summer SUSTAINABILITY course in session!

Monday, May 19, 2014


The spring session of Zessn Schoolhouse complete; I hope you are looking at buildings a bit differently.
This is a good opportunity to catch up on any homework you missed and were particularly interested in; the google+ community is still active and I LOVE to see all of your homework and discussion submissions.  

Thank you for learning with me, y'all were awesome!

Cornell's Entry Into The 2009 Solar Decathalon
Washington D.C.
Image courtesy of paul_houle via Flickr

Summer Session starts soon

The summer session will start on Monday, June 2, just two weeks away!

The main topic on the docket for the 10 week summer session is SUSTAINABILITY as it relates to architecture.  
Daylight, exposure to chemicals, building material sources, high tech vs. low tech, energy use, regionalism, etc.  

Fewer field trips, more experiments.  


p.s.  there are no prerequisites, so if you have a friend who wants to "attend," invite away.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Building Types we are investigating:

    1.  #005 Residential
    2.  #006 Agricultural 
    3.  #007 Shops, Mews & Restaurants
    4.  #008 Public Buildings 
    5.  #009 Commercial Buildings 
    6.  #010 Industrial Buildings (last week)
    7.  #011 Sports Buildings, Theaters & Churches (today!)

    Buildings that can hold lots of people in a large, open space are a specialized type with many subtypes. 

    The Main Goals:

    1. Have lots of seating, all with unobstructed views of the stage/altar/podium/field/proscenium.
    2. Have acoustics that allow the audience to hear the spoken word or music.
    3. An additional very important goal is to get all those people out fast in the event of an evacuation.

    Early Theaters

    The earliest gathering places I'm aware of were small, classroom auditoriums in ancient Alexandria. The "stadium" seating was cut into the ground in a rectangular shape with the podium at the lowest rectangle, and there was likely a tent erected overhead for shade.

    Theater in Ostia (ancient port city near Rome)
    Image courtesy of littlemisspurps via Flickr
    Then you had the theaters of ancient Greece and Rome.  These probably started out just mimicking a really great hillside, or maybe even as an alteration of a hillside into stepped seating.  The early ones were usually in a semi-circular shape centered around the stage.  By not having a full circle, they could make use of a natural backdrop as scenery or use props and sets.  Theaters would have gotten most of their use from educational and political lectures as well as theater.

    the Colosseum, Rome. Largest amphitheater in the world
    Image courtesy of Diliff via Wikimedia Commons
    Later came amphitheaters (same prefix as amphibian, meaning "both sides") in the full round. The Colosseum and most of the smaller circuses (for chariot races) were this way.  So are most modern stadiums.

    Same as today, they rarely had any kind of partial roof; and, if they did, it was only for the wealthy gents of status.

    Synagogues & Churches

    The earliest synagogue found was in Egypt, from the third century B.C.E.  Synagogues were in use by the Jewish people even during the temple periods.  Those that have been unearthed have squarish-rectangular plans with a row of columns all around.  They would have been used for scripture reading and communal prayer.

    Image in the Public Domain
    Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    Solid black areas are stone.
    Most early Christian groups met in the open air or in members' homes.  For a very long time, (and for most religions) buildings for worship were temples and burial places.  These were not for large groups, but individual worshippers.

    After the legalization of Christianity by Constantine (fourth century A.D.), public churches were allowed, but they were usually renovated from earlier homes & civic buildings, markedly the basilica. The basilica was a long rectangular shape with a large central aisle and side aisles.

    Basilica Maxentius (pictured on the right) is a very fine example of a civic basilica that could be used as a Christian church.  One of the first things to be changed, though, was moving the entry.  You can just see the fine lines that
    Typical Christian basilica layout. The entrance is at
    the arrow.  The shaded area is a Christian adaptation
    called a transept. Image courtesy of
    Lusitana via Wikimedia Commons
    indicate stairs at the bottom center of the image. These would have been moved so that a worshipper entering at the main stairs/doors had a very long terminating view of the altar.

    Note that congregants seated in the side aisles would have a very good chance of having their view of the altar ruined by columns in the way. But the building needed those columns to help span the large open area.

    Many post-Reformation churches follow a plan that harks back to the classrooms and amphitheaters of ancient time.
    In a reaction against the implied hierarchy of the basilica (us important people up here on the altar close to God, you plebeians can watch from down there in the congregation), an emphasis on sermon rather than ordinance has changed what churches look like.

    A centralized church plan may simply be a basilica with a very large transept, or a round or square-shaped plan.  This helps there be many more "good" seats and very few "nosebleed" ones.... which brings me to:


    LDS Conference Center, Salt Lake City, built 2000
    Image courtesy of pncsmith via Flickr.
    I know, looks like a UFO landing, but the engineering
    is much more impressive than the aesthetics.
    We still have lots of open air places to congregate for sporting events, but most other gathering spaces are indoors.  This means a big fat roof to span that space, and preferably, no columns to block views.

