Building as Text

Wurster Hall as Text:  ARCH 244

ARCH 244 – The Secret Life of Buildings – is an exploratory seminar that addresses a secret life of buildings, one related to physical performance. Think of a building that has been influential in your architectural development. How much do you know about the physical environment it creates? Its amenities as viewed from an occupant's perspective? The energy it consumes?

The seminar is related to the VITAL SIGNS Project, a U. C. Berkeley curriculum materials development effort from a few years back funded by the Energy Foundation, NSF, and PG&E (see Vital Signs encourages architecture students to examine architectural, lighting, and mechanical systems in existing buildings with attention to energy use, occupant well-being, and architectural spacemaking. We've assembled a collection of measurement techniques, often involving novel approaches, to reveal operating patterns in the complex environment of contemporary buildings.

The VITAL SIGNS Project is applies these techniques in 1) modular Resource Packages addressing physical building performance issues and 2) a program to use these packages in Case Studies involving the field evaluation of existing buildings. In this process, existing buildings serve as laboratories and offer interesting lessons on the success and failure of various design methods. The approach has a number collected in the field and the comparison of these data to values given by simulation tools provides a foundation for understanding the more abstract tools and standards used by designers in practice. Finally, you can share these experiences with other students and schools in the form of written case studies.

The class will conduct a series of case study exercises involving the collection of background information, the survey of those associated with the building (e.g. designers, operators, occupants), the measurement of physical parameters, analysis, and the writing of short reports. The course will include both individual and group assignments, with some opportunity to tailor the assignment to specific student interests. It is my hope that you will employ the internet in reporting your findings.

The course is structured around a series of field assignments and a collection of portable measurement equipment. We will conduct several measurement projects, some conducted by teams, addressing issues from lighting control patterns to thermal comfort. The final project will address a topic of the student’s selection. The course will also include a series of experiential exercises designed to increase a designer's awareness of the physical environment as an architectural element.

--from course syllabus, ARC 244, Fall 2009. Charles C. Benton, Professor of Architecture

ARCH 244:  The Secret Life of Buildings

(formerly ARCH 249x)

The summary poster for Cris Benton’s Secret Life of Buildings class (ARCH 249x)  illustrates the energy savings that were realized during two intervention weeks. The first week, changes were made to the fan schedules beginning with modest changes on Tuesday and ramping up to more experimental measures on Thursday. The following week, changes were made to the lighting schedule. As a result of the findings of this class, permanent changes have been made to the fan schedule and Wurster is slated to have its constant speed fans replaced with more efficient variable speed fans. Also, changes to the light scheme have been institutionalized in the light retrofit that is currently underway in Wurster. Data for these graphs came from monitoring equipment installed on the main building electrical meter in May 2008.

--prepared by J. Elliot Nahman

ARCH 244:  Hallway Lighting Study
(formerly ARCH 249x)

A study on lighting levels in a Wurster hallway taken during the fall semester 2008 which revealed that the amount of daylight was orders of magnitude greater than what is recommended by industry standards, and yet electric lighting was still being used during daylight hours. Even the electric lighting alone was shown to be in excess of the lighting standards for circulation spaces. Data was collected and analyzed by Krystyna Zelenay.

--prepared by J. Elliot Nahman

ARCH XXX:  Innovation in Sustainable Water Reuse

Besides Secret Life of Buildings, another course on Innovation in Sustainable Water Reuse co-taught by Vicki Elmer in City Planning and Ashok Gadgil in Energy and Resources in fall 2008 also used Wurster as a laboratory. Although monitoring equipment for Wurster’s electricity was installed in May 2008, there were no plans to connect water meters to this equipment. One student project undertaken by P.W. Noy Hildebrand and Elliot Nahman was to research the feasibility and ultimately connect Wurster’s water meters to the monitoring system. This was completed in November 2008. The availability of this data not only opens up further veins of research into Wurster, but combined with the energy data, helps one gain a more holistic understanding of Wurster’s energy use.

Having demonstrated the potential usefulness of this data, water meters in several other campus buildings are currently being connected to their monitoring equipment. Also, further work into submetering Wurster’s water is currently underway as part of a Green Initiative Fund grant.

This graph of water consumption during one week in May 2009 demonstrates a further use of water monitoring; identifying leaks. The spike on Tuesday was cause by a urinal on the third floor of Wurster breaking, and flushing non-stop for approximately 30 minutes.

--prepared by J. Elliot Nahman

Kite Aerial Photography

My general training and sensibilities are grounded in architecture, a discipline that applies accumulated observation and experience to the synthetic process of design. My work in building science involves measurement and field investigation, empirical processes for discovering patterns of performance that are not readily evident in our built designs. Toward this end I have invented apparatus and field protocols to reveal phenomena that oft go unseen. My aerial work also explores photography’s capacity to reveal patterns that are not available to our native senses as exercised from normative vantage points. An aerial view affords fresh perspectives of familiar landscapes and reveals patterns that, again, often go unnoticed. To accomplish these views I have, again, invented apparatus and field protocols to accomplish the work. Both endeavors serve the type of curiosity that are important for informed design.

For the last decade I have been taking photographs from kite-lofted cameras and this has been a remarkably engaging endeavor. Kite photography began about the same time the first railroad crossed the South Bay and experienced a golden age before fixed wing aircraft became the dominant platform for aerial photography. In the last decade, kite aerial photography has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, fueled in part by communities on the Internet and a plethora of new technologies in photography, kite making, and radio control.

Among the joys of kite aerial photography (KAP) are the opportunities for invention, the physical challenge of positioning kite and rig, the unusual ‘once removed’ aspect of composition in absentia, contact with a fine group of KAP colleagues, and the distinct pleasure of messing around with kites.

Kite aerial photography appeals to that part of me, perhaps of all of us, that would slip our earthly bonds and see the world from new heights. An aerial view offers a fresh perspective of familiar landscapes and in doing so challenges our spatial sensibilities, our grasp of relationships. Poet Thomas Campbell observed “ ’Tis distance lends enchantment to the view.” You might think ‘tis height lends enchantment to KAP but its charms are considerably more subtle. For me they lie in a vantage point that lies just beyond normal human experience even if only by a few meters. It turns out that the vast heights are best left to powered aircraft while the viewpoints below 200 feet offer prime, and often unexplored, KAP territory.

Kite aerial photography is a delightful technique for documenting the built landscape. While standing in our handsome campus one’s visual experience is dominated by the immediate surroundings. Lofting a camera allows a view to the distance that conveys information about relationships in the landscape: building to surrounds, circulation patterns, and the campus in its context.

--prepared by Cris Benton, Professor of Architecture