May 23, 2019 Students Design and Build Interactive Structure that Reacts to Climate

The Color of Air lit up at night

Our students create innovative designs every day, and we understand the importance of taking those designs from concept to reality. These types of design/build projects allow our students the opportunity to see their designs come to life while contributing to the common good of society.

One example of our successes in design/build is the Color of Air, formerly the Mobile T House, an 84-square-foot structure designed and built by the 2018-2019 Tennessee Architecture Fellow Nate Imai and his students during spring 2019.

The Color of Air is modeled after traditional Japanese tea houses, which feature a pitched roof, openings in the roof and a lifted base with openings that allow for cross ventilation.

Although The Color of Air shares the architectural elements of its traditional version, it is different in two distinct ways:  It is mobile, and it is interactive. The house was built in sections, meaning it can be easily transported and assembled anywhere. The Color of Air also uses changing lighting to convey various climate changes in the area.

“The structure, designed and constructed with students, allows visitors to contextualize the difference between interior and exterior conditions through light that embodies variations in temperature, humidity and air currents,” Imai said.

The Color of Air fully assembled during the day

Beginning with researching traditional tea houses and architecture, students considered ventilation, lighting, flooring, roofing, materials, light diffusion, heat transfer, cost and more. These considerations informed the final design and materials used as well as the house’s mobility.

The design is split into bays that together make up the house. These bays allow for easier transportation and assembly. After compiling all the materials (wooden structure, LED lighting, polypropylene panels), students coded lights with sensors in the house that allow the lighting to change in accordance with climate changes.

“It was a very challenging process during which we faced a lot of obstacles,” said Graduate Architecture student Roni Feghaly. “Building a house at this scale was interesting because we translated digital design into a realistic livable space.”

Students sit in the Mobile T House

Feghaly also said that he benefited from learning more about digital fabrication, like CNC milling, while using the wood shop and Fab Lab.

“Translating the thermal changes that are unseen into visible lighting using sensors for temperature, wind and humidity allows for an interesting visual interaction between people occupying the house and the external climate,” Fehaly said.

Interested in visiting the Color of Air? Attend the official opening on Tuesday, May 28 at 8 p.m. at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum. Can’t attend the opening? The structure will be on display in the LeConte Meadow from May 16 to June 10.