Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

Design Development Update

The design team is now approximately halfway through the Design Development phase. As such we are continuing to develop many aspects of the building. In this post we are sharing three recent renderings of the exterior and interior to highlight the progress.

For the exterior we are continuing to refine the design. The roof slope over the multipurpose space has changed from a v-shaped roof to a continuous slope. This simplifies the building envelop, makes detailing and ventilation of the roof more effective, and provides more area for photovoltaic panels. We are hoping to fit all the required PV panels onto this roof surface. The exterior is still predominately clad in wood and stone, though the details have developed somewhat since the end of Schematic Design. We have continued to refine our daylighting strategies which are reflected in the current arrangement of windows, sun shades, and roof overhangs.


We are just beginning to refine the design of the interior spaces. The rendering shows the interior of the multipurpose space. The team is working to incorporate principles of biophilia into the design and incorporate some of the essences of Nuthatch that were articulated at the regenerative design workshop last year. We are also fine-tuning our approach to daylighting and acoustics. In a future post we will do a walkthrough of the interior design elements and explain the concepts and approaches.

In addition to creating a Living Building, the team is working to incorporate Passive House design principals into the building. This will be a great help in reaching Net-Positive Energy. Our next post(s) will explore this aspect of Nuthatch further.


Nuthatch Next Steps – Design Development

Schematic Design has wrapped up, and classes are coming to their hectic close. We now look forward to the start of “summer” while we enjoy all that spring in Upstate New York has to offer. The Nuthatch team, designers, faculty and students now dive headlong into the next phase of the project, Design Development. This is where all those ideas developed during the concept and schematic phases get turned into reality, something that is buildable and meets Living Building Challenge (LBC) requirements. Some key areas of focus in the near term include the following:

  • Further developing the building itself, especially details of the wall and roof assemblies. These assemblies need to be highly insulated, requiring careful consideration of building science and constructability.
  • Development of the mechanical and power systems. Between this and the detailed design of the wall and roof assemblies we will be aiming to continue to reduce the energy consumption of the building. The energy modeling and daylight modeling that we described in previous blog posts will continue in support of this goal.
  • Ongoing analysis of the carbon footprint of the building.
  • Development of the Urban Agriculture component of the LBC. Based on LBC requirements a significant amount of our site will need to be involved in food production. This is a very unusual design consideration and should make for a fascinating exploration.
  • Continued incorporation of principles of Biophilia into the design.
  • Much more materials research. There will be several students working over the summer to continue the excellent research work they conducted this spring.

It’s going to be a busy summer. The design team looks forward to presenting an update to the university community in September. In the meantime, we’ll provide regular updates on the blog.

Schematic Design & Energy Modeling

In high performance building design it is helpful, critical even, to start detailed energy modeling for the proposed design as early in the design process as possible. This allows the design team to use this modeling tool to influence the design process resulting in a more cost effective, optimized building design. Pathfinder developed the first energy model for Nuthatch Hollow during Schematic Design. Throughout the next phase, Design Development, the team will continue to update the model and use it to refine our design decisions.

One of the goals of the Nuthatch Hollow project is to be a “Net-Positive Energy” design. The project will use renewable energy on site to provide 105% or more of the annual energy that the project uses. Building simulation tools are used to help minimize energy consumption of the design and help achieve the Net-Positive goal. The first step is to enter the building geometry and floorplan into the model. Walls, windows, roofs and floors are entered along with their thermal properties. The building geometry is easily viewed and modified in a graphical interface, shown below.


Next, building loads are entered, consisting of occupants, equipment, lighting and hot water. The simulation represents one year of operation, so schedules are entered to describe how the loads vary hour-by-hour, as well as daily and monthly, including vacation and holiday periods per the Binghamton University school calendar. For example, a typical Monday schedule for occupancy is shown below.


