Streamlines, vortices and plumes: environmental models and their shifting targets.
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date27/11/2021
Engineering environmental simulation devices such as heliodons, wind tunnels and water tables are generally understood as distinct from and technical supplements to the architectural models they test. In this conventional disciplinary exchange, architects design models that are then tested and verified within environmental simulation chambers, yielding insights about environmental performance. In this thesis, a closer look at environmental models, through precedent analysis and through physical prototyping, challenge this disciplinary delineation, situating the device simulating environmental phenomena as active agents in the architectural design process. The main research question this thesis asks is: How do physical environmental models “make knowable” the nonvisual environmental “phenomena object” of airflow? The key objective of this research is to establish a framework for discussing architecture’s exchanges with its atmospheric surroundings through both close reading of existing environmental models in context and through prototyping them using architectural tools and techniques. Models distil and through this distillation, new relationships between models and target systems, between models and methodologies, between models and their constituent components, are revealed. Historian of Science D. Graham Burnett’s analogical/ontological model distinction provides a theoretical framework for discussing models in context and for describing architectural insights yielded by working with environmental models in particular. Burnett suggests that the relationship between a model and its target system is neither static nor unidirectional; it is, in fact, the dialogues between the two that allow models to play their most productive roles as design and thinking tools. This thesis builds on Burnett’s distinction by suggesting that the productive dialogues that can occur between models and their target systems also occur internally within the constituent components of the model itself. In the case of environmental models, the three main components that establish this dialogue are the instrument that generates a controlled environment, the materialisation of air as a moving phenomena, and the architectural model itself. These dialogues are most productive when the relationship either between components or between models and target system shifts, revealing new readings, or productive misreadings. Three case study models and prototyping of three types of environmental model illustrate this thesis. Chapter 2 moves from the phenomena of air movement captured in Étienne-Jules Marey’s 1900-1902 wind tunnel photographs, providing a general introduction to flow visualisation, to the mechanics of the wind tunnel itself, offering a way of framing environmental models as sensitive mediating instruments. Marey’s work moves from phenomena to instrument, establishing reciprocities between the two. In chapter 3, Victor and Aladar Olgyay’s 1955-1963 thermoheliodon acts as a case study for highlighting the shifting relationships between environmental models and their target systems in light of developments surrounding climate control in post-war American suburbia. This chapter reads environmental models in relation to their target systems while also showing how a deliberate misreading, in this case of the thermoheliodon as a model of architecture, reconciles some tensions evident in the actual architectural model photographed on the testing bed. This chapter moves from an architectural context of climate control to the thermoheliodon as a controlled model environment to explore two models of architecture--one predicated on environmental mediation and the other predicated on encapsulation. In chapter 4, David Boswell Reid’s 1844 test tube convection experiments acts as a point of departure for aligning a little-known modelling technique, the filling box technique, with a contemporary design agenda predicated on thermal variability. Unlike Marey’s wind tunnels and the Olgyay’s thermoheliodon, Reid’s experiments are extreme distillations, allowing them to operate readily as devices for architectural speculation. This chapter provides a closer reading of the relationship between the phenomena of convection and architecture as a vessel for this phenomena. A series of filling tank models illustrates themes explored in the chapter while also suggesting a counter model of architecture, one predicated on establishing equilibrium with its surroundings. The design component of this thesis entails prototyping three types of environmental model— wind tunnels, water tables, and filling tanks—all of which make air flow associated with natural ventilation visible. Each model type is described in a catalogue including drawings, photographs, and videos; each catalogue is aligned with a related case study chapter, establishing reciprocities between insights revealed through reading environmental models and those revealed through making them. The models are designed, constructed and evaluated based on their ability to create a steady-state environment of legible airflow. It is through the act of constructing the instrumentation of the model and through the materialisation of air that models reveal vantage points for considering architectural environmental mediation. These insights are in some cases tectonic, revealing ways of thinking about joints, surfaces, and assembly logics. They are in other cases responses to working with forces associated with pressure of air or weight of water. Fundamentally, the prototyping process revealed air’s extreme sensitivity to both constructional anomalies and external disruption, revealing the complexity of creating a steady-state environment.