Tuesday, May 10, 2011

House for the Future


The goal of this workshop will be to imbed building systems into a surface in a way that exceeds engineering towards the ornamental. Way were considered so that aesthetics and infrastructure can interface into irreducible composites, foiling the often black and white discussion of formal invention vs. performative problem solving.  The students began by developing surface to strand morphologies. Surface to strand morphologies included pleats, seams, relieves, tracery, delamination, exo and endoskeletons and a number of transformative hybrids. Surface to strand morphologies allow for the design of continuous gradients of flows of force; air fluids and luminosity. By interweaving surface geometry and vector geometry they were able to open up a wide range of behaviors and the ability to reorganize locally in response to particular shaping environments. Ultimately, surface to strand morphologies move beyond the Modern frame and skin categorical, characterized by collages of discreet systems, and the 1990’s topological project, characterized by homogenous smoothness and lack of articulation of systems and subsystems. The site for this project will be the Farnsworth House by Mies Van Der Rohe, establishing a dialogue between the modernist paradigm of endless horizontality and dematerialization and our messier contemporary approach driven by jungle thinking and atmospheric sensations.


The Mitchell Lab systems research and design combines an integration of complex patterning with new HVAC and electrical technologies; the essence of the design is the articulation of a fluid flow system. This system operates performatively and in terms of sensation. Indeed, the goal of the Mitchell Lab was to design a house for the future that explored the argument of transparency through a different language that was used in the Farnsworth House by Mies Van Der Rohe. The Farnsworth house allows views to the outside from every point of the house, giving a visitor the sensation of having a connection with nature while still being protected from its most extreme conditions. Our house of the future explores the argument of transparency distorting the view of the outside while still offering the experience of viewing nature. We can refer this to the sensation of looking through stain glass. In fact, this distorted view is created by transparent ETFE panels separated by rubberized polycarbonate booms; an embedded system within the “membrane” specifically, the booms on the membrane continue onto the surface of the “shell”, an opaque carbon fiber composite structure which includes the HVAC and electrical systems. These systems are characterized by fluid flow articulation.

The documentation of a geothermal system into the house supplies radiant heating and cooling to the house. In our house, the coils collect water from pools inserted into the flood plinth of the house. The radiant heating and cooling fluid circulates through the rubberized polycarbonate booms that are on the membrane of the house. Rubberized polycarbonate is a flexible material that also gives rigidity to the membrane. Therefore, the booms have dual uses: they circulate the fluids that feed both the geothermal and electrical systems, and they provide structural rigidity to the membrane of the house.

The electrical system in our design departs from the standard method used in typical building design. Our design incorporates a grey water collection system, water circulation within booms, and artificial solar leaves developed by scientist at MIT. A description of this process begins with the collection with grey-water from the pools. This water is pumped into a Pump and Storage room where it is stored, purified and injected with phosphate powder that is catalyst for the photosynthetic reaction. Water dissolves the phosphate and is then pumped through the booms into polycarbonate bubbles located within the opaque shell of the house between layers of fiber composites and condensed foam. An artificial solar leaf uses sunlight to the lithium battery complex inside an electrical room, the lithium battery complex receives all power produced by the fuel cell. These batteries will constantly charge during sunlight hours when the reaction occurs. The battery also redirects electricity produced in the system to the pumps in the Pump and Storage room. This electrical system produces more electricity than is actually needed; its efficiency allows electricity to be given back to the grid.

The primary function of the bubbles is to store water and prevent water contamination by pollutants. Hundreds of bubbles are placed with the shell of the house in a grid-like organization, increasing the number of photosynthetic reactions that occur. These bubbles are made of transparent polycarbonate material held in place between a layer of transparent polycarbonate shell and an extremely condensed, yet flexible, foam layer. The placement of the bubbles with layers rater than exposed element supports the argument of embedded systems, what we called “extreme integration”. Also the sizes of the bubbles vary as they are organized in a gradient pattern, with the performative bubbles in a central cluster holding one gallon of water with a single artificial solar leaf each. The artificial solar leaf can produce 45 hours of energy. According to Lori Zimmer; a writer for the design website “Inhabitat”, the leaf created by MIT scientist is composed of silicon, electronics, plus cobalt and nickel catalysts. Only of the size of a playing card, it mimics the process of photosynthesis, supplying the fuel cell with Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms. These individual Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms are sent to a fuel cell where they used to create electricity. An embedded micro-capillarity systems placed between the transparent polycarbonate shell and the condensed foam feeds water into the bubbles while removing separated Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms.

