Every semester at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a new group of students participate 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, Madona Cumar, and Nick Coffee, student who completed the program, share their insights, take-aways and future plans.
Bauer-Winston Learning Community
With a degree in interior design, Clara Winston was well prepared for her graduate program in Architecture at Georgia Tech. 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.
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 utilized passive strategies to reduce energy consumption while emphasizing living with the landscape.
The design for the Bauer-Winston Learning Community emphasizes the importance of cohesive and sustainable living with the natural environment. 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.
Madona Cumar chose to participate in Michael Gamble’s program to fine tune her expertise in current trends in sustainable design. She was drawn to the collaborative aspect of the program, participants work with students in other disciplines to complete their projects, mimicking a realistic professional experience in architecture. In the first semester of the program participants studied demographic data of existing housing options. In the second semester students used the demographic data to select housing options most suitable for the location, and then implemented strategies like solar shading or rainwater harvesting to make the buildings more sustainable.
Ms. Cumar said, “my main goal as an architect is to design in a way that is sensitive and sensible to occupants’ needs.” The program has helped her to thoughtfully design buildings in ways that continue to give back to the occupants and to the environment. She hopes to continue to create functionally efficient and aesthetically pleasing spaces for a variety of clients.
A Walkable Community
Similar to Madona Cumar, Nicholas Coffee, who completed the program in the spring of 2014, he and his team, Katie Braswell and Jim Boyer, worked with students in the High Performance Building (HPB) concentration to design his prototype. To better understand the effectiveness of their design strategies Coffee and his team worked with HPB students who carried out assessments of the designs to measure their actual efficiency.
He and his team chose a local site in Atlanta to use as the theoretical location of the project they were designing. The site was adjacent to a Home Depot store upon a large city block-sized parking lot. The studio focused on making the site walkable and more accessible to the community while incorporating the surrounding businesses into the community. The team’s strategies included adding a raised green space over the parking lot and adding mixed housing that included many different sizes of units to accommodate different family sizes and economic groups. Instead of using a standard courtyard style, they included multiple courtyards and smaller community spaces that were speckled throughout the housing development to increase green space and the feeling of community. Coffee said, “The studio pushed me to look more closely at urban architecture as an opportunity for creative design, rather than thinking of every project as starting from scratch.”
The Zero Energy House program at Georgia Tech, funded by the Alcoa Foundation, continues to provide students with the opportunity to learn and implement innovative design strategies focused on improving the surrounding community.
Nicholas Coffee was fortunate enough to travel to Japan through a grant provided by the Georgia Trust. There, he studied and researched preservation architecture with Bjarke Ingels Group which is known for their work on the second World Trade Center. He recently began working with a small local firm in Manhattan.
The Zero Energy Housing Project has been a stepping stone for Madona to learn how to implement positive change. She currently works at TVS Design in the hospitality studio. In the future, she would like to return to India to work with local craftsmen and design for lesser privileged communities, using traditional methods of less wasteful construction.
Clara 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.