Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Making Of: Upstate NY House Rendering (Photoshop Part 01)

I thought I'd try something new here and post a detailed 'making of' for one of our newest visualizations we've been working on. Architectural Visualizations are something we spend a lot of time laboring over, and of course every designer has their own (usually very strong) opinions on what techniques are best for these types of drawings. We've been experimenting for a while now with using Vray and Photoshop techniques to get at a fairly 'painter-ly' aesthetic. Hopefully this Photoshop breakdown will be helpful to some and at least a bit interesting.

Here's the final rendering I'll be pulling apart:

Upstate NY house

01. Base Render and Color Corrections:

To begin with, I'm going to skip right over the entire 3-D modeling-to-Vray workflow; I'll get back to this in a future post. For now, I'd like to focus on our Photoshop standard box-o-tricks, many of which we deployed here. The initial Rendering was quite low-detail, and very simply lit with a Vray Dome-Light / HDRI in 3D Studio Max. I knew that for this shot I wanted soft, diffuse lighting as I would be adding a rainy Photoshop world in post-production. The home here is in upstate NY and much of the design has to do with providing shelter and protection from the (relatively) harsh climate - so we really wanted to play up this "sanctuary" feeling in the drawing with the lighting, entourage and environmental effects.

Raw Render - just enough to work with and nothing more

As you can see, the view chosen was quite straight-on, emphasizing the horizontality of the form and the large wall of windows. We intentionally did not choose a High-Field-of-View, angular, 'Architect-y' vantage point; the project is very simple, restrained and elegant in its form and straight-on shots seem to convey a slightly 'quieter' feeling here.

Hue-Saturation Adjustment Layer

As much as possible we of course like to work with Photoshop Adjustment Layers to maintain as much flexibility as possible. My standard set of initial color corrections is almost always a Hue-Saturation Adjustment (to reduce saturation and adjust brightness), A Levels correction (crunch both the black and white) to bump up the contrast, and usually a Curves slight tweak. These three usually do a great job of 'popping' almost any image. Here, since we're going to do some more dramatic lighting later on, I darkened everything much more than I normally would in straight daylight shot.

Darken to get ready for the Lights later

Level Correction

AO Render Pass
We used to output a huge bag of Render Passes from 3D Max with every render, but lately we've started being more strategic with our passes - for this simple image the Ambient Occlusion Pass was pretty much the only one we ended up using for this drawing. This layer is made in Vray and gives a great image which can be used to accentuate surface-contact and give some real weight to forms. If you simply apply a Multiply Blend-Mode to this layer you'll get great definition on all the edges in the scene. Then simply use the opacity to control how strong the effect is.

Final Color Corrected Base Render
That's pretty much it for the main house. As you can see, most of the real story-telling in the drawing is being done by the non-architecture elements; the environment, the entourage, and especially the lighting.

02. Grass and Foreground

The next step was to begin adding the environment, grass, people, trees, sky, etc. The grass here is from a simple internet search:

nice clean shot of grass.
This image was copied, flipped, pinched, prodded and generally-messed-with until I got a nice fully-grassy site for our house.

Grass Foreground Layer
The grass, however, needs to look wet since we're going to add a rain effect later. To do this I duplicated the grass layer, and added two adjustment layers to get the highlights to pop: a De-Saturation to get a totally grey-scale image, and then a simple Level adjustment to really bring out the highlights. This method gives a very nice shiny-tip effect which worked well to give us the 'wet' effect.

Duplicate the layer and make B/W with the Saturation Adjustment Layer

Add a Level correction to pop those highlights to give the shiny, wet effect we're after

Grass Hue/Saturation Adjustment
And finally, a Hue-Saturation adjustment to correct the overall lighting level and bring it in line with our house.

03. Background:

Next, the background was dropped in. Again, an internet search for images revealed lots of great images, but we chose this dramatic cloudy sky over a field:

Original background image, cropped
Aside from the usual color corrections, the main element here is the use of the 'Colorize' function within the Hue-Saturation adjustment layer. This adds a consistent hue adjustment to the entire image and can be used to add uniformity to the colors in an image. Typically, I like to add this adjustment and then reduce the adjustment layer's opacity in order to temper the effect. Here we gave everything a nice blue pall to give us a nighttime look that will work well with the rainy, cold feeling we're after.

Colorize using Hue-Saturation Adjustment Layer

Levels Correction

As you can see below, the final composite looks very dark, but that is intentional so that we can add in the lighting later. You can also see that the colors (the green, the yellow and the slate sky) are NOT working well together. We'll fix this in the next steps.

