retrospective: an online portfolio

Passive House

Professor Malini Srivastava led a collaborative Design/Build Studio which began in the spring of 2011. The studio centered around the Passive House energy standard, currently the strictest in the world, and its execution. The project would continue through the summer and fall terms culminating in the construction of a demonstration cabin at the Minnesota State Fair's Eco Experience exhibition and two books chronicling the process. Twenty-two students worked on the project during the spring semester, eight of whom joined the fourteen-person build team summer and fall.

The semester began with small teams of students working on schematic designs for four potential clients as well as researching Passive House principles with experts like Katrin Klingenberg of PHIUS. Each team refined their design over a week's time before swapping with another group to continue their work. This was an important method for ensuring group-ownership of the design.

The studio reached an agreement with the Biological Research Station in Minnesota's Itasca State Park to develop the schematic design. In addition, the design was approved to appear at the 2011 Eco Experience – a consideration which factored heavily in the design. The studio developed the design further, ultimately producing a full set of construction documents and specifications. A second set of documents was produced to guide the summer's construction efforts.

Though I had worked with partners on a handful of previous projects, this was the first time I was truly part of a design team. It was not easy for us to adjust to the concept of group-ownership, but it proved to be one of the project's real strengths. It happened frequently that one student would present an idea which would be taken and improved upon by another. Because of this, it was more important than ever to 'sketch' all things – whether a drawing, model, digital model, or full-scale mock-up, it was important to get the ideas 'out there' for the team to digest.

I found the studio to be extremely worthwhile for two reasons. First, it was always grounded in reality. Unlike many of the other projects completed during school, there was always the understanding that this design would be built. This led us to really dig into the construction details so that we could better understand even the smallest pieces of the design. Second, it was relevant. Passive House structures use a tiny fraction of the operational energy of typical projects and ought to be a major part of the building industry's future.

All in all, the Passive House was probably the most difficult, demanding, and easily the most rewarding project I was a part of at NDSU.

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  • For ARCH 472

  • Date Spring 2011

  • Type Passive House, Itasca, St. Paul, Katrin Klingenberg, Minnesota State Fair, Eco Experience, cabin, PHIUS

  • URL

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