Students from Boston Architectural College visit to discuss sustainability in Reggio Emilia

Last Thursday we had the pleasure of hosting a group of students from Boston Architectural College (BAC) for a day of site visits and discussions about sustainable building technology in Italy. While their summer study course is taking place in Florence, this day trip was an opportunity for us at Emu Architects to show the students some examples of rural Italian architecture and some of the ways modern and sustainable construction techniques are making their way into a traditional setting. We started off the day with a tour of our 'Conte Re' construction site in Albinea, a design for which we are pursuing CasaClima Class A certification. We spoke with the students about some of the challenges of this site from the point of view of sustainability: for example this site falls under an urban development plan with predisposed orientations for the new houses facing West, minimizing the cost-effectiveness of pursuing the Passive standard (for more information about why orientation matters, please see our Passive House FAQs). This highlighted the importance of sustainable awareness at an urban planning level, showing how great the impact on the individual house or building can be.

We also went over some of the principles of designing a building envelope for energy efficiency, showing them where thermal bridges could be located and how to best manage or eliminate them, as well as explaining the importance of air-tightness. We had a look at the ground floor load-bearing insulation which was being installed just before we arrived and talked about the considerations that have to take place (cost-effectiveness, winter and summer performance, acoustic insulation, performance in moist conditions etc.) when specifying natural versus synthetic materials.

Another topic that we discussed (and one to which we are going to dedicate an article soon) is the important difference between building materials (or methods) and building performance. In order to meet CasaClima and Passive House requirements, a certain level of performance is required of the building envelope. However neither standard prescribes the method of construction (i.e. masonry versus wooden). The choice in material comes down to several factors, including the client's preference and the geographic location of the site. Depending on where a site is located, the cost for a certain level of performance can be higher or lower depending on the building method. Here in the plains of Emilia, largely due to the summer climate conditions, it is usually less expensive to meet high performance criteria with masonry construction versus wooden. However, that is not to say that a wooden construction cannot produce the same level of performance. Check back with us in the coming weeks for a more in depth explanation of this idea, or sign up for our Newlsetter to stay updated with our new articles. Back to the subject at hand...

We next moved the group to the semi-underground wine cellar of Cinque Campi in Puianello, just a few kilometers down the road. Not only was this a nice way to escape the heat, but it provided a perfect setting for us to discuss bioclimatic design... and, of course, taste some of the fantastic wines. The construction method for creating this cave-like cellar is called jet-grouting, and involves high pressure injections into the earth to create the perimeter wall. The earth is then excavated to create the room. The result is a very stable thermal environment, with indoor underground winter temperature around 10-13°C (external temperature -2/-5°C) and summer temperature arount 18/21°C (external temperature 32/35°C). We highlight the fact that the cellar does not have any active cooling or heating system.

Vanni, the owner/operator/wine genius of Cinque Campi (www.cinquecampi.it), then explained to the students some of the basics of his family-run, organic vineyard, and introduced them to his Tribiano and Lambrusco wines. As much as everyone had a strong interest in sustainable architecture, we wouldn't be surprised if this was the highlight of the day for most of the students!

For lunch, we headed up to 'La Rupe' restaurant at the foot of the Canossa Castle, where we had a lovely traditional lunch and discussed some of the politics of the various voluntary green building certifications in Italy and the difference between them and a regional energy certificate. Then we wrapped up the afternoon with a walk up to the ruins, where we discussed more general topics, such as landscape heritage in Italy and our design for a Passive House to be located just below the castle walls. The students were able to see an example of documents that we had prepared for the landscape heritage commission of Canossa, and we talked about the importance of communication and graphic representation outside of the standard architectural and construction drawings.

Hopefully we sent the BAC students back to Florence with, at the very least, a perspective of Italian architecture that would not have been visible from an historic city center but that is vital to the future of Italian design and planning. Best case, they also learned a bit about sustainable construction techniques and the importance of building technology in architectural design. Thanks to Crandon Gustafson and his teaching assistant, Bianca Marchany, for getting in touch with us, and thanks to all the students for spending the day in Reggio Emilia - we hope to see you back soon!

BAC visit - Emu Architetti.22-1

a brief description of Boston Architectural College:

"With over 900 degree students, the BAC is one of the largest programs in the United States dedicated solely to the education of design professionals in Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Interior Design. We have a unique program built around learning from concurrent practice experience. Our president, Ted Landsmark, has provided dynamic leadership of the college while serving on national and international boards (Design Futures Council, ACSA) and is current president of NAAB, which will this summer undertake the revision of the accreditation standards for U.S. schools of architecture. You may have visited our website, but here is a link to a conference we hosted last month on the impact of architecture and design on human health and wellbeing: http://www.the-bac.edu/news-and-events/news/change-city-hosted-by-bac."

Mariana Pickering

Emu Systems, 6145 Broadway, Denver, CO, 80216