Center for Architecture Science and Ecology

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A Multi-Institutional Research Collaboration

The Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) unites the design and engineering expertise of SOM and the research capabilities of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to create radically new building systems, structures, and ecologies that respond to the natural world. Founded in 2008, the program is co-located within SOM's New York office and multiple university labs. With a focus on sustainability, CASE blends private sector practicality, academic exploration, and scientific rigor to seek emergent technologies and develop them for practical applications in buildings.

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Areas of Research

CASE aims to implement changes in three priority areas: energy consumption; sustainable resource management; and quality of access to essential resources (fresh air, clean water, natural daylight, and plant and animal life). Read on to learn about CASE's current research projects.

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A High-Performance Green Wall

The Active Modular Phytoremediation Wall System (AMPS), a bio-mechanical hybrid system, produces "fresh air" from within buildings by amplifying the air cleaning capacity of plants. By decreasing a building's reliance on outdoor air intake, the AMPS reduces energy consumption and the size and cost of mechanical systems.

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A High-Performance Green Wall

What makes the AMPS so effective is its ability to recirculate air across the plant rhizosphere, the soil that surrounds a plant’s roots. This method cleans air up to 200 times more efficiently than plant leaves and could provide as much as 60 percent of a building's "fresh air," as required by ASHRAE.

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Facade of the Future

The Electroactive Dynamic Display System (EDDS) is CASE's alternative to existing dynamic glazing technologies. It offers far greater energy efficiency in curtain wall systems. The EDDS has the potential to actively reconfigure its basic patterns in response to fluctuating environmental flows, while also adjusting to variable aesthetic preferences.

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Facade of the Future

The EDDS is composed of insulated glazing units embedded with thin-film electroactive materials, which enable patterns to be switched instantaneously. The display system not only responds to changes in sunlight and temperature; it also allows for varying degrees of user control and customization.

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A Kinetic Solar Facade

The Integrated Concentrating Solar Facade (ICSF) is a photovoltaic system that takes a dramatically different approach to reducing solar gain while providing a building with electrical power, thermal energy, and enhanced daylighting.

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A Kinetic Solar Facade

With the ICSF, concentrating glass solar receptors are mounted on a tracking mechanism that responds to the sun’s position to maximize light gain. The kinetic receptors magnify and concentrate the incoming light on a small photovoltaic cell in the center of each receptor. The ICSF is also designed to capture thermal energy trapped by the glass receptors for use in the building’s heating and cooling systems.

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A Kinetic Solar Facade

Unlike existing solar panel technologies, the ICSF is designed to be integrated architecturally into a building's facade or roof. The translucent, glass system provides diffuse daylight and outside views.

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A Kinetic Solar Facade

SOM will install a 600-square-meter ICSF at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, a world-class medical complex in Abu Dhabi that will open in 2016. Integrated into the lobby's roof, the ICSF will bring in diffuse, wide-spectrum daylight and will generate enough electricity to light 3,200 square meters of the interior.

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Facades that Clean Water

The Solar Enclosure for Water Reuse (SEWR) works to reclaim onsite greywater while decreasing both primary energy consumption and solar heat gain. The glass facade is designed to capture and redirect solar radiation, providing shade and diffuse daylight for a building's interior.

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Facades that Clean Water

The SEWR is stationary and is coupled with a multi-barrier water filtration system that decontaminates greywater. A passive heat recovery system provides hot water for the building, offsetting mechanized heating and cooling loads.

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Design for Active Envelopes

Due to the widespread use of central heating and air-conditioning systems, the facades of most buildings do not respond to the surrounding climate. The Advanced Ecoceramic Envelope System (AEES), a modular curtain wall, provides a solution by using low-tech ceramic materials to absorb and redistribute heat.

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Design for Active Envelopes

The ceramic tile-like modules are custom-designed for local environments. Variable surface treatments, colors, and embedded phase-change materials allow each module to best harness bioclimatic energy flows.

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Designing Coastal Buffers

Researchers at CASE are also collaborating with domestic and international institutions to develop structural interventions that protect and regenerate fragile mangrove ecosystems and coastal urban developments. Tropical Coastline Remediation (TCR) integrates ecosystem models with engineering and design models to develop structures and policies that reinforce vegetation systems as coastal buffers.

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Awards and Recognition

Since its founding, CASE has won more than 50 grants and awards for its work, including recognition from the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Architect, the Chicago Athenaeum, and the Holcim Foundation.

CASE's research is currently supported by the National Science Foundation; U.S. Department of Energy; Environmental Protection Agency; New York State Energy Research and Development Authority; Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation; and AIA National. To learn more, click here to visit the CASE website.