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2010 Research Grant Recipients


A Remarkable Woman-Annie M. Cobb
Laura Fitzmaurice AIA


Throughout history men have largely occupied the fields of building and architecture. How is it that a woman, of some means, but with no formal professional education could, in the mid to late 1800’s, manage to develop the skills as both an architect and builder such that she was able to make a significant impact on the newly emerging suburb of Newton Highlands, just west of Boston, Massachusetts?

Mrs. Ann M. Cobb, born 1830 in Maine, is credited by the Newton History Museum’s Historical Survey of Houses, with the design of 16 houses and two house additions. The known houses all exist within a small radius in Newton Highlands and each of these houses possess a very strong character in proportion and detailing that reveal a real talent for design.

Working with Susan Abele of the Newton History Museum, I researched and documented the Newton work of Ann Cobb. I explored her history, documented the buildings as they existed today, tried to recreate original floor plans and recovered drawings and reference to more of her work. In doing so I came to a better understanding of how she came to be a builder and how her work was accomplished.

Almost every residential architectural practice involves at some point, the restoration, renovation or alteration of an existing home. In the Northeast, this involves dealing with homes that are often a hundred years old or more. It then becomes important that we understand the nature of its construction and also the logic of the original design. Documenting and archiving the work of architects and builders, helps us to preserve our local heritage and also move forward making informed and sensitive decisions given the existing fabric of our neighborhoods. Ann M. Cobb had a significant impact on the fabric of Newton Highlands, MA and she was able to do so in a period that had only begun to consider the valuable contributions that women might make outside of the home. My hope is to preserve her legacy and inspire others with the story of her tenacity and spirit.

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Body Trouble: Architectural Narratives of Ability and Disability
Wanda Katja Liebermann
Doctor of Design Candidate
Harvard University Graduate School of Design


My dissertation examines the ways in which the meanings of disability become materialized in the built environment. Three culturally prominent, but architecturally dissimilar projects form the empirical basis of my research. The research funded by the BSA Grant is focused on one of the case studies, Het Dorp, in the Netherlands, a village designed in the 1960’s by the prominent modernist architect, Jacob Bakema. In May 2010 I spent nine days at there documenting and observing the built environment, the socio-spatial practices of users, and conducting semi-structured interviews with its residents and staff. I also interviewed an architect involved in the project design from van den Broek en Bakema, the original design firm, and conducted research of the architectural documents at the NAi (Netherlands Architecture Institute) archives in Rotterdam. There I uncovered a video recording of an extraordinary television program compilation, “Open Het Dorp,” that launched the project into national consciousness. It provides unique insight into what the public perception of disability and architecture was at that particular historical moment in the Netherlands, and also the role that the program played in constructing this special place.

The first resulting paper revisits the 1962 watershed cultural event, “Open Het Dorp,” Holland’s famous televised fundraiser to construct a community for the physically disabled, and the subsequent village design. I examine the role that the architecture and architectural representation played in the enactment of different Dutch citizenships, including the residents of Het Dorp, through its design and related spatial practices. I make two main arguments: first, that the collective action of “Open Het Dorp”, the “good cause” of accommodating the disabled, was a critical step in nation-building, and secondly, that public ambivalence about the personhood and citizenship of its projected residents was embodied in the architecture through a design that collapsed a utopian vision within an institutional framework. The resultant design strategy of the “street” reproduced this paradox, both enacting and denying the autonomous citizenship of the residents. Drawing on scholarship from science and technology studies (STS), especially ANT (actor-network-theory) I attempt to show that Het Dorp, as a sociotechnical artifact, was both the product of human agency and structured social action. This approach analyzes design in the wider anthropological and historical cultural-political context by combining representational material, mostly the “Open Het Dorp” series of television programs, interviews with users and designers, and detailed descriptions of the material environment.

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Low-cost Low-tech: Participatory Processes for Social Housing in Colombia
Quilian Riano and DK Osseo-Asare with Danielle Letitia, Nicholas Ter Meer and Zenon Tech-Czarny


For this research research project DSGN AGNC ( founders Quilian Riano and DK Osseo-Asare traveled to Colombia, visiting the capital, Bogota, to have interviews with the Presidential Palace and Ministry of Housing. Meeting with various officials helped us map the current system of low-cost social housing delivery in Colombia allowing us to develop an alternative model for sustainable community design through participatory processes. To put this research into practice DSGN AGNC partnered with low-income housing association ‘La Union’ (strata 1-2 out of the 6 used in Colombia) and NGO ProMujer both located in Facatativa, Colombia. DSGN AGNC led the effort to introduce sustainable construction and resource management methods through the participatory design of a 50-unit social housing community. ‘Low-cost low-tech’ demonstrates through full-scale community prototyping that high-value sustainable is feasible at low-cost through targeted application of low-tech systems in architecture, including passive solar heating and water heating, rainwater harvesting and biological treatment of gray-water.

