The Big Roof

I'm calling it.  The Big Roof (for PV panels) is officially a style.

Besides being Big, I suppose the salient characteristic of the Big Roof is that it's detached from the main body of the building, as an independent form.

Additionally, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson has a number of "Big Roof" projects, such as the Frick Environmental Center (below), similar in essence but PV panels are not part of the roof design.


Solarpunk heritage: Peter van Dresser

If you’re into Solarpunk today, you ought to be interested in the Solarpunks of the 1960s and 70s. They didn’t call themselves Solarpunks, but they believed in many of the things that characterize the movement today as I interpret it—optimism, DIY technology, experimental culture, and a communitarian spirit.

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What is Solarpunk?  It's derived from Steampunk and Cyberpunk, but oriented to clean energy.  Elvia Wilk, in the wonderful article "Is Ornamenting Solar Panels a Crime?", explains the Solarpunk philosophy: 

"In its willful naiveté, this ornamented vision is inflected with nostalgia for an imaginary, bygone time when tech was tinkerable and free from mass production and standardization." 

In its imagery, the Solarpunk movement includes a strong Art Nouveau influence, which to me feels right, right now.  (See also: Art Nouveau and Modernisme)

Solarpunk art by Luc Schuiten ( link )

Solarpunk art by Luc Schuiten (link)

Additionally, last month Rhys Williams emphasized the literary side of the movement in "Solarpunk: Against a Shitty Future," for the Los Angeles Review of Books.  He wrote:

"Why is this genre promising?  Because in Solarpunk, energy is explicitly political....
Solar energy provides a fruitful and flexible ground in the imaginary for experiments in being human and being social while it also preserves the ecological boundary conditions of our own existence.  And that is the root of Solarpunk: an energy culture that serves as a platform for experiments in being, rather than a closure of it."

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Here’s some history: there are wonderful affinities between today's Solarpunks and the future-thinking tinkerers of the 1960s like Peter van Dresser, who are called "Creative Activists" and featured in Chapter 10 of The Solar House.  van Dresser (who wrote some science fiction) called for "a decentralized, biotechnic society" which would represent "revulsion against the Establishment" (link).  This is how van Dresser described himself on the back cover of his book A Landscape for Humans (1976):

van dresser.jpg

Hey Solarpunks: there's more!  I think you'd like The Solar House.

Wyoming's 100 Classic Buildings

George Ferris Mansion, Rawlins, Wyoming, by Barber and Kluttz (1903). Photo © Anthony Denzer.

George Ferris Mansion, Rawlins, Wyoming, by Barber and Kluttz (1903). Photo © Anthony Denzer.

Archipedia is a project of the Society of Architectural Historians, my professional society.  It's an online catalog of historic buildings, created with the help of a wide variety of people solicited to write about the selected structures and sites.

Archipedia's distributed team has identified the 100 most important buildings/sites from each state.  For Wyoming, my friend Mary Humstone led the effort and selected the top 100, with input from many others including me.  Thank you to Mary for all her hard work and intelligence.  You can find the list of 100 here

These are Wyoming's 5 best in my opinion:
1. Old Faithful Inn by Robert Reamer (1904) link
2. Cheyenne Union Pacific Depot by Henry van Brunt (1887) link
3. Ames Monument by H.H. Richardson (1882) link
4. Ivinson Mansion By Walter Ware (1892) link
5. Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center by Carney Logan Burke Architects (2008) link

I wrote two entries for Wyoming:
Centennial Complex by Antoine Predock (1993)
Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center by Wirth Design Associates (1976)

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Also on the blog:
Hoyt Hall, University of Wyoming
Solar Principles and Laramie's Hitchcock House

LEED and Energy Use

LEED plaque.jpg

Do you remember, a number of years ago, the tempest about LEED and energy use?  LEED is a voluntary rating system, like a scorecard, where points are earned for different sustainability characteristics.  It's serious, in the sense that it requires tons of documentation by the design team.  It's criticized for a variety of reasons, especially because the points are mostly earned cafeteria-style, meaning the project team can pick-and-choose which sustainability measures to prioritize or ignore.

