BAU Messe 2015

Every two years, a very important event regarding the construction sector of architecture takes place in Munich, the BAU Messe – world’s leading trade fair for architecture, building and systems. Companies from all over the world expose their products and materials directly to the costumers. They share innovation, possibilities, tools and culture.

The collaborative project between UT Austin and TU München for the Solar Decathlon 2015, succeeded in becoming one of the exhibitors of the BAU 2015 edition. During six days, from 19th to 24th of January, the Munich Team had the possibility to directly bring their design to a real “arena” of specialists. Thanks a lot to Messe Muenchen GmbH for their support, especially Mirko Arend, Deputy Director of Business Unit 4 and Johannes Manger, Project PR Referent.

One of the main goals of this experience was finding supporters and sponsors that can help Team Nexushaus prefabricate the house in the following months in Austin. Additionally, the students had an unrepeatable chance to discuss their ideas and technological details directly with specialists of every product and receive feedback regarding how the design is performing at this crucial point.

Invaluable for the students, was having a relevant occasion to expose and present their project to a wide range of up to 240,000 visitors. The public is the primary jury you can have for a house in the U.S. DOE Solar Decathlon competition, since the public is what it is designed for. Having their first impressions revealed and helped the TU München participators start to build strategies of representation of their concept to the final jury during the competition, which takes place in Irvine, California in October 2015.

Now the Munich part of the team is getting ready to go to Austin and join the rest of the participants to start building the Nexuhaus. Excitement can be felt from both sides, since after long efforts, currently the phase of making it real has come.

Photographs by Eneida Lila and Bruna Ferramenta

Reflection/Looking Forward

As the end of the semester neared, everyone was focused and working towards a refined design for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition. At the same time, the UT Austin students were finishing their final projects for concurrent courses that further developed building analysis for the NexusHaus, Life Cycle Analysis and Climate Walks. These two courses along with an advance design studio were part of the Munich Study Abroad Program, which was spearheaded by Petra Liedl.

December second was the final presentation of our LCA course, co-instructed by Patricia Schneider and Martin Heissler of TU München and Petra Liedl of UT Austin. The course created a dialogue between students with various backgrounds to begin research and integrate cost and material analysis into the NexusHaus project.

That Wednesday (Dec 3rd) we had a design review. The guests were Werner Lang, Michel Kulik and Dorothee Maier. The review went very well, and all the students’ hard work paid off. The criticisms were few but extremely helpful. With this, the students felt capable of overcoming any hurdle and are able to begin detailing specifics of the project for the upcoming February deadline.

December the fifth was our very last Climate Walks presentations (both of the microclimate of Munich and climate analysis of a metropolis,) in addition to marking the official end of the Munich Study Abroad Program. Throughout that final week, you could overhear saddening conversations between TUM and UT Austin students saying their goodbyes. We had all been together since Mid-October, and immediately grew close to one another. I am sure I can speak for everyone when I say that we made friendships that will last a lifetime. We will be able to see a few of the TUM students when they visit in the spring in Austin, Texas.

Looking Forward:
Having said this, the blog will hold off posts until the visit is made, for the main purpose of this blog is to document the experience between the partnership and exchange of the two schools—to show the developments of the project and the experience of the students.

We will continue to develop NexusHaus and maintain heavy communications with TUM through online platforms. We are all quite excited for the next steps to come. We hope you will join us on this journey on the way to Irvine, California later this year.

Text written by Julian Debo, Photographs provided by Astrid Eckert

Semesters End

It seems like yesterday that I arrived in Munich, came out of the wrong subway stop and was trying to find my apartment.
Obviously my phone did not work and my German was mediocre at best. After asking four people where the street was I found the apartment and my roommate waiting for me.

We walked around Munich and enjoyed a beautiful sunny day, not realizing that these were few and far in between.

This semester started off fast. It was intense and fun. We met a lot of great architects, designers, engineers, and friends. We joined our design team with the TUM students and we became the greatest design team that Studio Mensa has ever seen.

We traveled to beautiful cities all over Europe and saw a great amount of architecture. We hiked in the alps, planted trees in Czech Republic, joined in on the fun at Wiesen (Oktoberfest), saw snow (and froze).

Some days were sunny enough to lay out in the English gardens to read and sketch. Other days it was cold enough to freeze. We all spent a few hours sitting outside collecting our data for our class climate walks  (renamed frigid walks soon after).

Minutes after starting the data collecting device, we lost feeling in our toes and fingers. Coffee did not stay warm longer than two minutes. And conversations were no longer possible as the shivers took over and only mutters came out.

We started this semester as classmates and now have grown closer to become lifelong friends.

Thank you all for making this semester a great one and I look forward to working with everyone again in the spring.

Happy holidays to all!

Text and photographs by Megan Recher

Happy Thanksgiving y’all

As an architecture student, presentation skills are what can sway a critic one way or another on your review. As an architect, your presentation skills can determine if you get a new client or not. Ultimately, presentation and communication skills are of upmost importance in selling a great project. This is why our Climate Walks professor, Petra Liedl, called in an expert, Barbara Greese. Barbara is a professional trainer in public speaking, and voice and speech skills. Throughout the day, presentations were coupled so that teams of two students would critique one another in addition to hearing criticisms from Barbara and Petra.

