S7 E6 | CLIP

The Skinny on Smart Design

Architect Doris Sung’s innovative building surfaces are modeled after human skin. They self-ventilate and self-shade in response to weather changes, and they do this by drawing power from the sun.

AIRED: June 04, 2021 | 0:10:09

(upbeat music)

- [Jim] When most of us see a building

we see a space separate from the world around. Bubbles

built with walls and roofs to escape what's outside

by creating an inside.

But Doris Sung imagines something more integrated.

And in many ways more alive.

- [Doris] I actually never grew

up thinking I wanted to be an architect.

And so when I finally decided to go to architecture school

I had no preconceptions of what architecture should be.

And having a biology undergraduate education,

my first question is 'why can't it be

like animal skins, like plant cells'

which seemed to work a lot more efficiently than buildings.

- [Jim] One source of that inefficiency

she believes is a hallmark of modern architecture, glass.

- [Doris] When plate glass, and the invention of

it came about and that all we wanted as humans

was this 180 degree, floor to ceiling views.

That, in some ways was a downfall.

The thick walls and small windows was ideal for insulating

but once we moved to glass, we let all this heat in

through the envelope system, the material

um, the physics of it, makes it much worse.

So now we have to run huge amounts

of air conditioning in order for us to keep those things.

- And that's where we really tend to, to swing towards

at the moment, 'Hey, let's put a whole bunch of solar cells.

Let's cover buildings in solar cells

so they can run the air conditioning on the inside.'

What's wrong with that idea?

- Basically what it's doing is it's just making more

and more technology.

That's reliant on energy sources, right?

Even though it's renewable energies

it's still not smart as an envelope system.

So my ideas, instead of relying on the heart

and the lungs of a building to pump and work really hard

why aren't we looking at the skin?

which, on a body is the largest organ

on the body, that can therefore do and be the first line

of protection. By being the first line of protection,

it can therefore give me-, relieve some of that work

on the heart and the lungs, meaning the mechanical system.

- Ironically Sung found a solution to redesign the skins

of buildings and a key component of the mechanical systems

she was trying to escape. Thermal bimetals, thermostats

and heating and cooling systems have used them to

regulate building temperatures for over a century.

As the name suggests bimetals combined, two metals

that expand at different rates when heated.

That difference causes a bimetal strip to bend

or straighten depending on the temperature.

But instead of using them to trigger HVAC systems, some saw

that bimetals could be their own cooling system,

automatically adjusting to temperature to let air flow

or to block sunlight without computers or electricity.

And if protected, they could last a lifetime.

- [Doris] We put the thermal bimetal inside the cavity

of this double glazed window.

Because it's sealed inside that cavity,

the material actually can last over a hundred years

and they can go on and on forever and operate indefinitely.

And they, they operate

like I said before, without energy, without controls.

So we're not dependent

on batteries and we're not dependent on, you know

manual controls they'll work way beyond probably the

the lifetime of the building.

- [Jim] Bimetal skins won't eliminate the need

for air conditioning, but Sung says they can reduce it.

That's helpful

as the world tries to

cut fossil fuel use to combat climate change.

- [Doris] Buildings use up more energy than transportation

or industry.

They also are way up there for emissions as well.

And we do very little about talking about those changes.

Part of it is because the cost is very high, and also

for new buildings' scope it's many, many years, right?

For, for a new construction to actually happen.

I think we have some really big problems up ahead

of us given climate change and how things are changing

with that, of how we think of buildings and how

buildings need to be adaptable.

We need to really start digging in deep on research

and development of products for buildings just as fast

as automobiles are changing.

Right? So automobiles in the last 10, 20

50 years have changed dramatically.

Whereas our buildings are still basically the same.

I mean, we've improved some of the technology

but our houses are built basically the same.

So somewhere somehow, maybe we should

maybe we need some super bowl commercials in there

- [Jim] Though. The buildings that sung designs are original

and beautiful.

She says that how they look is primarily a by-product

of their function.

So she is often pleasantly surprised when

she sees what she has created,

so to speak, in the flesh.

- [Doris] Oftentimes the choices that we make in the

beginning with the geometries, I think have implications

in the end of how it looks, you know

although it takes a long time, there's a certain amount

of surprise element to it for us, even. Even, you know

when I see some of the stuff that we produce

I'm amazed and it even gives me chills.

When I look at it thinking, wow, this

this really is pretty amazing

that we use zero energy, zero computer controls.

And we basically infuse our designs with behavior systems

with a kind of DNA that it just operates by itself.

I'm amazed how beautiful these things can be,

especially when driven

through a much more scientific process of design.

- [Jim] The scientific process of design is

at the heart of her firm, DOSU studio architecture,

which explores ways to make building skins

dynamic and responsive with zero energy and no controls.

The architectural community has also recognized the power

of her ideas

in 2020 architect magazine named Sung's self

shading windows as one of its R and D award winners

for work that is scalable, thought provoking,

and promising in achieving a more equitable

and healthy built environment.

That same year, the university of Southern California school

of architecture named her director

of undergraduate programs.

Now Sung is expanding her focus.

She sees energy use inside buildings as more

than just a problem in need of a solution.

Re-imagining our spaces and how we build them

can also help solve other problems outside buildings.

- [Doris] Another project that we're working on right now

with a team of engineers, is trying to figure

out how to cool pedestrian areas on the street in areas

that the climate is getting hotter, as well as a high level

of a smog is happening in these urban canyons.

Can we passively move air along the building surface

and therefore filter the smog as we're doing so,

so filtered both particulate matter as well as gases, and

and really think about how architecture building

facades can contribute to public health, right?

To really improve the health of the public.

And not only for the interior occupants.

I would like to see architecture become a little

more altruistic to the public. Architecture

especially the outside surface

of it can be used as infrastructure to a city.

It could provide food for farming.

It could provide um, fresh air, fresh water.

It could do a lot more than we already have.

So I think it's a whole new surface that we haven't thought

of because maybe that's the surface that should be the wall

of the city and the streets

as opposed to the outer wall of a building.

It's a different way of thinking.

- [Jim] And though Sung has a bold

and novel vision for the future of architecture,

progress must happen.

She believes not through evermore complex technologies,

but through design that is smart

in the more traditional sense of the word.

- I'd like the meaning

of smartness to change a little for architecture

at least. The original meaning many years before

in engineering, as, as, as it was referred to in materials

it was a material that required zero energy

and zero controls.

Now has changed a lot with smartphones and smart cars

and smart things to mean something very different.

I feel like um, a lot

of the science and technology should really think

about how to make what we have on a very low tech way.

Smart just by being what it is. By designing behaviors

and DNA into these materials that are all around us.

(calming music plays)

(violin music plays)

Articulate with Jim Cotter is made possible

with generous funding from the Neubauer Family Foundation.

[Outro Music]


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