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SUSTAINABLE THESIS

by Tracy Will
Thu, Aug 20th 2009 08:15 am
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As far as a graduate architecture thesis is concerned, you probably can't get much more sustainable than purchasing a vacant house, which would otherwise be slated for demolition, to apply an academic exercise to and at the same time, bring it new life.  That's exactly what UB Graduate School of Architecture students Mike Bailie, Paul Dudkowski, Ernest Ng and Dan Stripp have done with a single family home in Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood, and CIR was happy to donate time and material to their project.

Their thesis, titled "Quad Space," aims to accommodate four individuals within the minimum space required by code while simultaneously providing each individual with their own private space.  To do this, they restricted the project to the original 17' by 25' footprint of the house, removing the entire 17' by 23' addition to the rear of the house, and adding a backyard to the property with the potential for additional green space and outdoor living space.  Quad Space challenges mainstream society's belief that bigger and newer is better with a real-world demonstration project.

Quad Space utilizes building code requirements of a minimum floor area for a bedroom of 70 square feet, with a minimum length and width of 7 feet and a minimum height of 7.5 feet, as a starting point for defining the quad spaces.  With those parameters in mind, the basis for an individual quad space is a 7-foot by 7-foot by 7.5-foot high cube, with an additional 21 square feet of floor space added to each cube based on its position in the house. 

Each cube protrudes outward from a face of the building, one from the front, one from the back, one from the south side, and one up through the roof, each with a fixed window on the protruding face of the cube, giving the cube that goes through the roof a skylight.  Minimum egress requirements (one operable window/ exterior door in addition to the interior doorway) are met by the original window/ door openings that have been replaced with new double-hung, double-pane, gas-filled windows for improved energy efficiency.

To clearly articulate the volumes of the cubes, both the interior and exterior finishes are weather-treated plywood.  In addition to meeting minimum floor space and height requirements for a bedroom, each quad space was designed to have approximately the same overall volume.  Where one space may have more overall floor area, another has overhead openings, creating some very unique spaces and interesting possibilities for how they are used.  These interior volumes that extend from each cube are clad with OSB, distinguishing them from the initial cubes and the remainder of the living space, which will be clad with drywall.  In addition to material distinctions, the quad spaces are designed to be private, while the common spaces, living area, kitchen, bathroom and circulation, are open and flowing, with a heavy curtain rather than a door on the bathroom.

While the project isn't primarily about sustainability, it has many sustainable features, one of the biggest being that it isn't ‘big' at all.  The core concept of this thesis, living comfortably in the minimum allowable space, has an enormous impact on sustainability.  The larger the space, the more energy and money it takes to heat, cool, ventilate and provide adequate lighting for.  Smaller spaces can often receive adequate lighting, ventilation and cooling naturally through operable windows, using no energy at all, without much design consideration. 

Since work on Quad Space began during the cold winter months, one of the first tasks completed was replacing all of the windows and installing spray insulation on the exterior walls and roof to help with heating costs while work was being completed before the walls and roof could be completely insulated.  Besides improvements to the building envelope, radiant floor heating panels from GCS Radiant are being installed throughout the house, which, according to Gary Hydock of GCS, will reduce heating costs by about 75 percent[1].  Although the new wiring and electrical service provided by labor and material donations from CIR won't impact energy use, up-to-date and code-compliant wiring and service provides added safety and peace of mind to future occupants.

Smaller spaces also require fewer materials to build and maintain, which saves production energy, natural resources and the associated negative impacts of the extraction and production of materials.  Reusing the original structure adds to these benefits.  In addition, minimizing the building's footprint provides more opportunities for green space and native vegetation on the site, which provides air filtration, added stormwater management, and habitat for native species while reducing the urban heat island effect and providing pleasant outdoor living spaces.

As mentioned previously, the thesis itself is sustainable.  Many times throughout the course of architectural education, students will build a series of models that require large quantities of materials, which not only come at a large expense, but more often than not, end up in the trash after they are documented.  A thesis project isn't much different.  By going out into the community and applying their academic exercise to a vacant house, Quad Space brings new life to a building that had otherwise been rendered useless.  That house can now serve as a home again.

Mike, Paul, Ernest and Dan are still hard at work on their project, and plan on living in it when it's complete.  They will also be designing and building custom furniture for the house to demonstrate completely the possibilities of their "Quad Space."  They plan to have the project complete and ready to show to everyone who donated to the project and interested faculty and students at the School of Architecture and Planning in mid-October.



[1] Hayden, Brian. (2009, June 29). Students experiment with 'Quad Space'; Thesis project involves comfort in small places.  Buffalo News. (http://www.buffalonews.com/145/story/718197.html)

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