Live from within the newly completed Cooling Porch retaining walls, it’s the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research project team! We’ll take you through the evolution of both north and south wall and all the earthwork in between. If you stay tuned ’till the end you’ll see Cory’s latest artistic venture; a short film titled, “Le Grevier.”
North Wall: Complete!
After laying and leveling the dry-stacked concrete highway barriers, the team backfilled gravel and earth against the wall. Directly behind the walls are drains that are wrapped in landscape fabric and covered with gravel. This protects the drains from getting clogged with Hale County Clay. Behind the gravel, the team piled and compacted earth. They are reusing the dirt excavated for the building foundations. This process repeats for each course, refilling the initial dig. The Cooling Porch is still a hole in the ground, but it’s becoming a far more precise hole in the ground.
Voila! The joints, pattern, color, and textures of the north wall turned out fantastic. The team was astonished by the uniformity of the wall and the blending of the different blocks despite using reclaimed materials. On to the south wall!
South Wall: Complete!
The process of constructing the south wall was essentially the same as the north wall. Small concrete footings were poured wherever the retaining wall went off the building foundations. The team also completed the installation of the drainage. The space began to form right in front of their eyes!
The team feels the space looks exactly as they drew it–which is both slightly surprising and super satisfying. All the measuring, drafting, and double-checking produced a beautiful pit. And, bonus, the reuse of materials is a surefire way to build with the environment in mind and luckily these concrete highway barriers turned out to be the perfect durable, stackable material. The backfill and dug-out stairs makes getting around site a whole lot easier. It’s all coming together!
Thanks for following the progress of the soon-to-be chilly demonstration space! Stay tuned for SIPs construction and laying the ground surface in the Cooling Porch. Now, for your enjoyment, follow the life of a scoop of gravel in Cory’s feature film, “Le Grevier.”
Le Grevier: Directed by Cory Subasic starring Wheelbarrow, Shovel, Bobcat, and Gravel with a special appearance by Livia Barrett as “Gravel Girl.”
Live from behind one of the largest deliveries in Rural Studio history, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation (TMBV) Research project team. For months the research team has been working closely with Insulspan, a company that manufactures custom Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). Together they finalized the design of the SIPs which will make up the entirety of the TMBV Test Building structure and enclosure—while providing experimentally valid insulation. This week, the team received the SIPs and organized them under Rural Studio’s Fabrication Pavilion to prepare for construction. In a couple of weeks’ time the panels will be assembled atop the steel columns like a giant 3D puzzle.
SIP, SIP, Hooray!
The TMBV team originally sent the drawings seen below to Insulspan; breaking up the Test Buildings’ design into panelized pieces. The team will assemble all the pieces that make up each wall, the floor, and the ceiling. Then, Shane of Stillwater Machine LLC will crane the structure into place.
Thankfully, that same Shane with a crane was in the neighborhood when an 18-wheeler full of SIPs showed up a day earlier than expected. To get the panels off the truck Shane, his two young assistants, the TMBV team, Steve Long, and Andrew Freear got to work screwing in blocking and threading the straps. The team and helpers attached small lumber pieces (blocking) to prevent damage to the SIPs as the straps cradled the panels and lifted them off the truck.
How to Move a Building; in Pieces!
This delivery happened to take place right before a classic summer deluge. So, the SIPs were tarped and left outside the Fabrication Pavilion for the weekend. After the passing of the storm, it was time for the team to figure out how to get the panels under the Fabrication Pavilion for better protection. The Fabrication Pavilion roof is actually made of Insulspan SIPs as well. SIPs covering SIPs!
To move the panels, the team attached the lifting brackets provided by Insulspan. Then, to get the largest panels under the Fab Pav, the team used straps and the Bobcat custom, “Bob Crane.”
As the team transported the panels they also organized them. The vertical stacks group the panels by building, remember there are two, and by structure i.e. floor, ceiling, wall, or chimney. It is far easier to find the panel you need and access it when the panels are stacked this way. Also, the order of assembly was taken into consideration when sorting the panels. The floors will be assembled first on the 24′ trailer with the gooseneck attachment and then transported to the site. Next, the team will do the same thing for walls and ceilings. As far as moving the panels around under the pavilion, the students managed to do a lot by hand. With the help of an old, sturdy cart, they found in a storage barn they got everything into place and braced up.
In order to construct the floors, walls, and ceilings on the gooseneck trailer, the team had to extend the platform using TJIs donated to the Studio long ago. TJI stands for Trus Joist® TJI® Joists, they are essentially an I-beam manufactured out of engineered lumber. The TJI platform also allows the student to get underneath the panels during assembly.
With a whole lot of willpower and cart strategy, the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Team shuffled all the SIPs into place. Stay tuned for the Test Building assembly—those panels will be going up in the sky!
Live from the Cooling Porch, it’s the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team! Recently, the students focused on the demonstration space beneath the Test Buildings known as the Cooling Porch. Specifically, they began constructing the retaining walls, made out of old concrete highway barriers, which allow the space to be sunken and trap all the cool air rushing out of the Test Buildings. Let’s get into it!
