Assignment 4: Energy flows of The Thermal Baths by Peter Zumthor



Thermal Baths

            The Thermal Baths at Vals, done by Peter Zumthor, is an amazing example of a series of systems that come together to create a unique experience. The baths uses the only natural thermal springs for the heating of water and the building to create a relaxing experience for those who visit. I am interested in seeing the interaction of the systems of elements such as sound, water, concrete, and light to create such a wonderful mesmerizing experience. By tracking how the earth creates heat that begins to warm water and produce steam to begin heating the building and its water, we can understand how Zumthor planned the use of materials to help retain the heat and diffuse it. It is interesting that he chose concrete because of the range of temperatures that concrete can inhibit depending on the temperature around it. Then, I would like to see how that then translates to our feelings when we enter the different temperatures. By understanding these relationships, we can begin to see how the body responds to different extremes in temperature and how body absorbs and releases energy in almost the same way as a material such as concrete.

The first step of this energy flow begins in the mantle of the earth where pressure from gravity pushing every part of the earth towards its center causes rocks of the earth to melt and give off heat. Due to the fact that heat rises and creates pressure, the heat then rises towards the crust and begins to heat the underground springs. These springs give off steam, like Old Faithful, that are used as geothermal energy for electricity or in this case, heating and cooling. Now in the Thermal Baths at Vals, Switzerland uses the heat from the thermal springs to heat the waters within the spa itself.

This Diagram shows how gravity causes the layers of earth to compact and be pushed down toward the center of the Earth. As this happens, heat builds up, rises to the crust of the earth and begins to heat the springs. The Earth is also heated from the Sun.

From the Earth to the Slab

In the Thermal baths at Vals, Peter Zumthor combined gneiss, a local stone, with concrete to create the walls and floor of the spa. By using the combination of natural stone and concrete, it creates a thermal mass that conducts heat faster than concrete mixed with other aggregates. This allows for the earth to heat the spring which, in turn, heats the concrete slabs of the spa. Concrete allows for the energy transferred from the spring to the wall to be stored within the mass itself, heating up the wall faster but retains the energy for longer periods of time. Concrete is very energy efficient because it releases energy slower than many other materials. Using concrete also keeps the temperature differences between pools consistent, due to the ability to retain energy.

From Slab to the Body

The human body is an essential part of the design of the Thermal Baths. It takes into consideration all five senses of the body by implementing different experiences that caters to at least one sense at any given moment. One of the senses that are exploited throughout the spa is the sense of touch. The interaction between the temperature of the water and the body of an occupant in the spa occurs by touching the water. The body has a temperature range that it has to stay within to function. 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is the average body temperature for a healthy human. If the core body temperature gets hotter than that, the body releases water to cool the body down or in the case of the body temperature gets colder, muscles in the body begin to contract and expand quickly to release energy and heat to warm the body. As an occupant first enters the spa, there is a time period of getting adjusted to the water. This is the body losing or gaining energy to the surrounding water. Skin is a conductor which means it allows energy to be gained or lost. This is why we wear coats in the winter and not during the summer because the coat insulates us and retains the energy we would otherwise lose to the outside air surrounding us. In the pools, however, little can insulate the occupant from losing energy. So we feel less comfortable in cold or hot water. The water has to be around our core body temperature to feel comfortable to us. In the Thermal baths, there are three different pools called the Fire bath, the Iced bath, and the Sound bath. The Fire bath is a pool filled with hot water that eases the muscles, while the iced bath causes muscles to tense up. Because physics says that heat moves from something warm to something cold, this may be the reason why we react to cold water in such a strange manner. When we are in cold water, we are heating up the water surrounding us, which is why we get adjusted to the water temperature after a while. The same goes for the Fire bath. As the water is heating us up, the energy from the pool is being transferred into our bodies to equal out the difference. This explains why our bodies are so hot when we get out of a hot shower (or in this case pool) and steam is coming off. So when the occupant moves from the Fire bath to the Iced bath, the water feels colder than if they had just went into the Iced bath first. The body has to lose more energy to become equal to the temperature of the water. In a way, our bodies act in the same way as the concrete, absorbing and losing energy to maintain the same temperature of the surroundings.

Diagram of Energy Transfer from the Earth to the Slab of concrete and water

Peter Zumthor channeled energy that essentially came from the rock of which the building sat on. We traced the creation of heat from the center of the earth to the springs, the concrete, the water, and finally the human body to give a unique experience in feeling comfort, relaxation, and peace in such extreme conditions. As the Law of Conservation of Energy states, energy is neither created nor destroyed, we saw that energy was just passed between two objects, the speeding of transfer depending on the material it is going through. Any energy used is given back in some form at some time. To take it a step further and to look within the human body, skin cells have receptors. When a stimulus reaches the receptor (let’s say temperature), the receptor the fires signals (which uses energy) to neurons, which relays those signals to the brain. The brain sends the message to all muscles whether to begin shivering, jumping, or relaxing, which gives back the energy that set off the receptor. In the process of relaying the messages, the billions of neurons that acted as a telephone wire are covered with covered with myelin sheath, which insulate the electrical signal so that no energy is lost and is the reason why our brain responds so fast. So if the water was extremely hot as we stepped in, we would immediately step back just as fast as we stepped in.

