Project Spotlight: Placing an Emphasis on Sustainability.

Written by Oksana Bihun.

Being environmentally conscious and eating locally sourced foods appears to be growing in popularity among college students and workers alike. I grew up knowing the benefits of reusing materials, spending most of my summers in Ukraine in a small village where we grew much of what we ate; picking bugs off of potatoes and strawberries was my childhood calling. That’s why when this opportunity of working with a team dedicated to building Dilmun Hill a barn presented itself to me, I could hardly wait to combine my love of sustainable design with my interest in addressing food insecurity.

“I COULD HARDLY WAIT TO COMBINE MY LOVE OF SUSTAINABLE DESIGN WITH MY INTEREST IN ADDRESSING FOOD INSECURITY.

I was attracted to the idea of building a sustainable, net-zero energy structure that would serve as both a work space and educational area for Cornell students. Dilmun Hill contributes enormous amounts of resources to the Cornell community that relatively few people know about and I was excited to expand their capabilities. Upon starting my research for the project, however, I realized that despite going into my third year of environmental studies, there were still concepts that I knew relatively little about. What makes the design of a building “sustainable”? What qualifies a structure as being “net-zero energy”? If these concepts are so great for the environment, then why isn’t everyone implementing them into new designs?

Making a structure sustainable involves intricate design planning that has strict guidelines. Not only do builders have to be conscious of the ecological impact of the structure, it also involves thought on how it will contribute to the surrounding community and how it affects those working or living in the space. Site selection and design play crucial roles in deciding what the greenhouse gas emissions will be, what form of transportation people use to access it, and on the continuation of ecosystem services. Similarly, net-zero energy structures require much more than might be implied by the term. The most obvious, and most significant, part is that there is a need for a clean energy source that can constantly keep up with the building’s energy demands. The additional requirements that most overlook is the need for energy efficient systems, high quality levels for insulation and lighting, and with materials sourced according to specific guidelines.

“WE’RE DESIGNING A STRUCTURE THAT WILL SERVE AS A MODEL FOR SUSTAINABLE ECOLOGICAL FARMING PRACTICES.”

So then why should we be pursuing such high, demanding standards? The answer lies in the fact that we aren’t just building another barn; instead, we’re designing a structure that will serve as a model for sustainable ecological farming practices that can serve as a reference for others. Our main focus is on integrating solar energy and a rainwater collection system into the barn. Our goal is to acquire enough solar panels so that the structure is entirely reliant on renewable energy rather than electricity from the Cornell grid. The rainwater collection system will be implemented to primarily wash produce collected from the farm.

It’s important to realize that these systems present many challenges in regards to cost and implementation. The energy needs of the barn will likely fluctuate, making it hard to estimate the number of solar panels needed. Also, the location of the barn will factor into how effecting the panels are at producing energy. In regards to the rainwater collection system, the quality of water required to clean produce is extremely high. The system will need extensive filtration and purification in order to clear out any potential pathogens.

Despite these challenges, we are determined to implement these sustainable systems and have plenty of resources to turn to. We are in contact with workers at the Cornell power plant in order to determine our best course of action in regards to renewable energy. We have been researching different solar farms to pull energy from as an alternative as well. There is extensive information about rainwater collection systems and plenty of studies to read about to figure out our best course of action. Another piece we’ve been reading about is biomimicry, specifically how some industries have been using these models to filter their water.

“THIS BARN WILL COME TOGETHER TO SHOW THE BENEFITS AND INTRICACIES OF SUSTAINABLE DESIGN.” 

We’ve confronted these challenges early on and are eager to collaborate and find solutions that will work for our project. We’ve been following every lead that falls on our laps and are confident that this barn will come together to show the benefits and intricacies of sustainable design through the lens of agricultural farming practices.

 

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