Braided Screen is an exploration in structure, rethought as an attribute of the surface, rather than as its delineating boundary or frame.
The proposition seeks to design continuous, porous screen: a highly permeable envelope, structurally articulated as a lattice, in which its porosity and structure allow for the gradual modulation of the interior environment.
Conceived as a hybrid, operating in between the mass produced and the crafted as well as the inert and the malleable, the screen is designed to fulfill a wide range of architectural applications that respond to local conditions and desires, facilitated by its novel structural features, light-diffusing properties and an unprecedented cultivation of interstitial spaces within the screen. In this way, this project is an endeavor to further re-examine our ability to mass-produce non-standardized yet repetitive industrial components by synthesizing their conception, new serial logic and local variation and differentiation in series.
The design seeks to delaminate and thicken the surface to physically interweave different environments while allowing for formal and material continuity by employing a topological iterative technique that operates at various scales. Successive iterations of finer and finer scale surface striation integrate and articulate geometry, structure and material as the screen’s shape along with its modulation, or locally constituted architecture, change elastically. A number of patterns, a result of this technique’s infinite expansion through repeating convoluted configurations, were explored.
The braided screen uses a composite material, wire-meshed rubber, and a simple construction technique such as the torque, which allows the stranded surface to operate locally both as surface and structure in a varying continuum, from stiffness to pliability, responding in this way to changing parameters.
The Introductory Graduate Design Studio (Arch 200B) took their annual field-trip to Venice this past Spring. The historic image of Venice haunts architecture and its larger, urban conversation in almost any context. In the context of contemporary architectural education, particularly in imagining how our practice will meet the challenges of an ecologically endangered, digitally interconnected era, Venice’s 1000-year record of ecological and cultural stability may well be an essential component of architectural education.
For all the powerful continuities represented by Venice, the city-lagoon system is currently threatened by discontinuities and disparities of an enormous scale, and under duress from both man and nature. Once a city of hundreds of thousands, Venice now hosts only 65,000 residents, most of whom serve a tourist population of more than 18 million annual visitors. The shallow Venetian lagoon, which for thousands of years cultivated a balance between sea and silt, has in the past 40 years of tourism and industrialization undergone catastrophic ecological changes of level, composition, ecology, and salinity — changes that threaten not only its identity, but its very organic and urban existence.
The rapid degradation of the environment and the dramatic pace of urban decay poses a real threat to Venice’s long history of commerce and construction. A tourist city from the 15th century, Venice was the home of such innovations as hotel reservations, folding maps, and even periodic tourist festivals with their attendant infrastructure, 400 years before the likes of Barcelona caught on. Ecologically, the city was the home of subtle and enormous interventions dating from the 15th century, which redirected rivers and floodplains to preserve the delicate balance of lagoon ecology on which the city depends. In the light of these historic examples, Venice becomes relevant not just to its own future, but to the future of our urbanizing and endangered planet as a whole. Given Venice’s history of subtlety, robustness, multiplicity, and celebration, the proposed environmental and economic solutions to Venice’s problems appear singular, sudden and even gargantuan. One example is the multi-billion euro MoSÉ floodgate project whose scaffolding now rises at the edges of the lagoon.
At its onset, the studio spent several weeks at the scale of the whole lagoon, moving between digital maps and digital fabrication in an attempt to realize an understanding of the scale and complexity of the lagoon. Then we moved to a specific architectural program, which called for a cohabitation of two widely different parties in the lagoon’s current debates. Our two weeks in Venice were spent partly with these clients — the lagoon’s state-sponsored ecological observatory and the contrasting consortium of the city’s taxi drivers. Our semester-long architectural study was thus devoted to designing a shared home for these groups, as well as the shifting tourist population of the city. Our attention, however, also remained on the city and lagoon as a whole, gathering first-hand information from official and informal sources and, most importantly, situating our own imaginations in the shifting barene of the lagoon.
As architects, we are predisposed to think of our ground and context as a fixed partner in place-making. As we made unstable encounters with the physical place of Venice — whether standing on the mud at the bottom of a dredged canal, or while camping and sailing the lagoon for several days in a vintage freight hauler, an assumption of fixed context became wonderfully impossible. We were led to an understanding of architecture and urbanism in Venice as a gloriously dynamic, yet vital contributor to a continuous transformation of ground, site, city, and ecology.
