Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Topological Optimization : Architectural Element : Cantilevered Steel Truss

Topological Optimization  is a mathematical approach that optimizes material layout within a given design space, for a given set of loads and boundary conditions such that the resulting layout meets a prescribed set of performance targets.

Why is this an valuable design process to arrive at a conceptual design proposal? And if it is valuable why has it not been implemented in the arena of architecture to a much higher degree?

Well it is a valuable design process and it has been implemented in architectural design through trial and error in the past but it has not been available as a method of informing design for the average architect until the advent of the computer and easy to use advanced software in the past decade. 

Architects have taken a quantum leap towards recognizing the relationship of topological optimization and nature through simple studies of structural elements commonly used in traditional building methods. They have discovered through the use of advanced software programs that living structures found in nature are inherently optimized to make use of the least amount of material for "the given design space, set of loads, boundary conditions" and function. 

The following research shows a simple architectural element : a cantilevered truss : and the use of Topological Optimization to minimize the use of material - in this case a large steel plate.

First we will define the Problem Statement & Design Criteria

The next step is to calculate to initial material weight and define the constraints of the design space. In this case we are using a set size (boundary) for the cantilevered structure and we will be using steel as our material to calculate the initial weight. We will also use an estimated maximum load in addition to the weight of the steel to find out optimized plate geometry.

Having set up the material layout and design space with the set loads I used the following procedures to implement a design through discoveries in Topological Optimization and verifying structural analysis models. This can take many forms using many different methods. In this case I used the following sequence of procedures to initialize,produce a design model and verify.

The first step in the analysis is to make sure the base case plate structure is feasible.

Now that we know the base case works so we can move on to Topological Optimization of the element. In this case we will be importing the geometry into Altair and will set up model and performance targets.
Next we set-up the model to verify displacement matches our initial model. If it does we know it is calculating the loads correctly and we can move on to the Topology Optimization stage.

The stresses match - the next step is to run the Topology Optimization of the cantilevered plate.
The final frame shows our optimized cantilevered truss. The next step is to import the geometry into the structural analysis software in order to verify the optimized geometry.

Lastly we can plug the new geometry into the design model to envision the aesthetic quality and present to the client for approval or further input.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thick as a brick ... but kinda smart. Self Shading Modular Masonry and Glass Blocks

Thick as Brick - but kinda smart

Something Old ... Something New

Modular Brick has been around for thousands of years. In all that time it has not changed
much. Aside from modularization of size, variations in color and surface texture and/or glazing the brick has remained relatively unchanged. There is a reason for this – It is a great building material. It is easy to make and easy to assemble on the construction site. The aesthetic variety it offers in it's limited size and applications is mind boggling. With the advent of the use of the computer in automated manufacturing and fabrication it is time the brick underwent a good 21st Century face-lift. Literally and figuratively. 

The building industries most beloved material has never performed in this way before. 
This project shows how one can improvise on a brilliant time tested modular building block
to make it environmentally responsive to sun in order to cut heating costs in the winter and
cooling costs in the summer. Through customization and location optimized face geometries this idea
begs the question : Can one improvise on the common brick in order to bring it into the 21st Century and why is this an exercise worth undertaking. Well the short answer is because this simple idea might create new green construction jobs, help people save money on heating and cooling costs and give folks an environmentally responsive alternative to common brick.

Brick and Glass Block have been used together in construction quite often since the industrial revolution. When brick sizes became standardized the glass block found a practical partner in construction. Glass block evolved to work with the standardized masonry unit sizes and in some cases (within single wythe non-load-bearing wall construction) the glass block became an interchangeable unit component. The two materials are in many ways very different. For instance brick can be erected in many differing patterns depending on what kind of wall one is building (structural or non-structural). It has the capacity to bear great compressive weight and is long lasting and very stable as evidenced in many millennia old buildings still in existence. A great resource to learn about this versatile building material can be found at the Brick Industry Association: www.gobrick.org

Glass-block on the other hand can only support it's own weight and that of limited material stacked directly on top of it to a degree. It is almost always installed in a stack bound due to specialized grid systems for waterproofing in exterior applications which limits the variety of applications that brick has in spades. It's a limited material in comparison to brick masonry. But it has one outstanding quality a brick does no have. Transparency.  
In this study the focus was to look at a tried and tested construction material and see how it might be rethought. See what the new possibilities might be when combined with contemporary technologies.
This is the kernel within the idea of Something Old ... Something New. How can a small change in something as common as a brick help it to work even better.

Something Old Something New also investigates how new technology within 3D modeling environments and analysis software can meld with standard modular building components that we use every day and what types of new benefits the resulting interaction might have.  As a matter of fact, we need not replace traditional materials – we can just give them a little nip and tuck in order to remake them into a 21st Century construction material.

