Dutch firm Team Paul de Vroom + Sputnik has just completed work on a beautiful, light-filled office in the Netherlands. Built around an open-air patio, the Big Green Egg’s new European office is designed to foster an inspiring work environment. Additionally inspiring, however, is the building’s sustainable profile, which includes solar panels that make the building 100 percent self-sufficient, a gray water collection system, natural building materials and a large green roof.
The architects worked closely with the Big Green Egg Europe team to create an office environment that was vibrant and healthy. The volume of the building is quite humble, a square, two-story volume clad in brick. However, the combination of natural building materials such as stone and wood offer a strong connection to the environment. Massive glazed facades flood the interior with natural light.
The office space generates its own electricity as well as energy for heating and air conditioning thanks to a rooftop solar array. Additionally, a green roof runs the length of the building and is installed with a rainwater collection and storage system that is used to irrigate the building’s landscaping.
At the heart of the design is the open-air central patio. This space was designed to offer employees an outdoor area for casual meetings or simply to take in some fresh air under the massive tree that sits in the middle of the space. Additionally, the patio is designed for entertaining and is the perfect place to highlight the company’s famous high-end ceramic barbecues.
On the interior, each room is tailored to a specific use but with flexible features. There is ample space for formal conferences as well as smaller offices for teamwork sessions or private phone conversations. Natural flagstone flooring runs throughout the interior to give the space continuity. The smaller rooms also have custom-made dynamic wall furniturethat provides optimal versatility depending on desired use. Within the walls, there is a pull-out desk and bench that can be extended depending on the number of seating spaces needed. To add a bit of whimsy into the interior design, there are fun animal statues throughout the space and even a boardroom wall covered in soft felt.
Developing a perfectly energy-efficient building is relatively easy to do—if you don’t give the building’s occupants any control over their environment. Since nobody wants that kind of building, Professor Christoph Reinhart has focused his career on finding ways to make buildings more energy-efficient while keeping user needs in mind.
“At this point in designing buildings, the biggest uncertainty comes from user behavior,” says Reinhart, who heads the Sustainable Design Lab in MIT’s Department of Architecture. “Once you understand heat flow, it’s a very exact science to see how much heat to add or take from a space.”
Trained in physics, Reinhart made the move to architecture because he wanted to apply the scientific concepts he’d learned to make buildings more comfortable and energy-efficient. Today, he is internationally known for his work in what architects call “daylighting”—the use of natural light to illuminate building interiors—and urban-level environmental building performance analysis. The design tools that emerged from his lab are used by architects and urban planners in more than 90 countries.
The Sustainable Design Lab’s work has also produced two spinoff companies: Mapdwell, which provides individualized cost-benefit analyses for installing solar panels; and Solemma, which provides environmental analysis tools such as DIVA-for-Rhino, a highly optimized daylighting and energy modeling software component. Reinhart is a co-founder and strategic development advisor at Mapdwell, and he is CEO of Solemma.
Through it all, physics has remained a central underpinning. “Everything our lab develops is based on physics first,” says Reinhart, who earned master’s degrees in physics from Albert Ludwigs Universität in Freiburg, Germany, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
A lifelong environmentalist, Reinhart says he was inspired to study architecture in part by the work of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, which built a completely self-sufficient solar house in Freiburg in the early 1990s.
While finishing his master’s thesis, Reinhart says, he also read an article that suggested that features such as color can be more important than performance to architects choosing a solar system—an idea that drove him to find ways to empower architects to consider aesthetics and the environmental performance of their designs at the same time. He began this effort by investigating daylighting at the Technical University of Karlsruhe, Germany.
Light is incredibly important from a design standpoint—architects talk of “painting with light”—but there are also significant technical challenges involved in lighting, such as how to manage heat and glare, Reinhart says.
“You need good sky models and you need good rendering tools to model the light. You also need computer science to make it faster—but that’s just the basics,” Reinhart says, noting that the next step is to consider how people perceive and use natural light. “This really nuanced way of thinking is what makes daylighting so fun and interesting.”
For example, designers typically render buildings with all the blinds open. If they learn that people will keep the blinds down 90 percent of the time with a given design, they are likely to rethink it, Reinhart says, because “nobody wants that.”
The daylighting analysis software developed by Reinhart’s team in 1998 provides just this kind of information. Known as DAYSIM, it is now used all over the world to model annual daylight availability in and around buildings.
Reinhart has also published textbooks on daylighting: “Daylighting Handbook I: Fundamentals and Designing with the Sun” was published in in 2014, and a second volume, “Daylighting Handbook II: Daylight Simulations and Dynamic Facades,” was released last October.
