Revealing and Concealing

In the Baker and Steemers reading they discuss lights role in revealing and concealing one’s perception of the building space both from the exterior and the interior.  I think that the terms “revealing” and “concealing” describe light and define light conditions better than any other conventions.  I think that it would be beneficial if we never used the word “light” or “lighted”, instead replacing them with “this is revealed” or “that is concealed”.

To a certain degree, I designed the facade of my building from the perspective of revealing and concealing.  From this exterior perspective approaching from the south east there are clear distinctions between revealed and concealed spaces:

Due to the fact that our programs was for an artist in residence museum I wanted the artist’s apartments to be revealed and therefore, very prominent in one’s exterior perception of the building.  Below the artists apartments is a theater concealed by folded metal planes.  On the eastern facade facing the Highline are individual viewing spaces suspended over the entrance hall and enclosed by a glass box.  This space is meant to be a space of revealing the artist’s studio work and the museum visitors occupying a parallel space to the Highline.

This is a perspective of my lobby entrance:

My goal in this space to create an interior transition from a concealed condition to a highly revealing condition, from the entrance to the hall, that draws the eye upward revealing the in-habitation of the individual viewing spaces suspended over the hall.  Although I have a substantially greater amount of daylight penetrating into this interior space, I wanted to a achieve a similar effect discussed in the reading about the Pantheon.

“However, it is not only the luminous quality of the interior that makes the Pantheon a particularly beautiful example of daylight design.  It is the way that the approach and entry into the dome are modulated that sets the scene and leaves a deep impressions, as Rasmussen describes:

Coming to the Pantheon from the tangled network of streets outside, we experience it as the perfect expression of peace and harmony.  The ordinary scale of the houses just passed makes the peristyle, in comparison, seem overwhelmingly high with its gigantic columns disappearing into the twilight under the roof.  As you enter the rotunda you are immediately aware of the mild light coming from a source high above you, three times as high as the ceiling in the peristyle.  The dome does not seem to limit the space but rather to expand and raise it….”

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Influx_Studio + Moe


Graphic diagram of five hundred buildings in the central chicago "loop" area

Recently I stumbled upon a project proposal by Influx_Studio to renovate Chicago’s iconic Marina City Towers as part of an ongoing effort to “de-carbonize” Chicago, improving the sustainability of five hundred buildings in a core part of Chicago.

I thought that the design of the Marina City Towers renovation provoked many concepts tied into the Moe reading on ventilation systems and thermally active systems because the design as the potential to utilize stack ventilation and a thermally active building envelope consisting of vertically irrigated vegetable gardens and algae bio-reactors.  This is a very informative graphic of how the wind turbines located at the top of the towers, the passive ventilation system, vertical irrigation, and vertical green mass work together to create a comprehensive building design using thermally active systems to reduce the load of the ventilation system:

ImageThe building envelope is actually a hybrid water-plant system, but I think that it is a great example of a new way to think about cooling buildings as Moe says in this quote:

“In a water-based system, the focus is on continuously removing heat from the space by way of the various surfaces.  In this mode, the surfaces absorb heat energy.  The surfaces do not cool the space, as many designers and engineers presume, but rather never allow it to get warm.  If a building does not overheat it does not need to be cooled.”

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Assignment 5 – Art Museum

Passive Systems Diagrams


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Assignment 4 – The Pantheon’s Passive Systems

In project four I researched the passive building systems of the Pantheon.  I chose to research the Pantheon because it is in my opinion the oldest and most successful example of designing with passive systems.  The Pantheon’s design supports passive ventilation, natural light, thermal mass, and water drainage.   The oculus, lime-pozzolana concrete building material, and marble floor are the main passive design elements.  The careful use of building materials and varying levels of porosity connect the Pantheon and allow it to mediate its relationship to external systems.

In my CAD class I designed a 3-D model of the Pantheon which I used to develop a series of sectional diagrams illustrating the passive ventilation via convection through the oculus, and natural lights absorption into the building walls via radiation and thermal mass.

The Pantheon in Rome was initially built by Marcus Agrippa, the son-in-law of Roman Emperor Augustus.  The word “Pantheon” is Greek and it means “to honor all gods”, therefore making the Pantheon a temple to honor all gods.  Agrippa built the temple around 27 B.C. and it was rebuilt in 123 A.D. by the Emperor Hadrian.

