A Moment in Time

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team have a new design approach which is moving the design along swiftly and with confidence. The team struggled to create cohesive or decisive designs, each member picking small bits of the project such as the cladding or the siting without looking at the total package. While this felt like progress, it was more of going through the motions than collaborative design. Then Andrew Freear threw them a lifeline; draw the whole building(s) in ‘a moment in time’.

sketches of cooling patio seating arrangements
Cooling Patio seating arrangement sketches are everywhere

The team was to design and choose the best options at that moment for cooling patio arrangement, structural system, site, cladding material, etc. Next, they were to draw and model the whole thing out, details, and all, as a team assuming the chosen parameters. After the team could really evaluate, decide what works and what doesn’t, and design again. Well, Andrew must have had something in his tea that day because the TMBVRP is now on the fast track. In the past two weeks, the developed four design iterations, built two models, and two mock-ups on Morrisette Campus. Let’s take a look at the process and where the design is now!

Iteration 1

iteration 1 model photo showing full length of super shed
iteration 2 1/4"=1' model birds eye view

For the first full design, the team chose the site at the east end of the Supershed. This is a much dryer location than the previous “Two Trees” site. The Test Pods, in this arrangement, act as an extension of the Supershed by mimicking the slope of the roof. By mirroring and offsetting the pods, both rooms have a view from the doorway looking out over Morrisette campus. This offset allows for the access stair to tuck down the side. The walkway between the pods holds them apart and gives a view of the sky from underneath in the Cooling Patio.

Next, the team explored a vertical, ventilated timber siding. This open-joint cladding system shades the SIPs (Structural Insulated Panel) structure from solar heat gain and wraps both chimneys. The structure supporting the Test Pods, while elevating them 10′ off the ground, was a steel frame attached to columns. This steel frame was able to slide underneath both pods between the Downdraft Chimneys. The relatively light steel columns highlight the cantilevered pods. The 1′ thick SIPs’ floors on each pod act as one large beam able to span across the steel structure while distributing the building’s load. All of this allows for an uninterrupted space for the Cooling Patio while making the two pods appear to float.

Reviewing this iteration, the team decided the Cooling Patio head height was entirely too tall for a small gathering space. There is also little interaction with the Downdraft Chimneys in this first scheme. The project collaborators suggested the doors not be above the Downdraft Chimneys to mitigate airflow disturbance. They also pointed out that vertical cladding is less successful for shading than horizontal. With internal and external feedback the team got to work on a new design.

Iteration 2

Iteration 2 plane

Iteration 2 started with moving the doors from in front of the Downdraft Chimney opening in the pods. This drove the rest of the design because the roof angle is always tied to the chimney locations. The Updraft Chimney, the one on attached to the roof, needs to be on the high side of the sloped roof. This way rain and debris cannot pool around the Updraft Chimney. Also, to distrubute airflow as evenly as possible, the chimneys need to be as far apart as possible. Therefore the Downdraft Chimneys must always correspond to the low side of the roof slope. Switching the roof angle to an “anti-Supershed” slope, allowed for the Downdraft Chimneys to move out from underneath the doors, while keeping the same mirrored, offset pod arrangement.

Whew, the team got the pod arrangement and door to chimney relationship fixed, but they created another problem: structure. The structural steel frame would no longer be able to fit in between the Downdraft Chimneys. So, the team thought to take full advantage of the structural possibilities of the very thick SIPs and attach the columns directly to the underside of the floor. While at first, they thought this would be impossible, their contact at a SIPs manufacturer told them it is done quite often on hunting blinds. “The hunting blind” will go on the long list of nicknames referring to the strange yet recognizable form of the Test Pods. The Tree House, The Periscope, The Wind Catcher….

The cladding, stair, and roof material all took a turn. While the stair and cladding changed direction, the roof material changed from membrane to metal. The roof metal also became the underside material and wrapped corresponding sides of the chimneys. The exterior cladding now acted as a fence around the outer edges of the pods while the metal appeared to wrap underneath. The Cooling Patio height dropped to nine feet, which still seemed a bit high. The team had a good feeling about iteration 2. Mostly, it directed them to give more attention to the Cooling Patio. How does it feel to be in that space? It was also time to see how these Test Pods really looked on Morrisette Campus, not just in model.

Iteration 3

Students level with eachother

First, photomontages, collages of model photos and site photos, were created to get an estimate of just how big these pods look on site. The results are in: the pods are pretty dang big. There was also a slight column movement from the last iteration, but that’s a very boring drawing. These images really got the team thinking they needed more visualization. So it was time to build a mock-up.

This one-day mock-up tested the height of the Cooling Patio space, seating arrangements, and pod siting. The columns are accurately placed and support a frame that represents the underside of the pods. This gives the relative ceiling height of the Cooling Patio. The team first built the columns and frames to give a head height of 8′ 6″. They pretty immediately lowered it to 7′ 6″ as it still felt too generous for an intimate space of gathering.

The mock-up helped to establish an undercroft ceiling height but revealed some disfunction between all of the elements in the space. The team needed a more robust mock-up to understand how the retaining walls, seating arrangements, columns, and Downdraft Chimneys interacted. Plus, the team had a really good time building. It was off to Lowe’s for Iteration 4 and Mock-up 2.

Iteration 4

Before getting to Mock-Up 2, let’s address lateral load. While the columns can be specified to support the weight of the buildings, what will keep the Test Pods from tipping over in the next high wind storm? For iteration 4, the idea was to tie all the columns together underground in the foundation. That foundation than extruded upward to become the retaining wall and the support for the seating. Seating as a way to gather around the cool-air chimneys, which act as spacial barriers, drove the placement of the walls and columns. The resulting design was translated to Mock-Up 2.

The biggest worry about iteration 4 was the distance between and size of the chimneys. However, sitting in the complete Mock-Up 2 space, the chimneys did not feel too crowded or large. Instead, they felt like the integral feature they are. They divided the space into three but still allowed for continuity, through access, and visibility. The space between the chimneys is more compact and private while the larger spaces at the Cooling Patio entries allow for gathering.

The ground to sky connections really began to stand out in the photomontages of iteration 4. This brought to mind both material pallet and column placement. While the team originally thought the benches in the Cooling Patio might be light, thin material, it became quite clear it should be something heavier. This way the Cooling Patio is clearly an element of the ground, while the pods are an element of the sky. This idea also brings into question whether the columns always hitting the foundation/retaining wall perfect actually makes them stand out more. A regular, orthogonal placement, while still keeping clear of the gathering space, may make the columns somewhat disappear.

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Team is moving on to iteration 5, 6, 7, on and on. They are enjoying their new design process as the idea of building these two floating experiments becomes more real every day. Next up, the team is taking a deep dive into the interior of the pods. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to take it one moment at a time and STAY TUNED!