Conclusion : SELF SHADING Modular Masonry and Glass Blocks

Why ?
● To save energy through self shading and solar harvesting
● Embedded with Fresnel lenses to amplify heat and photovoltaics to harvest solar energy

How does it work?
● The geometry does all the work
● The face shape is realized with the use of environmental analysis software and 3D modeling
How will it be made?
● Using existing masonry factories.
● The firing system is exactly the same only the face geometry and thermal aperture are new


● There are three options. 
  1. a solid state energy producing aperture and concentrated photovoltaic micro panel embedded within the block and plugged into a grid system. (High Cost)
  2. a simple modular masonry unit with the self shading face and sealed aperture. (Low Cost)
  3. a simple modular masonry unit to be used in double wythe load bearing exterior walls. (Low Cost)

● The firing system is exactly the same. The face will be custom molded for the particular area of the planet the wall will be erected. For the aperture and photovoltaic option two additional steps are required  in post firing.
Many thanks go out to my partner on this project Nelson Hernandez. We developed the concept and
prototypes in the Charles V. Schaefer Jr. School of Engineering Lab at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken - New Jersey.
Thanks also goes out to John Nastasi for his valuable input throughout development of the concept and fabrication of the prototype all of which took place in 2008.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


If you are reading this you might be wondering if the title of this blog entry is a 'typo'. Just so you don't feel sorry for me (and if you do I thank you graciously) but even with my inadequate spelling skills let me reassure you a typo it is not. 'Wormi-Culture' is a take on vermi-culture or vermi-composting and the culture that surrounds this method of composting. Since my post on Bernard Shaw's writing hut garnered a bit of interest I thought I would follow with another shed. In this case, one I was involved in designing. This post highlights a project we (Michael Waechter, Charlie Friedlander, Peter Bowman and myself) worked on at Waechter Architects a year or so ago. We developed a concept shed which is designed to produce heat through it's floor by the process of vermi-composting. The shed also makes use of the usual suspects of green architecture i.e. solar harvesting for heat and energy and water harvesting. We plan to build this shed sometime in the future (if someone would give us a grant) to see if the idea has real benefits in real world use.

The idea of heating through composting is not new. It has been a topic of discourse and some study since 1987. Here is a link to a great website where you can find useful information : http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/compostheatedgh.html This information is based on manure composting and not vermi-composting which is much better suited to mainstream use for obvious reasons.

After discovering that vermi-composting created heat we joked a bit about what the benefits might be to having a vermi-composting (insulation) first floor in a single family residence. The joke soon turned into a serious discussion on how this idea can in fact be viable and beneficial. We naturally thought that there might be some major drawbacks - like smell, but the more research we did the more we discovered that the method of vermi-composting did not produce offensive odors. If done correctly vermi-composting will produce an earthy scent but nothing that you would find unpleasant in the great outdoors. So was born the idea of the 'Vermi-Floor'. Maintaining a 'Vermi-Floor' might be more labor intensive than just throwing waste in a composting bin but the benefits greatly outweigh the labor involved.

 I won't get into any great detail in this post but I will follow this post with more ideas on the 'Vermi-Floor' and how it can be implemented in a typical single family home. For now, I'm just posting our study for a 'Green Shed' designed to be plugged into a park potentially and used along side a community garden. The Park was the perfect location for this prototype shed. The Park can supply a great amount of natural material perfect for traditional composting as well as worm composting. Grass clippings, leaves and natural food waste is easily acquired in a park. Instead of dumping it in a land-fill the waste can be used for a community garden.

More about the evolution of the 'Vermi-Floor' 2.0 in the next post.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

'Environmentally Friendly' since 1930

BLOG SERIES : Enlightening Interviews, Great Architects


William Keck  (1908-1995)
architecture firm : Keck & Keck, Chicago


Brief :

William Keck was born in 1908 in Watertown, Wisconsin. He studied architecture at the University of Illinois and received a B.A. in 1931. After graduating, he joined his older brother George Fred Keck, who was an accomplished architect, in Chicago. One of the most recognized innovations of the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago was the Kecks' glass and steel "House of Tomorrow."
William left the office to serve in the military from 1942 until 1945. Upon returning from service, he formed a partnership with his brother George Fred, establishing the firm Keck & Keck in Chicago.
The Kecks were pioneers in the field of passive solar architecture and avant-garde modern design and received numerous awards for their work. The apartment building they designed and lived in at 5551 S. University Avenue in Chicago has been designated a Chicago landmark. The Kecks were awarded the First Illinois Medal in Architecture from the University of Illinois-Champaign in 1980. William was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1969. He died in Chicago in 1995.

The second installment in a series of interviews with some of the greats in architecture.


Responsibility, Infinity, Nature

BLOG SERIES : Enlightening Interviews, Great Architects


John E. Lautner  (1911-1994)

Brief :

John Lautner designed over 200 architectural projects during his career, but many designs for larger buildings were never realised. His extant body of work is now dominated by his domestic commissions; although he designed numerous commercial buildings including Googie's, Coffee Dan's and Henry's restaurants and the Lincoln Mercury Showroom in Glendale, sadly, most of these buildings have since been demolished. With a handful of exceptions (e.g. the Arango Residence in Acapulco, the Turner House in Apsen, Colorado, the Harpel House #2 in Anchorage, Alaska) nearly all of Lautner's extant buildings are in California, mostly in and around Los Angeles.

