Green Negligee

Emergent Ecologies of the Post-Soviet Housing Block

Green Negligee is a research project that proposes an alternative to current renovation trends in Eastern European multi-family housing blocks. Using the socio-economic context of the urban area of Petržalka, Slovakia as a test bed, we developed a specific approach to environmental analysis as both a first mode of inquiry and as input for a design method for building adaptive parametric models linked to specific series of data sets, which provide an innovative analytical model for more efficient form finding and performative testing. Rather than designing a single specific solution to the problem we designed a process itself: a method, based in adaptive system logic, having a series of constraints and variables, which produces adaptive solutions for specific locations within the larger urban fabric of the Petrzalka district. The purpose of the Green Negligee is to leverage the embedded (yet currently suppressed) social desire for collective cultivation and leisure, and the political and economic ad-hoc social conditions that have developed since the fall of communism, to create a system that can be used to engender a sustainable future for the Petržalka district. Green Negligee proposal attempts to accomplish this by blurring the hard boundary between the buildings and the landscape with lightweight, secondary façade elements that host a variety of low maintenance quasi-naturalistic systems and energy harvesting devices that, in their aggregation, create both alternatives to installed building service systems and new social spaces.
 
Related Works: ACADIA’12, The Language of Architecture, eVOLO, The Architectural Review, DoE’09, Arnold Brunner Grant
 
PROJECT TYPE: Design Research Project | LOCATION: Petrzalka, Slovakia | PHASE: Environmental Analysis and Design Proposal | YEAR: Completed January 2012 | SIZE: Urban Zone for approx. 200,000 occupants


 

 

Constructed across the Danube from Bratislava in the sixties and seventies as a communitarian parallel to the modernist, social democratic model of a “functional” city, Petržalka is an example of a state controlled planning process that resulted in rigid programmatic segregation and a compositional urban scheme dominated by the application of a panelized prefabricated concrete system to the task of social engineering. Petržalka is the result of a “top-down” formulaic planning model providing equal access to necessary services. This organizational model built during the totalitarian system prioritizes collective distribution of all the utility systems over any notion individual control. Therefore all the environmental control systems are centralized, serving entire series of building blocks. After the fall of communist regime the “top-down” planning system and the hierarchy that controlled these spaces were replaced by an ad-hoc opportunism that completely lacked authority or reciprocal bureaucratic organization. Although since most of the apartment blocks were turned into co-ops, the ownership of the interstitial spaces became undefined. In the absence of any significant legislative structure, the spaces started to undergo a “ground-up” reorganization. Local people started to take control over their local domains and adapt them to their immediate personal and entrepreneurial needs. Currently, a second kind of “top-down” system is imposing a different kind of structure on Petržalka. The new system is based on the neo-liberal consumerist model of economic and spatial organization. Open spaces are being taken over for the development of big box stores and parking lots. Many of the previous public amenities are being removed, neglected, or privatized and converted to corporate use. This new system tries to de-emphasize the importance and functionality of collective responsibilities and collective space.

Despite the stigma usually attached to this type of social housing, the real estate in this area has become quite valuable due its proximity to the city center and shifts in post-Soviet demographics. The privatization of state owned apartment blocks with centralized utility systems has created ambiguities about the extent of ownership beyond the line of the single apartment and energy management. Privatization has also led to questionable ownership of auxiliary systems, neglect, and maintenance problems, as well as imposing on residents the human costs of living in fundamentally unsustainable buildings. The issue of landscape ownership is particularly problematic. Historically the district was used for viticulture; during the era of collective ownership the strong cultural need to transform the ground within the stark figure of the rectilinear plan was channeled into cultivation, planting and gardening. The building owned the adjacent land around it and took care of it. The garden ownership occurred by nurture and perhaps local dispute. This trend of nurturing the ground is culturally very strong, yet more recently been rendered unattainable because of privatization and loss of collective ownership of public spaces. Thus, because of the general deterioration of the collective, nature is reasserting itself. Every crack is overgrown and filled with weeds. As a result, the figure-ground is dissolving, adding textural and spatial complexities. The effect of the weeds softens the boundary between the built and natural environments and can offer different microclimatic effects and new niches for other social interactions.