In 2009, Henry Gifford, a mechanical systems designer, brought a lawsuit against the US Green Building Council, contending that LEED-certified buildings were advertised as energy-efficient but in reality were not.  He lost the suit, however the episode established a perception that it's common for LEED-certified buildings to be energy hogs.  Lloyd Alter coined the phrase LEEDwashing.  (He also defended LEED and called Gifford "nuts.")  In Fine Homebuilding, Kevin Ireton asked "Is LEED a Fraud?"  Fast Company joined the chorus.

So, nine years later, does LEED deliver energy-efficient buildings?  Here's some new information, from an article in the journal BuildingsThe article is called "Assessment of Energy Credits in LEED-Certified Buildings Based on Certification Levels and Project Ownership," by Asli Pelin Gurgun and David Arditi.  Buildings has an exceptionally rigorous review process.

Gurgun and Arditi analyzed the credits earned by 1500 US buildings which achieved Silver-or-above under LEED-NC 2009. 

Most pertinent is LEED credit EA1: "Optimizing Energy Performance."  Projects could earn a maximum of 19 points.  In essence, the project earns a point for being 12% more energy-efficient than code, plus another point for each additional 2% increment.  For the 1500 projects in Gurgun and Arditi's data set:
     ● The projects in aggregate earned 54% of the points in this category
          ● Platinum projects earned 94%
          ● Gold projects earned 62%
          ● Silver projects earned 41%
     ● The average was 10.2 points earned, which corresponds to 30% energy savings
     ● 15 projects, out of 1500, earned 0 points

The authors conclude that energy efficiency points are well-used because typical strategies "are not difficult to implement" and because cost savings "is one of the primary drivers" for owners.

My quick reaction?  Not bad!  For Platinum buildings in particular, you can rest easy that energy efficiency has been prioritized in the design process.

Now, critics of LEED will surely point out a couple of things.  First, this study did not include buildings which achieved the lowest level of certification (LEED-Certified), so some of those buildings are likely to be average performers in energy use.  Second, this paper only examines credits achieved, and these are achieved by energy modeling, not actual energy performance.  As I've discussed before, User Behavior can profoundly affect the results.

In that vein, it's also worth looking at LEED credit EA5: "Measurement and Verification," which asked buildings to install metering equipment, measure energy use, and compare against the predicted values.  3 points could be earned.  For credit EA5, Gurgun and Arditi found:
     ● All projects in aggregate earned 34% of the points
          ● Platinum projects earned 66%
          ● Gold projects earned 36%
          ● Silver projects earned 28%
     ● More than half of projects (830 out of 1500) earned 0 points
(In LEED v4 this is revised and called "Advanced Energy Metering.")

My quick reaction?  Not good!  The authors speculate that these credits are avoided because they are costly.

So—again—does LEED deliver energy-efficient buildings?  Unfortunately the answer remains inconclusive.

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A final note: While most LEED critics argue that the rating system is not rigorous and susceptible to 'washing', in my 2011 article "The Limitations of LEED: A Case Study" (with Keith Hedges), I concluded that some early LEED projects were likely to be underscored, because the documentation process was opaque, difficult, and often assigned to an intern.

Mies at IIT: "Greenhouses"

Crown Hall at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).  South face.  Photo ©Anthony Denzer

Crown Hall at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).  South face.  Photo ©Anthony Denzer

I have argued "The history of glass architecture is the history of overheating."1  Here's more evidence.  Serge Chermayeff is discussing Mies van der Rohe in a 1985 interview with Betty Blum2:

The buildings that he did for IIT were impossible in the summer.  He made them all glass, as usual, or a steel frame and practically all the glass was covered with aluminum paper by the users because it was impossible to work in them, too hot, greenhouses.

What would you have changed to make it more habitable?

It had to be a different kind of building and not the standard Miesian framed glass, it was impossible, absolutely impossible.  You can really say that all this kind of development, which we now look upon as history, at the time it was measured by use.  They are not photographs, they're not lovely drawings, they're places people use.  As places some of them are awful.  His later museum the National Gallery in Berlin was quite different, the mistakes were eliminated.  It was a great pavilion.

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Also on the blog:
Heating of Mies van der Rohe's IIT Chapel  (and note, the Chapel has no south-facing glass)
The Conservatory Effect

1. "In Service," Technology|Architecture+Design (2017).  Also, in The Solar House I show that many early solar houses overheated because proper shading was poorly understood.
2. Oral history of Serge Chermayeff; interviewed by Betty J. Blum, Art Institute of Chicago, 1985.