Rory Thibault | Undergraduate Design Portfolio

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R O R Y T H I B A U LT |


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EXISTING CONDITIONS The area of focus for the semester’s project is in the Harlem watershed, which encompasses several North St. Louis neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are severely underserved, predominately black, and have been on the receiving end of serious disinvestment and disenfranchisement. This area particularly is at serious risk of flooding and as such, the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) has already implemented a series of detention basins with plans for more. The existing houses in the neighborhood are primarily under the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) or MSD has already bought them out. The terrain in focus is an area that has a large potential for green infrastructure, in that there is a prevalence of vacant land and it is situated squarely within a high risk flood zone. LANDSCAPE STRATEGY The proposal is a site intervention with net-zero energy and net-zero water in mind. The idea is to replace MSD’s existing detention basin and improve upon it, encouraging increased biodiversity and community cohesion, which is currently lacking. The design is also a comparative landscape management study comparing two methods of non-conventional maintenance, these being prescribed burning and ruminant (goat) grazing. The area of the existing basin is to be maintained by the goats and the surrounding plots are to be maintained by bi-yearly prescribed burning


LANDSCAPE INTERVENTION The design is enacted initially through breaking up the asphalt of the existing streets, and burning and grazing the area to remove all non-prairie adapted species. The site is then strategically regraded forming berms planted with a native prairie-mix to allow for water infiltration into the water table. The street is then replaced by an elevated steel mesh boardwalk, following the historic street designations, which meanders through the site. At certain points, the boardwalk widens allowing for larger community activities to occur, such as a market or performances. The mesh of the boardwalk allows for sunlight to reach the ground underneath in a dappled fashion. Here, mushrooms are planted and vined plants grow up along the supports. NET-ZERO TERRAIN Dispersed throughout the landscape are operable photo-voltaic canopies. These both provide shade and generate energy which helps offset any energy demand from the community in the space. The photo-voltaic canopies are further dispersed throughout the neighborhood, serving to extend the clean energy network and as a way-finding device to the selected terrain. Two of the existing buildings which have yet to be demolished are to be adaptively re-used and turned into community and educational spaces. They also serve as holding areas for the goats in illweather conditions and during the winter.



PRECEDENT STUDIES The initial subject of study was on the environmental effect called vortex shedding. This is what happens when a volume of air encounters a stationary object at certain velocities. A Von Karmen Vortex Street is the series of swirling vortices following behind said stationary object. This phenomenon can be seen on a macro scale, when air currents move around an island or on a smaller scale when air currents move around smokestacks, chimneys and even skyscrapers. If properly engineered these structures will not be adversely affected. However, if the structure is too thin, is not tapered, or does not have helical extrusions toward the top of the structure (i.e. strakes), vortices can cause these structures to vibrate. If these structures begin vibrate more and more forcefully due to the continuous oscillating pressure from a vortex, and the oscillation pattern matches the resonant frequency of the structure, the structure can collapse. EXPERIMENTAL ANALYSIS The model replicates this phenomenon on a micro scale by inserting metal rods into a vertically flowing soap film. The goal is to observe the series of vortices that are created after various patterns of rods are inserted. Also observed are the effects when a rod with helical extrusions is inserted into the soap film and seeing to what extent these strakes interrupt the formation of vortices at a constant velocity. An additional part of the experiment is observing the effect of interjecting an electrical current through the soap film at rods which are the furthest apart. Research suggests that the electrical current would essentially strengthen the soap film by not allowing the film to evaporate or thin due to gravity. The charge running through the soap film makes the protons and electrons try to maintain a state of equilibrium between the two electrically charged rods. The results of the experiment proved to be true in relation to the hypothesized result. When ribbed rods are interjected in the vertically flowing soap film, there is an increased amount of turbulence in the film and therefore the vortices was unable to form in comparison to the vortices that was formed behind the uniform rods. Also, there was a noticeable difference between the soap film with a charge running through it and one without. The charged soap film had a greater displacement in a direction perpendicular to the flow of the soap film between the two charged rods. This occurrence suggests that with an increase in the soap film thickness, the film is stronger and therefore is able to have a larger displacement without bursting.