The first installment in a series of interviews with some of the greats in architecture.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Design and the Memory of Light


This is a little sketch - story, of the Sheats Goldstein Residence
(Originally designed for Helen and Paul Sheats in 1949 - Architect John Lautner)

 There is an embedded intelligence here ...

In his mid-career John Lautner was approached by Paul Sheats to design a home for him and his wife Helen. He told John stories of how Helen was fond of her childhood memories - running in the forest. Paul Sheats spoke for some time about the magic Helen felt while running through the forest and just looking up into the canopy of leaves above her. They were fond childhood memories and Paul wanted to give his wife a home in which those memories had the potential be revisited.

John listened intently to the stories and began to develop a strategy. Lautner drove out to the forest and began to wander. He tried to image what it might be like for a child to experience the 'magic' of the forest.

He was enamored by the quality of the light dancing through the tree top canopy. He felt the trickle of light reflecting off his body and the ground as he moved slowly up the forest path.

He imaged what he could do to invoke that feeling for Paul and Helen Sheats in the design of their home.
He developed a roof design, which invoked the feeling of light trickling through a forest canopy. He did it by inserting regular drinking glasses into a poured concrete waffle slab. He angled the roof towards the sun in order to optimize the amount of light penetration through the glasses embedded within the roof. In doing so he also developed the feeling of the space below.

The roof became a hybrid of roof and wall. One corner touches down on the ground. I have never seen this done in any other building before this. This is the first instance where roof is also wall that I can think of. This came about only through his genius and listening to the client. The interaction with Paul and Helen guided him to the final design. Because if this, I find the Sheats Goldstein residence to be an example of Honest Architecture.

Sadly the original ceiling has been clad over with wood. The idea in a way has been kept alive by not covering the exterior section of the waffle slab. Although the ceiling is now hidden the story the idea are still alive. Let's hope that the original roof is restored and exposed to show 'what can do, the memory of light'.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

George Bernard Shaw and The Marvelous Spinning Shed (LIGHT)

There is something very personal about a work hut. It is a place where first and foremost - work - is done. So right off the bat we need to consider what kind of work is to be done and what are the preferred working conditions of the - worker -.As an architect I tend to begin a project by getting to know the person I am working with before I begin to develop a design. I desire to find out what is important to the client. Through experience I have developed an understanding for what works in certain situations and what might be an aesthetic preference. With that in mind I appreciate the fact that each person is different and tends to - see - things differently. That is what makes every project exciting and can potentially lead to new discoveries and wonderful results.


Whether I design a space for an artist or a writer something as fundamental as light can take on a variety of meanings.
For instance, what type of light does a painter prefer. Does the artist paint from life? Do they prefer direct light or a diffused light. Does a writer enjoy the warmth of sunlight on her back? What time do they write? Do they want to sit in a room in which a wall has been bathed in sun - a warm wall? Is he amused or inspired by the way light dances through the leaves of trees? If so, what kinds of trees? Or, what kind of construct can simulate the memory of light dancing through trees ... (the subject of my next post). One natural element can have infinite design and experiential possibilities.

The fundamental way in which we experience light in the arena of - work - led me to examine this writing hut designed by writer George Bernard Shaw. The first time I read about the GBS writing hut was in a book entitled " A Little House of My Own : 47 Grand Designs for 47 Tiny Houses". Now let me just say that looks can be deceiving. At first glance this is just a simple box with a door and three windows; two of which are fixed. It has a sloping roof to shed rain and snow build up but there is a little secret hidden below. Literally. The hut is built atop a large Lazy Susan.

Now, Lazy Susans have been around for a while. Some even date back to the early 1700's. Vanity Fair advertised a Lazy Susan in 1917, but it took the creative mind of Bernard Shaw to see it's potential when combined with a writing hut. The idea was ingenious for a few reasons.

1. It allowed George to write in his hut without having to use an artificial light source. He would just get up (which was a good and healthy thing to do anyway) and give the hut a little turn towards the light.

2. It limited the windows needed for direct light to enter the space. This is important in cold weather. More glass in the cold months made for a cooler working space. By limiting windows to one side of the shed (with only one other window opposite the door) made it possible to work in the hut even in cooler months.

3.The direct sunlight entering the hut created passive solar heating within. Limiting the windows to the one side facing the sun also reduced the amount of heat loss.

4. Last but not least, Bernard was able to pivot the hut in the summer to create a shaded space (passive shading) whenever he desired to do so. Opening the only operable window opposite the open door created natural ventilation.

Shaw's hut is a beautiful example of function based on nature. It might not be aesthetically pleasing, but there is a beauty to it's functionality. For that reason I think it is an example of an honest architecture.