Blog

Working in the Winter Wet

Statistically, February is our wettest month with a 30-year average of just over 5.5 inches, but we have already exceeded that number in the first two weeks, making this a very wet and warm winter thus far.

A broad view of the newly built beds

Nevertheless, our last frost date is typically mid to late March, so we are planning accordingly. In the seed house we are starting cold-hardy crops for transplant soon: collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnips, beets, lettuce, and spinach. Other crops like carrots, arugula, and parsnips will be direct-sown in the next few weeks. We also started early tomatoes for transplant into the greenhouse in early March.

Meanwhile, with things in danger of washing away, the students are doing some landscape work to help improve the campus and make areas ready for planting flowers and perennial herbs—many of which are culinary or medicinal. In addition to being more beautiful, these accessory plants support the farm in other ways like attracting beneficial insects and pollinators and deterring other pest insects. They also make better use of different parts of the campus, turning more of the land into an active and productive resource rather than just a passive lawn that requires so much maintenance without returning much material benefit.

Insulation and Other Sensations

Oh hi, didn’t see you there behind my giant block of Geofoam insulation! Let me explain. Recently, Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team has been designing their first experiment, the desktop scale experiment known as “the chimney,” and building a mock-up of it.

The team used the data obtained from the thermal conductivity testing in Auburn University’s material testing lab along with their test concrete panel making experience to choose which concrete mix to use. They are going with Quikcrete Pro-Finish 5000, a high strength, smooth finish mix. Next, the team poured nine new concrete panels at the adjusted thickness. The thickness of the panels increased slightly due to inputting the exact thermal properties of the concrete mix into the code of the optimal tuning application.

The desktop experiment takes the form of a 3″ x 1″ x 1″ chimney with the thermal mass panels facing the interior. The desktop experiment needs to operate in nearly ideal conditions which means eliminating as many variables as possible. It is important to remember this is a scientific experiment of an unproven theory of how an internal thermal mass can be sized for a space to control temperature and promote proper ventilation. Therefore, to eliminate the variable of heat loss or gain from the exterior to the interior, and to understand how the thermal mass panels themselves are working, the chimney needs to be highly insulated.

When you need R50 insulation, even for such a small structure, it can get expensive and big. Their creative solution to getting the proper insulative value without spending hundreds of dollars per test was combining Geofoam and Rockwool! EPS Geofoam is much like rigid insulation but is typically used for earthwork such as building up underneath highway on-ramps. It is very dense giving it more insulative value per inch. Rockwool is a rock-based mineral fiber insulation. Thankfully, Rural Studio had extra R30 from a previous donation. The Geofoam was also donated, the Breathing Wall Mass Timber team got in touch with a construction operation that had extra and transported it to Newbern. In the drawing above you can see the concrete panels screwed onto a piece of 1/2″ OSB and 2″ Geofoam which is then surrounded by 9″ of Rockwool then encased by another layer of 2″ Geofoam. This combination of materials results in R50 insulative value.

The Geofoam comes in giant 8″ x 4″ x 3″ blocks because they are typically stacked underground. So another creative solution was needed, how to cut it down to the size we need. The TMBV team did not have to think too hard on that one because their big sister research team, the Breathing Wall Mass Timber squad, had already built a hot wire cutting system for their own Geofoam needs. A copper wire was spanned at the desired height above a table and heated using cables and an external power source.

Next, the Geofoam block was slid across the table and cut through by the hot wire. Once the Geofoam is at a more manageable size it can be cut using a hack saw. Shout out to the best big sister research team ever, Fergie, Jake, Preston, and Anna, the TMBV team appreciates you!

Whew, that was a lot of insulation talk! To ease everyone’s mind here is a beautiful Newbern sunset. See you next week!

The Big Idea

This past week Reggie’s Home team focused on minimizing the interior footprint of the home. In order to do this we had to take a step back and clearly identify the diagram of our home.

Jonathon moving rough footprints around the site

Since we’ve said from the beginning that the site is the house, it is very important to clarify what site connections we want to achieve. In this design, the living/kitchen area will have a direct connection to the old chimney, the bedroom will have a connection the cedar tree on the site, and the bathroom/core area will serve as a bridge between the two spaces. 

The next step was to identify the roof conditions. Different areas of program could require different levels of coverage from the rain and sun. 

Establishing the amount of enclosures will be important in determining the sizes of the interior spaces. 

We believe that by minimizing the interior footprint we can maximize the expansion to the exterior. Next we have to decide how much we want it to expand and what the activities will be in those spaces.

Along with diagramming, we created perspectives that highlight qualities we want in the home.

At the end of last week, we presented to Peter Landon, founder and principal of Landon Bone Baker Architects. The conversation focused on taking the connection to the exterior a step further and make it part of our design process. Next week we will continue to move our design forward while keeping in mind that the exterior conditions need to be designed along with the home to strengthen their connection.

Until next week!

Reggie’s Home

Review, Rinse, and Repeat

Last semester, the presentations we gave about the project talked a lot about the history and context of Hale County Hospital Courtyard, explaining nearly all of our research. As we got further along in our design process, we realized that the research-oriented presentation was no longer effective in explaining our design intentions. So over the past couple of weeks, we’ve taken a step back to rework our presentation to form a clear and concise argument for the design.

The first step in our process was to write down everything we know about the project and draw connections between facts. We then categorized what we know into two main focuses: Hospital Resilience and Health & Wellness. From there, we created supporting arguments to back up these two focuses. During the entire process, we constantly questioned how all of our knowledge could be applied through design intentions.

The next step was to story board the presentation. We organized it around the two main focuses, ending on how our knowledge led to the design intentions of the project. The focus of Hospital Resilience is about maximizing the use of their facilities, courtyard maintenance, and expanding community outreach. The focus of Health & Wellness is that the project is designed for a variety of audiences and is a desirable place to work and heal.

After a few days of presentation work, we went back to the drawing board to sketch out some of our ideas.

We concluded the week with a review from Peter Landon, Founder and Principal of Landon Bone Baker Architects in Chicago. 3rd-year professor Emily McGlohn also joined us for the review. Most of our conversation with Peter and Emily centered around our design process and how to move the three schemes we presented further. Their feedback was very helpful and exactly what we needed at the end of a long week. Moving forward, we will continue making minor changes to the presentation, but will primarily work on advancing the three design schemes.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Folks, it was one heck of a rainy week in Newbern! Though this slowed some of the progress of the floor framing in Ophelia’s Home, the 3rd-years did manage to get some work done on site before the big storms hit. They completed the fabrication and installation of both girders and the termite shield. Soon after the rain came, the site became a mud pit for the rest of the week which pushed the third years back into studio.


On the bright side, the newly installed drain for the foundation has proved to be worth the multitude of gravel-filled wheelbarrows as it was able to continuously drain the majority of the water that came flowing into the site!

Once indoors, construction documents were updated and the 3rd-years were able to get ahead on cleaning up other drawings, so they’ll have plenty of time to kick it into full gear on site once the rain quits. While not being able to work on site, the 3rd-years also began the process of determining the color of Ophelia’s Home. This was done by looking at the context of the surrounding landscape, and discussing how this can relate to the color.

Tune in next Monday folks, for another update on the 3rd-years tomfoolery! P.S. If somebody can get it to stop raining please do.