2020 AIA/ACSA Intersections Research Conference: CARBON

Fall Conference


April 22, 2020

Abstract Deadline

July 2020

Abstract Notification

Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, 2020

Virtual Conference


11:00am EST


12:15pm EST

Research Sessions

2:00pm EST

Closing Session: NEXT STEPS

Friday Schedule


Carbon + Health

Carbon + Health Plenary

11:00am – 12:00pm (EST): 1 HSW Credit

Mixing public health experts, practicing architects and academic labs, this panel will touch on the varied ways carbon affects our personal lives and health. Panelists will present implications for both air and water pollution mitigation as well as touch on pathogen reduction techniques to utilize in our built environment.

Erica Cochran Hameen
Carnegie Mellon University

Mara Baum

Scott Deitchman
Gordon & Rosenblatt

Mark Fretz
University of Oregon

Carbon + Health: Concurrent Sessions

12:15pm – 1:45pm (EST)

Design for Human Health

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Elliott Gall, Portland State University

Incremental Development Manual: The Ger Innovation Hub, Mongolia

Joshua Bolchover
The University of Hong Kong

The traditional Mongolian dwelling or ger is a resilient, engineered artefact that has evolved in direct correlation to the demands of nomadic life. It is designed for portability and all of its component parts are prefabricated and can be bought at everyday markets. A ger costs between 600USD-1000USD, making it the most economical form of housing in the city. However, its mobility, affordability and reproducibility have contributed to a rapid urbanization process in the city of Ulaanbaatar, resulting in the creation of sprawling districts with no basic infrastructure that nevertheless house over 70% of the city’s population, (1). The cold winters mean that each household in these ger districts uses around 3.8-5 tonnes of unrefined coal as their main heating source, contributing to toxic air pollution reaching levels reported to be 133 times higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline, (2). Families collect water from kiosks making at least 8 trips per week and 95% have access only to pit latrines, (3). In this respect, the ger districts resemble a potential, dystopian future world: A world with an extreme climate, a scarcity of water, a dependency on coal-based fossil fuels, acrid air, polluted soils, unhealthy dwellings, and a lack of community cooperation. It sheds light on what could happen should we underestimate and ignore the climate crisis as an integrated problem that requires the invention of new spatial typologies, environmental tactics, and the engagement of residents. The aim of the project is to create an Incremental Development Manual as a strategic framework for sustainable and affordable district upgrading. This paper will report on one component of this Manual, The Ger Innovation Hub, a prototype for a community centre that demonstrates a methodology to engage the climate crisis through the intersection between research, design practice, and education. The process includes fieldwork and household surveys, environmental modelling, community workshops, student design-build courses, event programming, financial planning, and in-use performance testing. The paper will document how this methodology is able to generate knowledge exchange and impact to various stakeholders at each stage of the project: from inception, to construction to post-occupancy. It will explain how the project innovated with passive environmental strategies to provide a low-cost solution to reduce energy consumption and the reliance on coal as a heating source. Operational since January 2020, the article will report on the effectiveness of the prototype in terms of its environmental performance through the analysis of temperature data as well as its capacity to enable resident participation to gradually strengthen the community and forge new methods of collaboration. The future implications of larger scale implementation of the method, as well as the building, will also be discussed. Although a singular building, the project demonstrates how the synergy between teaching, practice and research conducted by a lab within the University can lead to multiple forms of impact on a range of different stakeholders. This method shows how the design and construction of buildings can pioneer an integrated approach to the climate crisis.

From Carbon to Human Health; The Lifecycle of Fossil Fuels, Toxic Polymers and Their Manufacture in Philadelphia

