Since returning from spring break we have been quarantining here in Greensboro and working on our project documentation to pass off to the next generation of Rural Studio students who will pick up where we left off and continue the work of designing and building affordable homes for the rural south. In addition to the technical documentation drawings, we put together documentation summarizing the ideals of our project and the thinking behind the design decisions:
The “100-Year Home” is a model for housing affordability in rural areas of the Southeastern United States. The design’s goal is to create a durable, buildable, and efficient home within a tight budget. The home provides a framework for expansion and adaptation over time, allowing the home to be modified by its occupants as their family’s needs change and as the home is passed down through generations – becoming a vehicle for wealth creation.
The home is designed in response to the specific conditions of the rural Southeast. This region is heavily impoverished, with limited access to resources or means for economic mobility. Due to the area’s economic, cultural, and geographical conditions, residents tend to form “kinship clusters” whereby members of an extended family live in close proximity, either in a series of small structures, or by adding to a home over time. This additive strategy results in sprawling homes, occupied by a large extended family that allows the family to share resources and live within a tight-knit support network. The major issue with these expanding homes is that to expand upon an existing structure (typically with a pitched roof and raised floor) the family must tie into the existing floor and roof structure. These connection points prove problematic over time as water penetrates the structure and begins to deteriorate the home from the inside.
Our goal with this project is to provide a framework for this type of incremental expansion and adaptation over time as the family grows and changes. The strategy is straightforward: we provide a big, independently supported roof and a big slab with a simple one-bedroom home underneath. As the needs of the family change, the partitions underneath the roof can be added and subtracted at will without compromising the water-tightness or structural integrity of the building.
Exciting things have been happening at HomeLab lately! First, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project (TMBVRP) Team were able to install airflow sensors into the Concrete Chimney Experiment. Second, the chimney has brought in some impressive data. And third, the TMBVRP team participated in an end of the semester presentation and round table discussion with their big sister team, the Mass Timber Breathing Wall Research Project, and a cast of professionals in the architecture and building science research field.
This week the team received their Sensirion differential pressure air flow sensors. The sensors record a difference in dynamic and static pressure which the team uses to calculate bulk flow. Bulk flow is the total airflow at the sensor location. The team installed two sensors into the Concrete Chimney Experiment, one at the bottom and one at the top, to measure updraft and downdraft ventilation created by the thermal mass.
Just to refresh your memory, updraft occurs during the night when the cool, night air is brought in the bottom ventilation opening, warmed by the thermal mass, and exhausted out the top. Downdraft occurs during the day, the warm, exterior air is drawn into the top ventilation opening, is cooled by offloading heat to the thermal mass, and vents out the bottom. Being able to measure the direction and amount of ventilation is critical to understand if the Concrete Chimney Experiment is performing as expected.
And the results are in, our initial measurements from the airflow sensors do show that during the day the chimney is operating in downdraft and during the night it operates in updraft. This gives us proof of concept, that thermal mass is able to alter the atmosphere inside the chimney so that it goes against the exterior environment.
The GreenTeg temperature sensors have also brought in proof of concept data, showing that the thermal mass is having a damping effect on the interior air. It is important that the temperatures of the thermal mass and interior air cycle with the daily swing in temperature so that heat is absorbed by the mass during the day and offloaded during the night. This shows that the internal thermal mass is effectively moderating the temperature in the chimney and causing continuous ventilation. We are continuing our testing to further calibrate the amount of ventilation to achieve the most efficient and effective heat transfer between the internal thermal mass and air.
To wrap up our undergraduate work, we had a roundtable presentation via Zoom to give an update on where our work is and share our exciting results with Auburn, our collaborators at McGill, and professionals in the architecture and building science research field. This panel included Billie Faircloth, a partner and research director at the architecture firm Kieran Timberlake in Philadelphia, PA. Second, we were joined by Jonathan Grinham, who is a Lecturer in Architecture and Research Associate at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Last but not least, is Z Smith. Z is a Principal and the Director of Sustainability & Performance at Eskew Dumez Ripple in New Orleans, LA.