 

Given our desire to integrate the designed and ecologically and socially pre-existent, the first step in the design process was to understand the dynamic environment that exists, currently, on the site. The physical layout of the buildings and the landscape, in interaction with climatic and hydrological forces, create multiple overlapping zones for opportunistic intervention, which reveal themselves through dynamic mapping processes. In other words, there exists, between figure and ground, a third zone, defined by the ephemeral forces of sun, wind and water, and un-captured by existing modes of bureaucratic control: an unoccupied niche.

Analytical parametric model of northwest quadrant of Petržalka is an example of dynamic environmental mapping used to discover the ephemeral hidden landscapes formed by the interaction of climate and site. These invisible boundary conditions define niches where componentized energy and waste processing systems would be more or less functional and could be deployed. The goal is to define zones of overlap, or gradients, where viticulture, wind harvesting and gray-water filtration are effective.


 

The GREEN NEGLIGEE is a modular retrofit system selectively attached to prefabricated concrete panel housing blocs in Petržalka, Slovakia. The Green Negligee attempts to address social, urbanistic and ecological problems created by the area’s top down CIAM inspired compositional and organizational panelized housing scheme, as well as dealing with energy consumption issues stemming from the fact that the un-insulated concrete building blocks perform poorly in Slovakia’s temperate climate. Given that, axiomatically, nature abhors a vacuum, we designed a system to fill that niche. Using the dynamic digital map as a base model, we have proposed a hierarchical system of parts that can be implemented at the sub-building scale, and be aggregated to interlock both with the larger built environment and the existing landscape. The primary component system forms tensile cable networks that create a secondary surface between ground and façade – a host for the functional systems that produce both spatial effect and systematic integration. These networks enable a new form of landscape distribution, subdivision and ownership as the vertical tensile system transforms into an obliquely malleable catenary landform. This modular net is itself anchored to the existing buildings which, due to their method of construction, are massively over-structured and are thus able to bear significant additional loads and the existing landscape.


 

Sectional system diagrams show the relationship between the environmental conditions, net formation and components distribution: The main cable systems of the façade net serve as a grey water filtration medium and support. The water filtration logic is based on Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) for hydroponic plant growth and is calculated based on William Jewell’s method (1992) for water purification.

 

4-dimentional data map with environmental data feedback of potential component distribution on tensile network : A real time dynamic diagram created by taking three dimensional data fields containing both wind speed and solar radiation data, and then passing the interpolated data at mesh vertices through a probability matrix to identify areas where different type of components are more or less likely to function well. Yellow zones represent areas of both high wind and solar radiation, red zones areas of low wind and high solar radiation, and blue zones areas of both low wind and radiation.

 
The components are not integrated into the cable network – rather they overlay the network in a loose pattern, meaning that they do not require a full geometric specificity that is dependent on the underlying geometry of the net itself. The multiple component types have a myriad of functional overlaps including the collection of water, the transformation of wind and solar energy in to electricity or mechanical energy, and the provision of armatures to support both vegetation and the growth media it requires. Each of the secondary component types has a definite interval of variation, which is again governed by material properties, methods of assembly, and functional constraints. The components themselves aggregate into larger overlapping systems. They tend to organize themselves sectionally, and spread horizontally to define space.

Systems of secondary components populate the nets. They operate according to a patch-logic, defined by intervals associated with particular ranges of performance. This allows aggregated systems to intertwine, producing second order architectural and spatial effects. Potential component distributions are determined through interaction with the dynamic digital map, which delineates zones of relative effectiveness, and their specific layout derived from matching these potentialities with programmatic and formal intent.
 
The form of the net is developed using relaxation algorithms applied to boundary conditions between areas of relative environmental and programmatic differentiation revealed by the digital map of the site. Given that in any defined zone a multiplicity of these boundary conditions exist (between areas of lesser and greater turbulence, available radiation, existing view corridors, etc.) particular surfaces and different subdivision patterns can be selected to create terrains that are more or less suited to different purposes – to form enclosures, private winter-gardens, and semi-enclosed public spaces, to be hosts for localized viticulture and other water-purifying horticulture, and to support localized energy-generating devices.