HVAC systems (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) are entered into the model, along with thermostat schedules and the ventilation load (fresh air). Electric HVAC systems will be used to avoid using fossil fuels or other combustion. We are focusing on VRF systems (variable refrigerant flow – similar to heat pump systems). HVAC systems are controlled in the simulation to run only as needed to meet the building loads. The energy model provides detailed information about energy consumption of the proposed design. It is easy for us to make adjustments in the building loads, geometry and thermal properties, and HVAC system efficiency and controls, to see the likely impacts on energy and help us achieve our Net-Positive goal.

Daylight Analysis as Design Tool

Performance based design requires that a design team consider multiple factors simultaneously as they design a building. One of those factors is optimizing the building for daylighting. For Nuthatch the design team performed daylight analysis to help define both the form and orientation of the building and optimize window openings. We used the Honeybee extension for the Rhino plugin, Grasshopper to perform our analysis.


Our building is composed of two volumes, the volume enclosed by the existing building foundation and another volume containing the multipurpose room. For the volume defined by the existing building we primarily used the software to analyze window openings, since the shape and orientation of the space was defined by the existing building footprint. For the multipurpose volume we were able to do a more extensive analysis looking at shape, location, orientation and window openings.

The software was used to consider three key factors: Spatial Daylight Autonomy; glare; and Occupant Adaptive Thermal Comfort. Spatial Daylight Autonomy looks at the normalized daylighting in a space over the course of a year allowing us to understand which approaches have the best overall daylighting. We then look at the space during specific times of day and year to make sure there are not issues with glare. Finally, the Occupant Adaptive Thermal Comfort analysis uses ASHRAE Standard 55 thermal comfort model to show the relative comfort level in the space for each approach, which subsequently helps reduce the building energy consumption for heating and cooling.



A great benefit of a tool like Honeybee is the ability to run hundreds of iterations to quickly refine and test our approaches. The images included with this post show some of those iterations along with the analysis of the scheme as it is at the end of Schematic Design. As we move forward with Design Development we will continue to refine our window placement and shading strategies and test them using this analysis tool.

Current Site Plan/Approach

As we pulled up to Nuthatch Hollow last weekend my daughter, who was along for the ride only because I promised to get her new socks afterwards, said “Do I have to get out of the car”? I almost let her stay while I ran down to snap a few pictures around the house but decided against it and forced her to use her legs. I think we may have a new fan of Nuthatch Hollow…

We walked down the existing driveway and explored the areas around the house.

We were getting ready to head back to the car in the direction of new socks when I asked her if she would be up for taking a short hike out into the woods. For the next hour we explored the site and found some really cool places.





And now the challenge… How do you respectfully honor the larger 75 acres of natural area while meeting the functional requirements of moving visitors from arrival points to the new building and surrounding site. We’re still working out the details but here are some of the conceptual ideas we’re refining:

Directly off Bunn Hill Road will be a new bus pull off area outside a new fence intended to keep a portion of the site protected from deer. Directly inside the new fence will be a paved parking area and unpaved overflow parking area. We will be utilizing the existing asphalt driveway where possible and this will lead down to an accessible parking area closer to the new Living Building. A new sidewalk system will begin at the parking area and direct visitors towards the new building. Scattered along this new pathway will be “Information Nodes” or places that highlight some of the special site features that are helping us meet living building challenge requirements or are just good sustainable features. At this point in the design we’re planning to highlight features like storm water harvesting, ground water recharge, reuse of on-site materials, and native plantings.

Closer to the building we’re looking at constructing new bridges that will match the style of the bridges out on the 75 acre site. A new green roof with a deck will cover the portion of the building that reuses the existing building foundation and a set of stone stairs / sitting walls will double as a seating area that wraps around the side of the new building leading visitors to the main entrance. A new multi-use patio space outside the main entrance will be utilized for outdoor classes and large gatherings. In the location of the existing back yard we are looking to meet our agriculture requirements of which the overall extent has not been determined yet.