The first encounter with Distrito Federal, Mexico is marked by the endlessness, monotony, and grittiness of its metro system. The first impression however, had already been made ahead of time. The existing conditions of our site were charged with the familiar discourse of crisis — the ominous presence of “la mancha urbana” threatening to put an undeserved end to the “Venice of the New World.” Such was the premise of the Mexico City studio — a joint effort between UC Berkeley, Universidad Iberro-Americana, and the California College of the Arts. Our field trip was intended to be a search for Mexico City’s beauty, but also an anticipated encounter with some of its grim reality. The biggest surprise was that Mexico City lives with its abjection in relative peace — a compromise that seemed to mock our Panglossian zeal as architecture students, our belief that everything will be designed for the best and that we would stop encroachment on the canals of Xochimilco with the best of all possible archaeology museums.
Professor René Davids’ assigned program was provocative. He prompted us to re-think the city and the chinampas through alchemical experimentation, film-making, and landscape interventions. In other words, employing a cross-disciplinary methodology of design would allow us to transgress the space of the archaeological museum and challenge its status as merely a venue of entertainment. Instead, we were to act as curators by critically questioning the art object. The program was designed to unsettle our indifference for the artifact and to help us overcome our museum fatigue. The studio also prompted us to accept the two mutually exclusive but intimately connected forms of urbanity in Mexico City — characterized by informal settlements and unsustainable growth on one hand, and affluent enclaves and gated communities on the other hand. Ironically, the site of our museum mirrored the fragmentation of its larger urban context by being divided into a fenced off island or chinampa on the western half, and an informal settlement on the east.
The design process for the Xochimilco Archaeological Museum was fraught with resolving the tensions between formal and informal, cultural anxieties and political biases, and rural traditions and urban futures. The catalog of all possible solutions that was presented in our final review, speaks to the irreconcilability of some these elements. For example, in some cases the informal settlement was romanticized and left intact, while in others the site was treated as tabula rasa. Our design solutions attempted to bridge the divide between existing living patterns on the site and the actual topography and urban form. But what if we had considered our informal settlement less as an image, but more as a narrative, a process? Less than a space, or built fabric and more as a boundary? All in all, the Mexico City studio strenuously challenged our beliefs in physical determinism and our optimistic design approach by urging us to surrender to the complex, intricate, and contested nature of urban design.
The Mexico City studio conducted during Spring 2007 explored the manner in which the physical and conceptual understanding of landscape can enrich current forms of architectural and urban design practice. The Xochimilco area of Mexico City is well known for its extended series of canals — the remaining vestiges of an ancient system of lakes stretching for most of the valley of Anahuac in the middle of which Tenochtitlan, the impressive capital of the Aztecs, was located. Originally drained by the conquistadors to reproduce the conditions found in Spain, today the lake-bed is almost entirely occupied by Mexico City. The loss of subterranean water has had various ecological ramifications including: the gradual sinking of large parts of the city, loss of natural habitats, depletion of native vegetation, and the obsolescence of traditional agricultural methods of cultivation in the middle of the water called chinampas. Often referred to, incorrectly, as “floating gardens,” the chinampas were in fact, stationary artificial islands created by staking out the shallow lake bed and then fencing in the area with wattle. The fenced-off area was then layered with mud, lake sediment, and decaying vegetation, which eventually brought it above the level of the lake. Chinampas were separated by channels wide enough for a canoe to pass.
The worsening environmental situation in Xochimilco has generated a demand to conserve its landscapes and artifacts while also integrating them to the needs of modern society. The creation of an Archeological Site Museum and Botanical Park was seen as an important catalyst for this goal. Arguing that archeological exhibits need to be conserved within their contexts rather than as objects of display based on their aesthetic values, the studio attempted to connect each exhibit to the historical relationship between nature and man.
To understand the social, political, and environmental context of design, and in order to foster collaboration with Mexican students, architects and landscape designers, UC Berkeley students visited Mexico from January 8th to the 15th. Students were asked to research Mexican culture, artists, and architects; study precedents; create films; and collect rubbings and photographs of the building/construction sites in Mexico. They were also required to draw and research twenty pieces displayed at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City which would be exhibited in the Xochimilco Archeological Museum. Throughout their design process, students were frequently asked to switch from the urban to the museum-interior scale and vice-versa.
The program for the Archeological Museum was developed in conjunction with students from the Universidad Iberoamericana of Mexico City headed by Isaac Broid, Mauricio Rocha and Luis Villafranca, and an advanced studio from the California College of Arts (CCA) in San Francisco headed by Sandra Vivanco. Mid-semester review for the studio took place along with the CCA and Mexican students at a grand review held at the CCA. The objective of the international studio was to encourage cooperation and collaboration among higher educational institutions in the United States and Mexico, increase the knowledge of cultures and institutions in both countries, and help prepare students to work throughout North America. The work of the three schools was exhibited in the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco from May 18 to June 1, 2007 and will also be exhibited at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City later this year.