Final Foreground, Background and House composite

04-05-06 Reflections, Top-Level Color Corrections, Glows:

Here we added some painted on reflections (just bright splotches) to the grass, and more importantly we add a Hue-Saturation Colorization which affects the entire image file. As you can see, the Hue adjustment gives a strong cooling effect to the image - this layer is only at about 25% as well to make sure that some of the original hues come through in the grass, but still giving us a more uniform hue range.

04. Add painted reflections to the grass

05. Colorize to unify all the various colors a bit
Here we also add a series of drawn-in glows for the windows. These effects might seem a bit harsh here but you'll see that behind the screen of rain we're going to add next they have to be pretty strong in order to show through well.

06. Painted on Window Glows

07. Rain:

The rain effect was added entirely inside Photoshop and in two layers. The rain is done in two distinct layers with different size rain-drops in order to give some depth the scene. There are LOTS of great tutorials on how to produce this effect so I won't bore you with it again here. If you want to see a great tutorial on this, check out PSDTUTS here.

Rain Drops - Large
Rain Drops - Small

Rain Drops - Combined

08. Entourage:

Entourage is the name an old firm I worked for used to give to people, trees, foreground elements and other misc 'life' in scenes and it seems to have stuck in my rendering vocabulary. The scene here includes only a very few elements - just enough to establish the story and give some sense of depth to the world being illustrated.

Trees and People

The most important part here are the people of course. The mom (grandmom?) in her jaunty red raincoat here is perfect. This rendering is fairly low-res as its destined to web-only viewing so I didn't spend a lot of time messing with high-res people. Its important to be strategic with these images - no sense in wasting time unnecessarily after all. The lady here is another internet grab with shadow and highlights painted to correct the lighting:

Initial image added to the scene

For small elements like this I just paint a quick image mask
rather than using the path tool to carefully trace.

Masked image

Next, to correct the lighting direction: shadows are
painted in on a separate layer with a soft brush. 

Same thing for the new highlights. On a small element like this
you can quickly change the lighting direction pretty easily 

And finally: a de-saturation to make the element's coloration match the image pallet.
The little girl is just the same except with a motion-blur added to give some 'splashing' movement

And to really sell it - some 'splash' (or fog if you like....) is added to the horizon line.


The last step here is to add the final lighting effects.

09. Color Dodge Lighting

This technique comes via the fantastic Pixelflakes folks. Start by making a new layer and change the Blend Mode to Color Dodge. Now use your eyedropper to pick up the Highlight colors already present within your image. Use a soft, low opacity brush to now start 'painting' in highlights, sparkles and color-bleeds through the image as needed.

Color Dodge painted lights
Its a subtle effect once the layer's opacity is turned down but definitely gives the image extra depth and fullness.

And finally, a simple Vignetting effect to focus the viewer.

Vignette, use a soft brush to paint the corners and set the layer opacity to a very low value
10. Final

And here's the final composited image. Certainly, much of the colorization and correction here are very subjective effects, but the important thing is the story that the image tells and the lighting is a critical aspect of this. 

Hopefully this breakdown will be helpful to some - and if you have any suggestions or better techniques, feel free to send them our way - we always love to hear new ways of putting these images together.

Final image

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

BLDGtyp does Solar D 2013

DOE Solar Decathlon 2013. Morning Day 2

BLDGtyp recently had the privilege of traveling to sunny Irvine CA to assist the Stevens Institute of Technology team with the installation of their 2013 entry into the U.S. Department of Energy Solar 2013 Decathlon: Ecohabit. We had a fantastic couple weeks of fun out on the west coast with the great group from Stevens and certainly enjoyed working on the amazing house they have been building. Some of you might remember that John and I were the construction managers for the 2011 Parsons / Stevens Solar Decathlon house - so this time around, though we weren't able to assist with the full build over the last year, they asked us to help out with the site-install in LA which we were more than happy to jump in on.

This year, the team was again working with Wolfe House-Movers who executed their ol'-jack-and-slide maneuver to install the home. Their custom jacks never cease to impress me as many times as I see them lift a house up in the air. Always a fun operation too; lifting whole houses up and down and all that.

(Oh - all these great photos were taken by Stevens crew, Esp. Zak - nice work...)

Our man Gareth supervising the house module just after being set - Wolfe uses those big yellow jacks to lift the house and set it gently down on our footings. 
Yours truly setting one of the large roof beams.

