Friday, October 31, 2008

Presidential Candidates on Transportation, Smart Growth

The Brookings Institution has a side by side comparison of Barack Obama and John McCain on transportation issues including funding priorities, public transportation, fuel efficiency, passenger rail (Amtrak), and smart growth.

Presidential Candidates: Energy

Concisely, this Reuters article lays out Obama's and McCain's positions on the future of energy policy in the US.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

TEAM BeauSoliel Assembles Roof and Solar Panel Mockups

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website at


TEAM BeauSoleil has really made progress on our systems designs over the last few days. We completed a mockup of our solar hot water/skylight/shading device design on Monday. Now all we need to do is put it out in the sun and test it.

I probably should go into a little more detail about this hot water/skylight/shading device. The main area of our house will be a transitional porch that can either be exterior or interior space depending on different door configurations. When this porch is being used as an exterior space it will act as a breezeway and help ventilate the interior of the home. Because this is our most celebrated space it has a special translucent roof. Essentially, the entire roof section over the porch will be a skylight during the day and act as a lantern at night when the interior of the home is illuminated. On the south side this skylight will house a closed loop solar hot water heater that we have designed and will build. In order to present more surface area to the sun the collector tubes will have fins attached to them. These fins will double as shading devices in order to prevent heat gain into the house itself. Our design works on paper; the mockup will allow us to test it in the real world.

On Monday, we also finished an 8’ by 13’ mockup of the roof and installed it atop the engineering building. The next step is to attach photovoltaic panels to the metal standing seam and test their performance at different angles and with different inverters. It will also allow us to explore the best method of attaching the PV panels to the metal roof.

In other systems news our HVAC design is almost complete. Plumbing is coming along as well. For the purposes of the Solar Decathlon we have to store all of our own drinking water and wastewater for the length of the competition, which is nearly a month from start to finish. As a result of space restrictions, we will be accomplishing this with tanks that fit under the house and between the floor joists. In some cases these tanks will also be structural. This is a bit of a daunting task so we are still fine-tuning the tank design. We are still tweaking lighting and electrical though we are close to having those nailed down as well.

It has been very encouraging to have built two successful mockups because we can see the fruits of our labor. In addition to mockup testing, the next few weeks will be spent cranking out construction documents, which must be finished in 6 weeks. It is a very busy time for TEAM BeauSoleil right now, but it is a very exciting time as well.

---Scott Chappuis, TEAM BeauSoleil

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Green are the Candidates?

Low Impact Living - a wonderful and diverse green website - post links to info on presidential and congressional candidates' positions on green issues. So if the health of the environment is important to you, check it out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sea Change for US Waterways

I was blown away this weekend when I attended a community visioning session facilitated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. (So much so that I completely forgot to take photographs).

James Wadddell, an engineer from the Corps of Engineers, led a group of engaged residents in articulating a vision of future development for a local neighborhood - the Mobile Street district. The significance here is that, historically, "vision" has been a top-down process as the Corps of Engineers dictated projects with little or no community input.

What a breath of fresh air.

Sustainability, along with the encouragement of community priority-setting and decision-making, was a common thread throughout the interactive workshop. Waddell artfully led the group in articulating a vision unique to the neighborhood by having residents draw their ideas on paper.
After some initial natural reluctance, and with some comforting reassurance from Waddell that "stick figures are OK", the markers started touching paper - that's when the magic began.

There's something about drawing that seems to access an intelligence that's hard to bring out verbally. Maybe the well-worn cliche "a picture is worth a thousand words" has some merit.

Before long, the ideas were flowing. One inspired citizen after another, from pre-teen to grandmother, stood up and articulated a dynamic vision that few "experts" could match in terms of appropriateness, workability, and uniqueness.

It was a beautiful thing to witness.

Below, a handout outlining the process. Double Click to enlarge.

UPDATE: By request, my "stick-figure drawing" above.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

SIPS Construction on the BeauSoleil Home

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry.

