Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Thermal Tectonics

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posted on 2022-01-17, 03:04 authored by Devine, Charles

This thesis examines high performance architectural tectonics through theoretical studies, design experiments, and through the design of two case study houses in Christchurch, New Zealand. The thesis focused on formulating a theoretical framework for a practice-focused, environmentally sustainable architecture by studying three key themes, specifically Architectural Tectonics, Contemporary Residential Architecture Detailing, and Energy Efficient Envelope Design.

The integration of these three fields was undertaken to address the role of architectural design as the construction industry transitions to a net- zero carbon emissions future.

Thermal tectonics takes a critical position towards the contemporary approach to residential architectural detailing, which increasingly intensifies the divergence between the tectonic expression of architectural junctions and the performance considerations of energy efficient envelope construction. This divergence results from a number of factors, including the increasing complexity of construction methods, the growing specialisation of building trades, and the increasing specialisation of architectural design.

The project aims to tilt the existing aesthetic traditions of New Zealand residential architecture towards a language that performs better thermally. The thermal tectonic approach to architectural design intends to re-integrate the tectonic and performance considerations of the external envelope through a system-based approach to architectural design.

Two case-study homes are developed through a tectonic framework that highlights the expressive potential of high performance construction systems. ‘Four Peaks House’ seeks to align a prefabricated SIP system with the vernacular typology of the Bach, developing a detail language that connects the building to place without the need for extensive low-performing glazing. ‘Gallery House’ explores the novel material of Hempcrete, demonstrating how exposing insulative materials can produce rich interior spaces.

The design research was conducted through a series of design-led experiments focused on the six key principles of the Thermal Tectonic framework; anatomy, tectonic-stereotomic, space, place, detail and intersection, representation and ornamentation.

This approach creates an explicit relationship between building elements and their thermal function, by using thermal simulation software to generate tectonic diagrams that describe how building elements are configured to express the thermal performance of a building. This provides architects with a critical tool for understanding how their design decisions can impact energy efficiency, while also allowing them to make design judgments that prioritise other factors such as aesthetic or material concerns. In addition, the research outcomes provide a direction for sustainable future practice that will ensure architectural ideas are translated into the high-performing language of our future built environment.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Architecture (Professional)

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


Pelosi, Antony