Mock it up!
To test the structural rigidity, building method, and pattern of the varied in size concrete blocks, the students landed on tying the blocks into the packed earth behind the wall by placing pieces of expanded metal mesh between the block courses. The blocks are dry-stacked, using only their weight and the mesh to stay in place.
The expanded metal mesh makes the wall sturdier, but also allows the students to slip the straps theyre using to move the blocks out after placement without untying the straps from the Bobcat forks.
The students originally planned on using concrete blocks as the benches, but they could not find enough reclaimed materials. The solution? Insert flat steel between the concrete block courses which can hold a lightweight material for sitting. The final material is still up for grabs, but for the mock-up, the team used leftover oak from the woodshop. After nailing down the building process of the retaining wall and bench, the students made sure they had each block and its future location documented. Unfortunately, to complete the design the students needed five more 4′ 3″ X 10″ x 10″ concrete blocks. Good thing they’re pros at a concrete pour!
Prep it up!
To prepare for building the retaining wall, the students dug trenches for small footings. These concrete footings will prevent the wall from settling and becoming unstable.
After pouring the footings, it was time to create formworks for the needed concrete blocks. These were constructed from extra lumber, ZIP sheathing, and rebar. The rebar, leftover from the Test Building foundations, was crafted into cages and hung from the formworks.
With all this prep going on, the research team was also fine tuning their strategy for evaluating airflow in the Test Box small-scale experiments. They are currently working on revising an article for publication which details the results of these experiments and the potential for internal thermal mass design. In particular, Cory, along with Jeff and collaborator Remy Fortin, have spent months nailing down the proper equations for the airflow taking into consideration friction. Thanks to Russian physicist, Idelchik, he finally found an equation which matches the parameters of the TMBV experiments.
Meanwhile, Rowe and Livia revisited metal working, welding angles for the steel bench supports, and cutting metal mesh.
Put it up!
At long last, the retaining commenced! Something different about the actual wall and the mock-up wall is the addition of gravel backfill and landscape fabric. The landscape fabric and gravel cover the column bracings and drain, which runs behind the wall, to prevent corrosion and blockage from the hardy Hale County clay. However, the metal mesh than has to pierce through the landscape fabric so it can be buried in the earth behind. Hot take: expanded metal mesh and landscape fabric is the worse material combination ever.
To let out some steam on a very steamy day, they brought out the concrete saw and sledge hammers. The team needed to shorten just one 8′ x 8″ x 8″ by about 2′. Cory and Jeff showed the mailability of reclaimed cementitious materials.
Three courses up and the TMBV team could not be happier with the result! The pattern and the finger joinery at the shifting walls is just what they wanted. Best of all, she’s quite sturdy. The team will keep you updated on the progress of the wall so, as always, stay tuned!
Live from inside the mock-up that spanned seasons, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team! You may remember the mention and drawings of a mock-up back in January. Many things interrupted steady work on this mock-up including breaking ground, pouring foundations, steel design, steel fabrication, writing papers, installing drainage, designing the cooling porch, and testing concrete panel joinery types. However, after all this time, the mock-up is complete! In the two weeks before Pig Roast and graduation from the master’s program, the TMBV student team not only hoisted the test building columns and submitted a paper detailing their experiments, they also completed two mock-ups. That’s right, two–we’ve got a bonus!
Faux SIPs and Small Columns
This mock-up set out to test the ventilated roofing and cladding system while also allowing practice for some of the atypical waterproofing details caused by the chimneys. All elements of the mock-up are at full scale, however, these elements are taken from different sections of the Test Buildings and condensed. Therefore the real Test Buildings are not proportionally larger than the mock-up. Another disclaimer; the team only built one mock-up because the two Test Buildings are exactly mirrored.
The team first assembled wall, roof, floor, and chimney stud formed panels with exterior OSB sheathing on both sides. These acted as stand-in Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) which make up the enclosure, structure, and insulation of the Test Buildings. Next, they assembled these faux SIPs atop three shortened columns which have the same thickness and base plates as the Test Building columns.
Groovin’ and Waterproofin’
Next up–keep it dry with tar paper and roofing. Tar paper is a heavy-duty construction paper made with asphalt which repels water. The TMBV team wrapped the entire structure in tar paper in a shingling pattern to create a protective layer. After this, the team started roofing.
To minimize heat gain the roofing material is a light-colored, reflective 3/4″ corrugated metal. The metal is attached atop batons which run in parallel with the slope of the roof. This allows the roof to vent heat at the highest point of the structure. If there is one thing this team has learned in two years–hot air rises.
The team installed the flashing along with the roofing. Flashing is a thin piece of impervious material installed to prevent the passage of water into a structure from a joint or as part of a weather-resistant barrier system. The TMBV test buildings use galvanized aluminum as flashing. A large tray prevents water from slipping under the metal roofing while T-shape pieces seal the edges and create the corners.
