Modeling Urban Energy Flows

The primary focus of this course is the study of energy flows in and around groups of buildings. The investigated scales will range from individual buildings to urban \’proto blocks\’ (around twenty buildings) and complete neighborhoods that include hundreds of buildings. Students will learn about and practice the use of emerging digital techniques that allow them to analyze and influence building energy use as well as occupant health and comfort at these three scales through deliberate design interventions. An initial learning objective is for students to appreciate that in dense urban settings buildings strongly interact with each other and thus create urban microclimates that significantly alter their energy use from what it would be if they were placed sufficiently far away from each other. These microclimatic effects include shading of neighboring buildings, urban heat island effects and localized wind patterns. Predicted climate change projections for the IPCC over the coming 90 years will be used in simulations, and student projects will be evaluated in current and future climate scenarios. Throughout the course, students will work in groups on the design of a \’sustainable\’ mixed use urban neighborhood that makes effective use of the above mentioned physical effects to the benefit of residents and the environment. To this end, the course is organized into four phases. During the first phase, students will learn how to model thermal/energy performance of individual buildings using the US-Department of Energy\’s EnergyPlus simulation engine combined with the DesignBuilder interface. During this first phase students will learn the basic assumptions underlying the simulation program and practice its use through a series of simulation exercises. Modeling concepts for naturally ventilated and air conditioned buildings will be covered. At the end of this phase all groups are expected to have developed base designs for a residential and commercial building that will later function as building blocks for the entire neighborhood. During the second phase, students will learn how to translate these energy plus models into a Rhinoceros-based urban modeling platform that is currently under development at the GSD in collaboration with the School of Public Health and Penn State with funding from the National Science Foundation. The platform will allow students to automatically run energy simulations of urban scale massing models built in Rhino. During phase three, students will learn about various attempts to model urban microclimatic effects. During this stage they will start to work with small urban proto blocks consisting of arrangements of about twenty of the base buildings that were developed during phase one. Students will be allowed to modify their base designs throughout the course. The purpose of the proto blocks is to break up the problem of designing urban neighborhoods into smaller entities of buildings so that different design variants can be quickly explored. At this stage the use of Grasshopper combined with the earlier mentioned Rhino plug-in may be useful but will be optional. Finally, during phase four, we will be exploring complete neighborhoods including their boundaries to other neighborhoods. At this point the discussion will start focusing on what suitable criteria and techniques are to visualize the environmental performance of neighborhoods. The final course deliverable will be student presentations that make convincing arguments as to why the neighborhoods that they designed deserve to be called \’sustainable\’. The class format will consist of lectures, software tutorials and discussions. A series of homework assignments and group projects will further deepen the content of what has been covered in class. A number of guest speakers will be joining us throughout the term.