Understand the climate and place
Arkin Tilt Architects begin by creating Site Analysis Diagrams, collating solar orientation and sun paths, key views, landscape features, and other impacts on the site. We thoroughly assess the site conditions (topography, vegetation, climate, context, local traditions and available resources, etc.), graph the sun path and diagram the site constraints and views. If needed, |d–prepare a Solar Aspect Analysis, illustrating any constraints (such as trees or mountains) upon passive solar heating and daylighting.
Climate Response Strategies
A clear, simple statement of the best strategies to meet climate-appropriate comfort are prepared, as well as constraints and opportunities that are intrinsic to the site. Frequently, a model is built of the site and immediate vicinity. These “working” models are extremely useful throughout the design process.
We rigorously research the vernacular and archetypes of similar buildings typologies as well as nearby structures. Mapping local building traditions and materials can yield a wealth of ideas and inspiration, from locally available materials to climatic response. Research of applicable codes as well as regulatory approval requirements also occurs at this step.
Refine the Program
We work closely with the client to develop clear goals, which are the basis of the design. We attempt to get an understanding of the uses proposed, both time of day and time of year. At this point the program will be carefully assessed, with a keen eye on efficiency, flexibility and multi-use. Preliminary public meetings to identify interested parties concerns and ideas are added if appropriate. We determine which functions can be held out-of-doors, or in transitional spaces, so the building can ‘expand’ in the summer, and ‘shrink’ in the winter into cozier, more easily heated spaces.
Two or three schematic design options are prepared. Without the intent of selecting any one of the options, we evaluate them together with the client to identify the positive and negative qualities of each. We prepare a ‘matrix’ to facilitate this process, with each option analyzed against several criteria (i.e. meeting program needs, usable outdoor areas, daylighting, security, maintenance, cost, etc). While one option may present itself as more suitable, all contain useful lessons and ideas. This information is then used to evolve a final schematic design, finely tuned to the program and climate goals.
Rather than approach each design problem independently, we look to provide solutions that address a number of issues. For example, usable outdoor areas which expand relatively small buildings enhance interaction with the natural environment, reduce heating loads, and keep construction costs down. Within the buildings we consider heating and cooling, water supply, fresh air and lighting, and design to obtain the greatest efficiency in meeting these needs. Often simple devices (high, properly shaded operable clerestory windows) can meet several—sometimes all—of these needs.
Build and Test Study Models
Architectural study models are constructed, using the site model as a base. These accurately map the land and vegetation around the buildings showing indoor/outdoor relationships. Models are essential in communicating the design to the client, to the community, and to various boards reviewing and approving the project. Perhaps most importantly, models can be used to accurately analyze solar gain on the Heliodon table at PG&E’s Energy Center in San Francisco, CA. This rotating table illustrates the impact of the sun on the facility at different times of the year, in a time-lapse view of the building, using a fiber-optic lens connecting to a VCR as well as a computer (for downloading stills). A videotape is made of the Heliodon process, for review by the client. This exciting tool brings the project to life, and is very useful for visualizing the proposed spaces.
Computer modeling confirms and validates our assumptions, and helps fine-tune the passive climate response (we use SunCalc, Micro-Pass and Energy Scheming). We also stake the buildings on site to verify and further tune the design to its setting.
Develop the Design
The final design is reviewed by the client during refinement to insure that the qualities identified in the options analysis process are still intact. All building systems and basic finishes are established. The final design is illustrated in plan, section, elevations, and detailed study model (also videotaped on the Heliodon). The final designs are accompanied by a narrative description and outline specification. The graphic materials are suitable for reproduction in a report as well as in press releases, fundraising and grant applications, and other documents.
Local and Salvaged Material Sourcing
At the same time that the building is taking shape we are also looking for local and reused resources. Unlike most architects, we take an active role in locating and procuring (and in some cases fabricating) various pieces of the project.
Fine Tuning on Site
Once the design has taken shape it is staked on the building site to further fine tune its relationship with its settings. Adjustments are made in order to get it to fit just right.
Collaborate with Builders
We prefer to collaborate with builders relatively early in the design process, and remain in close communication throughout construction. We also work to nurture a spirit of stewardship at the site, particularly in sensitive areas.
Straw Bale and Earth Workshops
Not only do we design alternative building systems into our projects, but often we are called upon to help facilitate workshops, such as a straw-bale raising. We are also active in helping to educate the general public, other professionals and building officials about these systems.
Cost Estimates are prepared at both the schematic options phase, at the close of Schematic Design and at the close of Design Development. This information is useful in assessing the scope of the project. At this point, we can also endeavor to identify funding sources that will enable accurate prediction of funding needs.
One last point, which is as much a goal as it is part of our process, is to have FUN. Along the way we are empowering and educating our clients and others, and this furthers the overall mission of bringing ecological design into the mainstream.