Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Technology and toys (Workshop 3)

By Dana Buntrock


Every morning for four days of the workshop, Susan, George, and Brendon (sometimes assisted by Dept of Architecture grad students or Loisos + Ubbelohde staff) gave basic lectures on the physics of building performance, based on daily themes: Light, Heat, Air, and supplementary energy. Most of the lecture materials were mined from courses that Susan teaches at Cal and presentations George and Susan regularly offer to professionals.

But one of the interesting things about the small offices that drive Japan's architectural community is the importance of empiricism--hands-on methods of testing--over rational methods. Architects in Tokyo are inclined to build physical models and mock-ups, some quite huge, instead of simply looking at simulations in a computer screen. In an office, you might see rough cardboard mock-ups attached to the ceiling or walls and see huge piles of material samples; on construction sites, there are often a number of more sophisticated mock-ups of finishes and details.

We set aside half of each day for the head (the lectures) and half for the hand (measuring and testing).  The approach has a long tradition at Cal, based on Cris Benton's Vital Signs project, and so we were able to draw on existing equipment lists and libraries to pull this all together quickly.

Collecting sky radiance data.

You know those t.v. shows where there is a motley group of far-too-young brainiacs with high-tech toys that solve mysteries? I suspect that is what the Berkeley workshop team looked like to our Japanese counterparts.  We dressed casually and worked collectively.  We brought tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment; every day we distributed tools for measuring and testing: meters for measuring lightsurface temperaturesair speed, and humidity. Brendon developed lunchtime assignments, which the workshop teams did as a group.

The infrared equipment has been by far the biggest hit.   Our grad students still in Tokyo have been going around to the offices for follow-up visits, and they note that, while humidity and air temperature are equally important in determining comfort, the offices save their greatest enthusiasm for IR (infrared) sensors.  David, shown below with a more sophisticated (and expensive) IR camera, joked that the trigger was one of the reasons for the IR senors' popularity.  But the truth is that these tools make you aware of an environment in new ways.  You could not pick a better time to learn about heat and humidity than a Tokyo summer, either!

IR Camera
David Fannon (MS '11) checking body heat during a presentation.

In addition to the hand-held tools we brought, there was a lot of software introduced to the workshop participants, much of it freely available on-line.  The younger members of our team used this software to demonstrate not only further reading of the existing environment, shown below with a program called Photosphere, but also, as I will explain next time, in a set of rapid simulations that were used to offer design feedback to workshop teams.


Luminance with Photosphere
Workshop participants used digital cameras to assess light levels.

See all the entries on this workshop:

#1: Architects talking energy--in Tokyo

#2: California Collaboration: Activate a Cloud

#3: Technology & Toys

#4: Software for study and simulation

# 5: Where do we go from here?

Or see photos:

Everyday Wurster's site on Flickr