“Daylighting was really my first way into architecture,” Reinhart says, noting that he thinks it’s wonderful that the field combines “rock solid science” like sky modeling with more subjective questions related to the users’ experience, such as: “When is sunlight a liability?” and “When does it add visual interest?”
Teaching and advising
After earning his doctorate in architecture from Technical University in 2001, Reinhart taught briefly at McGill University in Canada before being named an associate professor of architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. In 2009, the student forum there named him faculty member of the year.
In 2012, he joined the faculty at MIT, where he typically supervises seven or eight graduate students, including about three working on their Ph.D.s. Often, he also has students working in his lab through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Several students majoring in computer science have proved particularly helpful, he says.
“It’s amazing what MIT students can implement,” he says.
Reinhart is also an instructor, of course, notably teaching 4.401/4.464 (Environmental Technologies in Buildings), which focuses on how to assess the energy efficiency of buildings.
“There’s nothing more fun—especially at an institution like MIT—than to teach these concepts,” he says.
The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) is now working to make that subject available online via MITx, and the class is expected to be part of a planned graduate certificate in energy, according to Antje Danielson, MITEI’s director of education.
Meanwhile, Reinhart has scaled his own research up to modeling energy use at the city level. In 2016, he and colleagues unveiled an energy model for Boston that estimates the gas and electricity demands of every building in the city—and his team has since assessed other urban areas.
This work has underscored for him how significant user behavior is to calculating energy use.
“For an individual building you can get a sense of the user behavior, but if you want to model a whole city, that problem explodes on you,” Reinhart says, noting that his team uses statistical methods such as Bayesian calibration to determine likely behaviors.
Essentially, they collect data on energy use and train the computer to recognize different scenarios, such as the energy used by different numbers of people and appliances.
“We throw 800 user behaviors at a sample of buildings, and since we know how much energy these buildings actually use, we only keep those behavioral patterns that give us the right energy use,” Reinhart says, explaining that repeating the process produces a curve that indicates the buildings’ most likely uses. “We don’t know exactly where people are, but at the urban level, we get it right.”
Determining how energy is being used at this broad scale provides critical information for addressing the needs of the energy system as a whole, Reinhart says. That’s why Reinhart is currently working with Exelon Corporation, a major national energy provider, to assess energy use in Chicago. “We can say, let’s foster these kinds of upgrades and pretty much guarantee that this is how the energy load throughout a neighborhood or for particular substations will change—which is just what utilities want to know,” he says.
The food-energy-water nexus
Recently, Reinhart has also begun investigating ways to make food production more energy-efficient and sustainable. His lab is developing a software component that can estimate food yields, associated use of energy and water, and the carbon emissions that result for different types of urban farms.
For example, hydroponic container farming—a system of growing food without soil inside something like a shipping container—is now being promoted by companies in some cities, including Boston. This system typically uses more electricity than conventional farming does, but that energy use can be more than offset by the reduced need for transportation, Reinhart says. Already, Reinhart’s team has shown that rooftop and container farming on available land in Lisbon, Portugal, could theoretically meet the city’s total vegetable demand.
This work exploring the nexus between food, energy, and water is just the next level of complexity for Reinhart in a career dedicated to moving the needle on sustainability. Fortunately, he’s not alone in his work; he has sent a host of young academics out into the world to work on similar concerns.
Reinhart’s former graduate students now work at universities including Cornell, Harvard, Syracuse, and the University of Toronto, and he continues to collaborate with them on projects.
It’s like having a growing family, says Reinhart, a father of two. “Students never leave. It’s like kids.”
The interior designer Simone Suss doesn’t do things by halves.
When she and her husband Rob, a financier, bought a dilapidated 1930s house in north London eight years ago, they decided to demolish it and rebuild a modern, four-storey property in its place. Planning approval was quickly secured, but the work was delayed and took three long years.
It was worth the wait. The finished house has a sleek, white-walled interior bursting with pops of colour. The wooden flooring was inspired by the Saatchi Gallery and there is some impressive contemporary art on show, but the creations of Izzy, 10, Charlie, eight, and Oliver, six, take pride of place.
Above all, this is a family home, with a basement playroom and cinema that is perfect for weekend lounging.
Demolishing the house was a brave decision…
‘The house that originally stood here was literally the ugliest in the neighbourhood! Fortunately, the local conservation committee agreed with us, so we were given approval to knock it down and start again. What really attracted me was the plot itself, which is great. The garden is west facing, so offers beautiful light. What drew me in was that it offered space for a basement filled with natural light, so we rebuilt the house from scratch to realise my vision.’
How would you describe your decorating style?
‘I don’t believe in sticking to rules. Some people say you can’t mix genres, but I do, frequently combining modern and historical elements in an interesting way. I like to incorporate playful elements – whether it’s art or a piece of furniture – and unusual textiles.’
