This paper explores the intersection of building envelopes and the evolution in cultural ideas about natural light, energy consumption and modulating the domestic environment through advances in passive and active technologies. By beginning with the examination of advances in building envelope performance and many tenants of high performance domestic design that are emerging from the passive house and net-zero movements this paper and the design research examples attempt to redirect the conversation back to the territory of aesthetics and the relationship of light (both artificial and natural), natural ventilation, and the ability to modulate the domestic environment seamlessly between passive heating and cooling strategies and natural ventilation.
By focusing on the aesthetic possibilities of natural ventilation and light, this paper proposes a hybridized model of design thinking. Addressing the functional and empirical performance of building envelopes is a priority that has often reduced the critical conversation around the quality of domestic space to an empirical ‘sum of the parts’ conversation. In many cases the performance of the passive envelope and the regenerative mechanical systems overshadow the discussion of the dynamics, of environmental, social, usage and physiological aesthetics. There is admittedly a large degree of economics underpinning this trend. In high performance domestic envelope design (at least in North America) there is a tendency for the higher performance natural light components (windows and skylights) to come at a prohibitive cost premium thus limiting the ability of the designer to move beyond basic environmental relationships to a more nuanced, site specific, life style oriented aesthetic agenda. Although this economic relationship is changing, few examples (designed or built) address the distribution of natural light and ventilation as a critical component of the design thinking and overall performance. The paper seeks to address this discrepancy as an opportunity of design. Conceptually all exterior surfaces of the building envelope should be an extension of the cultural ideas that drive the spatial organization, usage patterns and evolving attitudes about the domestic space therein. By utilizing advanced environmental and spatial modeling, this paper seeks to demonstrate the aesthetics of natural light in conjunction with the issues of passive heating and cooling in the high performance domestic envelope.
Three design examples are used as a basis of this argument and research. Each project is currently being developed within the architectural practice of EASTON+COMBS. This design research approaches the environmental aesthetic with a holistic methodology. A domestic building envelope must perform in 21st century design, but once considered at the scale of architecture, the spatial dynamic of the domestic environment must perform to equal degree. Curating natural light and ventilation in these environments is seen as critical to the success of the design agenda, however each design example seeks to employ a clear strategy of overall environmental performance as well as the buildings envelope performance. The design research proposes to demonstrate the performance efficiency and the quality of the design aesthetic though extensive energy modeling as well as the development of unique envelope strategies to be representationally demonstrated and documented.
Lonn Combs is an architect and co-founder of EASTON+COMBS, an award winning architectural practice with emerging international recognition in design excellence and building innovation through the convergence of material practice, integrated technological and environmental methods. Combs is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, receiving the prestigious ‘Rome Prize’ for Architecture in 2012. Lonn Combs is also Assistant Professor of Architecture and the Director of the Master of Architecture program at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. As Director, Combs leads the development of digital design, emerging fabrication, environmental analysis, and new materials within the curriculum, while also coordinating research based design studios with a commitment to architecture as a project of interdisciplinary knowledge and social engagement.