Franca Trubiano
University of Pennsylvania

The ubiquitous use of plastics in architectural design and construction obfuscates the very real human health risks which exist when polymers—derived from petroleum, coal, or natural gas—are used in the building industry. For more than fifty years, a majority of construction materials have been engineered using polymers for the purposes of achieving a range of advanced performance capacities. Materials are widely manipulated using fossil fuel derivatives for augmenting structural strength, moisture resistance, form finding, or general weathering. Polyvinyl chlorides, for example, are used in plumbing supplies, exterior sheathing, interior surfaces, furniture, and landscaping, for these reasons. Indeed, nearly everything in our built environment is permeated by chemicals derived from fossil fuels. This is obviously problematic for carbon emissions; it is all the more critical in what concerns human health. More than half a century following the deliberate and orchestrated flooding of the construction market with inexpensive plastics, very little data is disclosed about the potential health risks associated with adopting such large quantities of nonrenewable, nonrecyclable, and wasteful materials. This is the subject of this paper. Architects, engineers, builders, clients, and the general public are poorly informed on the toxic accumulation of highly synthetic building polymers that originate in carbon intensive fossil fuel industries and that saturate our air, water, and physical bodies. In response, this paper reports on the results of a funded research project aimed at identifying the sources, risks, and impacts of using such materials in the building industry. Funded by the XXXXXX Center at the University of XXXXX, the project studies site-specific material flows involved in the lifecycle of a set of polymers been manufactured in the Philadelphia region. Invisible to most, yet present in many communities, are industrial sites which distill, manufacture, and fabricate the polymerized materials that pose the highest risks when building. This has been the case in the city of Philadelphia where for decades fossil fuels and their derivatives intended for the building industry have been manipulated, with some risk. This paper identifies critical questions associated with such carbon intensive practices, in structuring a research protocol for gathering data and for collaborating with medical professionals tasked with measuring the environmental and medical costs associated with building-based polymerization. The project’s allied goal is to identify policy priorities for the (AEC) industry aimed at evaluating the Human Health (HH) impacts of using fossil fuel (FF) based polymers in the built environment. Central to this, is the creation of an industry based, Life Cycle Index of Human Health in Building (LCI-HHB) which measures and diagrams the health risks associated with each moment in a material product’s lifecycle. The means for creating such an Index are equally the subject of this research, which requires an immediate focus on material data disclosures, changes in how we educate ourselves on the ‘nature’ of materials, and significant policy initiatives that de-incentivize architects and the building industry from using the cheapest, most carbon-intensive, and most toxic of materials—plastic. This too, is the focus of this paper.

AiR: An Augmented Reality Social Media App for Participatory Air Quality Data Acquisition and Visualization

Biayna Bogosian
Florida International University

The history of Los Angeles (LA) urbanism is entangled with conversations around air quality. Yet, year after year, LA has been ranking worst in the U.S. for air quality issues. Although LA and similar cities have been adopting policies and promoting sustainable developments, many of these initiatives have concluded that any long term success also requires investing in the environmental literacy of the public. So, if citizen participation is key in addressing environmental challenges, can a participatory Augmented Reality (AR) platform, similar to Pokémon Go, start a public conversation about air quality? For us, the solution for this application (app) is in creating a dialogue between the citizens and the policymakers. After studying citizen-science projects, we observed that almost all apps are mobile, and display information as 2D tables and plots. Additionally, the initiatives that require sensors, overtime have seen a decline in participation due to the maintenance criteria. Also, the majority of these participants were already environmentalists. Thus, it is crucial to not only create a robust AR and Internet of Things (IoT) platform but also focus on sustaining the project. In this context, we have developed AiR, an AR air quality data acquisition and visualization mobile app that facilitates citizen participation through a series of interactions with pollution data, communities, and policymakers. AiR is a mobile AR platform that is both GIS and IoT powered. This combination not only enables AiR to access and display the 3D map of any location, but it also allows the app to communicate with any geo-tagged data in real-time. AiR app currently utilizes two types of data: 1) data from existing monitoring stations, 2) data from our custom-developed AiR-Kits distributed among the volunteer citizens. Participants can join the platform with or without AiR-Kits, look at their data or their social network’s data, get information about the relationship of data to its context, and understand its influencing policies. Citizens can modify this AR environment by reporting alarming conditions to their social media or recommending interventions such as planting trees for CO2 absorption. These interventions can then be voted on by the AiR community and presented to the policymakers. Our project is currently utilizing several outdoor and indoor air quality sensors that have been distributed by our team. Our platform has the capability to scale up and host a large number of pollution sensors. This will allow us to fully engage with different communities, as well as begin conversations with the city officials that could inform urban environmental policies. To maintain long-term citizen and policymaker engagement, AiR is informative yet entertaining, has a flexible social media component yet addresses user privacy concerns, and, most importantly, relies on both online and physical communities for information exchange and solution-making. These features are continuously assessed for improving the development of the app. We believe that the integration of location-based AR for air quality monitoring enables the citizens to become more engaged with the data while encouraging them to contribute to the reduction of anthropogenic air pollutants.