By Jean Eisberg, Master of City and Regional Planning ‘07
To a planner, China is opportunity. Over a billion people and growing; rising skyscrapers and a soaring GDP; poverty, pollution, and potential. The issues are rich, but the place is even richer.
During the spring 2007 semester, I traveled to Jiaxing, China with a group of students, faculty, and professionals for an interdisciplinary design studio. We were fortunate to be able to collaborate with students and professors at Tongji University, located nearby in Shanghai. The Tongji group guided us during the trip and throughout the studio.
I studied China as an undergraduate student and while visiting the country again, I was reminded of why I was initially so intrigued. This is a country whose history, politics and social structures have changed radically over the past several decades. Jiaxing exemplifies this dynamic.
Jiaxing boasts a mix of cultural and historic amenities as well as modern industry and technology. Water defines the landscape; it is, at times, beautiful, but it is also polluted and often strewn with debris. Nearly empty eight-lane roads portend the growth to come. But, today, it is difficult to differentiate Jiaxing from the many other mid-size industrial cities in China. Our group needed to enhance the existing assets in Jiaxing to bring out its unique identity and ensure its competitiveness in the region. The central government’s proposed high-speed rail station offered an incredible opportunity to make this happen.
After returning to Berkeley, it was time to get to work. But, as planners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects, we did not always speak the same language. We spent several weeks sketching, arguing, and jumping in and out of scales. Out of the chaos emerged some great ideas about water, open space, transportation, energy, architecture, and urban design. Our recommendations encompassed all scales — from architectural materials and façade details to a transit plan and renewable energy resources — reflecting the range of disciplines represented among the students in our studio.
The Tongji students helped us to understand the traditions, policies, and culture that define and affect architecture and development in the region. Collaborating with our colleagues at Tongji was one of the highlights for me. With a year of college-level Mandarin muddled in the back reaches of my brain, I got a chance to practice speaking and drew laughter for my errant tones. But even better was the chance to share opinions on what planning means in our respective countries. As one Tongji student admitted, China plans and develops without always considering the repercussions or offering mitigations. I countered that in the United States, legislation and politics often necessitate intense scrutiny and lengthy processes that can prevent projects from moving forward. We both wondered about the middle
I still see opportunity in China in terms of its tremendous growth. But I also see the possibility for China to become a leader in sustainable development, something we can all learn from.
“There is an ecological apocalypse unfolding in China right now.” The statistics bear the point.
Of the world’s 10 most polluted cities, five are in China. A new coal power plant is built every ten days. The effects on the economy, humans and nature are severe. Pollution and environmental damage have created losses ranging from 7 to 20% of the GDP over the last two decades.
There are approximately 300,000 premature deaths each year attributed to air pollution alone. A quarter of China’s 1.3 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. China has the world’s fastest growing auto market, giving it the notorious label of the world’s leader in vehicle fatalities and second in oil consumption behind the US. Currently, the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, China is on pace to surpass the US in 2008 — some researchers even argue that it already has.
During the spring 2007 semester, students at Tongji University in Shanghai, China and the University of California, Berkeley in the United States took on this challenge, collaborating on a design studio in Jiaxing, China, a second-tier city 80km outside of Shanghai. The group included undergraduate and graduate students pursuing coursework in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and urban design, as well as faculty and professionals from both countries.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a private foundation based in San Francisco, California provided a grant to the group to explore international urban sustainability. The Jiaxing City Government partnered with our group and posed a set of urban development research questions to the students. The charge was to develop a plan for the City in anticipation of a proposed high-speed rail line connecting the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Hangzhou, with stops in Shanghai and Jiaxing. As an added challenge, Jiaxing’s station stop was proposed in an agricultural area 10km away from the existing central city. This new rail line could connect Jiaxing to Shanghai in 15 minutes and to the airport in less than a half hour. What would this compression in time and space mean for Jiaxing?
The students identified two major challenges to address: China’s environmental crisis and connecting the proposed rail station to the central city
First, the students proposed a transit corridor between the new station and the existing city center. They recognized the opportunity to create a new hub within the City, but wanted to maximize accessibility to the new station and the central city, to encourage investment in both anchors as well as in the corridor between them.
Second, they proposed an integrated sustainable design strategy for Jiaxing. Adopting the “3 E’s” principles of ecology, economy and equity, they endeavored to improve Jiaxing’s air and water quality, expand renewable energy sources and reduce waste, while maintaining a competitive economy. Moreover, they sought to create an equitable design that would accommodate all types of people, regardless of age, income or other status.
Despite the troubling statistics, there is opportunity to make real improvements in China’s environment, if the government and citizens choose to take on the challenge. Through sustainable design and policy measures, China has the potential to emerge from environmental crisis as an environmental leader. Jiaxing could serve as a model for sustainable development in China, providing its citizens a better life and a more environmentally sound, economically strong and equitable society.