You’ve used strong pops of colour throughout the house. What do you think they bring?
‘Colour can affect how people feel and add interest to a space. For example, a bedroom in cool blues and greys is very calming. I especially love dark blue and have incorporated it into many interiors, including our movie room. Inky colours have become a new neutral, but you can use them in unexpected ways. We often do whole rooms in dark blue – ceilings, woodwork, everything.’
Do you have a favourite room in the house?
‘I never get bored of our marble bathroom. I went to hundreds of marble yards while I was heavily pregnant with Oliver, looking for the perfect pieces. It became a bit of an obsession. I also love our kitchen, with its colourful Livia Marin mural. It really is the heart of our home and where we spend most of our time.’
How do visitors react to the interior?
‘I’m sure it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I’ve had plenty of positive feedback – design is incredibly personal and I believe a home should reflect the people who live there. Above all, it’s a home for my family and I made sure to factor in plenty of space to enjoy together.’
Your tips for using art in a home?
‘Again, art is very personal, so go with your gut. If you fall in love with something, or a piece has sentimental value, then why not make it a central part of your home? Put it somewhere prominent so that you can enjoy it every day. We often design entire schemes around a client’s favourite piece of art.’
What is your favourite design piece?
‘Goodness, there are so many. The pink table by Yves Klein in the living room is something I never tire of looking at. I love a good Chesterfield couch – updated in a fresh fabric – and I keep returning to Anglepoise lights. They’re a modern classic.’
How was decorating your own home different to working with clients?
‘I found it much more difficult – and emotional. I’m aware of all of the different finishes and alternatives, and I’m always searching for perfection. Rob and I had a few heated debates. Fortunately, there’s always a point where my family make me step back and appreciate things.’
The so-called “sharing economy” isn’t just changing the way people work—it’s also transforming the spaces they work in. That’s what Tokyo-based firm Canoma proposes with Shaire Salon, located the city’s Harajuku district.
Stylists can rent any of the dozen booths that chief designer Shinsuke Yokoyama carved out of 1,800 square-foot raw space. “I wanted to reproduce the experience of narrow streets in an old town,” Yokoyama says, “the sense of entering consecutive stores.” High-precision wooden partitions form clear boundaries, unified by expanses of both clear and opaque glass that create privacy while allowing the salon’s ample natural light to fill every area. The plaster walls are finished in a gloss designed to reflect that light, joined by smooth stone flooring used everywhere in the salon apart from the shampoo room, which utilizes vinyl in a concrete pattern.
Yokoyoma calls it “a simple design,” unified by repetitions of material changed only in scale—a lesson in less-is-more that, much like the salon, is worth sharing.
Real EstateI cover construction, design, specialty trades and material trends.
Web building and design disruptor Wix has made it simple and fun for people of all skill levels to drag-and-drop design a business website. The platform is praised for its intuitive UX, attractive designs and supportive community. I took a tour through Wix’s Miami office, and chatted with Shelly Cohen, head of WixStores Business Development, and with U.S. Operations Manager Dax Pedraza about how Wix’s physical work spaces reflect the company’s open-minded and collaborative philosophy.
Humans weren’t made to live without natural light. While there are many ways humans evolved that society has moved away from, studies continue to show that exposure to natural light has increased benefits. It’s no wonder that buildings around the world are choosing to find more ways of bringing natural light into interiors
UNDERSTANDING CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
The benefits of natural light have been studied for more than a decade, but the findings are now being utilized across the board in architecture and design—particularly in offices where artificially lit cubicles are on the way out.
In particular, studies have shown that natural light:
Creates healthier and better sleep
The reasons primarily have to do with one’s circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythm is the body’s natural cycle throughout the day. Similar processes are found in most living things, and are affected by external factors, including light and temperature.
The color of natural light changes throughout the day due to the location of the sun in the sky and the density of the atmosphere. In the morning, sunlight is more blue while the sun’s evening hue contains more orange tones.
Recently, this has changed the ways in which technology appears. Studies found that the blue tone of the artificial light that comes from screens has a “wake-up” effect on the brain, leading to sleeping troubles for those who use any of the many screen-baring products that have come into the home in recent years. In response, many tablet and smartphone manufacturers added a feature that changes the tone to orange after a certain time to help the brain start to wind down at the end of the day.
FANTINI HEADQUARTERS, PELLA, ITALY
In the last year, luxury bathroom fixture brand Fantini has opened a new hotel, redesigned its lakeside manufacturing facility and renovated its headquarters in Pella, Italy. Each building features an abundance of natural lighting, including massive floor-to-ceiling windows on the southeast side of the headquarters, and large-scale windows along the northwest wall.
