Special Subject: Building Technology — Advanced Topics in Sustainable Building Design

Permission of Instructor

This class provides students with the historic awareness and technical skills needed to become agents of change for a carbon neutral building sector by further merging the fields of architectural design and environmental performance analysis. Over the past decade, building performance simulation tools for energy, daylighting and solar design have made their way into mandatory building technology classes for architects such as MIT’s 4.401/4.464. In those classes, students learn how to start off with a “typical” building and explore various interventions from envelope improvements to reduced internal lighting and equipment loads, ventilation and HVAC upgrades as well as onsite deployment of photovoltaics. In combination, these measures can lead to net zero ready building concepts. The benefit of this pedagogical approach is that students learn what energy flows to pay attention to for different building types and how to productively work with the local microclimate. This knowledge should later promote elevated discussions between architect and environmental consultant.

However, there are limitations to the above mentioned technology upgrades as – with the exception of window area – they are somewhat independent of the form of the building. This leads to a situation where the architect presents a schematic design concept via iconic renderings and sections but the environmental features remain largely invisible with the potential exception of PV panels. Somehow the building envelope will have a mean U-value of 0.2W/m2, an infiltration rate of 0.1ACH and there will be an effective HAVC system. In actuality such concepts do of course require careful detailing by the design team and coordination with the other professions. In addition, there are a plethora of passive design solutions from burying a structure underground to using thermal mass via a Trombe wall and natural ventilation concepts that have a strong visual presence but are (somewhat ironically) harder to simulate than their active counterparts using the current generation of architectural modeling tools. In the studio, this situation may lead to elaborate renderings in lieu of rather in combination with careful quantitative evaluations. This class is aimed at students who want to learn these simulation techniques in sufficient detail to overcome this disconnect.

The hands-on survey course deals with building-level sustainable design concepts and technologies and their evolution in high performance buildings over time. Throughout the term, we will discuss a series of path breaking buildings form the first Solar Buildings of the 1940s (including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hemicircle and MIT’s Solar House I) to the creative activists’ buildings of the 1960s, the first Passivhaus and the Self-Sufficient Solar Haus Freiburg (1990s), LEED-certified  examples for the 2000s ending with today’s net zero energy buildings. Along with each case study building, we will be discussing the technologies used by the design teams and how to quantify their impact from the use of thermal mass to underground structures, two dimensional heat flow and moisture management, sun spaces and double skin facades, solar hot water systems, fuel cells and radiant heating systems. Students will work in pairs (our aim is to team up an MArch with a Building Technology student)  and apply these advanced concepts to a mid-sized building of their choice, developing thermal model that becomes increasingly detailed as the term progresses. Student projects may be current or former studio projects or altogether new endeavors. Groups will also be tasked to conduct a thermal analysis of one of the case study buildings covered in class. The class is open to all members of the MIT community with a preference for individuals who previously took 4.401/4.464 or otherwise have a foundation in building performance simulation.