At the end of the day, all teams reconvened to discuss the process of improving our communication skills. We all, unanimously, raved the workshop and Barbara herself. There were skills I never heard of and were so useful, making a big difference and marking a positive impact on the presentation and myself. There were a number of skills we each listed that will be used in our near future—limitless presentations to come, near and far.

After presentations, our wonderful professor Petra Liedl treated us to a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner with the entire studio. More below!

We are thankful for new friends, new experiences, and new memories which are all things this semester in Munich has brought. We are thankful for our families for the support they gave us when we decided to come for a semester abroad. Thank you, Petra Liedl for all the help you’ve provided in the past 4 months, the trips you’ve organized, and the people you’ve introduced us to. Thank you, Werner Lang and Simone Salfner for also being amazing leaders and making our semester at TUM an unforgettable one. Last but not least, we are thankful for having such a great team working on an amazing project and we look forward to another year of working together towards the completion of nexushaus.

Our little family got together on Thursday evening for our own Thanksgiving feast, where we each cooked our favorite thanksgiving dishes that remind us of home. It was a great night, where we all had too much to eat (as it should be), and the room was filled with laughs and good music. Thank you team for such a delicious Potluck!

Text by Andrea Tosi and Photographs by Alison Steele & Andrea Tosi

Light Walks

Winter has arrived in Munich (or at least it seems to us Texans!), and with the drop in temperature has appeared Christmas trees and the warm glow of twinkle lights around the city. The change in illumination was accompanied by a Light Walk this past Thursday evening, lead by lighting designer Katrin Rohr. Rohr began by warning us that much of the Munich “lighting design” was not design but rather a poor result of the incongruity between city planning and light planning. As our group emerged from the dimly lit steps in front of the Munich Opera house, the extreme light density of the LED-lit retail fronts across the square from us was bright to the point of ocular discomfort. This examination of facades continued, encompassing those that were evenly and gently “moonlit;” halogen down-lit (to appear almost like the sun across a facade); dramatically up-lit (to enhance the depth of the building elements); and lit by historical lamps (that detract from the ability to see the buildings themselves. The discussion of historical lamps brought up one of Rohr’s main points: light is all about reflection. The historical lamps have visible light sources that create a glare, making the ability to see the surrounding features difficult. Light itself cannot be seen: it is the result of light reflected off materials and surfaces that is perceived.

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The color and temperature of light also makes an enormous impact on the creation of space. As humans, we respond both to the high intensity of daylight, very blue in color and about 5-6000 Kelvin. We are also drawn to the cozy warmth of just a small amount of dim light like a fire which, as Rohr described, stirs within us references to where our human survival and connection originated. Designers can control light effects for human perception using this sort of knowledge, determining the appropriate color and density of light. These two factors, Rohr reminded us, are all about comparison. She drove this point home by showing before and after images of a warm golden welcoming stairwell and a cold uninviting stairwell, surprising us all when it was revealed to be the same space and the same materials. With this, Rohr said, “Now we look for a real fire and a drink.” Text by Alexandra Krippner, Photographs by Alison Steele

Design. Model. Implement.

Design. Model. Implement. This week in Munich, the team focused on production. Taking the knowledge and experience gained from our weekly excursions, we pushed through and continued further development of our project. After a couple of critiques from experts during our review, we feel we are headed in the right direction.

Because we intensely focused on production, we’ve probably solidified more design decisions this past week than we have in the past two months. Part of this came as a result of really learning how to work as a team. Communication in a multidisciplinary team is a must – and to learn this proved to be a great challenge. Teamwork was another great lesson. Leaders of teams are important to facilitate communication, but so are the students/skilled designers the leaders are overseeing.

At the end of this week, one thing is clear: despite minor hurdles, we are all greatly motivated to win.

Text and Photographs by Julia Park


This past week, our team had the privilege to visit the BMW Welt and its manufacturing plant on a very extensive tour explaining the store front car models and behind the scenes production of the car models. Upon entering the BMW plant one could see that the process of building one of the world’s leading automobile required very precise integration between all areas of study. The BMW plant located on the North side of Munich functioned like clockwork, with an assembly line that received and processed portions of the automobiles perfectly and not a second early or late. It was amazing to hear and see how a car went from being ordered by a customer (months in advance) to when the individually picked paint was applied and up until the final hand over in the BMW Welt was made. It was less of a process and more of a melodic symphony.

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The longer we were in the BMW assembly plant the better I understood that the reason the company functioned so well was not some magical reason or special ingredient added to the car, but that the entire process was so efficient in every single aspect. I then concluded that for any team, whether building a car or an award winning sustainable home, there needed to be a clear understanding of the process and a drive for quality in every step (pun intended). BMW’s process took years to coordinate and establish, but it was the team of dedicated individuals who brought it to life. The car, like our home, needs everyone in the team to be the ultimate preforming product. Visiting the plant was an eye opening experience not only for its world leading engineering advances but also for a view into the magnificent potential of a perfectly functioning team. I can assure that Nexushaus’ architects and engineers is on its way to becoming that finely tuned team needed to win.

