Vital: Bringing Buildings and Sustainable Practices to Life

Mar 27, 2013

This work addresses two common shortcomings in building design: (1) many of the indoor spaces where most people in the industrialized world spend the majority of their time inadvertently deprive them of contact with two important requirements for their long-term well-being: nature and change. (2) many simple sustainable practices that could significantly reduce the global environmental and economic running costs of buildings if more widely applied are largely invisible to the public. In response, the authors have been examining the potential of using the natural movements of the weather to improve the habitability of indoor spaces and increase the visibility of passive environmental control and rainwater harvesting in buildings. A survey of existing architecture was first conducted to identify design strategies that could effectively bring the movements of the sun, wind and rain indoors without undermining the weather-protecting role of buildings. Three simple methods of achieving this were identified: enclosure of weather-generated movement in internal courtyards, sunlight projection onto interior surfaces, and backprojection onto translucent external materials. A series of design studios was then used to determine if these approaches were compatible with passive environmental control and rainwater harvesting techniques involving the same natural elements, and it was found that most could be effectively animated without compromising their environmental performance. The human effects of one of the combinations identified — wind-animated daylighting — were then tested in controlled experiments, which showed it to be both calming and distracting. In light of these findings, it was postulated that weather-generated indoor animation could be of particular value in low concentration/high stress situations, such as waiting or convalescence, where positive distractions have been shown to be beneficial. In order to test this thesis, wind-animated water light shelves were installed in a medical waiting room, where patient responses appeared to confirm their calming effect.

Kevin Nute (University of Oregon)
Aaron Weiss (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates)
Proceedings of the 2013 ARCC Spring Research Conference
Presented at: 
The Visibility of Research
Published & professionally reviewed by: 
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Architectural Research Centers Consortium

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