Informal paths will lead to the existing pond and boathouse structure and a more formal path will lead back to the upper Bunn Hill Road entrance into campus. We will be looking to use native planting for landscaped beds on the green roof and in plant beds surrounding the new building.

After visiting the site this weekend I was reminded that all of this would not be possible if it were not for the donation of the site from Robert Shuman. My daughter found the unique bird feeders scattered around the site to be one of the most memorable aspects and we are currently working out ways to make sure these small monuments are reworked into the new landscape design as a way of remembering the generous donation from Robert Shuman.


Written by Nick Corcorcan (RLA), Landscape Architect, for Binghamton University

Schematic Design Update

On April 3, 2017, the design team updated the University community on the design progress for Nuthatch, as we finish the Schematic Design phase of the project. Over the next several blog posts we’ll discuss specific elements related to the design process. Today’s post will discuss the floor plan and building organization, and includes schematic renderings.

At the Concept Design presentation on campus January 24, 2017 the design team showed three potential schematic designs for the facility. We received extensive feedback on the schemes and, based on that feedback, proceeded to further develop the Reveal scheme which incorporates the existing building footprint into the new building. The existing building will be deconstructed. The existing foundation wall will be retained and form the perimeter for the eastern portion of the new building. We will look to incorporate other parts of the deconstructed building, particularly the wood studs, into the new construction. Reusing portions of the existing building is better from the perspective of embodied carbon while also reducing the amount of site disturbance.

Program elements contained within the footprint of the existing building include an office, the mechanical space, toilets and a teaching and research lab. The mechanical space will be easily accessed and have viewing windows from the corridor so that the mechanical systems for the Living Building can be easily seen. The roof of area compassed by the existing foundation walls will be a green roof space accessible to site visitors. To the west of the existing building a new volume contains a multipurpose classroom space.

The building will be clad in natural materials. The earth-sheltered building volume to the east will be primarily clad in stone, perhaps regionally sourced bluestone, while the classroom volume will be clad in wood. We are exploring using black locust, harvested from our site, for the wood cladding as well as for the decking materials. The design of the exterior of the building is at the early stages and will be significantly developed during the next phase of design.

Blog posts over the next several weeks will dive more deeply into specific aspects of the schematic design of the building including: site design and landscaping; use of daylight modeling and analysis in design; use of energy modeling in design; materials research; and the building energy system.

Living Building Certification and JUST Program

Living Building Certification requires that at least one of the project team members have a JUST Label for their organization. The goals of the JUST program are:

  1. to elevate the discussion around social justice in all organizations
  2. to create a common language for social justice issues
  3. to elevate the causes of those individuals who lead these issues
  4. to change the policies and practices of thousands of organizations worldwide
  5. to make life better for people from all walks of life

The JUST program serves as a way to identify socially just and equitable organizations. In February, 2016, Ashley McGraw Architects applied for and received the Living Building Challenge’s JUST Label. To achieve its JUST label, Ashley McGraw had to report on the following indicators: gender and ethnic diversity; gender pay and pay-scale equity; living wage and full-time employment; occupational safety; employee benefits and worker happiness; local control and sourcing; responsible investing; charitable giving; community volunteering; and transparency. Each indicator metric outlines measurable accountabilities in order for the organization to be recognized at a one-, two-, or three-star level.

As the Architect of Record on the Nuthatch Hollow Living Building project, Ashley McGraw’s JUST Label satisfies the requirements of Imperative 18 for the project, while also serving as a barometer against which Ashley McGraw continues to measure its progress in becoming an increasingly socially just and equitable organization.

Nuthatch at the NYS Green Building Conference

We know the materials in our buildings have a real impact on human health. But how do we find out what is in those materials? And how can we use materials research during the design process to encourage transparency within the materials industry and help transform how building materials are made?

Matthew Broderick, Principal of Ashley McGraw Architects, Susanne Angarano, Senior Interior Designer of Ashley McGraw Architects, and Lisa Carey Moore, Healthy Materials Specialist of Integrated Eco Strategy, LLC will share their experiences at the 15th Annual New York State Green Building Conference on Friday, March 31 at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown.