Written by Ariel Padilla, photos by Michael Rahmatoulin

Learning aerodynamics via Wind Tunnel

Team Texas Germany was given the chance to peruse and learn about the significance of aerodynamics in architecture. Doctor Albert Pernpeintner – director chair for Aerodynamics in TU München – willingly sacrificed some time to lead us through the TUM Garching wind tunnel facilities as well as intricately explaining the concepts employed to perform accurate aerodynamic analysis.

It was explained that wind tunnels were in place due to the significant difference in time consumption between simulations made in wind tunnels versus simulations made using supercomputers. Apparently, it would take five months for supercomputers to simulate one second of wind to the same degree of accuracy and precision that of the wind tunnel. There were three different sizes of wind tunnels; each with a specific purpose for different scales and industries. Various systems were in place to quantitatively measure the aerodynamic environment such as wind velocity and direction. These systems included sticks with strings attached to visualize the eddies formed during a simulation and laser systems that takes snapshots of the conditions.

Trivially enjoyable for us architecture students, were the adjustable Lego buildings used to simulate high rise structures through blunt-body testing. It was reminiscent of our childhood days.

Moving forward, Team Texas Germany will have a conscious effort to consider ventilation strategies in our design.

Text by Henry Wen, Photographs by Michael Rahmatoulin

Energy Conference 2014

Unknown to most, the quaint town of Bressanone, Italy hosted the Energy Conference 2014. This conference brought together students, professors, professionals, experts — anyone interested in learning about great innovations and research in energy. From the world’s first white PV panel (beautiful!) to automating artificially intelligent lights, the conference put a spotlight on some of the leading research in the energy field.

Some of the most interesting research (at least to yours truly) involved improving building envelope performance to save energy simply by the introduction of an innovative material. Phase change materials were a hot topic at this year’s conference; the heat storing, lightweight materials even cause a few passionate academic debates. BioPCM by Phase Change Energy Solutions introduced their organic PCM that changed the way our group thought about the usually toxic PCM solutions. The bulk of the magic lies in the organic, vegetable-based compound that allows for a high thermal storage capacity. While they may not be appropriate for Austin which has a hot and humid climate, it moved us to think about innovative materials in our building envelopes. Overall the conference was a very inspiring excursion to continue the search for new and better solutions to old problems. Who knew we’d learn about such big ideas from such a small town? Text and photographs by Julia Park

Mark Simmons Lecture

Texas has been in drought since 2011, and its ecosystems and inhabitants continue to suffer from it. For many, this is old news. Indeed, the drought manifests in our cities’ surrounding landscapes and also in the near-constant reminders about ongoing water watch consumption. Arguably, the drought’s largest impact took place three years ago in Bastrop, Texas. The infamous Bastrop Fire Complex burned through thousands of acres of land, for thirty six days, until it was officially contained. By then, the fire had destroyed thousands of homes and caused immense infrastructural damage.

This is our call to action.

At least affirms Mark Simmons, Director of Research and Environmental Design Consulting for the Ecosystem Design group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Mark Simmons visited the NexusHaus team in Munich this past week to review and discuss our proposal for the competition. Mark gave great feedback and, of course, suggested how we might improve the ecology of our Solar D house design. Later in the week, our team saw him at the Oskar Von Miller Forum, where he delivered the first talk in this year’s lecture series—to a full house of professionals, students, and professors.

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Mark Simmons is passionate about a variety of topics, one being prescribed fires. On first blush, the idea seems counter-intuitive; however, Mark and his team are researching how the landscape can benefit from prescribed fires. The fires are contained to specific areas of land, at any given time, and they are quelled once their job is complete. (Their job: to burn old vegetation, stimulating larger and healthier growth in the long run). By practicing fire-starting, we may have a chance to manage wildfire risk and litigation.

As the lecture progressed, Mark emphasized that we are integral to the landscapes that engulf us. Just as the animals, we are responsible for taking care of our ecosystems—for knowing when to create appropriate growth/development and when to cause appropriate (and necessary!) destruction for the overall longevity of our ecosystems. With this, we can prevent large-scale, out-of-control destruction. We are to understand that water quality is inferior in many areas, which makes it difficult for natural landscapes to thrive. Texas’ Blackland Prairie ecosystem, for example, is rapidly diminishing. In response, Mark and his team are hard at work to find ways to restore it.

The lecture closed with another call to action for everyone in the room—and now for you, our readers. Mark implored us to not be limited or constrained by anything. He even reached back to the Apollo 13 event, explaining that when Eugene Francis stated, “I don’t care what it was designed to do, I care what it can do,” he meant that the things we understand do one function can likely work better if we find an alternate and creative use for them. It is the same with most of today’s technology: we need to research, study, and experiment in effort to solve the many problems we have in our ecosystems. We need to preserve, conserve, restore, and create.

Written by Julian Debo and Photographs by Alison Steele

The University of Texas at Austin + Technische Universitaet Muenchen | U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 | documented