[ Home Page | Information | Activities | Case Studies | What's New ]
The Vital Signs Project: 1996 Case Study Competition
For both students and practicing professionals alike there is
little available information documenting the physical performance of actual buildings.
Case Studies are an effective way to generate and contribute information about the impact
of design solutions on energy performance and occupant well being. The Case Study model
developed by the Vital Signs Project asks students to seek information about performance
issues of nearby buildings through a series of field investigations. The Building Case
Study is not unlike the metaphor of a medical work-up, where doctors chart and diagnose
various systems and vital signs of the human body. Typically, a selected Case Study
building will pose many exciting questions and stories. The challenge and key to a
successful Case Study is to clearly frame the investigation with a hypothesis and a
The aggregate of information collected in the building can be divided into the Building Workup and the Case Study Dossier. The Building Workup is the narrative and graphic portion of the building Case Study, and is the essence of the buildings story. Building Workups are brief reports that provide a summary of the field work and discussion of the findings. The Building Workup represents the portion of your investigation that is submitted to the Competition, and is intended for distribution via newsletters and the World Wide Web. Case Study Dossiers are collections of selected raw materials from a field investigation, such as a box containing blueprints, photographs, interview notes, survey data, simulation results and measured data generated by the study. Materials in the Case Study Dossiers are not intended for mass distribution, but we suggest the materials be kept by the faculty advisor and made available to others upon request. For further discussion see the web page
Students are encouraged to make submissions that include buildings from the following
Historical buildings such as the Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Architecturally influential contemporary buildings such as the Denver Public Library by Michael Graves.
Buildings known for energy efficiency and environmental responsiveness such as the Bateson Building in Sacremento, California.
Projects representative of a specific building type such as the Guggenheim museum. Other good choices might be a school or office building.
These categories do not represent an exclusive pool of building work-up candidates. Creative submissions that look at unknown but interesting buildings are encouraged as well.
Selecting a building and a topic go hand in hand. Each building will pose many
questions of investigation. At times, motivation to pursue a Case Study investigation
stems from curiosity about a building aspect or quality.
The Logan House
For example, has the performance of the National Audubon Society Headquarters changed over the past few years? Is the Logan House in Florida still naturally ventilated? How comfortable is the Douglas House (Richard Meier) with its three stories of west-facing glazing? There are thousands of stories to be told. In particular, the Competition seeks submissions which focus on energy use, architectural space-making, and occupant well-being. Examples of these building performance topics were developed by the Vital Signs Project, available in a set of Resource Packages, which were distributed to all schools of architecture in the United States and Canada in May 1996 (see Resource Package Descriptions):
Each package covers the primary physical principles, a description of how the topic affects design decision making, a discussion of applicable standards and practices, an annotated bibliography, and a set of field exercises. Participants are encouraged to use these materials and topics, although this list is not exclusive. Creative Case Studies focusing on other building performance topics and methods related to energy-use, architectural space-making, and occupant well-being may be submitted. Preference will not be given to submittals that solely use the Vital Signs Resource Packages. It is particularly important that the Case Studies focus on current performance issues existing in buildings, as measured by direct experience rather than entries focusing only on design intent or simulation.
As you frame a Case Study, a key step is to establish a do-able" project and one
that can successfully be brought to closure. Once a topic is selected, developing a
clearly stated hypothesis is essential to successfully framing the investigation.
An hypothesis is a best guess or proposition about the outcome of your question of
For example, a Case Study could look at a local building recently installed with occupancy sensors and energy efficient ballasts and lighting fixtures. The topics of investigation were related to electric lighting and energy use. The question: Were the retrofit fixtures functioning as intended by the designer? The hypothesis: The occupancy sensors controlling the lighting fixtures were not operating as designed. If the sensors were tuned (modified settings, cleaned, and/or fixed), an improved performance would be observed and energy use would decrease.
When the question and hypothesis are carefully constructed, certain methods of investigation become evident in order to gather quantifiable data to support or refute the question. It is important that your method is appropriately planned to collect the information necessary to answer your question, or prove your hypothesis to be right or wrong. Examples of methods of investigation include observation, interview, survey, and physical measurement.
The Vital Signs Resource Packages provide exercises to guide students through a series of field measurement protocols, fashioned in three general levels of detail.
Competition evaluation will not favor one level of investigation over another. The important factors will be a match between your hypothes(es) and the methods selected to investigate them, a careful and critical analysis of the information collected, and a clear presentation of the results.
New miniature, microprocessor-based data acquisition systems have greatly increased the ease and power of performance monitoring. The microcomputer interface to some of these data acquisition systems allows an automated process requiring little specialized skill on the users part. See section on Resources for more information sources for equipment.
One handy device has been the Hobo datalogger. This matchbox-sized device costs approximately $100 and is capable of measuring and storing temperature, light, voltage, or humidity data for a designated period of time, when launched from a MAC or IBM computer.
[ Home Page | Information | Activities | Case Studies | What's New ]
Comments to author:firstname.lastname@example.org
All contents copyright (C) 1998.
Charles C. Benton.
All rights reserved. Revised: 28 May, 1996