 Porritt, Jonathon. “China: The Most Important Story in the World.” Green Futures. September 2006: 3.
This last spring I had the opportunity to be a part of the Nano City Super Studio. Like most architectural studios, this one too overturned our initial assumptions and we were quickly immersed in the challenge of learning and designing concurrently. The studio began when we arrived in Delhi, India on January 15th, 2007. Despite the week-early start of the semester we were all eager to meet Sabeer Bhatia (our client) and begin this new adventure. That first day, and many others that followed, were filled with a whirlwind of experiences — most of which were facilitated by a bright red Volvo tourist bus. In a week we visited Delhi, Chandigarh, and our site in an effort to gain some knowledge for the studio. Yet, like most short stays our trip was limited by the time it took to travel between sites, leaving us little time to experience India on our own.
The rest of the semester was spent achieving a balance between our client’s aspirations and our design ideas. As designers we had numerous debates about our competing visions for Nano City. Having an actual client for the project also put most of us for the first time in a position of negotiation between our client’s desires, our own professional responsibilities, the needs of the population who currently live on site, and those who will eventually become residents of Nano City. This tension between the professionally defined “client” and the social responsibilities of design was further enhanced by the inherent complexities of an international studio. No matter how sensitive we tried to be to the Indian context and the site, we were always functioning from Wurster Hall in Berkeley, California and, like our experience of India through the windows of a red Volvo bus, we were constantly aware of our own limitations of our experience as Americans.
Yet there is also something universal about our experience as outsiders that represents the conflicts and challenges we all face as designers. Whether we are designing a city in Haryana, India or California, USA we are to some degree always removed from our clientele and we must resist the compulsion to objectify those whom we design for through the actions that we take. While the experience of designing in a foreign context helps us hone our professional skills, it also makes us more aware of our limitations, thereby challenging us to work outside normative design techniques and think critically about the appropriateness of every move. In the end I believe that this experience made my peers and myself better at dealing with issues of professional responsibility in this new world of transnational place-making. Indeed, design is the tool through which we may engage the “other” even as we discover ourselves.
Ask anyone who designs, owns, or manages an office building if they want the occupants of their building to feel comfortable, healthy, and productive, and the answer would of course be ‘yes’. But ask again if they know what the occupants actually feel about the space, and the answer will be quite different.
The facility manager is most likely to have a sense, but often it’s only anecdotal. The building owner might eventually have an inkling about occupant sentiment if they see a financial effect because an environment is inadequate. Yet, sadly, very few architects or other members of the design team are likely to know how well their building is working after it is completed and occupied, the fees have been paid, and they are on to another project. Without learning from experience in an objective way, building industry professionals are less likely to make design or economic decisions that will truly enhance the performance and experiential quality of their buildings.
And while this information would be valuable for any project, it is particularly essential if one is claiming to have designed or built a green building, where the quality of the indoor environment is a critical dimension of sustainable design. The only way to back up those claims is to evaluate a building’s actual performance, in terms of energy consumption or indoor environmental quality, and compare the performance to design intent.
Without question, it is absolutely crucial to reduce energy consumption in buildings and help avoid the potentially devastating impacts of climate change. But in terms of the building owner’s pocketbook, energy costs are still relatively small compared to worker salaries, which represent over 90% of the total operating costs of a commercial building. In addition, the cost of worker recruitment and retention is significant. Thus, from the building or company owner’s point of view, perhaps the most persuasive argument for sustainable design is one that makes the connection between a higher quality indoor environment, and increased comfort, health and productivity of the workers.
So, how does one learn about the quality of the indoor environment? While there are many physical measurements one can take, they need to be interpreted in terms of the impact on occupants. Occupants themselves are a rich yet underutilized source of direct information about how well a building is working, but the challenge is how to collect both the positive and negative feedback in a systematic way. This has been at the core of research underway at UC Berkeley.
Center for the Built Environment
The Center for the Built Environment (CBE) is a collaborative research organization that links faculty, researcher, and students with a consortium of firms and organizations that share a commitment to improving the performance of commercial buildings. The Center has two broad purposes, represented in a wide range of research projects of relevance to the building industry. First, we develop ways to “take the pulse” of occupied buildings, looking at how people use space, what they like and don’t like, and we link those responses back to physical measurements of indoor environmental quality. Secondly, we study technologies that have the potential to make buildings more environmentally friendly, more healthy and productive to work in, and more economical to operate. These range from envelope and HVAC systems, to controls and information technology. Our industry partners represent architects, engineers, contractors, manufacturers, utilities, building owners, and government organizations. Our current CBE Industry Partners are Armstrong World Industries, Arup, CA Dept. of General Services, CA Energy Commission, Charles M. Salter Associates, CTG Energetics, Flack + Kurtz, Guttmann & Blaevoet, HOK, PG&E Pacific Energy Center, Price Industries, RTKL Associates, SOM, Southland Industries, Swinerton Buildings, Stantec, Steelcase, Syska Hennessy Group, Tate Access Floors, Taylor Engineering, Trane, US Dept. of Energy, US General Services Administration, Webcor Buildings, and York International.