Transforming Landscapes for Climate Change and Health

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Andrew Thompson, AIA Newark and Suburban Chapter

Designing for Irradiated Shade

Ersela Kripa
Texas Tech University

Stephen Mueller
Texas Tech University

The project develops means of uncovering, representing, and designing for the unseen dangers of IRRADIATED SHADE—a growing yet under-explored threat to cities, buildings, and bodies. The project leverages its position on the US-Mexico border, where physiological effects of solar radiation are relentlessly rendered upon vulnerable populations. The region is host to some of the most-traveled international pedestrian bridges between the two countries. Shade, here more than anywhere, is an “index of inequality,” in a desert city subject to unparalleled geopolitical and environmental stresses, where asylum seekers and detainees reside under makeshift shade structures beneath bridges for days at a time. While increased shade in public spaces has been advocated as a strategy for “mitigation [of] climate change,” it is not a panacea to the threat. Even in apparent shade, the body is exposed to harmful, scattered UVB radiation. This indirect exposure is dependent on the amount of sky visible from the position of the observer. And not all shade structures are created equal. Researchers have found that the overall size of the shade structure, and the design of openings along sides can greatly impact the UPF (UV protection factor), leading some structures to provide inadequate protection. Shade, therefore, is not the discrete condition captured in ubiquitous urban and architectural “sun” and “shadow studies,” which focus only on optical qualities of light and shadow, flattening the three-dimensional nature of radiation exposure and the ultraviolet spectrum. Safe shade is contingent on the nuances of the surrounding built environment, and designers must be empowered to observe and respond to a wider context than current representational tools allow. As climate change accelerates desertification, new methods of measuring, mapping, and designing must be enlisted. Situated in heightened environmental scarcity, in the high Chihuahua desert, the project re-invents solar studies towards a more nuanced representation that uncovers insidious health damages. Irradiated Shade works with remote sensing—using satellite data to assess the built environment at urban and regional scales—and direct sensing—using low-cost UV Index, UVA, and UVB sensors with microprocessors to assess local conditions. The team has developed representational tools to uncover the hidden, non-senseable, dangers of UVB radiation within conditions of apparent shade, producing “shade surplus,” shade deficit,” and “irradiated shade” maps to sensitize planners to these conditions. Additionally, algorithmic drawing techniques aim to redraw the built environment from the perspective of UVB scatter, producing spherically-projected sky dome mappings indicating the risk of UVB exposure in a particular location to sensitize designers to this hidden danger. Irradiated Shade is a structure that protects users from UVB radiation while sensitizing them to the degree of UVB exposure within different locations in the project. Studies have noted that heat-stress is a more reliable initiator of a protective response for organisms exposed to UVB radiation than the radiation itself. This is problematic within irradiated shade, as a higher degree of thermal comfort may not initiate the appropriate protective response, leading to skin damage, eye damage, and the inhibition of the immune system of users of public shade.

A Novel Approach for Investigating Canopy Heat Island Effects on Building Energy Performance: A Case Study of Center City of Philadelphia, PA

Farzad Hashemi, Ute Poerschke, & Lisa Domenica Iulo
Pennsylvania State University

Because of the urban heat island (UHI) effect, an urban agglomeration is typically warmer than its surrounding rural area. Today, UHI effects are a global concern and have been observed in cities regardless of their locations and size. These effects threaten the health and productivity of the urban population and cause general discomfort, respiratory difficulties, and heat-related mortality. Moreover, the increase of urban temperatures has a severe impact on building energy uses by increasing the energy consumption for cooling and, on the contrary, decreasing the energy consumption for heating. The negative impacts of UHI on human welfare have been confirmed broadly during the past decades by several studies. However, the effects of increased temperatures on the energy consumption of buildings still need a comprehensive investigation. Building energy performance is influenced by ambient temperature, while buildings themselves are one of the principals for changes to their surrounding temperature through their heat and CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Notably, the daily, seasonal, and spatial impacts of the phenomenon on various building typologies need to be studied inclusively. Moreover, considering the UHI effects at the early stages of the design process is still not pervasive due to the lack of straightforward and convenient methodologies to include these effects in the estimation process of buildings’ energy consumption. To fill the mentioned gaps, a novel methodology of coupling the Local Climate Zones (LCZs)1classification system and the Urban Weather Generator (UWG)2 model is proposed in this study to evaluate the UHI impacts on the energy consumption of various building typologies positioned in the most populated area of city of Philadelphia, Center City. The study area has grown so much over the last 15 years that now ranks second only to Midtown Manhattan when it comes to people living in the heart of a city. This parametric methodology provided reliable weather data in the format of .epw called modified Typical Meteorological Year (mTMY) data comprising the canopy heat islands effect in the scale of an urban block or a neighborhood. The initial results of this study show an average of 2.7 ℃ (with the maximum of 3.3 ℃ and the minimum of 2.3℃) temperature difference in three sequential summer days between LCZ1-Compact High-rise and reference TMY3 weather data recorded at Philadelphia International Airport. The generated weather data then were incorporated into an Urban Building Energy Model (UBEM) to simulate the spatiotemporal differentiation of energy demand for cooling and heating end-uses at each building typology inside Center City using two scenarios of weather data i.e. mTMY and TMY3 data. The findings of this study are helpful for climate-sensitive design purposes and will open up the discussion for considering geographically appropriate UHI mitigation policies by designers and policymakers

