April 19, 2011

Students Collaborate for Sustainable Design

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The Cornell University Sustainable Design project team was established in an effort to create a team dedicated to multifaceted sustainability, research and design. This contrasted from the Solar Decathelon competition in which the team formerly participated. Founded in fall 2009, the group has garnered the interest of over 600 students during their first semester of recruitment.Currently, CUSD is working on two design projects – establishing a sustainable research facility on campus and building an early childhood center in South Africa in partnership with Education Africa, a non-profit organization based in Johannesburg. “Selecting the projects was a very tempered process,” explained Jesse McElwain ‘13 The founders put together several proposals and slowly narrowed down their projects to those that received the most interest from faculty.The Sustainable Research Facility project aims to advance sustainable building education locally as well as globally. The aim is to build a new modular building on campus that promotes and facilitates sustainability education and research. The center will house classrooms as well as laboratories.  The upcoming building is, “a place where everyone can converge and technology can be utilized by professors to perform research collaboratively,” described Jeremy Blum ‘12, the team leader.The team currently consists of about 60 students from engineering to industrial and labor relations to architecture. The project is entirely student-initiated and led, although they have the very active support of several faculty advisers, as well as the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, the Institute of Computational Sustainability, as well as the University.The building will contain modular walls that enable the building design itself to be dynamic. For example, the walls may be removed or rearranged, as required by the research in progress. “The building is designed to be as reconfigurable as possible… as new technologies develop we should be able to implement them [into the design of the building],” clarified Blum.One goal of this facility was to cover the economical, social and technical aspects of sustainability –– a breadth that was not incorporated into CUSD’s predecessor. Blum aims to have this facility help bring together different views on sustainability throughout the university.When asked about the team’s decision making process, the advisor for SRF, Prof. Schneider, systems engineering, explained, “We actually used a lot of systems engineering out of NASA. So the same techniques used for how to do the Apollo moon landings, we used the same procedures, actually for being able to make decisions as to how valuable is this technology.” The plans for the building are still at the design phase, as McElwain described, “By the end of the semester we are putting together deliverables; next semester, we’ll put together prototypes.” Although construction is expected to start around May 2012, the actual design for the building is still flexible. Schneider explained the significance of such a center at the University. “It’s going to be a fantastic Cornell landmark, something that really symbolizes that Cornell is a major university that is dedicated to [sustainability].” The team, mainly consisting of undergraduate students, is attempting “to design something that has never been designed before.”The Schoolhouse South Africa project aims to build a creche’, including four classrooms aimed to accommodate 80 children. The building will also be used as a teacher training facility for early childhood development training. A group of about 20-30 students will travel to South Africa this summer to collaborate with the local workers during the building process.When asked why the project appealed to him, project lead Barry Beagen ’11 responded, “Part of the vision for this project is to create long-lasting innovation…a lot of the times when NGOs and non-profits intervene it’s always been very bureaucratic.”Sixty-two second year architecture students undertook the designs for this project as a part of their curriculum. Over the course of this semester they have narrowed down the designes to ten potential designs.  This upcomming summer the group will decide on one finalized design.  Last semester was the team’s research phase, where  they explored city-scale development patterns, history, and possible ways to minimize impact on the site. All of this was compiled to form a 207 page book, currently available at the Fine Arts, Mann and Carpenter Libraries. Adviser Prof. Gebremedhin, civil and environment engineering, explained the project’s sustainable initatives. “One of the design requirements the students set for themselves is to make the building as sustainable as possible. Sustainability will manifest in material selection, construction practices, harvesting rainwater, making it fully passive, and more,” Gebremedhin said via email.

Original Author: Rujuta Natu