The design includes a great covered porch on the East side. You can the see the dramatic roof line here and gang hard at work.
One really interesting thing we got to test out while there was the installation of a new product: the DOW Powerhouse Solar Shingle. A really interesting operation - the shingle is installed with regular roofing nails, almost just like a regular shingle over a special underlayment (a Class A fireproof ceramic fiber based underlayment - rolls out just like tar-paper though). You have to pay attention to your spacing and be a bit gentle with the 'biscuits' (splines which connect one shingle to the next) but otherwise the install is darn straightforward. We were fortunate to have a couple great guys from DOW out to assist us by supervising the install and checking our work throughout but it all went in quite well. I'd be really interested to see how the $/W compares to a traditional system once you take into account the fact that is is also the roofing layer (unlike regular racked Polycrystalline panels)

Installing DOW Powerhouse Solar Shingles. And yes - I'm rocking the full Lawrence-of-Arabia-head-gear there: what can I say, its damn hot in that desert for a guy from Massachusetts!
Just nail where is says and connect one to the next.
So a big thanks to the Stevens' team for bringing us out! We certainly enjoyed getting to work with you all and best of luck with the competition - we'll be pulling for you! And a huge congratulations to all the teams competing of course - really inspiring work by all of you. 

Check out the Stevens project (or if your near Irvine - go see it!)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wisconsin "Almost Passive House" One Year On...

South side of the cabin - seen from the woods

John and just got back to New York from a week out at the Wisconsin Cabin and it was AMAZING to see the house again. It weathered its first Wisconsin winter great (not that I ever doubted!) and looks terrific. We were able to button up the last few items that we didn't get to last season - finishing the deck, doing some painting and last bit of trim, commissioning the HRV, etc... - and it was fun to spend a few days road-testing the space.

South deck all finished up

The nice big deck has already seen some serious grill-testing and passed with flying colors. In addition, we were able to get some nice photos of the finished cabin - I'll post some of the interior as well once we have a chance to go through them but I thought I'd put up some shots of the exterior. We're trying to get better at our project photography - something incredibly important that often goes neglected as we rush to finish projects and button things up. the great folks over at Build Blog have written several good posts on the importance of architectural photos which we highly recommend. We're not by a long stretch great photographers, but we're certainly getting better. 

Interestingly, I've found our work on 'fake' architectural visualizations (Renderings) has been very helpful to our photography technique as all the same composition, lighting and story-telling rules apply to both mediums. 

At any rate, it was great fun to see the project again and a nice week to strap the tool-belt on for a little white. Enjoy the photos and I'll post the interiors soon.

South deck built-in benches with the lake in the background

Entry elevation - North side

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Foundation Thermal Bridging

One of the most difficult spots on any project is where the building meets the ground. On a Passive House where we strive to eliminate as many thermal bridges as possible this moment is especially fraught. The typical house detail (which usually include building a floor and then simply sitting the walls on top) is a massive thermal bridge and lead to huge energy waste as well as cold and uncomfortable areas inside. 

Wisconsin Cabin Double-Stud Foundation Detail: The ext. stud layer overlaps the floor , insulating the edge and reducing the thermal bridging of the floor framing members. 

Thermal Bridging?
In the building-science world we refer to a thermal bridge as some element (usually wood or steel) which is continuous from the conditioned interior of a building all the way to the outdoors. These 'Bridges' (from one side to the other of a wall/roof/floor) move heat from the warm side to the cold side (look at that: high school physics in action!) - so in the summer the gross heat outside is invading your nice AC'd interior and in the winter the warmth from your toasty wood-fire is being drawn out into the cold outside. 

No matter the season - you are wasting money and energy and increasing possibilities for discomfort when you have many bad thermal bridges in your building. In a typical home, there are LOTS of bridges; every stud, every rafter, every floor-joist, lots of electrical conduit and wires, plumbing pipes, HVAC ducts, Bolts and other fasteners, window frames, door thresholds and a thousand other spots all contribute to wasting energy in a building. 

So what can be done to reduce thermal bridges? Lots. Its not rocket science - it just takes attention and care during the design and detailing phase and an understanding of the principals of heat flow. 

Typical Foundation Details:
There are a LOT of factors that go into a foundation detail. First though are the code required sizes and configurations. Here in NY we can use several types of foundations - for this project though we are looking at two real options - a full stem wall and a slab on grade. 

The Stem wall needs to go down at least to the frost-line as defined by the local code inspector. Where we're building - that's 48", and then a spread footing at the bottom of the wall. Since there is no basement, the foundation slab is then poured on gravel which will allow for proper drainage as well as a continuous Moisture barrier. There are lots of good descriptions of these systems but the best are (as usual) the folks at BSC

The way the wall, foundation and floor all come together are crucial to the energy performance and this is often the weak link in even the best insulated walls.

A Really Good Foundation Detail:
On a Passive House we are very concerned with thermal bridges, and a lot of our decisions about our wall framing on these projects are driven by these sill-detail concerns (and the eaves too). We like the double stud a LOT because it allows us tons of freedom to create a full thermal separation between the interior slab (which will be at the interior air-temp) and the exterior Structural Foundation wall which is outside the thermal envelope and therefor will stay the temp of the outside air / ground.