An Ectothermic Approch to Heating and Cooling in Buildings

Alexandros Tsamis, Youngjin Hwang, & Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

In the 1950s, with his ‘Neutralizing Wall’ project, Le Corbusier proposed a radically unique building envelope in which air-based radiant pipes were embedded in its thickness, as mediators between the interior and exterior climate of a building [1]. As a system, it would dynamically optimize heat transfer between distinct environments by reducing their temperature difference. What Le Corbusier proposed is a dynamic “thermal mass” behavior that would allow a more efficient heat transfer between inside and outside. Unlike the predominant model at the time which understood the building envelope as an “isolator” [2], Le Corbusier’s Neutralizing Wall showed great potential in a different type of model for a building envelope, one that can actively exchange heat between interior and exterior climates. Today, it is a well-known fact that the Built Environment (construction and operations) is responsible for nearly 40% of global energy use, significantly contributing to carbon emissions [3]. Targeting a carbon negative future would require a rethinking of the way we heat and cool buildings, distancing ourselves from the predominant model for the building envelope as a boundary that excludes the weather and instead adopting alternatives that transform the building envelope to a mediator that actively regulates heat exchange. In this paper we explore the potential for a building boundary that actively heats and cools a building by forming dynamic relationships with its environment. Most de-carbonizing efforts today focus on realizing net-zero operational carbon either via the production and distribution – locally or through the grid – of renewable energy or via passive house strategies that target the reduction of the active energy demand (figure 1). We propose a third alternative. Instead of an ENDOTHERMIC model for heating and cooling in which energy (renewable or not) is brought in the interior, transformed by an electro-mechanical system and then distributed, we propose an ECTOTHERMIC system that dynamically forms a relationship with its environment, by choosing to absorb or release heat directly from or to the environment. In this case the building skin does not act as an Insulator but instead it becomes an active heating and cooling system. From a design perspective, we will show a modular building energy system, comprised of a double hydronic heating and cooling layer. In essence, we are developing for a building, the equivalent to a vascular system that can move liquids at different locations in order to thermo-regulate. We will show how this vascular system can use renewable energy resources, sun, wind and geothermal, as heating and cooling sources for a building. (figure 2) From a more technical perspective, since all simulation tools available today assume an endothermic approach, we will show results from simulating computationally an ectothermic heating and cooling system [4],[5]. We will also show preliminary results on a physical experiment. We are developing a weather chamber, which can – on an hourly basis – generate an artificial version of the weather from data, in order to test how our system would dynamically respond. (figure 3)