SIPS is an acronym for structural insulated panel system. This system of construction consists of a 5 ½” inch layer of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) sandwiched between two sheets of 7/16” oriented strand board (OSB). This system is extremely efficient in that it is produced in a factory setting therefore, reducing the material waste generally associated with typical site built construction.

Another advantage of this system is the increased precision of the construction process to tolerances as close as 1/16”. This increased precision allows for a much tighter system in that air infiltration is practically eliminated. This along with the reduction of thermal breaks due to the lack of studs in the system (studs are replaced by the EPS foam) increase the R-value of the panels to R-32 for ceilings and R-26 in a wall application, compared to R-30 and R-13 respectively for typical stick frame construction. The improved insultative properties of the panels will result in a significant savings in the cost of heating and cooling, there by exceeding the approximately 10% increase of initial cost in the initial construction cost.

The BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home will feature SIPS as its primary structural component. The modularity of SIPS allows for the ease of mass production and the tolerances allow for the ease of onsite assembly. This along with a structural steel frame in the transitional porch will allow this home to easily make the trip to Washington D.C. and back while remaining structurally sound.

Team BeauSoleil is currently completing the design of the shell of the house in preparation to begin the fabrication of the shell. Team members are working with Louisiana System Built Homes (LASBH) in St. Martinville on the details of this task. Through this partnership graduate students will be fabricating the panels, planning the cuts, programming the machines and assisting with the actual assembly of the shell at the LASBH factory.

This is a great opportunity for students to gain hands on knowledge in this system. The actual cutting of SIPS panels by students will begin in the next couple of weeks with the completion of the shell expected in early January. At that point the shell of the home will be trucked to Lafayette and will reside in the Team BeauSoleil warehouse until the completion of construction. Then it’s on the road again to Washington D.C. for the competition that will begin on October 1, 2009.

Farmer in Chief

Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, penned an open letter in the New York Times Magazine to the next "Farmer in Chief" outlining the negative consequences of our current food policy and offering up some healthy ideas about how we can bring about positive change in the way we eat - and save the planet along the way.

From the article:

After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.

Check out the entire article here:

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Economics of Biking and Walking

The Rails to Trails Conservancy has a new report out today entitled Active Transportation for America: A Case for Increased Federal Investment in Bicycling and Walking.

The report outlines the roll walking and biking plays in our national transportation system. For the first time, the economics of biking and walking have been quantified (with numbers) as well as quantified.

Read the full report here:

And watch the National Press Club event unveiling the report on C-SPAN.


Walking: An Experience - Not An Afterthought

photo: Samantha Montague, Student Printz Newspaper

It is particularly rewarding to open a newspaper and see a photo of one of your designs taken by someone you don't know for the purpose of painting a beautiful picture of the character of a space.

A few years ago, I designed a pedestrian plaza in the center of campus at the University of Southern Mississippi. The idea was to define a critical series of spaces in the middle of campus transforming an automobile-scaled space into a human-scaled space while creating an area that, in spirit, would become the heart and soul of campus.

Ironically, this space was always a pedestrian thoroughfare. Between classes, students took over the streets as cars inched along narrowly avoiding running over crowds of students flocking to the next class. The experience of getting from here to there was 100 percent functional; there was no "there" between the there and there.

On any design project, I always spend a great deal of time on-site before putting pencil to paper taking in -watching, listening, feeling - the local conditions. Organic and sustainable design is very site specific. No matter how nice the design studio, there's really no substitute for "being there."

On one such observation session, as students flooded the streets, the image of a cattle drive came into mind. If not in person, you've seen this iconic image in Western movies. A sea of cattle mingle between the high-sitting cowboys. "Git along, little dogie."

The solution, in this case, was to bring the edges in. Cars were routed around the center campus to clarify the pedestrian flow. Formerly undefined roadway curbs became brick knee-walls carving out planted areas that sculpt a more intimate space for students to move through and gather. In addition to softening the space with seasonal foliage, these short walls serve as benches, set at sitting height with inviting curved tops, for the purpose of providing students multiple (and random) places to "hang-out" - and they do.