Shows the structure of the Neuron

Shows the pathway a stimulus would take to cause a reflex. This same diagram can be used to show the pathway it would take to cause shivering or sweating.

The energy loss and gain of the body
The energy loss and gain of the body

“Thermal Spa.” Archidose. N.p., June 1991. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <;.

Wallace, O. Wise Geek. Ed. Bronwyn Harris. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <;.

Bziotas, Euripides. “Therme Vals by P. Zumthor Concept.” Scribd. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <;.

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Assignment 3: Energy Diagrams

On a typical summer day in the Hampton Roads area, I awaken from my sleep thanks to an alarm clock. I then proceed to take a hot shower and watch TV. I begin to text on my cell phone and relax inside the comfortable house due to the air conditioning that is cooling the air inside the house. I begin to feel hungry and turn on the stove to cook my lunch. Everything I just did required some sort of energy. Where did it come from?

Energy arises from the collection of, burning, and combining of elements to produce a reaction that release energy. This energy is then used to turn generators and produce electricity which is distributed to customers throughout the region. For me, the regional power plant is the Surry Nuclear Power Plant, in Surry County. Nuclear power plants produce energy by splitting atoms and the reaction of splitting releases a large amount of energy to run turbines and generators. Dominion Power regulates the output of electricity for the state of Virginia. As the electricity makes its way from the power plant, it begins to lose energy because no insulation is one hundred percent efficient in the capacity to retain energy. It makes its way to the local power grid, where it then is directed to the house and out of the outlets. Every appliance use a different amount of electricity and has a different efficiency in retain that energy for use. A cell phone is more efficient than an oven because of the amount of energy a cell phone is able to store.

The diagram explains the energy consumption as well as the energy lost throughout the system. Some waste, such as water, is renewable, while others like the nuclear rods are nonrenewable. Anyone can have an impact, large or small within the web of energy. At the human scale, I can use milder water when showering to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat the water. On a larger scale of the house, we can use air ventilation  to cool the house instead of an air conditioning unit. This lessens the pressure on the electrical grid as well as lessens the amount of air lost through the insulation of the house. On the largest scale, the regional, instead of using nuclear power to generate electricity, we can rely on solar power to generate electricity. This lowers or eliminates waste energy due to the fact that the sun is a renewable source. It also doesn’t run the risk of causing cancer (maybe skin cancer) due to a malfunction. If everyone makes these little changes, we can lessen our energy waste and create a safer way of harvesting energy.

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Assignment 2: The Bay Game

The Bay Game was an amazing experience. This was my second time playing it but it felt like a new game. The last time I played was when I was a first year taking an Environmental Science course and 1) we didn’t keep the bay in such good health, 2) I was a cattle rancher who went into debt within the first three rounds, and 3) I don’t remember the part about Hurricane Isabel, so I felt like the game had evolved more. This year I was a waterman and had pretty good success. Everyone was keeping the bay pretty healthy, meaning that my crabs weren’t taking to much of a hit. Even when the Hurricane did run through the area, we recovered rather quickly in geological time.

The game taught me that everything, in some way, is connected. It is like a action-reaction scenario. One bad mistake at the wrong time can cause the whole system to fall with it. It also taught me that the system is fragile. Too much nutrients can be just as bad as too little nutrients in the water. It is up to us, the future owners of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, to help keep the pay clean for the next generation to come. I personally live on the bay and fish there a lot with my family. I would like to do the same with children one day.

In order to keep the bay healthy in real life, we need some strategies that will work in the long run. We cannot look for strategies that work now but will decrease in efficiency as years go by. That is one thing that Meadows talked about in Chapter 6. It is better to make a slow gradual change in a major area than make big changes in smaller areas. This will make the transition smoother and not cause too much fluctuation in population of crabs. As a fisherman, my income depends solely on how much crabs I can harvest and sell. The more crabs I sell, the more money I make. However, if there is an abundance of crabs, the price per crab will drop. If there is a deficiency of crabs, the price of crabs will rise and there will be less crab to repopulate each year we harvest crabs causing a collapse of the industry. To keep the industry a float, we must keep the population of crabs steady. If the population grows out of hand, the effect would be just as bad as if they were underpopulated. Overpopulation calls for more nutrition than what is produced leading to more deaths of crabs as the population grows.