DESIGN TRANSLATION The notion of an intervention at the heart of a system was the main idea from the first experiment and informed the initial design thinking of the scientific research observatory and dwelling. This idea likens to the colloquial phrase, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” So it is in this notion that a system, regardless of its scale, when faced with a disruption – a parasite – must adapt. It is through this adaptation and immersion of other into the system that a system becomes more complex. The focus of the design is on creating a series of singular disturbances that allow for a formulation of nonlinear and dynamic actions auto-catalytically driven from the intervention itself. SITE INTERVENTION The series of interventions enacted is a continuum of hydrokinetic turbines deployed along the width of the Mississippi to the north and south of the bridge at strategically placed positions. The scientist in the dwelling would then be conducting research on the hydro-kinetic potential of various configurations of the turbines as well as the impact the turbines have on the local ecology. The primary hydro-kinetic turbine is placed at the base of the building situated at the most optimal position to capture and convert the kinetic energy of the water. Here the water is deep enough to use a larger KW turbine system and the velocity of the water is consistent and fast enough to allow for optimal performance. DESIGN STRATEGY Explorations in nodal connections and patterns similar to the dispersion of the turbines along the river, were conducted. The voronoi diagrams created show a polygonal field based off of located points along the bridge structure. This allows for a lightweight and strong structure to be formed. The placement of the nodes in elevation were determined by being in part sympathetic to the bridge connections but also addressing the thickness and thinness of spaces by alluding to compression and expansion. In plan, the idea of slippage between public and private spaces anchored by both a public and private spinal circulation directed the design. Since the building is generating its own energy using the turbines, it makes sense that the building be a efficient as possible without sole reliance on the electricity it generates, therefore it can feed the excess energy back to the grid. Passive design strategies are used in a similar manner by orienting the public spaces to the south to take advantage of the direct sunlight and situating the private spaces to the north to take advantage of diffused natural light. The private spaces and meeting rooms are pulled to the outside of the design while the public pathways are set in. In order for the visitors to get a more impactful connection with the site the interior glass partition walls separating the public from the private spaces are made of electro-chromic glass that would be able to change opacity on a 1:1 basis with the amount of power that is being generated. If the turbines are not performing optimally the glass is more transparent. If they are, the glass is more opaque. Since the power generation varies with the seasons, the glass would shift in opacity throughout the year, ensuring a unique experience to the visitor each time they came.




ENVIRONMENTAL CONNECTIONS The semester’s program was for a vertical greenhouse in an urban context, situated in Soulard. However, the design pushes the program by fostering a natureculture, a place of physical and visible interaction between humans, non-humans, and environmental processes. Initial studies began with investigation into connections, physical, social and environmental. The site in focus is located directly in-between three fragmented urban parks, therefore the revitalized site would serve as a stepping stone to allow for biodiversity to move through the site into the other parks. In regard to the urban context, the site serves as a connection for humans who wish to travel from the residential areas in the northwest to the denser urban center southeast of the site. The site currently is impassable. Storm water management issues were also addressed. Since the site is surrounded by impervious surfaces, surface water runoff is directed toward the site and filtered through a series of terraced constructed wetlands which form the new ground plane. This lightens the storm water load on the sewer system and would allows the collected, filtered, and treated water to be re-used in the building, or permeate the soil and recharge the groundwater aquifer, or is dispersed off-site at a slower frequency ensuring the water load does not overload the system.


INTEGRATED DESIGN STRATEGY The constructed wetlands are planted with native plants able to withstand drought, salt, and saturated soil conditions. Therefore, native biodiversity flourishes on the site, encouraging species richness, evenness and distribution. Adverse edge effects currently found in the now-fragmented parks are eliminated. The form of the building is generated from the desire to move the ground condition up into the building, blurring the line between what is hard infrastructure and what is soft. The form is a series of folded precast concrete vessels which are able to hold soil and native plants. Water that is collected on the roofs moves through the soil, down the structure, to the constructed wetland beds. Areas in which there is pedestrian movement, have a translucent glass floor over the vessels. This is then lit from underneath allowing for diffused up-lighting throughout building, illuminating the roof structure above. The building is supported by a series of pilotis generated in form using the same methodology of the building structure allowing for a light-touch on the landscape. OCCUPATION The program of the building is a collaborative research space for MSD and the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Separation by interior glass partitions allows a visual connection between the researchers and the general public visiting the site, encouraging a collaborative work and learn environment.