DSGN AGNC had multiple meetings with the families that make up the La Union housing association. Through the process we discovered the most important needs of the families and systems that affect them. Through conversation we found that people in the community worry about the lack of light, ventilation, and warmth in their houses, that they want open spaces and landscapes in their communities, and, finally, that they worry about the lack of educational and economic opportunities in social housing developments. We designed housing that takes into account all those concerns by studying the culture of building in Colombia, larger natural ecosystems, and the international economic systems that put pressure on the communities in Facatativa. As the project continues and we begin construction, these systems will help ‘La Union’ create more than a housing development - they will create a self-reliant yet networked community.

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A Comparative Study of the Cumulative Energy Use of Historical Versus Contemporary Windows
Frank Shirley, AIA
Fred Gamble, PhD
Jarod Galvin, RA, LEED AP


This study compares the life-cycle costs of two residential window systems in a pre-1940 house in Boston, Massachusetts. One is an original double-hung window with a new triple-track storm unit. The other is a new, vinyl, double-hung replacement window. Our results are obtained from an algorithm that yields the total present value of all costs associated with a window system over its entire life, including acquisition, installation, maintenance, and energy. Our study provided two notable findings: (1) the thermal performances of the two window systems are similar; and (2) taking all costs into account, it is more cost effective to add a storm window to an historical window, and it remains so at all times for the full 100-year life we considered.


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Energy Modeling for Housing
Ryan E. Smith, Assistant Professor
Joerg Ruegemer, Assistant Professor
Scott Yribar
University of Utah


This report is concerning a comparative study of energy modeling software platforms for accuracy and accessibility (ease of use) in informed housing design and construction. The test bed for this study are two prototypical workforce-housing units that are part of a larger 13-unit development designed and built to achieve 50% greater energy efficiency than a code standard house. The units were instrumented, monitored and measured for performance over a season for passive strategies, high R-enclosure, geothermal, PV and solar hot water systems for their contribution to the holistic energy efficiency. Under the BSA grant, the researchers modeled/simulated the houses to compare the energy performance measured to actual energy performance in order to determine the software accuracy. In addition to accuracy, the software is being qualitatively evaluated for accessibility or ease of use. The following energy modeling programs are being assessed and compared: E-Quest DOE-2, Passive House Planning Package 2010, REM/Rate, and Energy 10.

The results of this comparative analysis illustrate from most impacting of accuracy to least: degree of expertise of the modeler; assumptions of - climate data, occupancy number & schedule, appliance gain & schedule, lighting gain & schedule, ground temperatures, infiltration rates, thermostat set-points and schedule, and HVAC coefficient of performance and schedule, and finally modules that include or exclude specific systems such as PV, SHW, GSHP and SIPs. The accessibility is nearly the inverse of accuracy. The amount of time to input the data and become proficient in modeling determined the comparative accessibility from most accessible - least excluding REM/RATE: Energy-10, PHPP 2010, E-Quest, Energy Plus.

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Developing Evidence-Based Design Strategies, Metrics and Methods for Improving Healthcare Soundscapes
Craig Zimring, PhD, Georgia Tech, College of Architecture
Erica Ryherd, PhD, LEED AP, Georgia Tech, Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering


Healing and clinical work requires a complex choreography of architectural acoustic design in healthcare settings that is only beginning to be understood. In most healthcare settings, medical staff members conduct vital tasks that may have life-and-death implications. Patients visit the hospitals to heal. Their expectations include fast recovery, restful sleep, and privacy (i.e., speech privacy). However, sound environment qualities of the care settings often fall far from supporting the mission of hospitals. There is strong and growing evidence showing that effective soundscapes in healthcare settings impact healing, errors and stress for patients, families and staff but it is still not clear what measures of the sound environment best predict key healthcare outcomes and what design strategies best impact those measures. Our preliminary field research shows that characteristics of critical care sound environments with different layout designs can vary drastically and impact wellbeing and task performance. This study aims to develop a toolkit of evidence-based design strategies and technologies by statistically defining the relationships between three types of variables: (1) architectural layout metrics, (2) acoustic metrics, and (3) occupant response. The architectural layouts will be quantified with a variety of metrics, using software packages such as Quelize and Depth Map. The soundscapes will be quantified with a variety of acoustic metrics that capture detailed characteristics using CATT 3D acoustic modeling software. Modeling predictions of the real-world wards will be verified with field acoustic measurements. Our research team consists of members from both academia and industry to combine expertise in architecture, engineering, acoustics, psychology, and medicine. Our efforts will aid the healthcare design community in helping them design hospital layouts that are more conducive to occupant health and productivity.

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