Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Positive Energy Architecture Research for 2017

Positive Energy Architecture Research for 2017

For the past three weeks, I’ve been brainstorming and reading books/articles on sustainable architecture so that I could learn more about high efficiency construction technology and materials in the 21st century. While researching high efficiency architecture and design, I’ve come across several materials and design ideas that will influence my 30x30 architecture projects for 2017.

After learning more about these materials and compiling a research database, my plan is to design a 1,000 square foot positive energy house as my 2x30 project, a 2,500 square foot house as my 11x30 project, a 4,000 square foot house as my 12x30 project, and an apartment building as my 13x30 project. Each project will help me learn more about passive design strategies, continue building my material research database, and gain insight on the various ways of using new high efficiency building materials.

Here are a few of the primary building materials that I have in mind:

1. Insulated Concrete Form (ICF)

Insulated Concrete Form, also known as ICF, uses rigid foam insulation and steel ties to create the formwork for a concrete wall. ICFs are typically used for building foundations and exterior walls and it’s able to achieve an R-value of 25. In northern climates, which is where my projects will be located, drafts and cold spots are eliminated because of the continuous concrete pour. The materials that are used for ICF construction does not have a source of nutrient for mold to grow.

Learn about Insulated Concrete Forms here at Logix ICF’s website.

2. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

Structural Insulated Panels, also known as SIPs, are a high performance building material composed of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two oriented strand boards (OSB). These panels are manufactured in a factory under controlled conditions and are fabricated to fit almost all building designs. These panels are very strong, energy efficient, and cost effective because of the ease of on-site construction. The panels are fabricated to various shapes in a factory, labeled, transported to the project site, placed at their locations, lifted upright, and connected to adjacent pieces.

Learn more about SIPs here at the Structural Insulated Panel Association’s website.

3. Tesla Solar Roof, Power Wall, and Car

A newer building material that may be released by 2018 is the Tesla Solar Roof, which is a full roof system that is fully covered in solar panels that resemble typical roof materials. Not only does this allow for aesthetically pleasing designs, it also generates energy for the building and has a very long lifespan. By combining the Tesla Solar Roof with the Tesla Power Wall, the architecture will be able to generate and store energy on-site. The Tesla car is obviously a necessary addition to the house as well…

Learn more about the Tesla Solar Roof, Power Wall, and Car here at Tesla’s website.

4. Geothermal Heating & Cooling

Geothermal heating and cooling systems consist of hundreds of feet of durable tubes that are buried under the earth and constantly pump water into and out of the building. As the water moves into the tubes embedded within the earth, it takes on the temperature of the earth and circulates it into a forced air mechanical system. This system heats or cools the air and circulates it throughout the building and this continuous cycle occurs year-round. By installing a proper geothermal system in a building, the upfront costs will be significantly higher than usual, but the cost savings over time will pay for the system within 5 to 10 years. In fact, this system will reduce energy bills between 60% and 80%.

Learn more about geothermal heating and cooling here at the government’s energy website.

Preliminary Design Ideas

My current plan for my 2017 architecture projects is to combine these materials to create a high efficiency building that uses very small amounts of energy and generates a higher amount of energy. In order to achieve this goal, the foundation of the buildings will be constructed out of ICFs, which will provide very high insulation values. The walls from grade and up will be constructed out of SIPs, which will provide very high insulation values, a reduction in labor costs, and factory fabricated panels, which isn’t hindered by weather. To cap off the buildings, Tesla roofs will be installed and it will charge Tesla batteries that are located in the basement near the geothermal heating system.

With a highly insulated house that has geothermal heating and cooling, the building’s energy usage throughout the year will be minimal. This will allow the Tesla roof to generate enough electricity to supply the building with all of its energy needs and conserve additional power in the Tesla power walls.


Many of these ideas are in their preliminary stages and will continue being explored throughout every project. As I continue learning about new building technologies and materials, I’ll continue adding them to my research database and implementing them in new projects. I’m excited to be at this point and to have a theme for my 2017 projects, which is positive energy architecture!

Now, onto the conceptual design phase of project 2x30!

If you know of any other building materials that you’d like to share, let me know in the comments section below!

Preliminary Design for 2017 Project 1

Preliminary Design for 2017 Project 1

2017 Focus on Architecture and Business

2017 Focus on Architecture and Business