The CBE Survey
CBE has developed a web-based indoor environmental quality survey to help designers, building owners and operators, and tenants evaluate how well their office buildings are working from the occupants’ perspective. Advantages of the web-based format are: 1) it is quick and inexpensive to use; 2) it facilitates more focused and detailed feedback (particularly, when the occupant indicates dissatisfaction with a certain area); and 3) survey results can be accessed using an automated, advanced reporting tool that allows users to filter, aggregate, compare, or benchmark their data. The core CBE survey measures occupant satisfaction and self-reported productivity related to nine environmental categories: office layout, office furnishings, thermal comfort, air quality, lighting, acoustics, cleanliness and maintenance, overall satisfaction with the building, and with the workspace. Additional, custom survey modules can be added, which would enable you to gather data about additional topics, depending on available building features or the client’s particular issues. Examples of existing modules include accessibility, safety and security, daylighting, and operable windows.
To date, the CBE Survey has been implemented in nearly 300 buildings, with over 41,000 individual responses, making it the largest database of its kind. The survey can be used as a diagnostic tool for individual buildings, to enable designers or building owners to evaluate specific aspects of their building design features and operating strategies, identify problem areas, and help prioritize investments for improvements. Users can do both before and after surveys to evaluate the effectiveness of changes in the design or operational improvements, or before and after a move. The database is also useful for evaluating trends across many buildings. By using a standardized instrument to collect data from a wide variety of office buildings, we are able to mine the data to look for trends or comparative analysis in the performance of particular design strategies or technologies. By utilizing the full database, clients can also evaluate how their building is doing in comparison to groups of buildings in the same or different categories.
The CBE Survey is being used in a wide variety of contexts, for both private and institutional clients. In some cases, we are contacted directly by architecture and engineering firms to study their buildings (recent examples include Arup, Chong Partners, EHDD, ELS, Enermodal Engineering, Glumac, HKT, HOK, Keen Engineering, Moseley Architects).
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is using the CBE Survey to evaluate tenant satisfaction in up to 100 buildings each summer as part of their facility management assessment program, replacing their previous paper-based survey administered by Gallup. We are also developing and administering new surveys as part of GSA’s Workplace 20/20 initiative, which focuses on the interrelationships between people, space, technology, knowledge, work process, and organizational effectiveness.
With UC San Francisco, we have developed a new module to evaluate laboratories. We completed several baseline surveys of UCSF facilities, and we will continue to evaluate many of their new lab facilities.
As a one-year promotion, we offered the CBE Survey free for LEED-certified buildings, to improve our understanding of how green buildings were performing in the field. We have also been contacted independently by architects or building owners who can use the CBE Survey to achieve a LEED-NCv2.2 credit for thermal monitoring.
Internationally, we have collaborated with Indoorium, a Finland-based consulting firm specializing in indoor air quality, lighting, and acoustics, to evaluate 20 buildings and develop multi-lingual capabilities for the survey.
And here on the UC Berkeley campus, in Cris Benton’s Arch 249: Secret Life of Buildings, students surveyed 13 campus buildings and discovered that the deferred maintenance of recent years is keenly felt!
We are currently embarking on new projects to use the CBE Survey to evaluate some of the recent AIA-COTE Top Ten Green Projects, and to survey occupants of the new San Francisco Federal Buildings, both in their current spaces and then after they move later this year.
And finally, we utilize the CBE Survey extensively in our own research projects investigating technologies such as underfloor air distribution, operable windows, demand response technologies, and high performance facades — often combining the survey with detailed indoor physical measurements.
Looking at the entire database, of all the environmental attributes evaluated in the CBE Survey, acoustics consistently receives the lowest ratings, followed by thermal comfort and air quality. The most common sources of dissatisfaction with acoustics relate to sound privacy (people overhearing others’ private conversations) and distractions from hearing people’s conversations while talking on the phone or to others in neighboring areas. Much less frequent were complaints about excessively loud sounds, noise from the HVAC system or office equipment, or outdoor noises (even in buildings with operable windows). Not surprisingly, people with private offices are significantly more satisfied with acoustics that those in open plan spaces. However, when we looked at the influence of open plan design, we were surprised to find that the absence of partitions provided higher satisfaction scores than having partitions, yetpartition height itself had no discernible effect. This suggests that visual privacy may lead to unrealistic expectations of acoustic privacy. When people have a full view of their co-workers, they are either more courteous at keeping their voices lower, or change their expectations and are therefore not disturbed by the lack of privacy.
