I reject the academic bleating that form has to be visible, conceptual, impractical, and fairly hideous to be relevant. While architects have been fidgeting with the next cloud-poking tweak on wrapping steel with glass, the invisible zone of the section has become complex, fascinating, and beautiful, a multifarious matrixed border enabling environments of our own imagining. Contemporary buildings are essentially defined by psychrometric control. A passive form (the envelope) works with an active machine (mechanical systems) to define an interior environment that is intentionally and specifically distinguished from its exterior counterpart, sometimes called “nature”.  Environmental control has become the new generative force of form, propagating the sterile sectional poche into an organic machine complete with constantly evolving functional organs arrayed in layers and wrapped in a skin.

Why design? Why build? What essential goal drove the ancients as they laid the few stones that created the order that has obsessed us for 2000 years? I have no way of knowing, nor do I care. However, today it is clear: we build first and foremost to control how and what our senses perceive. We want a stable psychrometry in the face of an uncooperative and constantly changing sensory context, the outside. We want to control heat and light, fashioning a zone of comfort defined by our personal gods in defiance of all others.  The parti here eclipses form, ascending to pure energy, as it is the control of energy and therefore of performance that is the animation that drives the developing envelope, the nucleus of our new universe.

Consequently, I declare performance as the next “ism” in the annals of architectural critique. Performancism conforms to the prerequisite of being difficult to pronounce and hard to swallow. Yet it is a simple concept, ripe for the bumper sticker. Form does not follow function. Nor does it follow performance. Form is a part of performance, a consequence not a rationale.  Like all organisms, the shapes of buildings evolve from what they do. It is not what they are. What changes through time (what evolves architecturally) is the enviro-culturally derived reason for the drive to build, the rationale for the existence of buildings. And what we design here and now exists to perform.

WHY? I grew up in the intense heat of Central Texas where everything living is in a constant search for shade. Whether a cow under a tree or a dog under a porch, the rationale was consistent and obvious. This logic was carried through by us humans in the older neighborhoods where houses with large front and screened back sleeping porches were nestled under the spreading canopies of oak trees clearly older than the houses themselves. This changed. Maybe it was the arrival of air conditioning and the money to be made by replacing trees with more houses. Whatever the reason, newer neighborhoods were treeless and porchless and HOT. The contrast was stark and unequivocal. The newer neighborhoods (tellingly relabeled “developments”) locked in a dependence on fuel driven, breakable mechanical systems and set a hefty baseline energy usage. They also defined two completely distinct environments, with the inside becoming a sort of prison of comfort discouraging inhabitants from venturing outside as part of their daily home life.  The older neighborhoods, on the other hand, used passive strategies (trees, overhangs) to adjust the microclimate around the buildings toward the human comfort zone, lowering cooling loads and therefore baseline energy demand while creating a “third environment” around the house that encouraged a lifestyle that included being outside.. I didn’t realize it then, but this was my first lesson in passive design and it set the tone for my future work in sustainable design. Though I see mitigating climate change as a central macro-rationale for my work, I believe that the sensible path to efficiency leads to a better, healthier lifestyle. Over the years I’ve gotten deeper into science of building envelopes and increased the scale and scope of the projects and materials that interest me, however the throughline in my research has remained constant and can be described by the motto: passive first, then active.
I conduct research into materials, assemblies, and systems in the context of building envelopes. I am particularly interested in high performance assemblies and how to configure them so that they interact with site conditions to minimize heating and cooling loading while maximizing durability. My associated research life has comprised essentially three phases: (1) site harvested and waste materials modeled on traditional hygroscopic systems; (2) mass produced materials and assemblies that increase functionality within the existing construction industry while maintaining certain benefits of traditional systems; and (3) concrete technologies, specifically with the goal of improving concrete’s carbon footprint and maximizing its thermal performance potential in building envelopes.
I generally try to connect all research I do to a design project and connected publication. Sometimes this cycle has been very personal. For example when I lived in a two room mountain log cabin for three years and took a self-directed course in homesteading. Most often it has been tied to residential design and publication projects. As my interests have moved toward the larger scale and industrial, I have moved into a traditional academic lab research and journal/conference publication paradigm.