Research

The novelty of this research is the integration of active and passive concepts of sustainability into a single building envelope with motivation to determine and fine-tune the performance of both.

Traditional buildings combine conservative, selective and regenerative modes of environmental management to conserve heat, to admit selective elements from the exterior environment, and to restore favorable conditions by artificial means. Massive walls are passive elements that conserve heat and return it to the interior environment after the heat source is no longer active in the winter, and delay the effects of solar heat in the summer. Glazed windows are selective elements that admit light but exclude the direct sun, and louvered grilles admit air but exclude visual intrusions. Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems and artificial lighting restore desired temperature and light settings at energy expense.

Recent building paradigms use energy production systems to harvest the power of the sun, the wind, or biomass, and responsive systems to supply adjustability of performance “in response to” the weather conditions or the user preferences.

In the prototype house unit that was built in Trento, the form and the fabric of the building envelope have been used as a filter of the external environment, in combination with dynamic control and energy production systems. A “customized sustainability” approach allowed to determine how we could achieve optimal performance. This approach involved the investigation of complete regional weather data and dynamic simulation for illuminance and sun-path, for the specified geographic location in Trento, Italy, during the 12 months of the year.

Dynamic Facade – The southern-facing facade of the prototype house is “active”. Each window of the facade is an overlay of two electronically switchable materials: the first PDLC layer controls the desirable degree of visibility to secure privacy; the second electrochromic layer controls the necessary degree of sunlight penetration to secure optimal light and thermal performance. In addition, each window can be automatically opened and closed to provide optimized ventilation.

High Thermal Mass – Comprises the “passive” building envelope and the base of the prototype house. It secures high thermal resistance and low conductivity. It absorbs heat during the winter and it prevents excessive heat during the summer. The high thermal mass envelope and base are constructed from locally sourced, natural materials. Simulation enabled to calculate the thermal gain from the sun, through the south facade, at different times of the year, and to compute the thermal absorption capacity of the envelope.

Energy Production – A solar/cogeneration system produces the required electrical power and heat for the prototype house through combination of two systems: a) a solar system, including a solar thermal plant and a PV system; b) an energy box, including energy storage and a cogeneration pellet boiler. An energy management system balances the production of electricity, heating, cooling, and hot water under the varying conditions.

Autonomous Control – All house systems are controlled by a central, autonomous control system. It combines feedback provided by sensors, statistical climatic and ambient data to evaluate building performance in real time. Using this data along with the long term goals and the preferences of the inhabitants, the control system balances risk and predicts future user behavior to provide optimum performance.

Modularity – The design of the active and passive systems of the prototype house was developed as a kit of independent, exchangeable parts. This allows for flexible reconfiguration and transportation and provides a superb test-bed for experimentation. Transportability is secured by dimensioning the house modules to fit within standard shipping containers.

Reference
Kotsopoulos, SD, Graybill, W, Casalegno, F, 2013, “Designing a Connected Sustainable Living Environment”, International Journal of Architectural Computing (IJAC2013), Special Issue: form(in)formation, issue 2, vol. 11, pp. 183-204.

Illuminance and Raytracing SIMULATIONS
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Artificial Light
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