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How architects can make buildings aware of the local environment

How architects can make buildings aware of the local environment

Paloma Socorro. Courtesy photo

Picture a landscape. Imagine yourself standing in the middle. Now add a new building in front of it. What did you do?

It is likely that the spot you are standing in got warmer because the building breaks the wind and creates pockets and stagnant air. It may have replaced some greenery, but it also casts some shade.

The building likely adds amenities and services that the surrounding neighborhood may not have had before. Perhaps there is a cafe where friends and family can gather.

There are many ways infrastructure can transform its immediate environment. This can have an impact on the surrounding residents, whether they are humans or animals. Michelle LaboyNortheastern’s assistant professor of architecture. She said that architects often consider the climate in the larger region when planning site.

Laboy and a multidisciplinary team of Northeastern experts are trying to change this.

The team includes Amy MuellerAssistant professor of engineering Moira ZellnerProfessor of urban policy and public policy, and Daniel OBrienProfessor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Associate, proposes a new method of development that uses localized information about how the project will transform its environment, as a result of a system of sensors. It also revises the role and contribution of communities to development projects.

Their proposal, Common SENSES (Standards for Enacting Sensor Networks for an Equitable Society), was accepted. Latrobe Prize WinnerThe American Institute of Architects College of Fellows provided funding for the team. The team applied their new process in a real development project in collaboration and with the city of Chelsea, Mass.

From left to right, Moira Zilner, professor in public policy and urban issues, Michelle Laboy assistant professor, architecture. Left to right, Daniel O’Brien, associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, and Amy Mueller assistant professor in engineering. Photos by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University, Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University, and Matt Modoono/Northeastern University

People dont live in a region. People live in That corner. Mueller states that people’s experience is limited to a few places they visit every day. This means that their experience of a particular region is likely to be very different from that of any other person you might talk to.

She says that when buildings are erected in an urban area, it creates isolated spaces with different airflow and temperatures. This can trap stagnant and polluted air and cause health problems. She says it can also vary on a very small scale. For example, one side of a road might experience significantly more air pollution than the opposite.

Laboy says the idea is to make buildings aware and sensitive to their local environment. This allows architects to design infrastructure that seamlessly integrates with its environment and also adds value to the local environment.

It is crucial that the teams model includes the deployment of environmental sensor network before and after construction. These sensors would monitor environmental factors such as air temperature, humidity and water flows. This data could be used by architects to develop green infrastructure strategies to minimize the impact of a new building on the local environment, or to address existing environmental challenges such as flooding and air pollution.

Paloma Socorro. Courtesy photoPaloma Socorro. Courtesy photo

Sensor networks provide only environmental data. Researchers say that the people component of the ecosystem should be included in the design phase in a new way.

Typically, development projects start with architects designing a plan. Next, they meet with residents and other stakeholders to obtain feedback. Northeastern developed a new model that encourages local stakeholders to be more involved in the design process. It includes workshops and discussions with the community as well as idea generation starting in the early stages of development.

Zellner describes a digital collaborative board that allows people to collaborate on infrastructure design. It is a prototype tool to allow that level of input. It has a map of a site and its surroundings that allows people to draw and compare their own infrastructure plans to an underlying simulation that simulates floods, heat, and many other scenarios.

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She says this adds to the understanding of the community’s priorities. The trade-offs become apparent, which can then be used to inform the discussion about the solution we can all live with.

The Latrobe Prize win, according to the team, shows that there is support within architecture for a new model for developing infrastructure projects.

It is so meaningful to me that they recognize our research and the potential of that research to transform a profession I care about, says Laboy. Second timeBeing awarded the Latrobe Prize. It really means a lot to have their confidence in our project.

OBrien said, “The project shows what is possible.” It could be a demonstration of the potential impact of an approach that combines sensor technology with community workshops and conversations to achieve local climate resilience.

For media inquiries, please contact Marirose Sartoretto at m.sartoretto@northeastern.edu617-373-5718

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