Every semester at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a new group of students participates in the Zero Energy Housing Studio to design, engineer and student-build a 4 to 10 unit Zero Energy Housing Prototype. The prototype will become a living laboratory to test energy efficiency and materials and a demonstration model for market rate, status quo urban housing. Led by Associate Professor of Architecture Michael Gamble, the students aim to create actionable solutions for humane, smartly designed, ultra low-energy and cost-effective urban housing to educate the public via research in the area of energy and design, material and spatial innovation, and community-based participatory design. Clara Winston, who completed the studio in the spring of 2014, shared her insights, take-aways and future plans for the program.
With a degree in interior design, Clara Winston was well prepared for her graduate program in Architecture at Georgia Tech. She joined the Zero Energy Housing Studio to learn progressive and innovative design strategies to become a successful architect. Participants in the studio work together to create designs that push limits and overcome challenges. Winston and her team collaborated with students in the High Building Performance program to design zero energy student housing as they were interested in applying passive cooling techniques and reducing energy consumption without sacrificing space. With an interest in energy modeling and sustainable techniques, Winston and her teammates learned to meet sustainable goals and include dynamic and creative design elements.
Winston takes a lot of interest in and inspiration from her rural surroundings in Georgia which helped guide her designs for her studio project. Most people do not think of the Southeast United States as a center for unique architecture despite everyday structures that inspire and influence architects. As a child in a small Georgia town, she was surrounded by buildings that were designed for the hot, humid climate. The structures addressed modern sustainability concerns in order to use fewer resources and kept costs at a minimum. For instance, many historical buildings in Georgia have traditionally high ceilings, which allow for more airflow and cooling options. The high ceilings elevate the warm air above the living space and the direction of windows creates a free, natural cooling system.
Clara Winston worked with two other students, Ashlynne Bauer Gartner and Elvin Rüyaon a project for the Studio. They worked on a design for the Bauer-Winston Learning Community, a residence hall and community space at Georgia Tech. Winston and her team’s design was inspired by the southern vernacular Dogtrot house and utilizes passive strategies to reduce energy consumption while emphasizing living with the landscape.
Dogtrot homes, sometimes called dog runs, are common along the Gulf Coast and Southeast United States. These two-room houses are separated in the middle by a covered breezeway, which means they require less energy to heat and cool. The cooking and living/sleeping areas are separated by the breezeway, preventing the living space from unnecessary heating and cooling needs.
The design for the Bauer-Winston Learning Community creates a specialized environment catered to students majoring in the biological sciences, but encourages interdisciplinary study among all students. The design establishes the campus as a pedagogical tool for learning, activating the building and its surroundings as a learning tool helps immerse the students in their chosen field and emphasizes the importance of cohesive and sustainable living with the natural environment. Flexibility and versatility are a necessity in student housing.
Winston and her team designed the space to give residents the ability to reinvent an area using movable panels, transformable furniture and sliding doors. Spaces that were once single purpose rooms now have new life as multi-functioning volumes. This type of flexibility will also allow for activities to be scaled based on the number of participants and enable privacy when needed. The intention to combine design and user input created a perfect environment to foster collaboration and community development, where students can customize the spaces of their built environment while maximizing interaction and learning within the natural environment of the campus. The breezeways of the building were designed as connective tissue, allowing for flexible common space to move throughout the building with the option to open and close as needed.
“I’ve been following Lake Flato architects for a while, a firm out of San Antonio that is doing a lot with green design and learning from vernacular architecture. Their “porch house” is inspired by a dog trot and they have created a modular system to customize these homes for any client need while still creating an efficient and environmentally conscious residence,” said Winston.
Winston is also influenced by shotgun houses, traditionally found in New Orleans, these houses feature all the rooms situated in an adjacent row (occupants must walk through the kitchen to get to the bedroom or vice versa). The room alignment allows for airflow through the house when both the back and front door are open.
“Not all of my inspiration comes from vernacular architecture, or even my rural roots. I really enjoy modernism and contemporary architecture, as well. I like a lot of Scandinavian architecture, specifically an architect named Snøhetta,” said Winston.
Her greatest lesson learned from the Zero Energy Housing program was the importance of integrating sustainability goals into the project from the beginning as an integral part of the design process instead of an afterthought or add on.
Winston is currently working at Perkins + Will in Atlanta in the cultural and commercial sector. She would eventually like to teach and conduct research on new southern typologies of architecture, innovating to design for the evolving culture and climate in a hot and humid place like Georgia.