Students win awards at PG&E Architecture at Zero competition

Liu and the Burlingame Architecture at Zero student participants pose with their awards.

Liu and the Burlingame Architecture at Zero student participants pose with their awards.

Two teams of students from the Advanced Architecture class won awards at the seventh annual Architecture at Zero competition. Senior Robert Rochel, junior Gemma Greening, and sophomores Dominic Bueno and Gino D'Ambra designed “Project Butterfly,” which received a merit award, while sophomores Julia Geurse and Kaia Fink named their submission “The Wave Project” and won a citation award.

Architecture at Zero is an annual competition hosted by PG&E as well as the California chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and, this year, the competition was in partnership with San Francisco State University. The objective was to design a replacement facility for the aging Romberg Environmental Center in Tiburon, California. SFSU students used the old building to study marine biology and other environmental sciences, and new designs for the facility were supposed to allow space for college science courses as well as an area for outreach education for younger students. To meet the competition guidelines, each group had to design two buildings, with one building being an exhibit and education center and the other building providing a variety of recreational activities, such as kayaking and swimming. The most important aspect of the competition was that each design had to be a net zero energy facility, meaning that the buildings had to produce enough renewable energy on site to compensate for the energy needs of the building.

Anna Liu, who teaches the Architectural Design class, helped each group work on their submission for the competition for several months. Liu aided both teams with calculating the plug loads of every appliance that would be in their buildings and completing thorough energy modeling to figure out how much energy the lighting, heating and ventilation systems required. Then, it was the job of the students to find ways to incorporate enough sources of renewable energy into their designs to offset the buildings’ energy usage.

“We had to incorporate systems like solar, rainwater collection, and radiant heat, as well as take advantage of natural light and building orientation to meet the energy requirements,” Greening said. “In addition to all that, the buildings had to be aesthetically pleasing and places that people would want to come to.”

The Architecture at Zero competition helped familiarize the two teams with sustainable design and increased their awareness of a building’s potential environmental impact. Both of these concepts are becoming more pervasive in modern architecture.

“There are some really easy and simple strategies that can reduce energy usage,” Liu said. “At a time when we have this climate crisis and we know that buildings contribute a huge amount to our global energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, we have to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

Posted on May 3, 2018 .