Comprehensive Studio, Spring 2022
Global warming is a direct result of the constant human activity. Fossil fuel burning, deforestation and land development are the major anthropogenic causes of air pollution and increase of greenhouse gases. The rising temperatures are originating drastic climatic fluctuations around the globe. Some of the most evident consequences are warmer average years, sea level rise acceleration, stronger and longer wildfires, more frequent and intense heat waves and droughts in some areas, and heavier precipitation and flooding events in others as well as more extreme weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes.
Building enclosures serve as the air, water, moisture and temperature barrier between exterior and interior environments; hence, the outermost layer of the envelope is the most exposed to natural forces. Therefore, design decisions such as the selection of materials and assemblies are crucial as they directly affect the overall building performance. As a physical interface of spatial and environmental exchange, the design of building enclosures must be comprehensively assessed in terms of function, aesthetics, feasibility, durability, maintenance and cost.
Current construction practice in the US uses predominantly disposable materials with short lifespan (30 to 50 years). Concrete construction offers more durable buildings with minimum maintenance, while allowing stronger and more resilient structures and envelopes. High performance concrete enclosures are inherently resilient providing protection against fire, moisture, mold, insects, seismic events, extreme weather conditions and man-made phenomena such as blasts, force protection and acoustic mitigation.
During this studio, students designed a small house located in rural Missouri, which is part of the Tornado Alley zone. The state of Missouri is in Wind Zone IV, wind gusts can exceed 250 mph. Using concrete as the primary constituent material, the home should be able to resist extreme weather conditions – in particular tornadoes. With focus on the design of the building envelope and considering the bearing and resilient capacity of concrete, students envisioned concrete shells able to withstand harsh natural forces.
The design process heavily relied on speculations and findings from experimentations with concrete as a way to elucidate the essence of the material, its properties and its potential architectural applications. Students were introduced to the Sequential Casting Concrete technique and asked to investigate and design within the possibilities and limitations of this methodology. Special emphasis was placed on learning through making. In person, hands-on sessions were dedicated to mold making and concrete cast.