Reconstruction maintained the original design of the foundation ring, cylindrical walls, and dome.  In addition, the orientation and configuration are the same because old Roman Religion required that temples be rebuilt to their original design and tradition required that the main entrance face north, and thus the whole building was oriented on a north-south axis.

By Christopher Chu

The Pantheon’s passive ventilation system is the result of the open oculus.  Air interacts with the oculus in two ways, convection and the venturi effect, to produce airflow in to the portico entrance and out of the oculus.  Convection is the movement of molecules in fluids, typically following the rule that hotter molecules rise and cooler molecules fall.  The oculus creates a vacuum as air rises by natural convection and the portico entrance is the inlet for cool air at the bottom of the building creating an upward-moving air current.

The venturi effect is caused by airflow over the oculus.  The dome shape forces air passing over the oculus to increase in velocity.  The increase in velocity results in a decrease in pressure.  Near the portico, the air is slower resulting in an increase in air pressure.  The difference in air pressure creates airflow from high to low pressure, from the portico to the oculus.

The second passive system I researched was the Pantheon’s use of thermal mass to cool the interior space.  Thermal mass refers to materials that have the ability to store thermal energy for extended periods of time.  Some examples of thermal mass include concrete, rock, earth, cement, brick, water and ceramic tile.  The Pantheon’s structure is mainly made out of lime-pozzolana concrete.  During the day, the non-insulated concrete absorbs daytime heat, reducing the amount of heat that reaches the interior space, and resulting in a cooler interior air temperature.  The thermal energy absorbed by the concrete is negated due to the airflow of the passive ventilation system and the lack of insulation on interior or exterior.

By Christopher Chu

It is important to note that the thermal massing system of the Pantheon cools the building during the hot summer months, but is less effective at heating the building during the winter months because of the open oculus.  The extreme conditions of winter and summer must be considered when determining the possible effectiveness of the passive systems.  Rome, Italy is in a middle climate, therefore receiving both weather extremes instead of only one, such an equatorial climate that is always warm or a polar climate that is always cold.

If insulation was integrated onto the exterior and the Pantheon’s oculus was closed, inhibiting the passive ventilation system, then the thermal massing system would both passively cool and heat the interior space.  The thermal energy absorbed during the daytime and stored in the thermal mass would then be released during the night time counteracting the atmospheric cooling and resulting in a more constant the air temperature.  This alternate condition is depicted by this graph and my diagrammatic representation.

By Christopher Chu

By Christopher Chu



Hein, M (n.d.). Historical Timeline of Concrete. Retrieved November 1, 2011, from

Moore, D., P.E. (1995). The Pantheon. Retrieved November 1, 2011, from

Kosny, J., Petrie, T., Gawin, D., Childs, P., Desjarlais, A., & Christian, J. (2001, August 13). 
               Thermal Mass - Energy Savings Potential in . Retrieved from Oak Ridge National Labs 
Kwok, A., Grondzik, W., & Grondzik, W. T. (n.d.). The Green Studio Handbook: 
               Environmental Strategies for Schematic Design (2nd ed.). (Original 
               work published 2007) Retrieved from

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Assignment 4 – Pantheon

My independent research for project four will analyze the passive building systems of the Pantheon.  I chose to research the Pantheon because it is in my opinion the oldest and most successful example of designing with passive systems.  The Pantheon’s design supports passive ventilation, natural light, thermal mass, and water drainage.   The oculus, lime-pozzolana building material, and marble floor are the main passive design elements.  The careful use of building materials and varying levels of porosity connect the Pantheon and allow it to mediate its relationship to external systems.

In my CAD class I designed a 3-D model of the Pantheon which I will use to develop a series of sectional diagrams illustrating the passive ventilation via convection through the oculus, natural lights penetration into the interior space and absorption into the building walls via radiation and thermal mass, and the passive drainage of water via the porosity of the marble floor.

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Assignment 3

For assignment three I chose to track my energy consumption for a four hour period from 8pm to 12am during the winter when I am at home in New Jersey.