The integrated systems within our house were designed with concern for the future; specifically, the technology implemented in our design can be developed and utilized in countries with weak economies and weak infrastructure. While the bubbles and booms are the main argument for embedded systems, the key component to the design of integrated HVAC and electrical system is the artificial solar leaf. According to Lori Zimmer, the technology of the artificial leaf could be used as an alternate sustainable energy source for use in developing countries. Our futuristic design fro extreme integration goes along with the goal of the Mitchell Lab, to create a new architectural aesthetic that challenges old forms of geometry and seeks bold, pattern-inspired forms.      


The students conducted research on a series of skin typologies that would be conducive to the desired geometry. Their intention was to find a moldable form of materiality that would seamlessly integrate structure, systems, and visual appeal, into one composite shell. The research essentially evolved and was dictated by the chronological constraints of constructability. Each step of the integration moved further into the future of composite skins, the first iteration was a Monocoque structural system with panels of carbon fiber composites on the interior and exterior, the second application involved North Sails 3Di tape application, then a high density foam and composite shell. Carbon fiber is applied in all three of these applications in very different ways. Carbon fiber is extremely useful because of its ability to resist tension but it is very unpredictable in compression

Monocoque structural systems are the most practical and economical solution to form generation at this point in time. Aerospace engineers have been applying this to jets, space shuttles, and even cars for several years now. The steel structure can be assembled on site with traditional means of construction and can easily form the desired geometry. Although this would seem most practical it was assumed incorrect for a house for the future, because it is assumed that in the future architectural skins will be a direct embedment of performance and visual appeal, the lines will be blurred into one object instead of a composition of steel, systems, then panels.

North Sail can hold in tension up to 10000 pounds, it is a mixture of carbon fibers, aramid, and dyneema. When applied to sails the come in almost 20 different blends that are best suited for the particular type of sail. The geometry of the house is designed very well for this type of application because it cantilevers at every edge of the design making it possible to layer the tape in a fashion that will pull the layers into tension. The issue with the tape like plain carbon fiber is that is does not work in compression. So in this application it was decided that the tape be impregnated with resin, which works very well in compression.

The final application was high density foam that would have a shell produced on site. The fibers would be applied directly to the foam mass, wrapped, coated in resin, than sucked to the surface. The foam will then essentially become what is known as a “lost mold” meaning the foam is permanently embedded within the entirely integrated skin. Once again these fibers are only useful in tension so with the impregnation of resin, the compressive strength aspect of structure is addressed.

Along with carbon fiber composites, the students also conducted research on a similar material named E-Glass. E-Glass is a form of fiberglass composite that is used in many different applications today. In thinking of our project, we thought E-Glass would be a more logical solution due to the economic and performative values it features. E-Glass is very lightweight and strong, similar to Carbon fiber composite, but much cheaper. In combination with these features, it also able to be applied as a unidirectional tape, as researched previously. It would face a similar process of production, but would also cut costs drastically. One example of this application is the Monsanto House of the Future previously featured at Disneyland. This house featured certain fiberglass composite applications and was one of the leading forces that pushed composite design to what it is today.


In having composite material make up the entire structure, there is a certain process for construction. The first step of this process is to fabricate the double-milled foam shell to perform as a guide for tape application. These foam pieces would be milled in several separate chunks. After these chunks are milled, we would then start to install the embedded systems on top of the foam. Once the systems are installed we would begin to apply the E-Glass composite to the chunks. To fully seal the pieces as one, the entire chunk would undergo a process of vacu-fusing (in which the entire chunk is surrounded by vacuum packing, air is sucked out applying high amounts of pressure while resin is impregnating the tape layers). Once the chunks are fully constructed, they are then shipped to the site by means of truck transportation. Once the pieces arrive on site we would then lay the concrete plinth foundation. This plinth is molded to fit the shape of the overall house form and also features several pool areas to perform as part of the overall house systems. After the foundation is laid, we would then begin to construct the house by combining the chunks together. The connections of these pieces are a basic male-female connection that is secured with a structural adhesive. With a combination of these materials and construction methods, we are able to achieve a fully integrated structural system.