With natural light and stunning views of Lake Orta, a common concern is that employees will spend more time daydreaming and staring out of the window than getting work done, but for Daniela Fantini, CEO, the productivity and increased mood in the office makes it worthwhile. In fact, any time spent staring out the windows has lead the team to more creative solutions.
The access to natural light isn’t only for those with creative jobs, however. The manufacturing facilities next door to the headquarters features plenty of natural light as well.
OODI LIBRARY, HELSINKI
Up north in Finland, natural light is as important a feature as any other when constructing a building. With the long, dark nights that the country is subjected to throughout much of the year, double-paned glass and skylights abound. Beginning with Alvar Aalto’s designs in the 1960s, it has become common for artificial light to be installed within the crevices of skylights to lessen the intensity of lighting change from day to night.
Helsinki’s Oodi Library is scheduled to open November 2018. Included in the monolith is a public space on the first floor that will host events and conventions, and an entire second floor designed to accommodate smaller groups in need of collaborative rooms or meeting spaces. The third floor will house the library stacks.
Glass is used throughout the building to allow natural light into the interior. On the second floor, many of the meeting rooms are constructed with glass walls so that light can penetrate even the most interior rooms.
The third floor is designed with nearly 360-degree views from the floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall, and recessed skylights are built in every few feet. Even on dark days, the design allows as much natural light as possible for patrons.
TD BANK, TORONTO
When TD Bank’s Toronto headquarters were being designed with international firm HOK, they came across a unique situation. Once most of the skyscraper’s floors were constructed, TD Bank officials decided to switch gears to allow the last floor to integrate WELL standards, including giving their employees access to natural light. Because the original floors weren’t built using WELL standards, the building could act as a case study on itself.
Natural light is among the core features of WELL, which also includes open workspaces with access to daylight and views, ambient lighting that supports circadian rhythm and shading to reduce solar glare.
The employees who utilize the meeting spaces on this WELL-focused floor report more productive sessions than those taking place elsewhere in the building.
Between work deadlines and juggling personal responsibilities, it can be tough for employees to maintain stability in their life. Finding a healthy work-life balance can help improve one’s overall well-being, ultimately making employees more productive and happier in their work environment. Companies that invest in employee support and satisfaction tend to succeed in generating happier workers. A 2015 study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12 percent spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10 percent less productive.
When you think of what’s hot in interior design right now, do your dad’s wingback chairs and grandma’s ornate chandeliers come to mind? Well, maybe they should. A new study by Joybird, a custom furniture company, revealed that Victorian is the interior design style that wins the popularity vote in more U.S. states than any other decor style.
But hold off on a full “Age of Innocence” home makeover. Crown molding and floral wallpaper might reign supreme in 10 states, but that doesn’t mean stuffy Victorian style is on the rise across the country. In fact, trendsetting states such as California and New York actually preferred transitional and contemporary styles, respectively.
“Traditionally, home styles begin on either coast and work toward the center of the country,” says John B. Chadwick Jr., an interior designer in New York City.
The study compared the most-searched interior design terms in each state, based on Google Trends data over the past 12 months.
The states where Victorian style is No. 1 are Nevada, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware.
Bohemian, the No. 2 style, was the top search term in nine states: Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.
Take a look at the rest of the most searched styles in the chart below.
Contemporary and transitional styles dominate on the coasts
Anyone who wants to stay on the pulse of the next big thing in design has long known to look to New York and California, and the study confirms it.
“The design and fashion industries and other businesses on the East and West coasts help drive the trends,” says Bonnie J. Steves, an interior designer in New York City.
Of particular interest to many design mavens is contemporary style, which has taken root in New York. The style encompasses a range of different trends developed in the latter half of the 20th century, featuring rounded lines and a mix of bold and neutral shades.
“Contemporary style in particular will permeate in coming years,” says Steves. “We live in such a connected, digital society that someone can see something that’s trending in New York and immediately have access to it in Kansas City.”
Contemporary was also the top searched style in Texas. Houston-based architect and interior designer Lauren Rottetsays she has been seeing a lot more homes spotlighting the style being built in the Houston and Dallas areas.
“All the 30-somethings I know are very contemporary or Mid-Century Modern,” she says. “I think the home [reality] shows may be influencing this.” Photo by New Generation Home Improvements – Contemporary kitchens like this one are trending in states such as Texas, New York, and Virginia.
The transitional style favored in California is a more accessible look that melds two different aesthetics: modern and traditional.
“Transitional has some key elements of classic, timeless design but offers modern convenience with simple lines and profiles,” says Eric Tsai, director of marketing for Joybird. “People in California seem to like the mix and match of old and new more than staying within a defined style.”
“California culture is one of constant transitions,” says interior designer Linda Kitson of Summit, NJ. She favors such features as whitewashed oak beams, natural light, and bronze-framed windows.