Not Just a Coming Attraction: ZNE is Already Here!

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Professional Merit Award winner – “Nexus” by Dialog (Vancouver, Canada)

Several years ago, Zero Net Energy, or ZNE as it is often referred to, would have been an unthinkable goal for any community in this country, let alone for an entire state. But in California, it is certain to become a household word by the end of this decade. The City of Santa Monica recently passed an ordinance requiring all newly built single-family homes, duplexes, as well as multi-family structures, to be in compliance with ZNE codes. By the year 2020, the State of California will require the implementation of a similar step in housing construction. According to California’s Green Building Code, a ZNE home is one that produces as much renewable energy on-site as it consumes annually.

 

Contrary to anti-sustainability positions taken by some government officials in other states—most notably in Florida—California has been at the forefront in promoting energy efficiency measures. As an offshoot of this trend, a series of competitions supported not only by the AIA California, but also by the primary energy provider in the state, PG&E have taken place annually since 2011—all at different sites. Although conceived as ideas competitions, the clients who were considering construction projects participated in supplying the necessary site and volume data for the program, and it was probably understood that some of the ideas from the competitions would be incorporated in the ultimate projects.

 

In this year’s 2016 Architecture at Zero competition, the site was located at San Francisco State University, near Lake Merced in the southwestern area of the city. As a potential client, the university supplied data for a student residence project, especially important to the San Francisco area because of the high cost of housing. One negative outcome of this scenario has been a low student retention rate. By targeting affordable housing for students, the university sees this as part of the solution.

 

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Competitors were tasked to regard the design challenge with these priorities in mind:
“By encouraging innovative design solutions to site-specific design challenges, the competition aims to broaden thinking about the technical and aesthetic possibilities of zero net energy projects. Further, it seeks to raise the profile of ZNE among built-environment professionals, students, and the general public in California and beyond.”

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The Earth as an Affordable Housing Alternative: Ghana’s Mud House Design Competition

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1st Place entry by M.A.M.O.T.H

For years, the earth has long been the basic construction material for houses in rural Ghana. Although 98% of the houses in the Abetenim area of Ashanti province—typical of warm, humid climate conditions—are made of earth, stereotypes about this building type persist because of eroding which takes place from poor construction and water damage. This has resulted in a stigma associated with mud architecture and the local perception that mud architecture is only for the poor. Instead of earth, metal and cement block have become the material of choice—at a considerable expense. In light of this problem, the Nka Foundation, a non-profit organization dealing with art and design in Africa, staged the Mud House Design Competition—to encourage designers, architects and builders to use their creativity to come up with innovative designs for modest, affordable homes that can be built locally. The focus of the design was to aim at creating a single family and semi-urban house type that would be a place to live, a place to rest, store modest belongings, and feel safe. What was the preferred construction method for the winning entries? It could be cob construction, rammed earth, mud brick, cast earth (poured earth) by formwork, or any other earth construction techniques that can be easily learned by local labor. Roofing design could be of vault, fired mud roof, or corrugated zinc sheets, which is the conventional roofing materials, because zinc roofing withstands the heavy rainfall better. As a prototype, the intended solution should be a durable mud house that promotes open source design for the continuity of building with earth for a more sustainable future. The house was to include a kitchen, living area, bedrooms and a toilet. The maximum cost of the house was to be $6,000, for which each entry was required to present a detailed budget. The Process

After a Preselection Jury of experts examined all of the entries, it was charged with shortlisting 20 for adjudication by a Grand Jury. The members of the latter were:
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• Belinda van Buiten, Utrecht, The Netherlands
• Marcio Albuquerque Buson, University of Brasilia
• Mariana Correia, Escola Superior Gallaecia, Portugal
• Toby Cumberbatch, The Cooper Union, New York
• Ahmad Hamid, Ahmad Hamid Architects, Egypt
• Rowland Keable, UNESCO Chair on Earthen Architecture
• Bruno Marques, Oporto Lusiada University, Portugal
• John Quale, Professor, University of New Mexico, USA
• Roland Rael, University of California, Berkeley
• Humberto Varum, University of Porto, Portugal

According to John Quale, he agreed to participate as a juror because he found the topic to be quite interesting. The selection process by the Grand Jury did not, however, take place face-to-face, but electronically. A web interface during the final stages of the process did occur, resulting in the final ranking of the entries. Prof. Quale found this to be an adequate method to adjudicate the designs, as this was obviously a competition with a limited budget, obviating the cost of impaneling the jury on-site. Judging criteria involved the functionality, aesthetics and technical factors to the degree to the degree that the design responded to the design program. The Winning Designs Of the short-listed projects (20), there were three winners. Jurors awarded prizes for first, second and third place consisting of a commemorative plague and cash prizes to the winning designs as follows: 1st prize—$1,500 or construction of the design in Ghana, plus a short trip to Ghana for the opening ceremony once construction is completed (in case the winner is not located in Ghana and to a maximum of 1 person); 2nd prize—Construction or $1,000 and 3rd prize—construction or $500.

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University of Chicago North Campus Student Residence

University of Chicago North Campus Student Residence

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Winning entry by Studio Gang with Mortenson Construction—Image courtesy Studio Gang ©University of Chicago

Like many American universities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the University of Chicago viewed Gothic architecture as a recognizable symbol to suggest academic excellence in the tradition of Ivy League universities and Oxford. In this, Chicago was not alone, as other schools used a similar formula to imply a connection to a pre-existing academic tradition—Duke University and Butler University in the 1920s being prime examples. As time passed, and to accommodate Chicago’s reputation architecturally as a forward-looking community, the university gradually hired contemporary architects such as Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, Edward Larrabee Barnes, Walter Netsche and Harry Weese to add to the university’s built fabric. Beginning with the early 21st century, the look on the campus has been updated even more to reflect current trends with buildings by Cesar Pelli, Helmut Jahn, Rafael Viñoly, Joe Valerio, and most recently, the musum by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

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ADD-ON ’13

ADD-ON ’13

Affordable Housing for Cape Cod

by William Morgan

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Winning entry by CxMxD

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The goal of the Add-on ’13 competition was to “seek design proposals for a freestanding, affordable, accessory dwelling unit on outer Cape Cod.” Specifically, the town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts has a bylaw that allows a second living unit–and even up to three extra units–on the lot of an existing home. At the moment, the fishing and resort village has a dozen such accessory dwellings. But the nobler aim of the Add-on competition was to “consider the role of affordable housing” in a non-urban context and to “re-envision the relationship between architecture, infrastructure, resources and the land.” Despite the seeming modesty of the program–800 square-foot, single bedroom units, to cost less than $150,000, Add-on ’13 was a significant contest.

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