Last week was a busy one out in Newbern. We kicked off the semester with the time-honored tradition of “Neckdown” Week. “Neckdown” is a week where the thinking caps come off and the gloves go on for a week of physical tasks working in the community and on the Rural Studio campus. It’s also a time for current 5th-years to meet the Spring 3rd-year crew.
The week started with some housekeeping around home base where teams worked to replace boards on the Great Hall, tidy up the pods, and help out on the farm.
We also took some time to spruce up past projects like Lions Park, which was started in the early 2000s. The baseball fields at Lions Park have some brand new bleacher seats, the bathrooms are back in working order, and to everyone’s delight, the concession stand opens as well as ever!
Additionally, a small group ventured out to Perry Lakes Park—Rural Studio’s first large-scale, multi-phase landscape project—to do some work on the bathrooms (still the best loo view in Alabama!). The park is open again after a brief hiatus due to storm damage, so go check out the view for yourself!
We rounded out the week with a helping hand over at the Newbern Library, the town’s main social center and source of technological amenities, thus ending a long week of hard, but worthwhile work.
P.S. Next time you speed into Morrisette House’s driveway, send a thank you to our fearless leader, Andrew Freear, who took to tamping the driveway like a champ. (We hear his bones are still rattling as we write this.)
This semester, Neckdown Week was as productive as ever, with the sun shining on us all week long. Neckdown is a studio tradition, during which all students and faculty work together to mend, clean up, or push forward our past and current projects. This time around we worked on student projects in Newbern and sent teams all the way out to Perry Lakes Park in Marion, AL.
At Perry Lakes Park, we cleaned up debris from a big storm that hit the park last year. We also worked on the plumbing for the bathrooms, which included a lot of digging. And we mean A LOT. Up on the Perry Lakes Birding Tower, we finally completed our objective of replacing all the rotten boards that we began removing during Neckdown last year! We hope all of you will be able to come visit the beautiful park as soon as it reopens in the very near future.
Back in good ole Newbern, teams of helpers working a several maintenance projects at our headquarters at Morrisette House. A few teams also worked alongside Eric at the Rural Studio Farm constructing raised garden beds. These beds, made from concrete blocks, are very time consuming to build correctly, and our helpers worked hard in the sun to make them look good and function well! We’d also like to give a shoutout and a big thank you to all of the Auburn University Landscape Architecture students and faculty who came out to Hale County to help us nourish Rural Studio’s outdoor spaces. The AULA cohort not only helped out at the Farm and Morrisette property, but they also worked in our courtyards in downtown Newbern and at Lion’s Park in Greensboro. Our plants and ground surfaces would not be as happy as they have been lately without you all. Thank you!
Our recent graduates also took advantage of a few Neckdown helpers this week to make some progress finishing up their projects! With assistance from new 3rd and 5th-year’s capable hands, our three “leftover” teams accomplished a huge amount of work! The Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team constructed two sets of stairs that lead down into their cooling porch. They also worked on installing battens on the exterior of their Research Pods!
The Myers’ Home team installed tongue-and-groove cypress boards on their interior core walls, and they worked with their helpers to nail their exterior flashing in place. Siding is coming up next for these folks. At Rev. Walker’s Home site, the team completed a massive amount of earth work in order to prep their site for its final grading. This process also included creating an outdoor gravel patio for their client to create a smooth transition from concrete slab to the adjacent ground surface.
Thank you to all the students, staff, and faculty that made all of this work possible this week!
Exciting news, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team have published their Chimney Experiment data onto an online data repository! The team has uploaded data to the Craig Research Group Dataverse through Salmaan Craig at McGill University. Great thanks to the team’s collaborators at McGill, without which this would not be possible.
The team will continually update and upload data as new data is gathered and past data is analyzed. From there, anyone can download and review the raw and analyzed data for both the concrete and pine experiments. This data is a citable source for any publication investigating the passive cooling strategy. There is also an experiment guide available to download which details the design of the experiments. Using this guide others can replicate or improve upon the experimental setup. This process is great practice for the team as they start writing a scientific paper about their experiments for a peer-reviewed journal. Now for some good ole design talk!
The TMBVRP team decided the experiment is best served as a free-standing structure although they loved utilizing the SuperShed as a super roof and a superstructure. The experiment needs a little extra room to breathe and ventilate than the Supershed can provide. The question remains, where do you place a giant occupiable cooling chimney so it sticks out just enough? Not quite a sore thumb, but definitely not a wallflower.
