Archives de Catégorie: Articles

The Culture of Indoors

Dear friends and family and pets,

We generally take the systems that surrounds us for granted. Ask yourself, what is an air conditioner? The answer would be rather childish: "It is a magical machine that can turn any room into a fridge" ; "it’s a winter maker." But do we really know what an air conditioner or heater does? Well, as rising architects, we definitely should.

Let’s first think about the culture of living indoors. Our bodies evolved and became adapted to the external weather variations. But around seven generations ago, we the human kind became fond of  living in constructed shelters, the buildings that we build, that are nothing more than a re-interpretation of the cave we once have inhabited. In class we talked about the ways humans used to control and create new indoor temperature. In medieval times we would just make a fire in the middle of the room. Then, we actually created a little enclosure were the fire would be lit: the fireplace.

English House Engraving

In the image above we can see various niches on the wall’s thicknesses: this is where the fireplaces are placed. We can always notice that almost every single room in that building in particular has a fireplace. This is due to the human nature of wanting to control indoor temperature.

We evolved and technology evolved and the human being created something called a boiler, which is nothing more than a steam generator. It is a device that creates steam by adding heat energy into water. It basically heats water and makes that heated water circulate through a building by pipes.

Diagram of Central Heating

The diagram above above shows us roughly how a boiler works. There is the actual boiler (in black) that is often hidden down below in a dark basement or outdoors. and it heats up the house

Air conditioners, on the other hand, it’s a device that moves heat out of a room. It sucks. I mean, it sucks the heat out of the room, and dumps it somewhere else, outdoors. In between that process the air goes through a refrigerating mechanism. This mechanism manipulates the pressure and the consequently the boiling temperature. Let’s take a closer look at the refrigeration machine:  There are two basically two kinds of coils joined by a bulky, heavy compressor and an expansion valve. The evaporater coil transforms a cold liquid into a cold gas. Then you compress it. Then the cold gas become a high pressure gas that becomes a high pressure liquid in a condenser coil. This liquid goes through an expansion valve and the process restarts. It is a closed loop.

Airconditioner Diagram

The thing that needs so much energy is the compressor. That is why your energy bill is so high. This is why the energy bill back at my hometown of Manaus is so high. This brazilian city and many others  are really air conditioner dependent.

Strategies for cooling

Air conditioners, though are not the only forms of cooling a space; dry and hot weathers shoud taker advantage of a process called "evaporative cooling". Below is a diagram of a Evaporative cooler. Evaporative cooling takes advantage of the water great enthalpy of vaporization. The temperature of hot dry air can be diminished significantly when the phase of water goes from liquid to vapor. This is because vapor requires much less energy.

Evaporative cooler diagram

Another system takes advantage of the peak loads during the course of a day. It is a strategy of not using energyduring the peak load.  You run a refrigeration during the night and it creates something like a big block of ice. This block of ice will be used to cool the building during the day. That way it won’t be necessary to run a compressor during the day when everybody else is doing the same. This concept really struck me during the lecture, I have never though about that before.

Peak loads during the course of a day in Germany.



Apartment for a Visiting Professor

Last system’s class session we were talking about ways to ventilate a building through design. So now I’d like to share my first studio project this semester and show the ways I found to deal with that issue.

In the beginning of this fall semester we were asked to design a small apartment for a visiting professor on the campus of the University of Virginia.  Our potential client was the department of religious study, so we were asked to incorporate a small, non-denominational chapel in the program. The building would be sited somewhere next to the department of reliogious study main Building; Gibson Hall, on the newly-built South Lawn Development project.

Apartment for Mr. And Mrs. Visiting Professors

In this project I was very much interesting in providing the maximum level of comfort to its users, by incorporating some key design elements. I had long conversations with my Studio intructor Michael Petrus on ways this thin glass tube would work best, insulation-wise. The following sectional renderings reveals some of the mechanisms we came up with:

Sectional Rendering of the Building and Immediate context

I believe the most compelling thing is a section that looks closer on the main building structure itself:

Close-up Section; Design by Victor Hugo Azevedo

In the image above, it is noticeable the way I treated the rooftop. I was interested in creating a in-between zone, so that the sun radiation would not touch the building envelope directly. A similar thing happens vertically on the walls; I was trying to avoid creating direct thermal bridges. Every window is composed of two panels of glass in order to create that same air in-between zone. The interior of this building is never directly touching the exterior world. Besides that, I also created a system of movable wood panels in the exterior of the building in order to purposefully block the sunlight. Every window panel is also movable  so there is the potential of opening up the building and access the implied porch that is created between the wood panels and the glass.

