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.

Chapter 2 – Existing Site Analysis: Metcalf Building

Before purchased and refurbished by Rhode Island School of Design in 1920, the Metcalf Building (previously the Jewelry Building) was an industrial building, featuring its masonry structure, delicate relief, and cornice.

Today it mainly accommodates shops and workspaces for Department of Furniture, sculpture, ceramic, glass, jewelry and metalsmithing. The deep rooted RISD making-driven pedagogy has direct those program to be tightly associated with tools, machines, and ultimately, the great amount of energy use and the internal heat it generates is the by-product of the energy consumption. Throughout decades of adaptation, more types of energy source have been introduced to serve the building: gas, oxygen, steam and thus form an intricate, invisible network of the building system. The pictures in this spread were taken during the winter of 2016, addressing the heat loss of the Metcalf Building. This chapter aims to sort out the interrelationship between the building system and the program it serves, to make the invisible visible.

Chapter 3 – Intervention Proposal

ThermoScape proposes a rambunctious thermal environment adapted to the climate cycle, reflecting the multi-faceted nature of thermal delight. To achieve such goals within the Metcalf Building, 1) thermal buffer zones are created along the architectural shell in a gesture to open to the surroundings, and carefully organized accordingly to various level of need for comfort; 2) the outdoor alleyway behind the building is excavated and integrated with spill-out programs; 3) existing indoor program is reconfigured to make better use of natural airflow and ventilation.

The alleyway is channeled through: The existing savage additions dead-ended the alleyway is removed so it could access the existing bus shelter, which shows an open-up gesture to the RISD community. The outdoor level is excavated and transforming to a platform that bridging over the “moat”. Paved with metal mesh, it will bring natural light underground, and allow the shade garden to be viewed or experienced from quite different perspectives.

Although the current program in this floor plan mostly stays, the traffic is carefully reconfigured. A public indoor circulation, adjacent to the alleyway, offering a transparent interaction to the workshops, is planned. Also, it serves as a thermal buffer to remedy the variance between the indoor and outdoor.

One of the key intervention at the basement level is the excavation of moat along the building. The grade level is lowered aligning with the basement floor, bring in natural ventilation and lighting to the interior. Integrated with water-loving, shade-tolerant vegetation, the “moat” could serve as urban bio-swale, storing and filtering storm water.

The proposing basement level would be a joint workshop that attempts to encourage interdepartmental learning and teaching. Longitudinal partition is minimized to fulfill the changing activity and to maximize the effectiveness of natural ventilation.