REGIONAL FLOW NETWORKS St Louis as a whole, was chosen as the focus for the GIS class. Mapping exercises were conducted in order to understand on a deeper level the systems at play in the region. Analysis was conducted on St Louis’s hydrography utilizing flow accumulation tools, and slope analysis. Vacancies were parsed out, and building footprints datasets were refined down to flood risks. PROSPECTIVE LANDSCAPES Subsequent mapping exercises, supplemental to studio focus, were on areas of intensities. These circled areas of intensities are terrains deemed prime for landscape intervention. They have a high flood-risk and a significant amount of under-utilized spaces. They are in some cases surrounded by, include, or are in close proximity to, anchor institutions and near avian hotspots. The community profile is a subset of general race and income demographic data. The subset of people represented in the census tracts have a majority African American population and a mean house-hold income of less than $50,000. The divide is clearly shown from map to map, moving South through St. Louis. These circled areas could serve as terrains for future resiliency design investigations.



INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH The Public Lab River Rat Pack Seminar was an interdisciplinary seminar focused on studying the characteristics and fluctuations of the Mississippi and other bodies of water in the St Louis region. Thousands of images were collected via a camera rigged to a large helium balloon or kite. These were then stitched together to form panoramas of the site in focus at a given point in time. Analysis was further conducted by the class, analyzing particular access and control measures on the river, and how those changed based on the river stage level. The class collaborated with the US. Army Corp of Engineers, the Audubon Institute at Riverlands, among others in an effort to gain access to restricted areas as well as learn further information about each of the areas in focus. The information collected was displayed in an exhibition at the end of the semester, open to students, faculty, and the general public. The map on the left was completed with a fellow student, and compiles the areas mapped during the class and overlays further information on river control measures, flood extents, hydrology networks, and land ownership. EFFECT: DIY AERIAL IMAGING Many of the issues that had been brought up in other ecology, biology and architecture classes became abundantly clear through the course of the semester. This was evident through seeing the gradients of vegetation and occupation throughout the city, and the changing river levels at each site, mapped multiple times. The DIY aerial mapping demeanor and antidrone nature of using a large balloon rigged with a small camera generated social interest and amusement with the public in proximity to the class on each trip. This is definitely a new step in the right direction of how, architecture or landscape architecture students (and even for those in practice) can document their terrain in which they are working within for any given project, as well as the surrounding context, in a non-invasive manner.



PROBLEMATIC The focus of the research project is on creating a prospective framework for the adaptive re-use of a coal-fired power plant, which could be adapted to other power plants across the country in the future. The primary method of generating energy for human needs is at a crossroads. Historically, the United States has relied upon fossil fuels to provide this energy. However, a new advent in efficient and economical renewable technology, along with concerns of human and environmental health have changed the dialogue surrounding the continued use of these forms of energy. The coal industry, specifically power plants, have felt the pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in terms of these new regulations. As a result, instead of meeting the new EPA measures, some power plants have been decommissioned. The design challenge is then, determining what the most suitable use is for the power plants after they are no longer in service. In order to contextualize the present situation in a locality, a historical analysis must be conducted in the regional scale. In which case an understanding of the history, can lead to an understanding for the expediency of the design problem. THE PAST: A NATIONAL TERRAIN Assume an alternate reality where the re-formation of the Unites States is based off of energy production. Here, production and output is maximized and environmental awareness is nonconsequential. The terrain is regraded, with coal-fired power plants located at the most effective locations, these are the hills. The higher the hill the closer the plants are together. The earth’s crust has been removed and looms above, so that extraction and production can occur simultaneously. The subsurface is likewise regraded with the densest mines at the lowest elevation. The mines are located in a similarly effective and efficient manner and are a quick ride vertically down to the surface. The transportation vectors are a series of rings reaching from the mines down to the power plants. This is not a fiction, but an assumed present.