Energy consumption for a typical night would include:

  • heating a house
  • lighting a room
  • driving a car
  • eating a late night meal
  • taking a shower
  • watching T.V.
  • using a cell phone
  • using a laptop

Each of these functions utilize energy in one or more forms/uses:

  • agriculture (food)
  • electricity
  • building heating (oil)
  • transportation (gasoline)

I found the particular forms of energy used in New Jersey from (  In New Jersey the primary energy form for heating buildings is through fuel oil.  Cars run on traditional gasoline, and the primary source for electricity is nuclear power.

I modeled my diagram after a sankey diagram I found online of U.S. Energy Use.  It can be viewed at (  I really liked how it shows multiple energy types combining to produce a form of energy that we directly utilize.  For example, it shows electricity generation is produced by solar, nuclear, hydro, wind, geothermal, natural gas, coal, biomass, and petroleum.

One way I would impact the energy web would be to minimize the amount the energy loss from the use of fossil fuels heating buildings and driving cars.  Improving building insulation via technologies such as triple glazed windows or material choice such as using wood instead of concrete would decrease the amount of energy loss through conduction.

A second way in which I would impact the energy web would be to reduce the amount of electricity generated via natural gas/coal and increase the amount of electricity generated via nuclear energy or other non-fossil fuel sources.

The third way in which I would impact the energy web would be to reduce the amount of energy used transporting agricultural products and fuel oil needed for heating buildings.  This could be done by restructuring the agricultural infrastructure to emphasis locally supplied produce and changing the energy form we use to heat our buildings.

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Tar Creek Supergrid

The most recent post this past Wednesday on BLDGBLOG is a thesis project titled “Tar Creek Supergrid”.  The architectural project proposes building a massive frame structure above the ground that addresses environmental systems through its network of interconnected piers.  I think a project such as this is interesting to systems thinkers because of its priority to re-mediate environmental systems and the strategy from which it attempts to do this.  The blog post can be found at (

The strategy has three levels of program.  The top most level addresses photovoltaic energy and rainwater collection.  Human in-habitation and movement take place on the middle layer.  Lastly, programs aimed towards remediation of the soil and water take place on the ground level.

I think that the thoughtfulness put into creating such a comprehensive solution for the environmental systems of this site is really beautiful, almost utopian-like.  I’ll also add in that the concrete structure would be built by using leftover rock piles from abandoned mines.

However, I think that the BLDGBLOG author started to get at a really good point.  He says “It’s a bit of a Swiss Army knife—in the sense that it tries to solve everything and have a solution for every possible challenge”.  He goes on to say that the project authors focused too much on describing their solutions to the environmental problems and not enough on the architecture.  I strongly disagree, however his observation did point out that this project has designed an extremely complex and interconnected network of systems aimed at solving the environmental problems.  Most importantly, the project implements a single solution for each environmental aspect, and each solution is not necessarily resilient or flexible.  The whole system of the project seems extremely…brittle (non-resilient).

I can’t help but think what would happen to the system due to weathering over time, structural damage from a natural disaster, or changes in the environment.  Would this master plan super structure be able to maintain the effectiveness of its systems or adapt them?

On a similar train of thought, this project reminds me of our current infrastructure.  The project is so precisely thought out and the structure of its systems so interdependent that the system leaves little room for change.  I think this is quite similar to the current infrastructure which has penetrated and connected itself to so many different systems (resulting in in-numerous consequences when changed) that we have become unwilling and afraid to attempt to change it.  This project proposes to set up the same inflexibility and delicateness of our current infrastructure.

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Assignment 2

1.  My diagram focuses on the interactions between animal regulators and animal farmers, and the resulting influence on the Chesapeake Bay watershed system.  The elements in this diagram are the animal regulator, taxes/incentives, profit for farmers, amount of total animal farming, animal farming method, types of animals, waste (nitrogen/phosphorus), and bay health.  The connection between farming method, profit, and animal farming takes the form of a stabilizing feedback loop.  If one farming method is being overproduced, then potential profit from switching to the other farming method will bring the animal farming market back to an equilibrium that reflects demand.  A secondary feedback loop is formed by the involvement of regulators.  The animal farmer-farming method feedback loop that is driven by market force is influenced by the external actions of regulators who base their decisions on the current proportions of conventional and sustainable farming.  The actions of these regulators, in the form of taxes or incentives, can have either a reinforcing or stabilizing effect on the animal farming market.  One of the more interesting connections I saw was the choice of animal type which has a direct influence on the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus released into the bay, but do not affect the proportion of conventional and sustainable farming.  Ultimately, the purpose of the primary feedback loop is to ensure farmers are doing what is economically sustainable, however the purpose of the secondary (regulatory) feedback loop is to adjust the system to be environmentally sustainable.