A mini-door frame was fabricated by Brad Schmidt of Superior Metal Works LLC in Newbern, AL. He will also be fabricating the full-size door frames. This was the bit of steel the TMBV team left to a professional–boy does he do nice work! The team painted the door frame with galvanizing paint, as they did the mock-up columns, to see how all the colors of the steel, roofing, flashing, and cladding work together. The door frame installation couldn’t have gone smoother!
Last, but certainly not least, the cypress cladding. 3/4″ 1″x 6″ and 1″ x 8″ cypress boards were sanded and sealed with Kabotz wood bleach. Spaced at 1/4″ the boards created an open joint cladding system, which like the roof, allows for air circulation behind the cladding. Cladding the chimneys and the underside, which will be the cooling porch ceiling, was the trickiest part. Doing the mock-up, however, teaches the students tips and tricks for doing the real thing.
Not much more to say, just look at that mock-up!
The team also completed ANOTHER concrete wall mock-up testing a shiplap joint in between the thermal mass panels. This wall is a proportionally smaller version allowing the team to visualize the pattern on the wall as well as the screw spacing. The shiplap joint, from both a constructability and scientific validity standpoint, is a crowd favorite. Not to mention that craft and beauty…
Roasting in the Sun
On a bright, early, shiny Tuesday all the Rural Studio 2021 Spring Semester student, faculty, and staff enjoyed an in-house Pig Roast. This included an opening ceremony at the beautiful Horseshoe Courtyard, presentations from each team, a ribbon cutting ceremony at Ophelia’s Home, and lots of good food.
After a BBQ lunch, the TMBV team sprang something else heavy on the audience… their project! They had a wonderful discussion with the only outsiders at the celebration; Architects Roy Duvall, of Duvall-Decker in Jackson, MS, and John Forney. It was wonderful to show off all the hard work the students have accomplished since October 2019. From experimentation and coding data to SIPs detailing and steel fabrication these students have continually jumped into waters unknown.
Overall, Pig Roast was wonderful, but the work was not over. Pre-Roast the team installed their columns and finished their mock-ups. Post-Roast they had to complete a paper detailing their TMBV experiments and results for an international building science conference. They worked tightly with Salmaan Craig for the rest of the week. Because, of course, the paper was due that Friday and graduation was also that Friday.
This team just couldn’t function without the variation of personalities and skillsets. No two are alike, and sometimes it’s hard, but they couldn’t be more thankful for ending up on this wild ride together. 4 hours before the paper was due, Cory and Livia scooted to Auburn for graduation. Jeff and Rowe continued working with Salmaan, up until the deadline, for which the other two are eternally grateful. Jeff and Rowe were at graduation in Livia and Cory’s hearts illustrated below. Don’t worry. the whole gang will celebrate together with a classic Cory cook-out. Stay Tuned for the impending construction of the TMBV Test Buildings!
Live from a fully assembled Test Building structure, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team! After welding the structural steel columns that support Newbern’s newest skyscrapers, it was time for the team to put them to action. As usual there is a lot of prep work that goes into any big dance here at Rural Studio. Let’s get into it!
Prepare the slabs!
First, the team re-pulled all their batter board strings and double-checked their placement and relationships to one another. The team used these strings to find the locations of the column base plates and bracket to slab connections. Next, they used templates to mark with spray paint the connection locations. More specifically, these templates helped mark where holes needed to be drilled for the threaded rods to be epoxied into the slab.
After the slab was properly marked using the templates, the team hammer drilled the connection locations. To ensure the holes were properly 9″ deep, all the extra dust and debris created when drilling was blasted out using the air compressor. With clean holes, the team proceeded to pump epoxy in then place the threaded rods. The epoxy binds the threaded rod and concrete slab together to serve as the connection from columns and bracing to the foundation.
Next, the team test fit all their bracing connections. This gave them the idea to test fit the base plate of every single column. To do this Jeff made a template of the base plate of each of the 8 columns and slipped them over the epoxied rods. While the epoxy was still drying the team hammered any rods that needed to be nudged to fit the template of the column baseplate.
Bring out your columns!
Finally! From welding to galvanizing to transporting, this team is ready to see these columns stand on their own!
In order to place the columns, Rowe hoisted them using the Bobcat and its crane attachment. Livia and Steve guided Rowe and walked the columns to place. Once the holes in the base plate aligned with the epoxied rods sticking out of the slab, Rowe lowered the column into place. Jeff and Cory then secured and leveled the columns and attached the bracing.
All the long hours of planning, drawing, and calculating in Red Barn paid off as these babies went up in under an hour! Next up the team leveled, plumbed, and corrected all the distances between the columns. Its important the columns are upright and in the right place so the structure in the SIP floor aligns.
In the following days the team grouted the columns bases and bracing to foundation collections. This adds another layer of security into the structure. Stay tuned for the SIPs spaceships landing atop these 8 sturdy columns!