As one of many native Chinese who were born in mid 80s and raised in central China, I had little exposure to religion or places of religious worship. If you had asked me “what is a church” several years ago, my answer probably would be a gothic cathedral with large stained glass windows, long somber corridors and loud ringing bells or a similar architype from history. Most of my early knowledge about churches came from western literature. In classic books such as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
or The Count of Monte Cristo
, Churches are often described in detail as a setting where charaters confront their past misdeeds.
Although I never saw a church in my hometown, I felt that a church must be a sacred site full of mystery, where people may easily find spiritual inspiration and perception. Churches in western culture might be similar to temples in China. But while a temple is a place for individual rituals, a church is more often a place for people to gather in worship. Kuan Yin Temple, Jingshan, China
It was not until I went to college in Wuhan, China to study architecture did I began to learn about the church as a specific building type. For the first time those unfamiliar words from the literature such as “buttress,” “labyrinth”, “altar” began to make some sense. The Cathedral of Cologne, Chapelle de Ronchamp, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia…these famous churches were no longer just tourism attractions from travel channels or magazines but also extraordinary architectural wonders.
My third-year studio in urban design provided me with a great opportunity to visit some historic buildings in the city of Wuhan, including a few historic churches. These churches were built during colonial times and looked very similar as their European predecessors in style, massing, materials, space and decorative details. But since Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are the major religions in China, these churches were kept mostly as historic landmarks rather than places of religious worship. Their venerable and solemn environment made them appealing to some young people for special events, such as weddings. But these were largely non-religious events. In most cases, the church buildings I encountered in China were poorly maintained and largely ignored. Huayuanshan Catholic Church, Wuhan, China
My interest in historic sites and architecture led me to study historic preservation in the US. I got the chances to visit both historic and contemporary churches and now I work at Heimsath Architects who are experts in the field of church design. I have learned that creating a spiritual space is not as easy as following a design recipe. Building a church takes a combination of conceptual thinking and architetural shaping in tune with a spirit-filled community.
I recently participated with our clients at Leander United Methodist Church in developing a master plan that includes a new sanctuary on their historic property. I listened closely as the community shared their experiences and exchanged stories about the church during the Community Forum and Design Retreat Workshop. They expressed their different opinions and ideas on the design of the new building. When it came to their existing historic sanctuary, nearly all of them showed strong desire to restore it for continuing use as a chapel.
In saving the old church, the group was not only showing respect to the past, but actually anchoring the concept for the new church. Together, both structures will reflect a spiritual interpretation that feels both contemporary and traditional. But unlike those European Cathedrals I visited in China, the heritage will continue to be an integral part of the congregation’s faith life.
Even though I am still as an outsider when it comes to religion, I can feel the power and spirit a church brings to its community. What’s more important, as an architectural professional, I now have the chance to help shape a church – an environment not only about form, shape and space but also about people and spirit.
Leander United Methodist Church Master Plan
Solar Panels on the Front roof Area
There is a 5.76 KW solar array on the Purple Heron House. Given that the house is a 5-star rated (or will be when Autsin Green Building finishes its process), we looked into Solar as a way to make the house even more effiecient (with the current effciiencies of the solar panels, it is usually better to conserve first and then look to generation). At the time between the rebates from Austin Energy and the Tax credits from the Federal Government, the system ended up costing about $9500. Looking at the current rates and the almost certinty that rates would continue to increase, it seemed a good time to try out the system. From the outset we knew that an array of this size would not make the house net-zero energy, so we tried to get as big an array as we could without going to herculean lengths. Now that things are settling in, it seemed to be a good time to check in on it.
The array is actually broken into three parts to take advantage of the sunny areas. There is a lot of shade on the roof and most of my reading says that shade on a roof is far more energy efficient than solar panels, at least currently (sorry for the pun). Actually, with this roof, the panels are hard to see as the pitch is 5/12, the house sits high on its site, and the aforementioned trees cover a lot (I had to work to get this picture). The metal roof makes adding solar very easy as there are special clips that attach to the standing seams without putting holes in the roof. If you are remodeling or building new, it is a good idea to go ahead and plan for solar -- Circular Energy did this design for this house and they have a program for helping you design a "Solar Ready" house that makes it easy to get the panels and wiring in place. In this case it meant planning boxes that the roofer installed to alllow the wiring to get into the attic. The panels came about a month after the house was complete.
Rear Panel Rack on North Facing Gable
One of the interesting aspects of this install was that we placed panels on the north facing roof because the south facing roof gets so much shade. Of course, the north facing roof does not get much sun, but by building a reverse slope rack on the dormer, we could achieve a good amount of panel room with no shading.
Another cool piece to this install is the use of microinverters (which you can see in the picture of the rear rack). These microinverters convert the DC energy of the panels to AC at the individual panels rather than the traditional method of having one big inverter. This has two advantages, both of which came in handy on this project. First, in a system with one inverter, all of the panels function at one level of efficiency (the lowest), but with the microinverters, each panel can perform according to the sun it gets. This helps in this installation becuase some of the outlying panels get a little more shade. The image (below) from the Enphase website for this array shows how the panels generate different levels depending on thier location. The second advantage is that the ac wires from the panels are allow to travel inside the attic rather than across the roof, so the install is much cleaner.
Display showing energy generated per panel. Note the bottom left and the top right panels produce less energy because they are starting to get into the shade from the trees.
HOW IS IT WORKING?
That is an interesting question. Here is the February bill from Austin Energy. The house used 619 KWH (The previous house used 583 KWH and 535 KWH in the pervious two years, but that early 80s tract home was about half the size) which is really great (but keep in mind February is one of the open-your-window months in Austin). The meter read 455 KWH generated. So overall the house netted 293 KWH ($27 on the Green Energy Program) -- almost half the electricity for twice the house!
However, the energy produced (as recorded in the meter) is somewhat below expected, and more confusing is lower than the Enphase report from the inverters. Accroding to the Enphase report, the array produced 598 KWH which would make the house close to zero-energy (for that month). I will be looking into this and will give an updated report when I know what is occurring. It may be that some of the generated power is being used by the house and not being recorded in the meter.
I can't wait to see the summer energy production, but the AC will be running then as well.
One last piece of eye candy from the Enphase web site:
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