The New Normals: Architecture Under Climate Change Uncertainty

Justin McCarty
The University of British Columbia

Climate is a dynamic construct that humans have developed to interpret the impact of large physical forces on human culture.1 It can never be made stable. This is however, not to understate the fact that anthropogenic climate change has dire implications for the entire biosphere. Human-induced warming on a global average reached between 0.8°C and 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels in 2017, a somewhat safe threshold has been set at 1.5°C.2 Total warming, spurred by human activity and bio-geophysical feed backs will likely breach this threshold by the middle of the century. The total amount of warming and the impact it will have on the biosphere is an unknown. Climate resiliency is the study and practice of preparing for impacts under this unknown. The source of this uncertainty is the result of a variety of factors from the range in observed historical data to numerical approximation and socioeconomic assumptions. Solving for that uncertainty requires an ensemble of climate models to appropriately characterize the multitude of possible future states of the climate and describe what human actions may lead to those future states instead of others. This range has been characterized through the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) and a suite of narratives that dictate to modelers assumptions about social and economic choice, the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs).3,4 The RCPs and SSPs operate at a global scale and are not necessarily appropriate for use in architectural design, which typically requires much more spatially resolute data. This design project proposes a conceptual framework for managing the uncertainty present in climate change projections through statistical downscaling methods and participatory scenario planning in order to adjust climate model projections for use in architectural design. Through this framework, schematic designs are formulated for a single site and program that characterize possible future states of the climate at the end of the century. These architectural climate models emphasize the quandary that contemporary practice finds itself in – how does one design a more passive building without knowing the exact state of the climate? The models, designed as bioclimatic ideals, are used to design a single building’s trajectory from the present through to the end of the century. The models are employed to find commonalities in design decisions such as siting, orientation, or materiality. They can also be used to evaluate the phasing schedules for a building, determining which aspects of the program may be planned for later in the building’s service life and what is of a more immediate concern. This project is as much about understanding how climate change projections can be downscaled for architectural use as finding a way to interpret the impact a range of projections has on possible architectural outcomes for a site. The result of this process is an architecture that can claim a pathway of resiliency and offer a conceptual map to architects who may find themselves asking these questions as the climate crisis becomes an increasingly significant factor in the design and management of the built environment.

Adaptive Reuse as Carbon Adaptation: Urban Food Production in the under-used parking garages of the future

Erin Horn
University of Washington

Gundula Proksch
University of Washington

Myer Harrell
University of Washington/WeberThompson

The adaptive reuse of buildings represents a significant impact on embodied carbon in the building sector. This is critical in the timeframe between the years 2020 and 2050 when embodied carbon impacts outweigh lifecycle operational carbon impacts of new construction. This is especially true in regions with a “clean” electricity grid based on renewable energy (Design for Energy). This research collaboration between an academic research lab and architecture practitioner addresses the intersection of three critical topics affecting the carbon footprint of the built environment – (1) adaptive reuse of existing buildings, (2) increased availability of electric and autonomous vehicles, and (3) food production in cities. Our aim is to measure and compare the relative impact of the embodied carbon reduction of adaptive building reuse, the operational carbon impact reduction of an eventual transition to autonomous electric vehicles, and the potential to sequester carbon as a benefit from living systems in urban aquaponics operations in adapted parking garages. In the near future, existing parking garages in mixed-use structures will have to adapt to a changing fleet of vehicles – specifically as personal vehicles transition to electric, and increasingly autonomous driving. The transition to electric and autonomous vehicles is a current and near-future trend with significant implications for other sectors. It is estimated that by 2050, 50% of cars on the road will be autonomous, reducing the space needs for structured parking garages (Litman 2020). As a result, there will be underutilized parking spaces in buildings, not well suited for residential units or commercial spaces. This newly available space in existing structures provides an opportunity for productive means of carbon sequestration, particularly for advances in indoor growing systems as an increasingly efficient way to provide food in urban centers while managing water, energy, and nutrient resources. Aquaponic (aquaculture + hydroponic growing) systems optimize food, water, energy, and waste flows and reduce the need for resource input through high efficiency, cyclical exchanges. Integrating and scaling up aquaponic food production systems into cities provides an innovative approach to producing sustainable urban food and mitigating urban environmental challenges. The carbon impact in urban food production systems like urban aquaponics affects the agricultural sector as a whole – saving energy and water in the process of growing food, and reducing the distance food travels from production to consumer. Further, the growing process is carbon-dioxide intensive, providing value in carbon sequestration. The revenue generated by food production in adapted urban garages can also exceed the value provided by their use for storage (Design for Economy). Through case study research, resource and scale analysis, and economic assessment, this project leverages collaboration between practice and academia to explore a promising means of carbon impact reduction through the near-future adaptive reuse of parking garages for urban food production. The relative embodied carbon impacts of adaptive building reuse, operational carbon reduction of transition to autonomous electric vehicles, and sequestration of carbon through urban aquaponics operations are measured and compared to advance and assess the viability of an innovative adaptive reuse concept.