By controlling the population, we ensure that the crabs will reproduce enough to have enough nutrients to survive. That can only happen if we also control the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that enters the bay through runoff from industries, land development, and farming. If we can do that, the dominoes will start falling. We might not see the results within a year which isn’t a bad thing. It might take 5 to 10 years to see a drastic change. The leverage point I used were population, but there are many more. Another point could be regulation laws. The amount of crabs that you can harvest a year could change the landscape of the bay in a good way or a bad way.

My plan for the bay would keep fishing, a major industry for all states within the watershed of the Bay, a float by keeping prices steady yearly and keeping the population of crabs under control so that their will be enough time for them to repopulate in the off-season. The Fisherman can’t do it all themselves. Regulators of all types (Land development, Industrial, Fishing, and Farming) have to do their share in helping keeping the bay healthy. Instead of the fisherman making the small change on the local level, let’s make the bigger change on the regional  level.

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Boundaries and Edges

Boundaries and edges seem like the same thing. A boundary, in a simple definition, is a border. The same definition can be used for edges. However, if you look them in a broader context, they can also have very different meanings. A boundary usually is a soft, moveable border. Every state has a boundary in which it governs, but if a state was to lose a portion to or gain a portion of another neighboring state, the boundary would correct itself to the changes. The same could be said for countries. Continents, on the other hand, have distinct edges. Edges are harsh, sharp divisions between two objects. A cliff is another example of this. The edge is the boundary between the altitude one is at the rim to the altitude below. In keeping with the lecture and discussion (at least my discussion), I will bring in examples dealing with nature. An edge would be the certain height on a mountain where trees can no longer grow due to the altitude and temperature (called the treeline). A boundary would the border between a fire ravaged part of a forest and the part that remained unscorched from forest fire. Through the blowing of the wind and the regeneration of the earth, the plants will regrow in that area. However, no matter how much wind, no trees will grow past the treeline.

Edges have a harder time making connections with the other side. If we look at a road as an edge, there is hardly any corridor or pathway that could connect both sides of the road if it is maintained and repaved. Boundaries don’t have such a harsh disconnection between it and the next community.

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A Simple System of a Road

A road has many influences that factor into how it is used as well as how efficient it is. In order for a road to become and official road, it has to have some sort of traffic. It must have a destination. So simply put, traffic (cars) make up a road. The road then influences the speed of the cars traveling. Depending on the size (capacity) of the road, influences the speed as well as the traffic. The speed limit of the road determines the wear and tear of the road and the amount of repairs it receives. A road with less traffic will take longer to fall into disarray and most likely stay unmaintained for longer periods of time. A road with higher traffic and speeds will be maintained more. However, higher speeds mean higher accident rates. More accidents means more traffic. Other factors that determine how a road can be used is the type of development around the road and the route of the road itself. A residential area causes for lower speeds than a more commercial area. The route of a road can affect the speed and as well as the amount of accidents. A windy road that has many blind turns and on a mountain side will have a lower speed as well as a higher amount of accidents (depending on traffic) than a straight forward road with the same amount of traffic and speed.

There are plenty of other factors that influence the use of the road and the outcomes. This was a simple diagram to show you that every element interacts with at least one other element to affect the overall system. To create a larger more complex system, we could talk about how weather conditions could affect the use of the road over a short period or over a longer period leading to the degradation of the road.

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The Solar Window

The diagram below shows the path of the sun around the Lawn. The best time of the year for optimal solar exposure is during the months of April to September and the best times of the day during this time span would be from 10 AM to 4 PM. However, there are trees that obstruct some sunlight during the day, creating a cool, shaded area during the early morning and  the late evening. As an Architect, I would design the layout of the building to correspond with path of the sun. This would mean  public areas would get the harsh southern exposure of the sun with more windows while more private areas would face the north and receive indirect light. If there was a breeze coming from the south west, the end of the lawn (Old Cabell) is about 15 feet lower than where the Rotunda is situated, so winds would have little resistance in the summer. Depending on the layout, there may be a strong wall made of concrete or brick to deflect the wind or it can be collected as a way to cool water from the north in the winter, and windows can be placed on the south to collect the breezes in the summer.


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Systems and Architecture

Everything, in some shape or form, is a part of a larger system. Architecture is not an exception. Architecture is a comprised of  smaller local systems and and as a whole feeds into a larger global system. Systems and architecture are intertwined due to fact that there has to be some sort of demand for architecture. We can see that in real time as the real estate market is still rebounding from the current state of the economy. Less demand for new buildings means there will be less of a demands for architects and vice versa. On a lighter note, Architecture has a more simple system that it is tied in. the most basic levels may be students going to school to become architects and then those students becoming licensed architects, commissioning projects. The most basic systems branch out and connect to larger systems creating a larger network of systems.

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