Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Externalization of building programming to design in environmental and social resiliency

Christina Brown | Bachelor of Architecture 2020 + Master of Science in Sustainable Design 2020
Advised by Vivian Loftness, Marantha (Putu) Dawkins, and Herbert Dreiseitl

Despite the acceleration of climate change, architecture is increasingly designed as hermetically sealed boxes, requiring increased mechanical conditioning, which in turn further contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions warming up our planet.

The idea of “universal climate” or “la respiration exact” created by Le Corbusier was an idea that resonated with generations of modernists. At that time the application was challenging due to technological challenges, but as technology and science continue to develop, we have now successfully achieved our goal of hermetically sealed buildings due to the innovation in the air conditioning industry and the development of the psychometric chart (Willis Carrier) (amongst other advancements). However with this new found ability to produce artificial environments, we have also successfully disassociated ourselves from the natural environment by relying solely on mechanical conditioning even when we are equally able to open a window or a door. We now treat space as a simple box, internalizing all our design efforts inside the conditioned box, rather than considering what spaces could be outside or externalized to outdoor environments. 
In addition to disassociating people from the natural environment, this conventional approach also creates spaces where people disconnect themselves from their communities. The social vibrancy of a community isn’t embedded into the architectural design, so a corridor is simply for walking (rather than meeting neighbors and chatting), a lobby is purely to enter the building (rather than serving as a community gathering space for all its tenants), and the rooftop is just for mechanical systems (rather than acting as an urban farming space for its community). The vibrancy of hearing children playing, people chatting, and the birds chirping is all taken away as we build glass walls around ourselves on all sides. We have internalized ourselves away from our local communities, resulting in vacant and disconnected neighborhoods. 

“Why aren’t we embracing connections to nature and community?”

I began to question why this was our status quo, and what was the reasoning behind why we designed in such a manner after studying abroad in Singapore. Throughout my study abroad experience (as shown below), I was able to experience externalized architectural spaces in various countries and climates that all demonstrated a richer environmental connectivity and social vibrancy that wasn’t present in how we currently designed architecture. This made me begin to inquire into the idea of “externalization”.

“What does ‘externalization’ really mean? How would ‘externalization’ be evaluated?”

First set of criteria is the environmental connectivity of building programming - based on how the space is sealed, how much daylight is available, and what kind of activity takes place in these spaces.

Why is environmental connectivity important?

This could result in a significant amount of energy savings due to the decrease in conditioned internalized space. Additionally, this allow for an increase in physical activity and circulation, which can increase the overall social connection.

Through environmental externalization, there is added visual richness and connectivity, and well as auditory and sensory richness. This allows for the community to gain a sense of vibrancy through architectural design.

Second set of criteria is the social connectivity of building programming - ranging from individual and disconnected to urban community connectivity.

Why is social connectivity important?

The increased social connections allow for the success, resiliency, and longevity of the externalization strategies through increased social connections, an increase in the amount of outdoor activities, and allow for increased socio-cultural richness. Additionally this encourages people to communicate and develop a level of tolerance through a sense of community, which can increase the community resiliency in times of crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Externalization Palette

The full externalization palette when both the environmental connectivity and social connectivity are overlapped to create a larger palette that can then evaluate architectural design through this color schema.

In doing so, it allows for immediate understanding of a design's externalization quality in regards to its social and environmental considerations and creates a set of vocabulary for building program externalization that can then evaluate architectural design through the criterias of environmental and social connectivity. 

So how do these ideas translate into existing architectural design?

Shown below are 2 case study examples ( more detailed research forthcoming in publication ) that demonstrate the vocabulary ideas of the externalization palette, and highlight some notable differences for 2 healthcare typology and mixed use typology examples.  

Additionally, preliminary analysis were conducted to find possible correlations and patterns through a coding exercise. Eight case studies and 2 conventional examples were analyzed based on the environmental connectivity from the externalization palette (social connectivity forthcoming) and notable patterns and findings could be derived from the process. 

Based on the externalization ratio breakdown and the key findings derived from this research, it is evident that there are distinct differences between the conventional approach to architectural design and externalized approach. We should shift our way of designing architecture from the conventional to the externalized (as shown below) to design in social and environmental resiliency and connectivity. 

Additionally, there are building programs that had more opportunities for externalization based on the case study research.

By understanding both the vocabulary and the types of building programs to externalize, how can externalized architectural forms enable human-nature connectivity, and what is the vocabulary for such architectural design? ”

From the case study research analysis, an externalization taxonomy was created.

The taxonomy distinguish specific architectural design elements that externalize various building programming with varying environmental and social impacts. This begins to create a series of design strategies that can then be implemented into architectural design to allow for imbedded externalization. The strategies attribute to various parts of the externalization palette, allowing for a diverse set of strategies that can provide varying amounts of environmental and social connectivity based on the program and context of a project. Some examples are provided below.

To better understand the difference these strategies can make, a series of comparisons are shown below, highlighting specific strategies that were implemented in practice and how they compare to their conventional counterparts. 

How can these strategies be applied to and improve architectural design?

And what are the environmental and social impacts that can be achieved through the inclusion of externalized building programming within architectural design?

How can we shift architectural design from the conventional into the externalized?

To answer these questions, the externalization strategies are implemented within a building site (5600 Penn Plaza, Pittsburgh PA) to explore its impacts on architectural design. The resulting design is then compared to the original site massing proposal and other conventional building designs to better understand the impacts these strategies can have on the architectural design process.

Though the work is preliminary, it serves as a proof of concept for the importance and value of building program externalization within the architectural field. 

Note: The externalized design does not intend to serve as a proposal for 5600 Penn Plaza, but utilizes the site and context to better demonstrate how different externalization strategies could be used to respond to complex site conditions such as the Penn Plaza project, and enhance the overall experience and quality of the project. 

Conventional Example Floor Plans

Hypothetical floorplan based on another conventional project (842-848 Chapel Street, New Haven CT)
Externalized Floor Plans

5600 Penn Plaza, Pittsburgh PA

The design approach difference can be easily understood through these color-coded plans, which follow the externalization palette. Both the ground floor plan and the typical floor plan reflect a difference in externalization and social connectivity. Where the externalized floor plan provides community programming and space to interact, the conventional floor plan only provides a tight corridor and small lobby spaces for any kind of social interaction.  

Lastly when all these strategies are integrated into a singular design, it allows for the improvement of the building’s social and environmental resiliency. The project becomes much more liveable and vibrant, but also enable its occupants to connect with nature and each other. This social and environmental cohension can allow for us to drastically shift how we design and think about architecture beyond a hermetically sealed box, and lead us towards a new way of thinking that is more adaptive and resilient while reducing our overal carbon footprint. Through building program externalization, we can design architecture in a way that shifts our experiences away from those conventional norms into a new paradigm that can connect us to the environment, the neighborhood, and to each other

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