Author: Matthew Broderick

Christina Aßmann Presents at Greenbuild International Conference on Nuthatch Hollow

Christina Aßmann, Project Architect at Ashley McGraw Architects, presented at the 2018 Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Chicago, IL on Friday, November 16, 2018. Along with Amber Bartosh, Assistant Professor at Syracuse University School of Architecture, they presented “Virtual Reality: An Emerging Tool for Sustainable Design.”

The presentation will highlighted the application of VR as a visualization and simulation tool to support the design process and educational outreach of Nuthatch Hollow. The presentation demonstrated how an immersive VR representation of the project that included environmental analysis and interactive educational content supported the understanding of the sustainable quality of the built environment. It introduced critical aspects of the Living Building Challenge criteria and how the Nuthatch Hollow Project design team met them using passive house standards to help reduce energy emissions. These design aspects and more are highlighted through a VR walk-through that easily conveys to the client and public how these design decisions contribute to a better built environment. The presentation explained the workflow for incorporating energy data in the immersive 3D environment. The presentation ended with a hands-on demonstration of the Nuthatch Hollow VR environment and invite participants to engage directly with the project.

Greenbuild is the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. Sustainability is the foundation of Greenbuild. The theme for Greenbuild 2018 is Human By Nature (styled as Human x Nature). The green building movement embraces all of humanity by making sustainable buildings and environments accessible to everyone, and in doing so, benefits the natural environment all around us.

Greetings from Portland – Living Future unConference

This week, Pamela Mischen from Binghamton University and Matthew Broderick and Susanne Angarano from Ashley McGraw will be discussing Nuthatch Hollow at the Living Future unConference in Portland, Oregon. The Living Building Challenge has great power to transform thinking. Meaningfully involving more people in the design process deepens the impact. For Nuthatch Hollow students, faculty, staff, and the broader community play significant roles. Our presentation at the International Living Future unConference will explore the concept of Radical Collaboration. How can we engage more people more deeply into the design processes for deeply sustainable facilities, thereby magnifying their impact? This highly interactive workshop will engage the entire audience in thinking about employing Radical Collaboration on their own projects.

The Presentation
The Living Building Challenge has great power to transform thinking. Meaningfully involving more people in the design process deepens the impact. For Nuthatch Hollow, a Living Building in design at Binghamton University, students and faculty play significant roles, including taking primary responsibility for materials research. Through classroom curriculum and associated internships, students received extensive training on materials research then broke into teams under the direction of a student “CEO” to research materials. This involves contacting hundreds of manufacturers, reviewing extensive chemical ingredient lists, searching for alternatives, and advocating for change in manufacturing processes.

The Conference
ILFI’s focus this year on Authenticity in Action will allow the green community to bring our unique backgrounds, experiences, and personalities together to instigate united and thoughtful movement toward a living future. Celebrate 12 years of innovation and partake in out-of-the-ordinary sessions, listen to inspiring keynote speakers, and join the movement that starts at the unConference.

The Institute
International Living Future Institute is an environmental NGO committed to catalyzing the transformation toward communities that are socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. Composed of leading green building experts and thought-leaders, the Institute is premised on the belief that providing a compelling vision for the future is a fundamental requirement for reconciling humanity’s relationship with the natural world.

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.

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.

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.

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

Concept Design Presentation

The design team presented three conceptual design ideas to the Binghamton University community on January 24, 2017. A diverse group of students, faculty, administrators and community members were in attendance. Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger began the presentation with an overview of the project’s history and aspirations. The design team then brought everyone up to date with the process so far, including an introduction to the project, overview of the Living Building Challenge, a summary of Biophilia Day, and an analysis of the site and the building program.

The team then presented three schemes, named Connection, Lens, and Reveal. The purpose of the designs was to explore a range of narratives and approaches in order to solicit feedback from the community. Attendees were provided comment cards and through those and the Q&A after the presentation, the design team received extensive feedback. The feedback was generally very positive, and also very specific. The following are a sample of some common themes:

  • Keep most parking closer to the road to allow people to experience the site while walking to the building, as long as accessibility is properly addressed.
  • Explore a more “organic” architecture.
  • A large porch is a great asset to the building.
  • The ‘skin’ of the Lens scheme that mimicks the light filtering through trees could be explored further.
  • Use the building to enhance and maximize views to the site.
  • The incorporation of outdoor research and teaching space adjacent to the building enhances the program.
  • Continue exploring the possibility of building off the existing building foundations.
  • There were concerns about long term maintenance of building and site.
  • Show off the mechanical room in the building
  • A green roof that doubles as a viewing platform is intriguing.

The team will be considering all the comments received as they move into Schematic Design.

Regenerative Development Workshop

Interested project stakeholders were invited to Nuthatch Hollow on October 15th 2016 to participate in an exciting event called “Biophilic Exploration Day”. The day included student led walking tours of Nuthatch Hollow, educational exhibits from the Environmental Studies Department, listening posts to solicit stories, run by the Sustainable Communities Graduate Program, and a day long Regenerative Development Workshop facilitated by members of the design team.

The Regenerative Development Workshop provided the 30+ participants an opportunity to explore and experience Nuthatch Hollow in a deeper way. Individual and group activities explored the meaning of biophilia and a history of Nuthatch Hollow. People were sent out to explore the grounds and recognize patterns they saw and felt, thinking about important flow relationships and ultimately identifying the essence of Nuthatch Hollow. Small groups looked at guiding principles of sustainability and how they could impact the project. Those same groups crafted their long term vision of Nuthatch Hollow. The day concluded with each workshop participant giving their impressions of the day and their “aha moments.”

The day produced three key initiatives, a purpose statement and a description of the essence of Nuthatch Hollow that the design team will use as they begin their work.

Purpose Statement:

To…design and build a living building

In a way…that embodies, emulates and enhances the essence of the place

So that…through experimentation and hands on research, education is transformed, a bridge is built between the University and the community, and we demonstrate how humans can be positive contributors to natural systems.