Lessons will be drawn from several Living Building projects, including the ongoing design of the Nuthatch Hollow Living Building. They will provide an overview of how the LBC works to advocate for healthy building materials and layout a methodology to develop a materials ethic for a design project and strategies for identifying an initial material palette while incorporating audience participation.

Other key LBC initiatives to be discussed include:

  • The LBC imperative for specifying health materials relative to indoor air quality and the significant deficiencies in policies that regulate the chemicals in the products we use.
  • Explore how the essence of project place can be extracted to help inform the material palette selection, and strengthen the relationship between those healthy materials and LBC design imperatives.
  • Outline how to “vet” a product – an overview of product types, documentation associated with these, and how we answer the question of “is it good enough”.

To register or learn more about the New York State Green Building Conference, please visit the conference website.

Toilet Technology

One requirement of the Living Building Challenge is designing the facility to use Net-Positive water, using only the water that falls on site and processing waste on site, both in sync with the site’s hydrologic cycle. Composting toilet systems can play a key role in helping the project meet these requirements. This proven, commercial scale technology demonstrates that processes, like sewage treatment, which typically today rely on expensive infrastructure and ongoing carrying costs for local communities, can instead be handled in simpler, more elegant ways in harmony with natural systems. A dramatic example of this type of system is its use at the Bullitt Center, a Living Building Certified 6-story office building in downtown Seattle. Having a similar system at Nuthatch Hollow will provide a teaching and research experience for the students of Binghamton University while also serving as an example of innovation for the surrounding community.

The design team is exploring a system in which waste from the two toilet in the building is captured in a containment system below the toilet rooms where is it processed by aerobic organisms. The processed waste should only need to be removed from the chamber once or possibly twice a year.

What is the Living Building Challenge?

The donation of the Nuthatch Hollow site to Binghamton University added another beautiful, natural environment to the University campus. But more importantly, it added a diverse ecosystem within which to do research and teaching in environmental sciences. The University has a deep commitment to advancing our understanding of how humans can be better stewards of our communities and the environment. During early discussions about how best to utilize this site, the idea of a Living Building Challenge (LBC) certified facility quickly took hold. The LBC embodies many aspects of the mission and aspirations of the University as a whole and provides many opportunities for faculty and student involvement in the design of this new facility. This post provides an overview of the LBC while later posts will dive more deeply into specific imperatives within the LBC.

At its core the Living Building Challenge is the most aspirational building standard in use today. It works to explore what the future of the built environment should look like in a world where humans not only live within the limits of the carrying capacity of our planet, but actually enrich the environment and the communities within which they live. As such, the standard touches on a broad range of sustainability concepts from environmental to economic to social.

The requirements of the LBC are structured around the metaphor of a flower with 20 Imperatives organized within 7 Petals. In order to receive certification, the Imperatives must all be achieved and proven after one year of occupancy.

The following is a quick overview of the Petals:

  • Place: Construct only on previously developed land and avoid sensitive areas; incorporate urban agriculture; offset developed land with permanent habitat offsite; encourage human powered movement.
  • Water: Use only the water that falls on site and process waste water on site, both in sync with the site’s hydrologic cycle.
  • Energy: Create 105% of energy needed on-site through renewable energy; no on-site combustion (no fossil fuels); battery storage to provide resilience.
  • Health and Happiness: Provide operable windows in all occupied spaces; excellent indoor air quality; incorporate biophilia into design.
  • Materials: Avoid products that contain chemicals and materials from an extensive “red list”; quantify, reduce and offset the embodied carbon in the building; use more regional materials; reduce or eliminate waste.
  • Equity: Provide human-scaled spaces accessible to people of all abilities.
  • Beauty: Provide a beautiful building and environment to enhance well-being.

More information on the Living Building Challenge and the International Living Future Institute can be found at

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