    The Radio City Music Hall asserts that it is the largest indoor theater in the world at 6,000 seats.  It opened in 1932.

    In Salt Lake, we have one of the largest indoor theater-style auditoriums in the world, seating 21,000 and NO visual obstructions for any of those seats.

    The largest indoor sports arena in the world is in South Korea.  The Gwangmyeong Velodrome, completed in 2006, seats 30,000 for cycling races.
    Tower of Juche Idea & Rungnado May Day Stadium,
    Pyongyang, North Korea
    Image courtesy of yeowatzup via Flickr

    Many of the largest outdoor sporting venues are for football (sometimes known as soccer).  The Rungnado May Day Stadium in North Korea has been dominating the top of that list since 1989 with 150,000 seats.  For comparison, contemporary accounts put the Colosseum's capacity at 87,000 (though modern estimates are 50,000... maybe there was a wing we don't know about).

    Homework #011

    Field trip in your mind:

    Tell us about the best and the worst places you've been to for theater, worship or sports.  Be sure to explain what was so great and what was a big fat failure (and I mean the space, not the performance!).

    This Week's Q&A #011

    solid buttress at the Saviour Chapel, Zejtun, Malta
    It looks to me like it was added later, as an afterthought
    Image courtesy of Maltesedog via Wikimedia Commons
    Emma: What is a buttress?

    Ally: Buttresses are structural elements that do wonderful things for the interior and can make the exterior look like a spider.

    Why so wonderful?

    Situation 1.  Let's say you put a nice heavy roof down on the GROUND.  Its weight is distributed equally at every point where it touches the ground, and all of load is straight down.  Easy peasy, the ground has no problem holding it up!

    Situation 2.  Same roof on two short SIDE
    flying buttress at St. Mary's, Lincoln
    Image courtesy of Richard Croft
    via Wikimedia Commons
    WALLS.  Now all of that weight has to travel to the side walls: the weight that comes all the way from the center of the roof has to travel towards the side walls, too.  This force pushes them out a bit.

    Situation 3.  Same roof on two TALL side walls.  The taller they are, the more wobbly they become and the easier they are to tip over.  So you decide to make them thicker and stronger with a buttress.  No more topply. (see the chapel at Malta, top right)

    Situation 4.  You start running out of stone for these super thick wall supports, so you start putting arches and other openings in the buttress, while still bracing the original wall.  These are called flying buttresses.  (see St. Mary's, middle right)  It's a lot like propping up a friend who's leaning on you.

    Buttresses & flying buttresses do a great job of stabilizing tall walls with a large open space inside.  If those walls also have lots of glass to let in lots of light, they need even more buttressing.

    And now we have arrived at the gothic cathedral that looks like a spider on the outside.

    flying buttress on the East side of
    Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
    Image courtesy of Daniel Vorndran 
    via Wikimedia Commons
    I included the example at St. Mary's, because it's very rare that the area between the buttressing and the main enclosure walls is a place you'd want to be.  At St. Mary's, it's almost a pleasant/safe area.

    There are lots of nice buttress diagrams here if my clumsy explanation was too thick.


    Monday, May 5, 2014


    Building Types we are investigating:

      1.  #005 Residential
      2.  #006 Agricultural 
      3.  #007 Shops, Mews & Restaurants
      4.  #008 Public Buildings 
      5.  #009 Commercial Buildings (last week)
      Drawing of Marshall's Mills, Holbeck showing operators
      at their machines. From the Penny Magazine Supplement,
      December 1843 "A Day at a Leeds Flax Mill"
      Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

      6.  #010 Industrial Buildings (today!)
      7.  #011 Sports Buildings, Theaters & Churches

      Wahoo!  We made it to Industrial Buildings.  I always think of cool vintage warehouses and factories built of brick and steel when I think industrial, but let's get a slightly more formal definition:

      The Industrial Revolution(s)

      Industry is the business of manufacture or fabrication, basically since the first Industrial Revolution (starting in about 1760).  Before that
      The Crystal Palace Interior, London
      McNeven, J., The transept from the Grand Entrance,
      Souvenir of the Great Exhibition,
      William Simpson (lithographer),
      Ackermann & Co. (publisher), 1851, V&A
      Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
      time, there were merchants who sold and traded, but now we're talking about mass production of an item, not "to order."  Manufacture uses modern production methods, including heavy machinery and a very limited scope in terms of labor skills, often unrelated to physical strength.  This means the healthiest worker is the ideal worker, even if they were children.

      On one hand, struggling families had more wage-earners.  On the other hand, the working conditions (inadequate ventilation, loud machinery, VERY long hours by our standards, repetitive labor, etc.) did not contribute to good health; by the way, children and the elderly are much more susceptible to a poor environment than adults in their prime. 

      In spite of these challenges, it is hard to say that
      Over London–by Rail from London: A Pilgrimage (1872)
      Gustave Doré, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
      it was devastating for the population when for the first time in history there was a simultaneous increase in population and in per capita income.