Most PH projects feature a lot of Foam insulation underneath the foundation slab. Check out especially the Hammer and Hand folks here for a great example some great foundation work. So we initially drew up our detail using this technique - works pretty darn well - except that the local building inspector doesn't really like it and wants us to hire and engineer to assess the slab, though that's certainly not a big deal.

Below you can see the CAD detail on the left and a thermal bridge simulation on the right. The colors represent the temperature of the assembly from Interior (left - white) to exterior (right - black).

To asses our 2-D thermal bridges we use a simulation tool called THERM, and a huge thanks go out to David White from Right Environments for posting his amazing THERM tutorials for PHPP use - invaluable for anyone getting started in thermal bridge analysis.

A Really Good Foundation Detail: lots of Insulation under a concrete slab

You can see on this detail that we achieved a NEGATIVE thermal bridge of -0.0374 W/m-degK. Whats a negative thermal bridge? Well, because of the way we do our energy modeling in the Passive House spreadsheet, we can actually get a credit if our thermal bridges are designed well enough. These credits offset some of the heating / cooling demand in the house - so the bigger the negative number the better. 

An Even Better Foundation Detail:
Now -this is certainly unconventional - and I know lots of builders that might have a worry or two about this assembly. Admittedly, the fixing / fastening here is not quite worked out yet so if anyone has a suggestion please send it my way! But what we're proposing here is to move the insulation above the Typical concrete slab, then to install the wood floor on-top of that foam. This is pretty much a 'retrofit' detail that you might see on a basement or garage renovation like this

You can see here that when we use THERM to assess this detail, we get a negative thermal bridge of -0.0547 W/m-degK.

So quite bit better that the insulation underneath the slab. How much better? Well, with the first example (-0.0374 W/m-degK) our house would have an annual heating demand of 14.234 kWh/m2-a - now if we shift to this over-slab detail, we drop our heating demand to 13.868  kWh/m2-a.

That's a 0.4 kWh/m2-a (3%) drop in our yearly heating demand just by moving the location of the insulation in relation to the slab. I  know that sounds small - but to hit the PH standard every little bit is crucial) So not bad considering we didn't increase any material quantities and we might have even made our life easier (cheaper) since now the local building inspector doesn't need me to hire an engineer to keep him happy about the slab being poured on-top of the foam. 

Of course, there are moisture and constructability issues here  - but if we can seal under the slab well to prevent moisture from getting into the slab in the first place-  I think this detail could work quite well. We're testing quite a few different versions though in order to find just the right balance of constructabilty, thermal performance, moisture resistance + durability and especially cost.

An Even Better Detail - put the insulation ABOVE the slab

Friday, July 26, 2013

New Upstate-NY Passive House in the Works

Here at BLDGtyp we've been hard at work for the last few months on a beautiful new Passive House in Upstate NY. We've partnered with LEVENBETTS for the project, with they supplying their considerable design and architectural expertise, and BLDGtyp our Passive House and house building know-how. We'll be showing a lot more of the project over the next couple months as we move into construction, and we'll be discussing how we're meeting the Passive House standard as well.

The incredibly beautiful site

This new project will be two new buildings, one a single-family home and the other an Art-Studio. BLDGtyp is going after full Passive House Certification(!!) on the house and we've been working hard to design a home which balances the site characteristics, desires for views, patterns of use and all the other fun architect-y stuff with the super-insulation and passive solar heating. The house will be using beautiful full-height French windows which will be triple glazed to capture as much free solar heat as possible. 

House and Art-Studio Plans

Both buildings reference the traditional vernacular of this rural area with barns and simple farm-houses providing the architectural reference point. Contemporary details and materials though will create a project which carefully balances old and new. Wood siding on the house will contrast strongly with the standing seam-metal of the Studio, with both being topped by a simple metal roof. 

House + Studio Elevations

Like the simple, elegant form and detailing of the home, BLDGtyp has developed straightforward, yet highly effective details and assemblies for the home. We will be going with the double-stud framing similar to that used on our Wisconsin "Almost Passive House". We like this technique a lot for creating a very thick, thermally broken wall assembly that is VERY easy to build. After all - if you know how to frame one wall, just frame another one right ext to it. No special construction needed. 

Typical House Wall.:Slab on grade foundation with stem walls, super insulated wall and truss roof.

Of course, the devil is in the details and we still have a ways to go in developing our top and bottom details, as well as window and door details. Designing for a clean, contemporary look while maintaining strict thermal separation and avoiding thermally-bridging elements is no small task, even on small house like this one.

Typical Wall Top and Bottom Details

 We'll be posting much more about the project soon, so check back often.