The Future of Single Family Housing

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Christina Bollo, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

There Goes the Neighborhood: How a NZE Passive House Changed the Culture of a Community

Charles MacBride
University of Texas at Arlington

In 2019, after two years of construction, a year of design led by graduate architecture students, countless hours of negotiation between the university, state funding agency, faculty and contractors, a small, single family house was sold to a family excited to be part of a trailblazing and strangely controversial project. While many net zero energy (NZE) and/or Passive House examples have now been completed across the US, small communities, especially in the flyover country of the upper Midwest, have proudly doubled down against the “unknown” of these new models, reinforcing traditional project delivery and a lack of energy codes. This new, PHIUS certified Passive House, along with the larger, self-sustaining grant project it has established, not only serves as an example for students and evolving pedagogy, but also has become a touchstone in the community, challenging the preconceptions of modern design, neighborhood investment, homebuilding practice, and the public image of a university grappling with an evolving “design culture.” The complexities of any architectural project are numerous but often predictable. Like any design-build project with students, this house dealt with its share of delays and changes. And like any grant-funded project, it dealt with additional oversight, reviews and red tape. Now, the emerging, final phase involves post-occupancy monitoring. In addition to ongoing design culture and community challenges, there exists a quantitative realm of data and research garnered from the work. And in contrast to the cautionary response from both the community and university, the new homeowners have embraced the project and its goals. Teaching the homeowners about building performance blends the pragmatics of understanding equipment with the global responsibility and mission of NZE and passive house. The monitoring system provides real-time data on indoor air quality (IAQ), electrical usage, and PV generation;[i] the house itself is a 2000 iCFA two-story, 3BR, slab-on grade with a detached garage. It was designed in many ways as a “case-study,” part of a graduate architecture studio that introduces principles of passive house.[ii] An early decision to work within an existing, walkable neighborhood was established, leading unexpectedly to a very public debate on neighborhood design. The lessons and takeaways from this one house can be told in many ways. It is a reminder that architectural practice requires teaching your client, and often, your community. This paper will focus on the larger impact that the house continues to have on both the community and university. This includes especially the cultural challenges of meeting design expectations, the potential of infill as a community revitalization tool, and convincing a skeptical public that energy consciousness and evolving construction techniques have real value. It will also discuss how these issues, understood and accepted as given within our own design and academic community, are still radically new in this (and many) regions across the country. A discussion of pedagogy and community design will be balanced with quantitative energy data, impact, and continuing observation.

ZERO HOUS(ING) Collaborative and Experiential Education in the Global Urban Housing and Climate Crisis

Cheryl Atkinson
Ryerson University

How can design and architecture make a difference in this time of both housing and environmental crisis? How can education in architecture inspire students to design for impact in people’s daily lives? Zero Hous[ing] is an innovative, housing prototype that uses prefabrication and a carbon sequestering palette to address our current crisis of urban housing accessibility and climate change. This design/build educational project was a multi-disciplinary collaboration between architecture, engineering, and business students and an industry partner. We collaborated on the design and construction of this one-to-one scale test unit using Passive House principles, and built it using our industry partner’s team of apprentice carpenters. This project holistically addresses sustainable housing as a “missing middle” infill design that would readily integrate into the many existing, walkable pre-WW2, low-rise, urban neighbourhoods that dominate the centre of a variety of North American cities; taking advantage of their under-utilized infrastructure of parks, schools, community centres and public transit. This walk-up apartment typology over commercial would intensify and repopulate available low-rise, decrepit east-west arterial streets, while collecting solar energy through its innocuous building-integrated, ‘peel and stick,’ south facing photovoltaic facades and roofs. Research has shown that even with the reduced availability of roof area of some multi-story buildings there is adequate solar collection surface available on south facing facades in many northern latitude cities to power a building of this height. These single-loaded, ’through-unit’, two-storey and stacked row-houses, are designed to optimize daylighting and cross ventilation ts through their upper level lofts and their recessed, south facing terrace courtyards that provide yet a third orientation. Off-the-shelf wood trusses simplified the construction of our custom structural panels and accommodated a deep insulation cavity. A range of natural insulations were explored that included straw-bale, wool, and blown-in cellulose, with mycelium and wood fibre and cork outsulation options also tested. State of the art tapes and membranes ensured an air tight but breathable envelope. The custom panels were built by ten carpentry students and two instructors in a temporary tent ‘factory’ set up in a field for three months using four mobile solar panels to power all power tools and equipment. Our twenty-two structural wall, floor, and roof panels were then craned into place in a day, and then clad over five further days with pre-cut interior and exterior panels. The unit interior is finished with sustainably sourced maple veneer plywood, and the solid ash flooring is reclaimed from the Emerald Ash beetle infestation and pre-installed into each floor panel. The building’s materials were calculated to store 25 metric tonnes of carbon versus the 45 metric tonnes typically added to the atmosphere, using conventional construction materials and methods. At the end of construction only eighteen pounds of un-recyclable waste was produced; the equivalent of four construction-grade garbage bags. Net zero energy use, net zero construction waste, net zero carbon footprint, and net zero cost differential to comparable housing were the achieved goals. The 1100 square foot house is currently inhabited and its energy data is being gathered.

