An Attempt At Architecture

December 13, 2007

I was asked recently by Geoff to describe my thesis, as I had mentioned it earlier. I’ll admit it’s a little hard to write about, as it forces me to try and define something that is still very fluid, even though I currently have what looks more or less like a building.


My site is in Chicago on the north side near Lake Michigan. The neighborhood is mostly 2-4 story residential, commercial, and mixed use construction, and many of the buildings are 100+ years old. I’m creating a series of apartment row houses to study the dwelling needs of the modern family and how solutions to those needs can be carbon neutral. While these structures will sit next to each other on site and interact as an apartment community, they are also an iterative process of discrete attempts to create spaces based on different familial conditions. Basically I’m designing them one at a time, each as it’s own study. The point is not to approach architectural perfection, but to examine the continuities and differences within a body of my own work. In each iteration I have been attempting to make private spaces and gathering places (not sure I like the rhyme) and exhibit qualities of simplicity and warmth and sustainability. Here are two of my sketch studies :



While making the structures carbon neutral can influence the architectural language, it often also carries its own set of requirements and research. I’ve accessed local wind data and taken a site model into my university’s wind tunnel to assess the viability of using wind turbines on rooftops. Aerotecture is a Chicago company building turbines for commercial and residential use and has test locations in the same area as my site, so I’m theoretically using their 510V model in an array linked to the main electric grid. I’m planning on linking solar hot water heating to a geo-exchange system to provide radiant floor heating and perhaps even radiant ceiling cooling. 2 foot wide core walls between each design unit will help moderate solar gains, especially those from the non-conditioned access stairwells, which will rely solely on passive ventilation and shading for cooling and the sun for warmth.  Here’s one of my wind studies:


There’s a lot left to do before graduation, as I still have a few iterations to go, plus several decisions about shared spaces, not to mention energy modeling so I can “prove” my carbon neutrality.  I’d welcome any input, so feel free to comment with questions or opinions!



  1. Hi Laura,

    In my previous life as a contract administrator for a canadian architecture firm I oversaw the detailing and construction of a LEED certified gold building (Jean Canfield Building in Charlottetown, PEI) that used radiant ceiling cooling with great success. As you probably know, radiant cooling requires you to not use drop ceilings which mean with embedding infrastructure in the concrete floor/ceilings, leaving them exposed or placing them in an access floor system. We did a combination of all three and while some did not agree with the aesthetics of exposed sprinklers and drain lines it worked well.

    The workmanship of the normally rough concrete formers does become critical as does form choices as a smooth finish requires either plastic form liners, steel forms or virgin plywood to be used in the forming process. All all considerably more expensive than the regular multi use plywood forms normally employed and not necessarily “green”

    Our building also employed a reflective roof to reduce heat gain from the roof, waterless urinals and a storm water cistern for flushing toilets, PV integrated exterior window shades and PV array on the roof, flyash content ion the concrete and extensive natural ventilation and lighting through an atrium and loads of efficient windows.

    Good luck with your project!

  2. Andy,

    Thanks for the wonderful advice! I’ve been speaking with a professor at my university about the radiant ceiling cooling. He mentioned that it’s possible to place a finish on the ceiling, but in my project that detail is a long way from finalized. I’ll be sure to do more research on it after hearing your thoughts. The exposed infrastructure will be reduced though by routing the sprinkler lines off 2′ core walls that have a maximum spacing of 15′ rather than in the floor plates.

    I’ve found it difficult, as I’m sure you have with the Jean Canfield Building, to determine which environmental standards to employ when measuring the “greenness” of your building. My primary goal is to achieve a carbon neutral operating year. Therefore, I’m willing to make concessions in other areas in pursuit of that, perhaps including a less sustainable formwork. It would be nice though to study how the forms can be reused and their material possibilities if I have time before graduation (fingers crossed!).

    I’ll be sure to look at the Jean Canfield Building in my research. Thanks again!

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