RISD Design Thesis

//// Graduate Design Thesis
//// RISD Interior Architecture 2017
//// Master’s Examination Committee / Jonathan Bell / Heinrich Hermann / Wolfgang Rudolf


For decades, architectural engineering has shifted spatial thermal control from the passive sheltering that marks vernacular material and structure to actively mediating the thermal condition, as is evident in the dominance of air-conditioning.

The Rhode Island School of Design, whose buildings have been adapted over many decades, reflects the shift from passively to actively mediated thermal condition. Amongst RISD buildings, the Metcalf Building is overheated: overly warm in winter, with a lack of cooling in summer. Also, the programs the building accommodates are intensely energy consuming—pottery baking, metal welding, hot glass casting—and heat is the byproduct of all this consumption.

To cool the Metcalf Building to a steady-state thermal comfort seems to cover our goals handily. However, the existing mechanical-driven cooling that relies on high energy use is in a precarious situation. Even in very advanced air conditioning systems, the underlying principles are straightforward: an air-tight shell, excellent heat insulation, and mechanical airflow. As in Philippe Rahm’s manifesto “Function and Form Follow Climate,” he argues, “Paradoxically… the most ecological type of building is one that is totally isolated from, and autonomous within, its context and regulates all exchanges with the natural environment.” We should look for the higher goal of creating delight through modulation, rather than unchanging comfort. Spring chill, summer breeze, all the variance that contributes to thermal delight, has been eliminated from engineering-driven thermal control.

To remedy the high-energy load, a rambunctious environment which reflects the multi-faceted nature of thermal delight, while adapted to the climate cycle is needed. Being rambunctious does not return to inefficiency, rather, it entails subtle interplay between the built-in environment and its climatic surroundings.

Chapter 1 – Understanding Climate

To work with climate and create thermal comfort, one has to, first and foremost, understand how climate functions. Temperature is, of course, a key element that determines thermal comfort, yet other factors — Relative humidity, air movement — also have a huge impact on thermal comfort.

Despite integrating cited climate data, a thorough thermal survey that examines thermal variances was conducted: firstly in an urban scale of the city of Providence, and then, zoom into the host building, looking closely at the micro climate and the interrelationship with its building environment.

“In his Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment published in 1969, Reyner Banham already foresaw not only the necessity for the architect to become a sort of climate engineer, but also the “beauty” of the new technology, and its potential to become a generator of design.”