 
Vibro-Wind Arrays: Vibro-Wind concentrator components were designed in collaboration with the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell (the oscillator system was developed by Prof. Frank Moon), who patented discreet wind power system that use vibration instead of rotation to generate power. It consists of concentrators – funnels – and oscillators, series of small kinetic elements located inside of the concentrators. We prototyped the vibro-wind harvesting system to integrate with the tensile façade network. We studied methods for both mounting the oscillators and concentrating the kinetic energy of the wind by parameterizing the funnel array geometry. We searched for funnel shapes which are most effective to accelerate wind velocity and also started to develop fabrication and integration methods for concentrators and oscillators.


 
The proposed tensile net and catenary geometries, as well as the harvesting system’s distributions, are negotiated between environmental data trends and desired spatial and programmatic needs, including the exclusion from the system. The boundaries of embedded component systems are not evident as their topology is not singular. Their parameterization and range of plasticity cannot be absolute. Beyond the topological plasticity of a cell we are interested in the adaptive plasticity of the assembly. In parallel to phenotypic plasticity (*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenotypic_plasticity) the relationship of the underlying system (tensile net) to the component sets needs to be loose enough that it will enable adaptation over time and self-sustenance. Such plasticity enables discontinuity and overlap among discreet component series, permitting systemic fuzziness of non-distinct and overlapping boundaries. This is possibly inefficient, but effective.


 
Final test of the proposed system: Analyses using ‘Sustain’, an energy analysis software platform. Results of the thermal analysis suggest that south and west facing units behind the negligee section that are either shingled or vegetated will remain comfortable without mechanical conditioning throughout the year. Sustain image of radiation patterns on building surfaces underneath the negligee, showing how components can be configured to provide varying levels of shading. Sustain image of shading model showing shading geometry (with polygonal proxy vegetation) showing yearly radiation plots for selected building and ground surface patches. (Sustain platform was developed at Cornell by a group led by principal investigators: Kevin Pratt and Prof. Don Greenberg.)


 
The proposed system of GREEN NEGLIGEE does not so much represent a singular design, which would be repeated ad infinitum across the larger site, but rather a particular scenario that might fit a localized set of conditions and intents. The process of making a “best guess” at a configuration suitable to a particular locale might be best described as making a series of choices at each level of the system hierarchy from a set of probable potentialities – delineated by overlapping sets of analytical and observational data – that emerge from the indeterminate analysis.


 
The hierarchical organization and loose fit between systemic levels also allows for a localized specificity that enables the system to scale all the way down to the human dimension, and be reconfigured over time. Rather than imagining the intricacies of form, the intent is to construct a system logic imbued with both formal and performative tendencies, while retaining enough malleability to escape the particularity of a single instantiation. It is, perhaps, this tension between intent (system) and available modes of representation (image) that explains why the discipline of architecture has struggled to assimilate the idea that a project can be carefully designed, and yet resist a definitive tectonic formulation. It is, after all, difficult to apply traditional ways of making architectural judgments (relative proportionality, compositional effect, etc.) about the relative merits of a particular design to a proposal that remains, even during the course of its occupied life. It is here that we come to the most difficult piece of interdisciplinary thinking that, as architects, we have to accept, if we are to seize the territory made available made available to us by the intersection of computational potential and systemic, ecological modes of thought.


 
The component network is married to a landscape that has been reconfigured using berms, swales and gabions to both reinforce the attributes of the public spaces created and further store and process runoff water descending from the component patchwork. The landscape manipulation also serves to contain new spaces which are necessary to service the new systems. Such a system could begin life occurring across a single structural bay of a building, and expand over time as both financing and political will become available. The landscape berms also serve as a backdrop to open canopy space created between the building and a berm, and contain tucked-in service spaces, water collection systems, wine cellars or rentable retail space.