Can Increasing Energy Performance Be a Key to Unlocking Rural Home Affordability?

Mackenzie Stagg, David Hinson, Rusty Smith, & Betsy Farrell Garcia
Auburn University

Bruce Kitchell & Betsy Burnet
Independent Scholars

While the cost of operating homes is a concern for everyone, it is a particularly compounded burden for low-wealth families living in areas of rural persistent poverty. This paper describes a research initiative designed to seek the balance point between up-front investments in improved energy performance and home affordability in support of a pilot, systems-based approach to more affordable rural home ownership.

Rural residents have a higher energy burden when compared to the national average, and rural low-income households face a higher burden than their more affluent neighbors. Furthermore, the South has some of the nation’s lowest energy rates, yet has some of the nation’s highest energy bills and associated energy burdens (Ross). This is further exacerbated by an aging, and increasingly substandard, housing stock (Pendall).

Rural areas have higher rates of homeownership, with rural homeownership at 81.1%, compared to 59.8% in urban areas (Mazur). While home valuation in urban areas is most often based on land ownership, in rural areas home value is largely based on the leveragable asset of the house itself, which can be passed from generation to generation. Therefore, providing homes that are both durable and energy efficient is critical for maintaining housing affordability in rural areas, and developing an integrated approach that links financing mechanisms to housing performance is a key strategy to unlocking affordability.

In a design-build studio format, the authors and their students have revised and constructed multiple versions of the same small, two bedroom prototype home developed for the context of rural Alabama: one built to the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) standard and the other to the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) standard. By constructing two identical prototypes on the same street, with similar orientation, but with differing energy-related details, the authors are able to evaluate the initial cost of construction associated with achieving these two performance standards while simultaneously comparing the monthly energy savings afforded by each approach.

Each home underwent a rigorous process of: 1) computational energy modeling during the design phase to test various envelope assemblies, 2) multiple blower door tests and thermal imaging at key points during construction to assess the specific efficacy of alternative approaches construction detailing, 3) verification of systems and envelope airtightness at the completion of construction, 4) long-term monitoring to evaluate actual post-occupancy energy use against that which was predicted in the initial design phase, and finally 5) post-occupancy engagement with the homeowner allowing for a deeper understanding of the design of end-user education programs that empower families to leverage the high-performance potential of their homes.

Ultimately, these findings provide an invaluable contribution to the  authors’ broader research and development where, in partnership with federal agencies as well as mortgage and insurance providers, the team continues to explore the mechanisms to better integrate both the policies and products necessary to support a new paradigm of truly affordable homeownership to familes in the rural South who need it most.

Mazur, Christopher. “Homes on the Range: Homeownership Rates Are Higher in Rural America.” United States Census Bureau, 08 December 2016.

Pendall, Rolf, et al. The Future of Rural Housing. Urban Institute, October 2016. Accessed March 30, 2020.

Ross, Lauren, et al. The High Cost of Energy in Rural America: Household Energy Burdens and Opprortunities for Energy Efficiency. ACEEE, July 2018. Accessed March 30, 2020.

Closing Session

Next Steps

2:00pm – 2:45pm (EST)

Panelists: Robert Ivy, American Institute of Architects & Michael Monti, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture

Join AIA and ACSA in a discussion of next steps to help the profession move forward to successfully address carbon in our built environment. From mitigation to adaptation our organizations recognize that climate change is here and we need to work together to create a healthier, more livable future. Discussion will introduce priorities and programming for the year 2021 and beyond and highlight points of engagement for members. They will also present organizational climate positioning documents adopted in the past year, such as AIA’s Climate Action Plan, advocacy insights and discuss how members can help guide future planning and current implementation. They will also speak to efforts being made by each organization to put people, communities and equity in the center of design conversations. Upcoming events will also be highlighted, as well as, what’s next for Intersections programming in the coming year and opportunities for further research and partnership.


Nissa Dahlin-Brown, EdD, Assoc. AIA
AIA, Director of Higher Education

Eric Wayne Ellis
ACSA, Senior Director of Operations and Programs