjohn Research Initiative Program – Grant Recipients

Congratulations to all of the 2008 recipients!

Cradle to Grave: Case Studies of Buildings’ Environmental Footprint (PDF)
Principal Investigators
Ashraf Ragheb, Assoc AIA, Center for Sustainability, Lawrence Technological University
Daniel Jacobs, AIA, RA, A3C Architects

As sustainability becomes a central figure in the design process in both architectural education and practice, conducting environmental research is gaining high momentum in architectural education and practice worldwide. Unless a comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study is conducted, it is difficult to calculate and evaluate the total burden that a particular building has on its surrounding and global environment. This study demonstrates how Cradle to Grave or Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) could be applied from a single building material or consumer product to a complex system such as an entire building throughout its life cycle. It highlights the difficulties in modeling the whole building over a long service life (60 years) and its implications on the construction process. Studying the whole life cycle of a building also shows to what extent each life cycle phase contributes to the total burdens, where some environmental strategies could be applied to reduce the total burden. The study also examines the significance of these impacts that occur during the life cycle through 3 case studies of office buildings in Michigan. The study aims also to provide a comprehensive assessment to which building assembly components (foundations, structure, walls, floors, roofs) contribute the most to the total impacts to inform architects’ design decisions regarding the building components that could reduce the total environmental burdens.

EcoCeramic Phase II: High Performance Masonry Enclosure
Principal Investigators
Jason Oliver Vollen: Center for Architectural Sciences, Associate Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Principal, Binary Design
Kelly Winn: Doctoral Student, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Jed Laver: Researcher, University of Arizona


At the turn of the 20th century the height of building technology was hand-crafted ceramic tiles mounted on structural steel framing. There were more than a dozen companies nationwide employing thousands of workers making each tile from custom-built molds interpreted from architects’ drawings. Few of these original companies remain and most are primarily involved in the preservation of historic buildings. The art of building with ceramics has fallen by the wayside. Yet the natural process of erosion of the Earth’s surface produces clay five times faster than we could ever expect to use it. While terracotta has many desirable properties as a building material — vitrified glazed finishes (durability), thermal mass characteristics (energy efficiency), humidity controlling properties (environmental comfort), plasticity of form (structural stability) — modern building techniques require a resilient construction system based on sustainable and ecological principles with a streamlined design and manufacturing process: EcoCeramic.
Phase I of our research has demonstrated for the first time that combining the intrinsic properties of ceramics and glass fibers creates a new material whose performance is both multidimensional and recombinant. The initial prototypical masonry units are locally post-tensioned using composites eliminating the need for steel reinforcing or structural framing. By employing digital simulation and fabrication technologies we have created environmentally tuned surface tiles that absorb or reject thermal radiation. Phase II will develop the EcoCeramic masonry unit into a weatherproof self supporting enclosure system. The evolution of this technology revives historic and artistic traditions and promotes the aesthetics of terracotta building surfaces that are part of lineage of Frank Furness, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Guidelines for the Design of Sustainable Learning Laboratories that Teach Through Architecture
Principal Investigator
: Jim Jones Ph.D., Director CHPLE,  Virginia Tech


The Center for High Performance Learning Environments (CHPLE), and the School of Education at Virginia Tech, in cooperation with the Southwest Virginia Science Museum, science educators, the International Institute for Sustainable Labs (I2SL) and Spectrum Design will promote “buildings that teach” and environmental stewardship with the development of a new AIA learning module that describes knowledge-based links between learning, critical thinking and architecture. The continuing ED module will build on recent research, and AIA and Labs21 workshops developed by the CHPLE that promote sustainable design practices and environmental stewardship while directly establishing design strategies that transform learning environments such as schools from passive vessels to active participants in learning. Through recent CHPLE participation on the designs for the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum and an Environmental Learning Center for Southwest Virginia, an understanding for the interrelationships between pedagogical issues and building systems is being mapped. By further developing this map through this proposal, guidelines will be developed that assist architects in designing environments that directly support learning. Through a qualitative research paradigm that includes observation and documentation, data reduction and coding, and interpretation, links between building features, museum and school displays and exhibits, and learning will be identified and mapped to the architectural design process. In addition, a group of middle school students from Southwest Virginia will participate in a mock design of an “environmentally responsive” building. Through a similar qualitative approach dimensions of student learning related to architecture and the environment will be identified and translated to architectural decision-making.

Thermally Active Surfaces in Architecture
Principal Investigator
: Kiel Moe, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Northeastern University


This body of research focuses on the new role of thermally active surfaces in architecture in our work towards low-to-no energy consumption buildings. In this transformation of energy and building practices, the thermal conditioning of a building is decoupled from the ventilation system by using the mass of the building itself as the thermal system rather than air. This method of heat transfer is physiologically and thermodynamically optimal. It also reinvests the fabric of the building itself with a more a poignant role: the structure is also the primary mechanical system. As energy and construction strategy, it yields a cascading set of advantages for the building design and construction industry: radically lower energy consumption, more durable buildings, more healthy buildings, and more integrated building systems and design teams. An important aspect of thermally active surfaces is that they are low-tech yet high performance and are thus equally applicable in the developed and developing worlds. As such, thermally active surfaces are central to multiple aspects of sustainability. This grant funding will sponsor parallel strains of research related to thermally active surfaces, leading to the publication the first and only book on this sustainable technique. This phase of research includes the documentation and illustration of the physiological and thermodynamic basis of thermally active surfaces, the elucidation of changes and amendments to professional practice and the building industry implied with this technique, the energy modeling of contemporary ten case studies with advanced modeling software, and the illustration/documentation of these case studies that focus on the systems, performance, and constructability of each project. The architects, engineers, and climate consultants for these ten projects have enthusiastically agreed to participate in the case studies and book, creating a network of practitioners and academics that will shape the case studies and ultimate book. The book is practice-driven, aiming to elucidate principles and practices for direct implementation.


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