      The Industrial Revolution began a new phase in the mid-1800s, with the spread of steam power and more readily available machinery.

      Industry continued to explode with the mass production (requiring standardized parts) and assembly lines like those of Henry Ford into the early 1900s.  

      What did this mean for industrial buildings?
      Clip from the BBC 2004 miniseries adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1854 novel North and South
      a beautiful story set within the challenges and beauties of the late/2nd industrial revolution.
      In this clip, Margaret Hale sees the cotton mill for the first time, and the fury of the 
      master when a worker is found smoking and endangers the entire mill (violence warning).
      Margaret says, "I believe I've seen hell: it's white.  It's snow white."
      (Yes, that's Richard Armitage, otherwise known as Thorin Oakenshield of the Hobbit.)

      Fast forward#5 Highland Park Ford Plant from 22:15 - 26:50

      Industrial Buildings

      Marshall Field Warehouse in 1890
      by Henry Hobson Richardson (built 1887)
      Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

      Location Location Location

      Industrial buildings need lots of materials delivered to create their product and typically need to distribute their completed product.
      That means transportation: docks, railroads, and other transportation hubs.


      What the workers really needed was daylight & fresh air.   Improved worker comfort = better productivity.  And the more comfortable and healthy workers are, the longer they stay: the less an employer has to pay for worker training.  Win-win.

      What the equipment and mass production needed was open floor plans uninterrupted by columns.

      Image courtesy of j burkhalter via Flickr

      All That Uninterrupted Space

      Fewer columns and bigger windows mean longer spans: you need better beams!

      Almost all the beams in the pre-industrial world were made of wood.   They could only be as long as the available trees were tall.  And only as strong as they were deep....

      By "deep," I mean how tall from top to bottom when in place.  For example, a 2x12 (2" x 12" deep) pine beam will span a greater distance than a 2x8 beam.  Of course there are factors other than depth to consider when sizing beams (like wood species, wood grade, allowed deflection, etc.), but all other things equal, depth is the superstar when it comes to simple spans.
      Pratt Truss, patented in 1844, Boston
      Image courtesy of ZabMilenko via Wikimedia Commons

      Somewhere along the way, someone was unimpressed with his lumber choices and thought, "Can't I just build a deeper beam with smaller pieces?"  Enter the truss.

      Side Note:  Tensile Strength vs. Compressive Strength

      When a beam deflects under load, its top compresses
      while its bottom stretches in tension.
      I should mention here that a beam is a pretty interesting animal in construction, and that's because it has to be good at both tensile strength and compressive strength.  Most building elements only need to be good at one of these.

      Tensile = stretching without breaking
      Compressive = squishing without being crushed

      Walls--in order to support the weight of a roof--need to have compressive strength: not be squishable.  Imagine if your walls were made of
      marshmallow igloo
      Image courtesy of phil wood photo via Flickr
      marshmallows.  Would they be able to support anything heavy?  Masonry is super efficient at compression.  Have you ever crushed a rock until it broke?  It takes a lot of strength!

      Rubber bands would make terrible walls, but they are very strong in tension: they can stretch very far without breaking.

      The cool thing about wood is that when used correctly, it is pretty good at both compression and tension, which makes it an awesome material for a beam or truss.

      And with all manner and shape of trusses, no
      Iron frame with arched trusses
      Library Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, by Henri Labrouste
      Image courtesy of jastrow75 via Flickr
      one bothered to improve on the superskills of wood, until factories demanded it.

      New & Improved Spans

      So you need something stronger than wood in compression and tension to span greater distances. What do you use?

      1.  iron frame (1840)
      2.  reinforced concrete frame (1870s)
      3.  steel frame (beginning in 1880)

      Iron was great, except that its strength
      Rand McNally Building, Chicago.
      First steel frame building in America
      1889 by Burnham and Root, demolished in 1911
      Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
      deteriorated very quickly under heat (fire) and the whole building would collapse before anyone could get to safety.  It is no longer in use.
      We still use reinforced concrete and steel frame for most buildings that are not residential.

      Note: concrete is really awesome at compression, and the steel that "reinforces" it from the inside is excellent at tension.  When they work together as a unit, they can be very deep and very strong.

      Homework #010

      Visit an industrial building.  This one may be hard, because most factories & warehouses are secure. Viewing from the street may have to suffice!

      brick-faced warehouse Sterrett at McKee, Houston
      Image courtesy of Patrick Feller via Flickr

      • Determine what the structure is made of.  Note: many older industrial buildings will have a concrete or steel frame, but the walls are filled in with brick.  These bricks are not part of the "structure," holding everything together.  They are just separating the inside from the outside.  And yet, sometimes, all you can see is the brick and it's impossible to tell what the structure is built from, like the image on the right.  
      • Are there plenty of windows to let the daylight in?
      • Is it an old building that is outdated for manufacturing?  If so, has it been abandoned or adapted for a new life as apartments, lofts, or offices?