Passive Housing for Climate Refugees | Venice Biennial 2021

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The inaugural episode of the new and improved Global Passive House Showcase kicks off September 1, 2021, with Guest Host Johnny Rezvani of Passive House Rocky Mountains and presenter Andrew Michler of Hyperlocal Workshop. Andrew will be talking about, which is using cradle to cradle design and carbon-neutral materials to house a diverse group of climate refugees arriving in Los Angeles while also affording space and support to the community's vibrant mobile food truck economy. The seven-story project is designed to meet criteria for Passive House Premium certification and totals of 2250 square meters of mixed-use space. It is also part of the 2021 European Cultural Centre Venice Architecture Biennial.


[00:00:00] All right guys. So, let's go to Wilshire Avenue or Wilshire Boulevard rather in Los Angeles. And this is where I decided to locate the project. It's a seven story Passive House multifamily house. And I chose Los Angeles because it's an amazing city, but it needs a lot more housing, a lot larger housing.

[00:00:29] So, this was an experiment on what Los Angeles future building would look like. And so this one is right near Koreatown, near the Metro station. I don't know if you're that familiar with Los Angeles, but it's a pretty interesting area, mostly parking around Wilsher. And also, fun fact about Wilshire, it's the original strip mall, essentially. It was the invention of the modern strip mall. So, we have that to thank for Los Angeles. And I was also really inspired by a trip to Kyoto, Japan and how they dealt with housing in dense environments, especially with contemporary buildings, new buildings, and the idea of the shop house, going back a couple centuries, especially in Asian countries where often people would live in the upper stories or in the back of the building and make a living at the front of the building. So you had this interaction with the sidewalk and community all through cities. So how do we revisit that? Well, the idea was the micro business and I have a small coffee truck that I developed a few years ago.

[00:01:49] And, the idea is, how do you create micro businesses on the ground in Los Angeles? It's quite famous for its mobile food scene. So the idea is to create a food park off of Wilshire Avenue where people can constantly come in and park a daily rotation of different food trucks. There's a commissary kitchen on the ground floor and a bar and just a place for people to congregate and get out of the sun and enjoy an afternoon lunch or even a dinner. And the upper parts are just living spaces for different groups of people from individuals to families.

[00:02:29] The biggest concern was that the site faces west in Los Angeles. So how does a Passive House work when almost all your actual windows are going to be facing west? So we got very aggressive on the shading in that sense. The program is: the first floor is, as I mentioned, some public, utilities, restrooms, commissary, kitchen, things like that. Second floor classrooms and community room for the people that live there. And then various different types of scales of apartment buildings for families, individuals, couples, things like that.

[00:03:06] One of the things we've been playing with is developing a community space where there's a shared kitchen. So we can make the apartments a little bit smaller, a little, little less wasteful in redundant space. But also using the staircase and patios as community space as well. Our fire escape has actually expanded out for more community use. The fabric of the building-- and this is where most of the attention has been from folks--is going to be a wood timber podium. Basically three stories using CLTs and NLTs, cross laminated and nail laminated timbers using wooden nails by a company called LIGNOLOC. And then EcoCocon straw panels are the top four stories: straw panels that are developed out in Europe.

[00:04:01] They're getting quite well known, especially in Northern Europe, and they are a certified Passive House component. I'll get a little bit more into details. So, the EcoCocon, usually the first question people have for these straw panels--they're not straw bale, they're straw packed, tightly packed panels--and the first people will say is "they burn." But they actually don't burn. They're very high density, which leaves no real room for oxygen for burning. And because it has a high content of silica, the straw, it's actually not that flammable in the first place. When you cover it with fire resistant materials, it's actually an incredibly fire resilient structural system and insulation system.

[00:04:45] The nails are wooden, developed a few years ago by BECK; LIGNOLOC is the name of the brand. And they're developing cross laminated and nail laminated panels that you can make with automated systems, without glues and things like that. So they've been busy developing robotic tables with pneumatic nail heads to create these large panels. So you don't need a large glue press to build them with, so smaller shops can build them.