Brick, the predominant material, was woven in a herringbone pattern for warmth and texture. The fountain (in the distance) adds moving water to the mix and serves as a focal element. A clocktower, yet unbuilt, was designed to spring up from the middle of the fountain basin gushing water into the pool. (Anyone want to put their name on a clocktower? I'll get you the mailing address for your check. A million bucks will do in a pinch - two million is better.)

In keeping with the idea of user-friendliness, the walls of the fountain were also designed for sitting. Last summer, I witnessed the delightful sight of a group of highschool cheerleader-campers sitting around the fountain - face in - with bare feet splashing and giggling all 'round. That's what I call an inviting space.

Some have commented that "this is not really an architectural project" as there are no "buildings" involved, clocktower notwithstanding.

But I think it is Architecture. I believe design is about the quality of the space; the building form and detailing is secondary. It's about how that space interfaces with and facilitates the human conditon. Walls and roofs are just tools in the box for carving out spaces that resonate with the human spirit - not by any means an end in themselves.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Construction Begins on BeauSoleil Home

The BeauSoleil TEAM moved into their new digs - a United Way warehouse near campus - a couple of months ago, and the buzz is on. The TEAM is gathering materials and mapping out the construction process in anticipation of assembling their design over the next few months.

Louisiana System Built Homes, a BeauSoleil manufacturing partner, will begin fabricating the shell and roof structure for the Solar Home in the upcoming weeks. Students are currently working with LASBH to format the construction drawings, making them ready for CNC routing of the SIPS panels - the primary building material of the BeauSoleil home.

Stay tuned for more construction photos.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Presidential Solar Power

Both John McCain and Barack Obama have indicated support for the development of wind and solar power.

Obama proposes targeting research and development of alternative energies (primarily solar and wind) with $150 billion in seed money over the next 10 years. The goal - energy independence by 2018.

McCain expresses support for alternative energies, but refuses to give specifics on how he would foster the development of wind and solar or give any timetables. But as a member of the U. S. Senate for over two decades, his track record may indicate how he would promote alternative energies.

The Washington Independent sheds some light on the subject.

Van Jones: The Green Collar Economy

The United States has lost a quarter of a million jobs since the first of the year and the stock market has been falling like a rock. Van Jones, in a new green manifesto, talks about how we can turn this financial implosion into a robust economic expansion by pumping up the green economy - and save our planet in the process.

Check out his ideas about the potential for a new green economy here:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Design: A Response to the Local Environment

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette TEAM Beausoleil would like to engage in conversation with the public about the issues we are investigating, as they relate to the delivery of our aptly named "Louisiana Solar Home", to the U.S. Department of Energy for the 2009 Solar Decathlon.

It is our hope that we can, through interaction and conversation, share with the general public the strategies and "know-how" necessary to create a stable energy future for the homes of south Louisiana. We also want to keep everyone up to date with the progress of Beausoleil, so that we might get feedback and gain insight as to improve our end product.
Conversation will be broken up into 4 categories; Design, Events, Construction, Engineering. Today's topic will be design, and will focus on the issue of regional relevance and sustainability.

The Beausoleil Louisiana Solar Home is just as its name implies, a solar home for Louisiana, but what about Louisiana identifies with ideas of sustainability?

If we look closely at the built history of our region, one can find evidence in our older homes of passive strategies used for temperature control. The people of our region once had an understanding of, and a literal connection with, nature in their everyday lives.

Simple design decisions, such as window placement /size, orientation of home/porch to the south, and choice materials all made a big difference in the efficiency of a home. We see this connection as valuable, and fading with every passing day, while we sit too long in front of power hungry air conditioners.

It occurred to us at a very early stage in the design process, that sustainability does not mean matching our massive consumption with high dollar active systems. This method tends to fail, as most people could not afford the necessary solar array size to meet their current usage.

Instead, it might require we take notes from our ancestors, and find creative ways to make our homes more efficient first. In this way, Beausoleil can surely draw from the rich building traditions in south Louisiana.

Tim Dumatrait, Beausoleil TEAM member