2.   My experience playing the Bay Game taught me about the relationship regulatory taxes and market forces have over the production of conventionally or sustainably grown animals.  Before the Bay Game began I expected the behavior of the farmers to be easily controlled through my tax policies.  My plan was to reflect conventional farming’s environmental cost in its total expenses via the introduction of taxes in small increments.  I thought that the small changes in taxes would encourage incremental shifts in production and create more time for producers to rationally react to each other’s actions, resulting in a smooth reallocation of resources without rapid oscillations.  My experience in the game taught me that it is very difficult to prevent large production method shifts.  The slightest change in production methods that overshoots the projected demand can catalyze the market into oscillating between conventional and sustainable.

3.   To prevent market oscillations, I think that internal organization between the animal farmers, and communication with the animal regulators would greatly reduce the risk of market oscillations as a result of over-shots in production shits.  This strategy addresses a phenomenon that was very apparent while we played this game in class.  People were constantly trying to seek other people who they were connected to through the bay game system.  During breaks in-between rounds I saw people talking across rows, getting up to seek out other areas, or yelling their complaints to the whole class.  Real world organizations and venues that support this type of communication would increase of ability of the participants in the bay game system to achieve their intended results and avoided unintended consequences.

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Walnut Street

I think my parent’s house in New Jersey incorporates some great examples of designing via systems thinking.  The house is oriented to face south, and there is a very old and large tree directly in front.  The relationship of the house to the deciduous tree creates an almost perfectly tuned system to its surroundings.  Since the tree is so large, it covers almost the entire roof of our house from sunlight at midday.  The tree also provides optimal shading from the sun at other times of the day because the sun has a natural path that arcs across the southern side of the sky.  During the winter, the tree looses its leaves and the allows southern sunlight to hit the facade of the house which was previously avoided during the summer.  In addition, the facade of the house is designed with large windows, allowing light to penetrate into the building interior.

In comparison to this passive system of climate control, my dad maintains a highly efficient active climate control system.  Due to the main thermometer being located on the fourth floor, the a/c system will run until the desired temperature is achieved on the top floor.  An natural inefficiency exists because cold air sinks, and energy trying to achieve a desired temperature on the top floor is wasted making the lower floors colder than necessary.  My dad corrects this system lag, making it more responsive by placing fans at each stair case.  The upwards airflow evens the temperature between floors, and the a/c system achieves the desired temperature quickly and using less power.  I think this is a great example of creating a responsive and efficient system by applying simple systems thinking.

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Sometimes the right solution isn’t the best one

On Tuesday, Professor Sherman said something along the lines “sometimes the right solution isn’t the best one”.  It was in reference to a bay game situation in which all the farmers switched to organic methods causing them to lose money and as a result made the system unsustainable.

I think this is one of many instances in which the integration of a less optimal or desired solution is necessary to the structure of a system as a whole.  In the farming example, there are two possibilities for why the farmers switched from conventional methods to organic.  Either they switched by their own free will or they were pressured by taxes imposed by regulators.  In both situations additional demand causes prices to be higher, therefore raising barriers to entry and putting additional financial stress on farmers.

When addressing informal settlements, such as the favelas in Brazil, there is a similar system structure.  Typically two different types of houses exist in a settlement, shacks built out of found materials and poorly constructed brick houses.  In this informal settlement system, new migrants enter the system with no money, building shacks and then saving to construct a more permanent dwelling.  When governments attempt to destroy or prevent temporary homes, it disrupts a crucial step in the economic growth for migrants.  In addition, it can increase demand for permanent dwellings, therefore raising construction prices and raising a barrier to entry.

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