ASHRAE publishes standards for both thermal comfort and acceptable air quality in buildings (ASHRAE Standard 55-2004, and 62.1-2004, respectively), both recommending conditions in which 80% of the occupants are satisfied. But when we look at satisfaction scores from our database, we find that buildings are falling far short of these standards. It was disturbing to find that only 11% of the buildings met the intent of the thermal comfort standard, with an overall average of only 59% of the occupants expressing satisfaction with the thermal environment. Thermal dissatisfaction was most commonly related to people feeling that they did not have enough control over their environment, in addition to complaints about air movement being too low. This is particularly interesting given that thermal comfort standards are geared towards limiting air movement, mistakenly believing that drafts are a more common problem.
Responses to air quality were only slightly better, with only 26% of the buildings meeting the intent of the standard, and on average 69% of occupants are satisfied with the air quality. The most common complaints were that the air was stuffy or stale, or smelled badly, with the most frequently identified sources being food, carpet or furniture, or other people.
Not surprisingly, we found that satisfaction with both thermal comfort and air quality increases significantly in buildings that provide people with some means of personal control over their environment, such as thermostats or operable windows. The opposite was true for people with portable heaters and fans, indicating that the presence of these devices may have been a result of inadequate performance of the centralized HVAC system. Given the relative energy intensity of these portable devices, it is clear that providing for personal control should be a thoughtful and integrated part of the overall building design, rather than an afterthought.
We also did a comparative analysis of 21 green buildings, 15 of which were LEED-rated. In comparison to the rest of the database, occupants in these buildings expressed higher rates of satisfaction with thermal comfort and air quality, and with the building overall. Contributing reasons for this include improved ventilation, green materials with reduced off-gassing, solar gain control, operable windows, task-conditioning, and other means of personal control. In contrast, we didn’t see any significant improvement in lighting and acoustic quality in the green buildings. With regard to lighting, occupants consistently enjoyed and valued higher levels of daylight and access to views, but there were often problems with glare (particularly on computer screens), and inadequate electric task lighting or provision of controls over the lighting. High levels of dissatisfaction with acoustics in the green buildings were often attributed to problems with sound privacy and noise distractions, often exacerbated by the high ceilings and open plan layouts that are beneficial for daylighting and natural ventilation. Additional factors influencing the acoustics in these buildings were often harder surfaces associated with minimal use of textiles as a way of avoiding the off-gassing.
Providing workers with a quality indoor environment should be a goal of any building design, but is particularly important for green buildings that claim to be more responsive to supporting occupant comfort, health and productivity. Improving the quality of our buildings critically depends on accountability and learning from experience – what works, what doesn’t, and what choices about building design or operation can make the biggest difference. The voices of the occupants are an invaluable component of that assessment. As we move towards embracing high-performance, green buildings as the industry standard (as we must), we must also insist that post-occupancy evaluations be a natural part of that process. In the end, everyone benefits from learning how a building performs in practice.
I’d like to acknowledge the members of CBE who have contributed to this work, including Charlie Huizenga, Leah Zagreus, Sahar Abbaszadeh, David Lehrer, and CBE Director, Ed Arens. We also acknowledge the numerous students from Architecture and other departments on campus who have contributed to and received financial support from the Survey project.
For more information:
To see a demo of the CBE Survey and reporting tool, or to find out how to use the CBE Survey in your building, see:
For more detailed discussions of this subject see:
Abbaszadeh, S., L. Zagreus, D. Lehrer and C. Huizenga. Occupant Satisfaction with Indoor Environmental Quality in Green Buidlings. Indoor Air 2004; 14 (suppl 8) December 2004. 65-74.
Huizenga, C., S. Abbaszadeh, L. Zagreus and E. Arens. Air Quality and Thermal Comfort in Office Buildings: Results of a Large Indoor Environmental Quality Survey. Proceedings of Healthy Buildings 2006, Lisbon, Vol. III, 393-397.
Zagreus, L., C. Huzenga, E. Arens, and D. Lehrer. Listening to the Occupants: A Web-based Indoor Environmental Quality Survey. Indoor Air 2004; 14 (suppl 8) December 2004. 65-74.
Gail Brager is Professor of Building Science in the Department of Architecture, and Associate Director of the Center for the Built Environment.