THE PRESENT: A LOCAL TERRAIN The investigation focuses on the city of Grand Haven. The Board of Light and Power Company owns the JB Simms III coal-fired power plant a 65 Megawatt (MW) facility, located on Harbor Island adjacent to the Grand River. This plant has been in operation since 1983 and provides power to Grand Haven and parts of the surrounding tri-city area. It has continued to meet EPA regulation, and is still in use. However, it will only be a matter of time before the power plant can no longer meet the increased regulation, and will have to be closed. The city of Grand Haven has not completed a feasibility study for the power plant and site, therefore the basis of this project, research, and subsequent speculation is aimed at creating a framework of possible future which can be theoretically adapted to each newly decommissioned power plant in the future across the United States. PHYSICAL PARAMETERS The series of maps are an effort to develop an understanding of the physical parameters the site must address. These maps showcase relationships between fields of focus as well as limitations on the extent of further development. In addition to the physical parameters of the site and situation, there are also immaterial forces at play. These are the networks of politics and economics, which impose additional metrics that must be met in order to render a sustainable solution. The flow network illustrates the forces at play and the impact they cause. Using the same fields of focus as the mapping exercise, a pathway through actants and time is elucidated. The framework end conditions are the geo-political parameters a prospective future can utilize as a foundational basis for the programming of the terrain and building. These conditions both limit and permit funding and development of a certain nature.


PROSPECTIVE FUTURE: BIOMASS A concern associated with a rapid transition from traditional fossil fuel energy sources to renewable sources is in regard to the grid. Energy sources such as wind and solar are intermittent power sources. As a result, if one of these sources stops generating energy at any point in time, there must be a careful calibration of energy inputs in order to equalize the system so that power loss does not occur. Currently renewable energy sources are supplemented by traditional base loading energy sources, such as coal and natural gas. Biomass however, is both base loading as well as renewable, meaning that it can provide continuous renewable energy with low risk of power loss. Biomass energy is carbon neutral, since it releases carbon back into the atmosphere in the same proportion to what would occur naturally in the carbon cycle. TYPOLOGIES Biomass power plants do not have to be a new construction, rather than can be retro-fitted into existing coal-fired power plants due to the similar progression of raw material into energy. The pulverized coal burning process of the JB Simms III plant is illustrated on the left. A biomass retrofit would utilize similar components and follow a similar conversion process. A pulverized coal plant can therefore, under minor upgrades such as modifying the on-site storage means from coal to woody material, modifying the burners, and the dust control system, fire wood pellets. This conversion process is only slightly more expensive per MWh than building a new Natural Gas facility.


SUSTAINABLE SOURCING Biomass plants typically source their materials from within a 5070 mile radius and rarely exceed 100 miles. This is due in part to minimize transportation costs but also has the added benefit of stimulating the local economy by keeping jobs relatively close. Wood/Waste Biomass plants source a large amount resources from forest harvest residues, conducted annually by the Department of Natural Resources. These harvest residues, as part of the traditional timber harvest, can be used for biomass fuel after they have been ground down. PREDICTED RESOURCE AVAILABILITY In order to depict the quantity of harvest residues available, Michigan forest data was filtered to only include softwood. A density map was created of the resultant parcels. This illustrates the concentration and existing relationships between current Wood/Waste Biomass plants and the potential for the JB Simms III plant to access these resources. The JB Simms III plant could potentially access an estimated residual harvest in a 70 mile radius, equivalent to existing high capacity biomass plants within a 50 mile radius. In order to depict the relative overlap of sourcing areas by biomass plants in close vicinity to each other, 50 mile radius’s were created around each biomass plant. This is then compared to the density mapping of residual harvest timber. It can be inferred then, that the JB Simms III plant, if converted to Wood/Waste could sustain itself at a generating capacity of at least 35 MW, as evidenced by the supporting data of the other Wood/Waste Biomass plants in Michigan.

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