(re)Interpreting the Vernacular: Jean Prouve’s Maison Tropicale

French architect Jeam Prouve has something to tell us.

Images of an interconnected world. am a subscriber of a design blog called "inhabitat" (link on top of this article) and this week they featured this series of very compelling sattelite images depicting the various network systems on our planet. It gives us an idea of how our world is organized; where the most influential, populated, industrial areas are and so forth.


The Price of Transparency

In this world, you have two options: You either solve your problems by means of technology or design. Ordinary people will chose to go the easy way and use mainly technology. Smart people (good architects) will do good design in order to leverage the potential of a building.

For years, architects have relied on technology to solve their buildings basic problems, such as heating/cooling. The rise of technology made possible new building types and shapes on the 20th century. I’d like to trace a parallel between two projects that shares the same concept but were treated differently by their architects; The Farnsworth house in Illinois by the mythical Mies Van der Rohe and the House in Lyon-Vaise by architects Joursa Francoise and Perraudin Gilles (1988).

Ms. Farnsworth's house.

Lyon Vaise House

It is very clear what these two projects wanted to be: Glass boxes. It seems to me that Mies did not come up with any vernacular solution to his project. His house functions like a spatial suit on this extra-terrestrial green field. The project is from 1951 so it is reasonable that architects at that time wanted to break up with their contemporary architectural typologies; and in that matter, this House is very successful. At the time is was very unusual to see a completely glass-clad building. Mies, therefore, relied on technology to achieve this level of transparency. The problem with that, and with many modern buildings of that time is that they are completely detached from their surrounding. There are no kinds of mechanical relationships.

A more recent project, though, shows us how we can still achieve this same degree of transparency and create a building that responds to the the environment more efficiently. This residential project in Lyon, France , by Francoise and Gilles; is in a way similar to the Farnworth House. But as we look up to the roof, something magical appears: a wonderful curved ceiling that hovers over the house steel and glass construction.


In brief, the roof structure is completely independent from the primary building envelope. The important thing to notice, though is that both act symbiotically. The elevated roof creates an airspace between the top surface of the house envelope and the roof structure itself. This decision is very successful in regard to insulation, since the building ceiling is not directly touching the outside; it avoids the creation of thermal bridges. Second, the roof structure expands outwards; creating an interesting canopy condition. It protects the house from direct sunlight radiation, therefore keeping the interior cooler during the summer months.

Finally, what I wanted to get at with this is to raise the question: What price are you willing to pay in order to make your building look a certain way (in this case, transparent)?  Would you rather be like Mies and completely rely on technology in order to keep the building hot or cold or create a more interesting solution through design, like the one Francoise and Perroudin developed? In the world we’re living in, under the current social and economic conditions, we can no longer just waste energy. The time of technology fetishism has passed. It is time for architects to develop new solutions  and consequently create new kind of buildings and spaces.


Technology + Systems: What Heidegger has to say

Since the beggining of this semester, I could not help myself on making connections between the different courses I’m taking and the Systems, Sites and buildings class. Last week, while reviewing for my theory midterm I was struck by a passage in a Heiddegger text.

On page 296 of his essay, Heidegger asks the question of what is Modern Technology.

"The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such." (Heidegger, 296)

A World of Micro-Climates

Last discussion session we were asked to go on an adventure to discover the different micro-climates on Earth, I mean, on Grounds.

1-Our adventure started near home; our discussion first stop was the little alley in front of the mythical W.G. Clark East Addition. The temperature difference was striking; It was a clear sunny day, roughly 71F degrees; but under the alley’s trees canopy, a whole different world:  amazing 65F degrees! One might speculate the reasons for this difference, I thought of basically 3. First: shadow, second: canopy, ans third possibily the materiality of the alley; mostly masonry.

2- After that we moved to the recently built sculpture plaza in front of the University of Virginia museum of Art. This second experience reiterated the fact that sun and shadow can create completely different experiences.

3- Our third stop in our journey was at the steps of Fayerweather Hall. This time we were interested in temperature differences in relation to materiality. Our group measured the temperature on the concrete surface of the sidewalk and then on the grass. The difference was shocking; almost 10F degrees away from each other!

