Rethinking Design

Four new faculty emphasize architectural engineering

With buildings and construction practice accounting for 25 to 40 percent of the world's total energy use, 30 to 40 percent of solid waste generation, and 30 to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the School of Civil Engineering will be offering a new emphasis area called architectural engineering. Architectural engineering, a multidisciplinary field that incorporates structural and construction engineering and the engineered systems in a building—electrical and mechanical—has a fundamental commitment to green building concepts.

"It's a brand new area with a lot of challenges," says Hongxi Yin, a visiting professor of civil engineering.

"Sustainable building design is a broad area of study," Yin admits, describing how the new architectural engineers will be faced with a host of design challenges "from proposal to demolition."

Collaborating with Yin in the new program will be three other new hires: Ming Qu, Thanos Tzempelikos, and Travis Horton, all assistant professors of civil engineering. A Purdue PhD (ME '01), Horton brings seven years of industry experience to the classroom.

Of course, there are already experts in the many fields that overlap and contribute to architectural engineering, and they will all participate in developing a new era of environmentally sound building practice. "But there is one big thing missing," Yin says. "We need the integration of these diverse skills." That will be the job of the architectural engineer.

Nuts and bolts Tzempelikos is excited about the new course of study. "Our objective is to build a multidisciplinary program," he says.

Starting this semester, engineering students have an opportunity to sample the new curriculum in "Introduction to Architectural Engineering,"

a core course, or "Architecture and Technology," a general engineering elective incorporating civil, architectural, mechanical, and even landscape engineering concepts. "We want everyone to have a chance to see what sustainable building design is all about," says Tzempelikos.

After the introductory courses, "AE Design I" will teach students about energy calculations and mechanical systems, and "AE Design II" will focus on electrical and lighting systems. "These will probably be dual courses between civil and mechanical engineering," Tzempelikos notes, so that students from both disciplines can be exposed to architectural engineering concepts.

"We want to reach a greater audience with architectural engineering's core focus on sustainable, energy-efficient buildings," says Tzempelikos.

Students who follow the path of architectural engineering will graduate as civil engineers with an architectural engineering specialty to boast on their resumé. Not many schools offer the new subspecialty, which puts Purdue graduates in a competitive position as they enter the marketplace. With a challenged economy and burgeoning national attention on green initiatives,

architectural engineering has the potential to attract even greater numbers of students to Purdue. Tzempelikos has already seen widespread enthusiasm for the new program. He reports, "I'm receiving e-mails from interested students and professionals every day, from all over the world."

Going deeper Qu received her doctorate in building performance and diagnostics from Carnegie Mellon University, a broad-based program of study where her research focused on innovative solar thermal technology. She has a vision for architectural engineering as an integrated discipline, but she stresses that merely having a wide-ranging understanding of multiple areas will be insufficient to prepare graduates for the world outside the university. Breadth and depth in architectural engineering education will be equally important. "We don't want students to know everything a little," says Qu. "They need to think deep as well as wide."

One way Qu hopes to augment students' depth of knowledge is by taking them on a field trip to China, the country where half of the world's new buildings are constructed each year. This semester, she plans a two-week trip featuring lectures by faculty at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Tongji University in Shanghai. Students will also tour Olympic sites in Beijing,

such as the Water Cube and the Bird's Nest, and some commercial and residential buildings in both cities.

Qu's native country boasts many great examples of positive architectural engineering, but she also knows that China suffers the effects of poor design as well. "China is facing a big problem with pollution," she admits. "We will go to China not only to see good practices, but also to learn from mistakes."

Back home in Indiana, Qu will address fundamental aspects of sustainable building in preparation for the trip. Students will discuss the natural interplay between a building and its site, talk about integrated energy systems for buildings, and learn about water protection and conservation techniques, such as capturing and recycling rainwater to flush toilets and irrigate plants. They will study building materials and evaluate the environmental impact that different options represent, such as the concept of "embodied energy," the energy resources required to manufacture and ship materials. Knowing that people spend about 78 percent of their time indoors, designing for the comfort, well-being, and productivity of building occupants will be an important topic as well.

A new generation of engineers Yin first studied architecture in China and worked there as an architect for five years before earning a PhD in building performance and diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon. Once he was armed with the tools of two professions, Yin faced a professional identity crisis.

"I asked myself, 'Am I an architect or an engineer?' And I realized that I have become a new generation of professional," he says.

Yin understands that the global energy and climate crises are forcing the development of new approaches to building design. "Engineering and architecture will become cross-boundary disciplines," he emphasizes. He sees architectural education evolving to incorporate engineering know-how, such as energy consumption calculations, that will facilitate architects' participation in sustainable building practices.

Designing greener buildings, according to Yin, requires both new and traditional technologies. Yin uses windows to illustrate his meaning. New high-tech shading devices can be applied to window exteriors, reducing solar gain and resulting in 15 percent energy savings. When this new scientific advancement is combined with the age-old technology of operable windows to maximize the benefits of natural ventilation, the result is a thoughtful approach to designing a facade that can make a real difference in the building's energy usage. Fresh air and natural sunlight also improve occupants' health and productivity.

Yin's passion for the promise of architectural engineering is fueled by an international sensibility. "Years ago," he says, "it was the study of China's native architecture that drew me into my chosen profession. And now, I see that studying vernacular architecture was not only a way of learning about the past but a way of discovering the future."

A glimpse of that future will come in June 2009, when Yin joins the faculty from Purdue and Carnegie Mellon in Beijing for the China Sustainable Building Forum and Expo. The expo will provide engineers, architects, and government officials with an international stage for highlighting sustainable building innovations and practices.

Yin is excited to share his vision of architectural engineering with the world and with his students at Purdue. "Young generations must have the methods and technologies to save energy in building design," he says. "We can make a difference."

-Gina Vozenilek