What is the Biggest Culprit? Concerns about the impact of energy consumption on the environment, especially global climate change, have finally penetrated public consciousness to the point where significant political action is beginning to happen.
Any number of events can be cited as triggering this step change in consciousness. Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, numerous cover articles by our leading weekly magazines, a continuous stream of newspaper articles, scientific reports from prestigious committees, appeals to the President by business leaders, politicians, and scientists, etc., have outlined the risks and challenges to the planet in compelling detail. As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commented when he introduced Executive Order S305 on greenhouse gas reduction, “I say the debate is over. We know the science. We see the threat. And we know the time for action is now.”
The question is: where should we focus our efforts? We can begin by asking: where are the biggest culprits and what are the most immediate cost effective strategies, but the challenge is more fundamental than the idea of mitigation or conservation, as important as they are. Ultimately, we must rethink and convert our 200-year-old fossil fuel economy to renewable sources. An even more fundamental question is: can we do it in time to avoid catastrophic change and human hardship?
The recent announcement at UC Berkeley of a $500 million grant by oil giant British Petroleum (BP) to develop biofuels is not only by far the largest alliance between industry and the academies, but also the kind of investment and vision necessary to bring renewable energy swiftly to market. BP’s grant will fund hundreds of researchers in 25 teams, 18 at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and 7 at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, while BP will assign up to 50 of its own researchers to join the teams. The potential of this landmark interdisciplinary effort is planetary. LBNL Director Steve Chu has estimated that if the acreage which American farmers are currently subsidized not to cultivate were planted in “switch grass” and if ethanol from this cellulose source could be brought to market at the efficiencies demonstrated in the lab, it could provide as much as 100% of the country’s transportation fuel needs. UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has characterized the effort as “our generation’s moon shot.” Charles Zukoski, Vice Chancellor of Research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, described it as launching “a new age for agriculture, altering the energy economy of the planet.” As essential and groundbreaking as this effort is, how big an impact will it have on the problem?
An examination of our energy consumption by broad sectors reveals the following approximate breakdown: 27% transportation, 30% industrial, 22% commercial, 21% residential. Almost all the energy consumed (90%) comes from fossil fuels, with the remainder from nuclear and renewables, including wind and hydro. When each sector is examined in greater detail, some surprising facts are revealed. Within the transportation sector, only 16% is consumed by cars and trucks, the remaining 7% goes to trains and planes. Thus, if all the transportation fuel for cars and trucks (as big a number at that is) were converted to biofuels, it would still only address 16% of the problem. So what is the biggest culprit?
As Ed Mazria has pointed out in his “2030 Challenge” to design and construction professionals, if you add up the residential and commercial sectors with the portion of the industrial sector consumed by buildings, it totals 48% of the total energy consumption! If you look at electric consumption by itself, 75% goes to operate buildings. With the projected increase in electrical demand planned to be met by coal-fired power plants, the impact of buildings is even more important. Quite simply, buildings are both the biggest problem and opportunity.
Mazria also points out that over the next 30+ years, we will build approximately half again as much new square footage as already exists and we will renovate about 50% of the existing square footage. This means that in the year 2035, three quarters of the built environment in the U.S. will be either new or renovated. This gives design and construction professionals the largest responsibility for making a real difference, but as Schwarzenegger has said “the time for action is now.”
We know from over 30 years of research and development since the last oil crisis in the early 1970s, that we can reduce the energy consumption in buildings by 50-70% through intelligent conservation and the application of passive solar heating, natural ventilation and careful daylighting. The question becomes how do we get the rest of the way to zero carbon buildings — i.e., buildings which generate all of their energy needs from renewables. This is the “moon shot” challenge to design and construction professionals.
With the loads for heating, cooling and lighting reduced dramatically by the strategies above, the remaining challenge is the electric loads for building equipment, appliances and especially the so-called “plug loads” for computers, televisions, kitchen and office equipment. Conservation in lighting and appliances, especially refrigerators, are the reason why electric consumption in California has been flat for the last 20 years in spite of population growth. This phenomenon has been called the “Art Rosenfeld Effect” because he pioneered the “energy star” rating system for all appliances, especially refrigerators. Natural competition in the market place, as a result, reduced energy consumption by 50%. His colleagues at LBNL pioneered in the development of high efficiency light bulbs with a similar result.
To achieve the goal of zero carbon buildings, the country will need the next generation in conservation technologies in all areas of electric usage, including lighting, appliances, televisions, computers, etc. Fortunately, many of these technologies are in the development phases and are on the way. As demonstrated in California by the “Rosenfeld Effect”, conservation will remain the single most cost effective first step. Nonetheless, buildings will still require electric power; even with reduced loads, and the challenge is can it be met by renewables?