4- I feel that one of the most interesting one was the difference in the pavement temperature. After that we moved to the Rotunda’s Cryptoportico. That’s an intrigging one. In my mind it is really the fact that this semi-underground hallway acts like a wind tunnel, funneling the air into it, and thus making it a colder space.5-After that, we took a closer look at the rotunda steps, and measured the temperature of the different materials around us.

6-We then explored the difference of temperature of the pavilions pediment and columns:

7-Last but not least, The rotunda East Garden+fountain. We revealed the difference in materiality.

I believe this practical exercise was very much important to make all of us aware of the how different our surround can become if we make relatively small changes such as planting a tree, or being conscious about materials. These decisions can make a huge difference in how we experience spaces.

The Hamburger Effect

jLast discussion session we were asked to diagram the cycle of a hamburger.

This is the one I drew in section.I came back later and tried to organize my thoughts, and consequently drew this new one.

Camilo Restrepo + Systems

A few weeks ago I attended to the Colombian architect Camilo Restrepo (I encourage all to visit his website- and I was amazed by how many different issues were taken in consideration when he designed his buildings. I was particularly struck by the sentence he said when describing an fashion show installation he made for the city of Medellin, it was roughly: "anything that you do will affect someone somewhere else". As soon as heard this my mind clicked and I immediately thought about my systems class. "It makes perfect sense!", I thought. And I imagine Bill Sherman, who was sitting behind me on the second row of the lecture hall thought the same.

I want to talk about a little bit about this fashion installation. In my mind it is the embodiment of what he said. It is a physical metaphor for "what you do will affect someone somewhere else." The installation is basically a wooden structure with some kind of lever on top. On each end of the lever he put water bottles. He attached a description of the Fashion Store new collection to the water bottles, so a person visiting the installation would pick a bottle, drink water and get to know the latest Colombian fashion trends. The interesting thing is that if someone picked all the bottles from just one end of the lever, the system would loose its equilibrium. Consequently the other end of the lever would raise. This way a person would not be able to pick bottles from that side anymore. This a simple but smart way to think about systems. The little things you do could lead to catastrophic consequences in the future.

The other interesting thing about his lecture was his other installation he made. It was basically an artificial tree designed to be placed in a public park in Medellin, an educational installation meant to tell the viewers the level of purity of the air. The really interesting thing was his process of creation and the amazing diagrams he made to show the different variables of the project. Unfortunately I could not find the diagrams for this specific project; I wish the architecture school could somehow let the students have access to all presentations. In any case, Restrepo is not only a great diagram maker, but also a wonderful architect. The buildings of his office are changing the face of Colombian cities. 


In many places, architecture does not really make any sense. I say that in terms of buildings not being suitable for the environment they’re built in. This trend is even more noticeable in developing countries in Latin America, Asia and Middle East. But this does not only happen in such places; it is reasonable to say that a big amount of modern buildings are being conceived as spacial suits, i.e. completely removed and independent from the surrounding world. Complete aliens, disregarding the magical things of a diverse planet.

It seems that our current society simply disregards the lessons that ancient peoples have to teach. We are no longer interested in practical solutions to problems specific to where we live. Instead, we are willing to replicate building typologies just for the sake of it. Buildings have become alienated from the environment; a direct consequence of being designed by alienated people. Architecture mirrors the aspirations of a society, it tells a story. I could ramble about the motives that led to this scenario, but this is not important at this moment.

What interests me is the level of discrepancy that is very much noticeable today.  There a huge gap between the "ideal" design (one that takes into account the local attributes of a place) and the existing design, dictated by the standards of real state marker, society et cetera. We have no longer a strong connection to the place. Place has lost is power.

This discrepancy is true in multiple scales. Disregarding the cellular level, I’ll say the most basic one is the individual scale. How do you, as an individual perceive the world you’re in? How to create a sense of place in a world that has an enormous ammount of non-places and common-places? The second scale is, as I have already discussed, the building scale. I’ll stop at the third one which is the city scale. Our cities are problematic.  We have a hard time to understand cities as ecosystems. Newman and Jennings in the essay "cities as sustainable ecosystems"  argue that cities should be self renewing. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, especially in a world that wastes so much energy.

What has been happening to our world? Why do so many buildings and whole cities seem like spaceships that landed on Earth from outer space? And the most important, what can be done to change this scenario? The answer is as complex as the question.


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