[00:05:22] So it all comes down to the carbon question when it comes to the building itself. And in this case, the operational energy for the building, and help with the Passive House Institute, is that we're running at 130 kilowatt hours per square meter in the negative. So we're producing much more power than we need, about three times through the Passive House Premium design process. And the materials and embodied carbon--this is the last thing I was able to get done before the show started--using the PHribbon carbon calculator, is at 224 kilograms per square meter. It's hard to know what that really means because these numbers are pretty new, but this is a pretty low number. I'll get into the details and what that actually means and some of the caveats involved.

[00:06:18] Quickly, the solar panels: it's a huge array on the building. One's a horizontal and one's a vertical. And I'm showing the graph for the PV output because, in the winter, when we have most of our demand and there's lower production typically for solar panels, the vertical panels work almost as well as the horizontal panels in that configuration. So it's about time of use and time of making power through an annual basis and also on a monthly basis. So it's good to keep that in mind when we're designing these not net zero energy buildings but these real time energy buildings.

[00:07:04] Passive House verification. So we're able to almost completely eliminate space heating, have a very tiny heating load. And most of it's space cooling. So we're at about two thirds of the cooling demand threshold for Passive House, which is great. We did get cooling under control in Los Angeles. And, with the PV--and doing some things like the triple pane windows really actually made a big difference, as well as doing heat recovery for the hot water and things like that-- really just edged us right over to the Premium part of the chart. Which took quite a bit of work, but it was fun to see that actually doable, at least theoretically

[00:07:51] Part of the systems that we're using: I mentioned the triple pane windows that made a big difference. The double panes actually gave us more heating load, which would have complicated the entire system. So, it may save us money in the long run to put triple panes in rather than double panes--as well as the comfort and energy savings.

[00:08:11] We can combine the cooling with the ventilation system, like using the Ventacity system HRV on each floor, coupled with a heat pump VRF type of system. It looks like we can get cooling--trickle cooling--to each floor or to each room based on each floor. And we're using basically the space behind the elevator shaft or the equipment so it can get nice and compact and right in the center of the building for easy distribution.

[00:08:44] On the carbon side, I was using, as I mentioned, the PHribbon which is just being released, it's in beta now, in the United States. It's out in Europe on the metric, and I was using the metric version of it. But they'll be rolling out the American-ized version of it pretty soon. Hopefully, we'll see, in September, maybe not. And what I was learning with the Ribbon, it's a PHPP plugin.

[00:09:07] And I can take all my takeoffs from the building and then assign what the materials are. And a lot of those materials are in the library itself. So it's pretty easy to match it with wall assemblies, floor assemblies, roof assemblies. What you can see is that the PV is actually the largest single carbon-embodied material or category within it. And part of the reason is because the PV needs to be replaced every 25 to 30 years, is the assumption. So each time that gets replaced we make a big tick up in the carbon. The same, you can say for batteries or other kinds of energy producing and storage equipment.

[00:09:57] Outside of that: windows get replaced every 50 years, is the assumption. The timber storage is of course the biggest part. The fabric of the building, the podium of the building, is the storage. But that is also with the assumption that when this building is taken apart, it's not thrown into a landfill, but is being reused. If it is thrown into a landfill or burned, most of that timber storage within the calculcator gets thrown back into the atmosphere. So it's not necessarily long-term embodied carbon, but a carbon emission source. So, to me, it speaks about: you need to design the building as much for deconstruction as for construction when you look at the embodied carbon aspect of it.

[00:10:40] So, lots of stories there. The real story is: yes, we can get near zero carbon buildings, but once you get to these really low numbers, your energy production can offset whatever you're storing in the building. So, we're still a way off from the true net zero part of building, at least in any kind of scale. And just a quick shout out: I'm going to give a much longer detailed talk--about an hour and a half--with somebody from the Passive House Institute, Bjorn Kierulf from EcoCocon, and the developer of the LIGNOLOC wooden nails on October 29th, hosted by the European Cultural Center. So thanks for your time. Thanks for your patience.

Author: Andrew Michler