Along with possible sites for the pods, the team is investigating the use of berms. Why berms? The cooling porch will likely be an excavated area so cool air from the chimneys will sink and collect. This space needs some sort of semi-enclosure to help trap the cool air. Therefore the excavated dirt can create berms, trapping the cool air while providing shade and seating. The berms can also divert water so the cool air pool does not become a catfish pond. The team is analyzing sites in proximity to other pods and Supershed while giving each location a fitting suburb names. Right now they are considering two design schemes: Two Trees and East End.
Two Trees would address the “other side of the street” created by the Supershed and the row of original pods. This site is most appealing due to the natural shade provided by the, you guessed it, two trees. Thanks to team collaborator and Auburn professor, David Kennedy, for introducing the team to shading and solar radiation software. This software, through Rhino, will show exactly how much solar blocking the trees provide. While the trees are a bonus, the water is not. Water from all of Morrisette Campus drains right through Two Trees. This is also why the team has steered away from a site at the west end, the lowest point on campus. At this location, the team also thinks the pods compete with the Supershed in a strange manner. For these reasons, the team decided to take a look at the East End. East End could serve as a continuation or cap to the Supershed. However, there is no hiding from the sun in this location. Thankfully it is more beneficial to the experiment that the pods receive equal solar exposure rather than partial but inconsistent exposure. The team will continue to evaluate both sites.
The team is currently exploring high albedo, ventilated cladding systems. Albedo refers to the amount of energy that is reflected by a surface. A high albedo means the surface reflects most of the solar radiation that hits it and absorbs the rest. A shading or reflective cladding system, when coupled with the use of SIPs, will allow for the interior system to work unaffected by exterior solar heat gain. Metal cladding is an easy way to reflect radiation. A light-colored timber rainscreen can also reflect heat and shade the structure behind it. The team is exploring both options.
The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team is also getting into the structure needed to support the pods, 8′ above ground. To start the team looked at a local precedent: silos. In Hale county, silos for holding catfish and cattle feed are aplenty. They can support up to 30 tons with a light-weight steel structure. Steel manual in hand, the team has been investigating how they could apply a similar structure to lift the pods. This allows for an open space beneath for the cooling porch. Next, the team will investigate the possible benefits of using a wood structure.
The team will keep pushing their citing, siting, and siding ventures forward while living it up in Hale County. They’ve been utilizing the great outdoors for grilling and being grilled in reviews. Livia sometimes misses out on the fun as she is dedicated to the landscaping at Morrisette. For more research graduate student shenanigans make sure you stay tuned!
Live from Rural Studio Red Barn, it’s the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team! The team, though they might come to miss the cat interns and the AC, is so excited to be back on campus. For health safety measures, the team has an entire studio room to themselves which also acts as a convenient hiding place from Andrew Freear. The TMVRP Team is being as safe as possible as they sorely missed Newbern and the Rural Studio staff and faculty. This week the team will cover their pod design process while bombarding you with design iteration images. Enjoy!
Designing an Experimental Building
As the Wood and Concrete Test Box Experiments, formally known as the Chimney Experiments, chug along the TMBVRP team has been designing their test buildings. Like the Mass Timber Breathing Wall team’s nearly completed test buildings, the TMBV test buildings apply their research at a small building scale. After some initial testing, the TMBV test buildings can be used as 3rd-year accommodations. The Studio calls the funky dorm rooms for 3rd-years on Morrisette campus “pods.” In true Rural Studio fashion, the design of these pods is an iterative process, but must always be grounded in what is necessary for the experiment.
Now, science experiments are not only driven by the hard data we might get out of them. Many experiments are experience-based, especially when trying to describe a phenomenon to the public. Think about going to a science museum, touching the electrified ball, and your hair shooting up from your head. Static electricity makes a lot more sense to you when you experience it rather than if you had read data and looked over graphs explaining it. The design of the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation pods revolves around both data and experience production.
A main objective of the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project, while being rigorously tested for data currently, is for inhabitants to experience the comfort of the cooling and ventilation effects. Let’s journey through TMBV Pod design as the team tries to focus on both experiment and experience!