Through our research at the college on the application of photovoltaics and wind technologies to buildings, we have discovered recent commercially available breakthroughs which are extremely promising. By integrating photovoltaics (PV) directly into building assemblies, like roofs and curtain walls, i.e., substituting existing materials with PV materials, the cost effectiveness of PV is already competitive in some markets, especially when compared with peak power. When the next generation of efficiency achieved in the lab (20%-40%) is brought to market in 3-5 years, the integration of PV into building assemblies should become a matter of course for designers.
The story about the integration of small-scale wind machines into building design is equally promising. A new generation of vertical axis machines, double-helix spiral-like rotors, seems to have solved many of the prior problems. Quiet, non-vibrating, effective at low speeds and multi-directional, their applications on roofs and facades offers multiple design opportunities.
When both of these technologies are combined, we have discovered that they have the potential of providing more than 100% of the total electric loads, on an annual average basis, after careful conservation. Yet, the final challenge is overcoming the intermittent timing of these renewables. What do you do if there is no sun and no wind, and you are unable to capture excess energy (when available) by running the meter backwards, i.e., using the grid as storage?
The final step to zero carbon buildings, for instance providing the backup to wind and solar, comes from a surprising source — the waste streams. In our research work on sustainable neighborhoods in China, we have discovered that food wastes, the sludge from primary sewage treatment and green wastes from the landscape, urban gardening and agriculture together generate a significant energy resource in the form of biomass. New technological breakthroughs in biogas generation use a two-stage anaerobic process to convert as much as 80% of the potential energy in the biomass into biogas — methane and hydrogen. This energy source can be put to many uses, for example: providing gas for cooking, compressed gas for gas-powered vehicles, or powering gas-electric turbines for the base or back-up electric loads.
For this technology to be cost effective, however, it needs a minimum flow of biomass material equal to about 8-10 tons per day, or the waste created by a mixed-use, high density neighborhood of approximately 5,000 units of housing (15,000 people). While the construction of such a neighborhood is the exception in the U.S., 10-15 of these kinds of neighborhoods are completed every day in China. We have discovered that the three renewable energy sources, wind, solar and biomass together can provide all the energy for such a neighborhood. Indeed, the neighborhood can be a significant energy exporter to the grid — especially at peak demand during summer afternoons. The challenge of realizing such an integrated and self-sustaining system of energy supply is that it requires a whole new way of doing business for the design and construction industry. The developer, architect, landscape architect, civil engineer, mechanical engineer, city departments of planning and public works, have to operate under a whole new paradigm of collaboration and integration. But the rewards are planetary; zero carbon neighborhoods could become a reality.
In the end, the goal of achieving a carbon neutral future in the building sector is at least several years off, at the building scale. It will take multiple technology breakthroughs in all areas of energy conservation and renewables before the building will be an appropriate scale for supplying all of its own energy needs. On the other hand, a carbon neutral future is already achievable at the neighborhood scale. The question is: will planning, design and construction professionals seize the opportunity?
At CED we are striving to provide the educational foundation for our students which will prepare them to seize a leadership role in this effort. UC Berkeley tops a short list of institutions with the unique combination of breadth and depth needed to develop innovative design solutions and approaches to public policy. It requires not only the collaboration of multiple faculty in our three disciplines, but also reaching across campus to civil engineering, the energy and resources group and anthropology, listed below. CED is the only school in the country where this new paradigm has a chance of being realized and is exemplified by:
Elizabeth Deakin and Robert Cervario’s work in transit-oriented development and the making of walkable and bikeable cities with Michael Southworth
Tim Duane and Randy Hester’s work to reconcile competing demands on the ecosystem on the island of Hawaii
Judith Stilgenbauer’s work on green infrastrutures — the multi-functional and productive features of landscape
Galen Cranz’s examination of the social and cultural bases of a sustainable lifestyle
Our building science faculty – Cris Benton, Gail Brager, Ed Arens, and Susan Ubbelohde — work on energy conservation, daylighting, lighting controls, interfloor mechanized systems, dual mode buildings and user response to environmental quality
Our collaboration with The Berkeley Institute of the Environment (BIE) and Energy Resources Group (ERG) faculty – Inez Fung, Dan Kammen, et.al — on renewable energy systems, solar, wind, and biomass
Anthropology Ph.D. student Shannon May’s work on the post occupancy evaluation of China’s fact eco-village
The greatest challenge is developing the institutional structure and pedagogy to create an effective framework for this interdisciplinary collaboration to flourish. The impact that the built environment has on our planet’s future has never been more critical to our survival and presents us with our greatest opportunity for change.