In 2010, the National Science Foundation (NSF) recognized the need for novel research collaborations in the area of sustainable environmental design. For the first time in history, NSF issued a call for proposals with the requirement that architects be members of proposed project teams. The NSF Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) Science in Energy and Environmental Design (SEED) program includes a specific track focused on Engineering Sustainable Buildings. This program funded ten projects through a peer-reviewed competition of over 200 proposals.
A singular, cross-campus collaboration at UC Berkeley, involving architecture (Maria-Paz Gutierrez), civil and environmental engineering (Slawomir Hermanowicz), and bio-engineering (Luke Lee), was among the first round of EFRI-SEED awards. The Berkeley team proposed the development of a new building technology for water recycling and thermal control based on micro-engineering principles for architecture (see figure 1). NSF awarded $2 million to this project, with Assistant Professor of Architecture Paz Gutierrez serving as principal investigator — the only architect in the nation to lead an EFRI-SEED project.1
With this major grant, the BIOMSgroup (Bio Input Onto Material Systems; www.bioms.info), established at UC Berkeley in 2008 by Professor Gutierrez, is poised to develop new models of interdisciplinary research centered on the design of multifunctional material technologies (see figure 2).2 These technologies hold the potential to introduce pioneering methods to capture, redirect, and transfer energy; to resource water supplies; and to process waste based on micro-engineering principles. BIOMSgroup is developing two other projects that center new methods to resource resources. The Self-Activated Building Envelope Regulation System (SABERS) is also supported by NSF and was developed by Gutierrez in collaboration with bio-engineer Luke Lee to establish a new self-regulated membrane for hygrothermal and light transmission control.3 The membrane is designed for emergency deployable housing in tropical regions with the purpose of decreasing energy use for spatial conditioning through controlling ventilation rates. An integrated array of reactive polymers that mechanically adapt to variable light, heat, and humidity indexes enables higher or lower ventilation rates while interacting with an internal dehumidification membrane. As with all BIOMS projects, research is developed from its inception through interdisciplinary collaborations that design building systems from the meter scale to the nanoscale (see figure 3). Another example of BIOMS multiscale research is the Detox Towers project,4 currently in the early phase of development (see figure 4), which explores a new phytoremediation building system for indoor air detoxification and humidity control through active use of microorganisms (algae/lichen).
Multifunctional Materials and Microscale Processes
The desire to selectively concentrate energy and recycle water through multifunctional building systems, interdependently across scales, led the team to conceptualize an integrated wall that links greywater regeneration to thermal control, based on micro-optics. This idea was the basis for the design of Solar Optics-Based Active Panels for Greywater Reuse and Integrated Thermal Building Control (or, as it is fondly termed, SOAP for GRIT). From early on, the challenge was to establish new solar-based technologies for light and heat flow transmission/conduction based on micro-optics and micro-fluidics that improve on greywater recycling technologies that use thicker, heavier, and often-pricey mechanical lenses or tubular systems. Through high-precision microlenses that control ultraviolent light exposure,56 the new system can work in any building form without the need for complicated mechanical infrastructures that follow sunlight paths.
Advancing methods of solar greywater recycling,7 particularly for urban, higher-density buildings, creates the opportunity to use greywater to its fullest potential before it leaves the building.8 By incorporating greywater into closed-loop building technologies, SOAP for GRIT can contribute significantly to water conservation through the use of sunlight concentration and transmission control based on micro-optics. The proposed new technology is more sustainable9 and cost-efficient, making it more feasible for real-world architectural applications. Solar-activated panels can significantly reduce space-conditioning costs, which in the average American home account for over 50 percent of energy use.10
Collaborative Scientific Research and Design Pedagogy
Teaching design students about how to use technology to maximize building performance is central to architectural education. Inventive, research-based design is critical to move the field forward while maintaining a necessary focus on the larger historical, social, political, and economic contexts of architecture. Teaching today’s design students thus involves exacting training programs that require rigorous science but that also recognize that technology is not a stand-alone solution to the pressing challenges of environmental design. From implementing biosynthesis of live and inert matter (see figure 5), to producing a self-regulated membrane for humidification in the Atacama Desert in Chile (see figure 6)11, Gutierrez’s architecture students venture into new methods to transfer and process resources.
BIOMSgroup’s projects aim to establish fundamental environmental design research that opens new frontiers to resourcing resources through self-activated matter based on microscale efficiency. Self-activated matter can matter.
Support for this research from the National Science Foundation (EFRI-1038279 and CMMI-1030027) and the Hellman Faculty Award is gratefully acknowledged.
- 1. http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_images.jsp?cntn_id=117731&org=NSF, accessed April 14, 2011.
- 2. Maria-Paz Gutierrez, “Silicon + Skin: Biological Processes and Computation,” in Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, eds. A. Kudless, N. Oxman, and M. Swackhamer (Minneapolis: ACADIA, 2008), 278-85.
- 3. http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1030027, accessed April 17, 2011.
- 4. http://www.evolo.us/architecture/detox-towers/, accessed April 14, 2011.
- 5. L.P. Lee and R. Szema, “Inspirations from Biological Optics for Advanced Photonic Systems,” Science 310 (2005):1148-50.
- 6. Jaeyoun Kim, Ki-Hun Jeong, and Luke P. Lee, “Artificial Ommatidia by Self-Aligned Microlenses and Waveguides,” Optics Letters 30 (2005): 5-7.
- 7. C. Sordo et al., “Solar Photocatalytic Disinfection with Immobilized TiO2 at Pilot-Plant Scale,” Water Science and Technology 61 (2010): 507-512.
- 8. M. Brennan and R. Patterson, “Economic Analysis of Freywater Recycling,” in Proceedings from 1st International Conference on Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Recycling (Perth, Australia: Environmental Technology Centre, Mundoch University, 2004), 3-9.
- 9. S.W. Hermanowicz, “Sustainability in Water Resources Management — Changes in Meaning and Perception,” Sustainability Science 3 (2008):181-88.
- 10. J. Kelso, “2005 Delivered Energy End-Uses for an Average Household, by Region (Million BTU per Household),” in Buildings Energy Databook (Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 2008), 76.
- 11. Blue Award 2009, http://www.raumgestaltung.tuwien.ac.at/blue-award/preistraeger/lan-hu-and-jungmin-an/, accessed January 20, 2011.