When massing the general size of the pods, the team can use the Optimal Tuning Strategy app. From the app the team knows the amount of surface area needed for the thermal mass, the thermal mass thickness, and the size of the ventilation openings based on the information they input which is how much ventilation, temperature change, and height the pods need. General massing schemes are quickly generated from these design parameters. The team is creating massing schemes for two to three pods, one with concrete thermal mass walls and one or two with wood ones. These massing schemes also explore whether to share walls in a multi-unit pod or separate the pods to highlight the material difference within. As long as these massings can fit the app outputs, a 3rd-year, a bed, and the sensors we need for testing that’s all of the design work to be done, right? Nah. While these are sleeping quarters for students, they are also examples to the public of how spaces that utilize thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation can feel.
Introducing the Cooling Porch
To create a peak TMBV experience, the team is elevating the pods! This will allow for a gathering space underneath the pods where anyone can sit and enjoy the cool air being naturally pumped out of the spaces above. The TMBVRP team calls it, the “Cooling Porch.” Here, students, faculty, or clients interested in the system can experience the effects of TMBV without lingering too long in a 3rd-years dwelling. It also highlights one eventual goal of the work; naturally cooled public spaces enjoyed in the Black Belt. The Cooling Porch is located underneath the buildings because the TMBV system operates in downdraft during the day. This means during the day the air is pushed out of the lowest opening as opposed to at night when the air is pushed out of the highest opening. Therefore in a typical building, you would not need to elevate the structure above the ground, you simply need a low and a high ventilation opening. The TMBV Pods’ ventilation “top and bottom” openings are so literal for both the quality of the experiment and the Cooling Porch.
Why the pod is elevated may now be clear, but why do some of these drawings have such tall chimneys? The exaggerated Chimneys are an experiential detail like the elevation of the spaces. They are not necessary for the experiment or the TMBV strategy to work. A typical building would not need tall Chimneys to utilize Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation, just as they would not need to be elevated. The tall chimneys are specific to the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Pod as they highlight the ventilation created by the passive strategy. This is another detail, like the cooling porch, that will work as an experiential demonstration of the research. Increasing the overall height of the structure, beyond what surface area is needed, highlights the ventilation aspect of the system.
The elongated chimneys do not increase the amount of air ventilated through the spaces, it does increase the speed of the air as it exits the spaces. The faster the air exits the interior space into the cooling porch, the cooler the porch space will feel. Think of it as the difference between being hot with a fan and without. Moving air always increases the cooling effect and therefore the cooling experience. This increased airspeed will help with explaining how Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation works as visitors and users will be able to clearly feel the cool air rushing out.
Now, the design is focused on three main outcomes: replicating the experiment so TMBV works effectively at building scale; providing a comfortable and useful space for sleeping and demonstrating; and creating a space below the buildings in which people can gather and experience the strategy working for long periods of time. What comes next is siting and about 1,000 other details.
Siting began by looking at various locations around the Super Shed and the existing pods. The Team began exploring the pods as stand-alone buildings. Next, the team explored how they could utilize the roof and structure of the Super Shed. While investigating stand-alone sites, the team also did some surveying of the Super Shed. Both options have benefits. A stand-alone structure would allow for greater height, not being capped by an existing roof, so a more generous cooling porch space and higher airspeed into that space. The existing roof of the Super Shed, however, would provide constant shade and rain protection making it a very similar environment to the Chimney Experiments in the carport at HomeLab. Both have experiential and experimental benefits that the team is still exploring.
The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Team has a lot of hard work ahead, but nothing makes it better than being back in the Red Barn. Seeing the old and new faces of Newbern, even from a social distance, is exciting and motivating. Thanks for Tuning in!
Wondering why there is a little house sitting under the fabrication pavilion at Morrisette House?
It all goes back to the Loeb Fellowship two years ago when our fearless leader, Andrew Freear, met another Loeb fellow, James Shen, from People’s Architecture Office (PAO). James and his team at PAO have developed the Plugin House, “an easily assembled house made from prefabricated parts. It is a design proposition–suggesting new building technology that considers financial, social, and environmental concerns.” Learn more about the Plugin House here.
So why is the Plugin House is in Newbern, AL? The idea is for PAO to join Rural Studio in exploring ways of reducing housing cost through design innovation. During “neckdown” week, Rural Studio students assembled the Plugin House in only five hours! Now living at Morrisette House, it’s a working prototype that allows PAO to experiment with prefabricated technologies and high speed manual construction. This first exercise is meant to be the beginning of a continuing conversation that will include the dismantling of the Plugin House to be reassembled as an improved version in a different location at the Studio early next year. Before moving to Newbern, this Plugin House was built as a demonstration unit at Harvard University and at Boston City Hall.
Thanks to James and his crew at PAO for this opportunity to learn and work together!