It was a privilege to be able to present and have a productive discussion with such esteemed professionals. We gained valuable insight on how to best relay the work we are doing do both those in the research field and the common person. In addition, their backgrounds led to an intriguing discussion on how The Optimal Tuning Strategy could be implemented at the building scale. It was especially awesome to discuss the successful data the team recently got form the Concrete Chimney Experiment. Both the data and the discussion gave the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team a boost of confidence and pride in their work. It not always easy for these architecture students to wrap their heads around the science, but the hard work paid off. Thank you to Rural Studio, Salmaan Craig, Kiel Moe, David Kennedy, and the reviewers for a positive end of the undergraduate phase of the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project.
Final shout out to the incredible Mass Timber Breathing Wall Research Project Team. As they complete the paper on their research and graduate from the Master’s program they still had time to do something very sweet for their little sister team. They passed along their Rural Studio lab coats, crossing out their names and writing the names of the TMBVRP team members. Their work, dedication, and attitude could not be a better example for the TMBVRP team to emulate. From one research project team to the other, thank you for helping us whenever we needed and being the best big sister team imaginable. We hope to live up the legacy! Well, everyone, stay tuned (optimally tuned) this summer for the start of the graduate program at HomeLab.
Devin Denman graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in City and Regional Planning and minor in Sustainable Environments. She has been living in San Francisco for the last ten years and most recently working as an owner’s representative on public housing rehabilitations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Although she thoroughly enjoyed working in the field, she found herself continually frustrated with the system. Devin was also longing for hands on experience of actually building instead of watching the process. After one too many lunch rants about bureaucracy and red-tape, a friend convinced her academia might be a positive direction to take her passion for housing affordability.
Charlie Firestone graduated from Cornell University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Architecture. Since then, he’s been practicing in New York City as a designer and project manager for Matiz Architecture & Design. His work in New York primarily involved interior renovations for universities and other non-profits throughout the city. Charlie came to Rural Studio to pursue his master’s degree with the hopes of learning how to participate in public interest design, integrating design-build into his practice, and reconnecting with academia. Charlie is passionate about social justice and he is excited and honored to be working on a project to help provide affordable, beautiful, and durable housing to the under-resourced population of the rural South.
The 20K project started 15 years ago with the aim of providing affordable, efficient, durable, and buildable homes for low-income residents of the rural South. The goal of the project was to provide an alternative to the only option currently available in a similar price range: a used manufactured (mobile) home. Mobile homes are not only manufactured out of state (and therefore not feeding back into the local economy) but they also will only degrade in value over time (rather than increase in value as well-maintained stick-built houses will).
The “20K” label arose from the original price tag established in 2005 as the total price of a house that someone in the lowest income bracket (living on government assistance) could afford to make a mortgage payment on. The actual price has increased over time, but the name and the goal of designing homes that could be purchased by anyone, have remained the same.
Over the years, Rural Studio has continued to develop and test various designs for one and two bedroom models of the 20K Home, investigating different aspects of the issue each year – from nailing down an appropriate material palette, to testing different foundation and platform methods, to developing a handicap accessible model, to pushing the envelope with sustainability practices.
This year, our mandate is to go back to the basics. Our
first task is to go through the budget with a fine-tooth comb, to update the
original study from 15 years ago and to nail down exactly who the 20K client
is, what they can afford, and what developments from the past models we can
incorporate into our 20K design and stay within a strict budget.
Over the course of a year, we will research, design, and
build a one-bedroom 20K home. The plan is to break ground mid-spring with final
completion by mid-summer 2020. Currently, we are in the weeds of research and
process design. The plan is to address our list of principles/goals/questions,
which we have divided into three categories of focus: Cost, Performance,
Program – all under the umbrella of maintaining a rigorous budget in the spirit
of the 20K legacy. The beauty of the 20K is in its simplicity. Adding more is
easy, but not always the best solution.