Dr. Ryan Sharston – Developing Adaptive Materials for a Changing Climate

Dr. Ryan Sharston is one of the founding members of FIBER, director of the Adaptive Built Environment Lab as well as an assistant professor at the University of Florida with the joint appointment in the School of Architecture, and Rinker School of Construction Management

There are two ways to approach the topic of sustainable construction. The first is addressing the materials themselves; ensuring that the tangible components of a project are environmentally friendly and sustainable – or, better yet, actively contribute to improving the surrounding environment (as Dr. Sundahl-Platt described in the previous FIBER update). The other approach is addressing the form of the construction itself; the planning of the project, ensuring that the whole of the built environment is constructed in a way so as to be not only environmentally sustainable, but resilient as well. Dr. Ryan Sharston takes both approaches in his work, combining the clever use of environmentally friendly materials with intuitive planning to create unique (and patented) designs for sustainable architecture, utilizing sophisticated modeling software and technology.

“I had this enthusiasm for technology in architecture from early on during my undergraduate years which advanced during my graduate studies…I started in building performance area technology in architecture – how to make buildings more advanced technologically – and then I crossed over to sustainability, and then to resilience. My initial inspiration was to focus on the technological side of architectural design and see how we can make the buildings more intelligent, more advanced, more sustainable.”

According to Dr. Sharston, the idea of focusing and emphasizing resilience in construction is a relatively new concept. With the increasing rate of Climate Change and natural hazards, the need for sustainable architecture has risen, and with that, the need to generate new creative ideas within the field of construction has risen as well.

“In 2018, resilience was still a relatively new topic – and for many scholars in this field, still is a new topic. And it just was really intriguing to look at resilience as a new sustainability, meaning that…it seemed more comprehensive and far reaching than sustainability. It had a special focus on the effects of Climate Change and natural hazards on built environments, which is something important back then, and is even more important today and will be even more critical for decades to come.”

In his endeavor to contribute to this ever-growing field of resilient architecture, Dr. Sharston has founded the Adaptive Built Environment Lab (ABEL) which is dedicated to developing new designs for mitigating the effects of climate change on built environments. These designs include relatively simply projects such as the Cool BoxTM, which focuses on a new efficient shading system that maximizes spatial daylight autonomy while minimizing annual sun exposure, to fairly complex and multi-faceted projects such as the Environmentally-conscious & Dynamically-adaptive Building Envelope (EDBETM), which aims to simultaneously provide improved indoor environmental quality (IEQ) along with energy savings and resilience without limiting itself to the requirements of typical multiple-façade technologies.

“The initial idea was to have an adaptive shading system for windows…mainly for heat transfer purposes, to mitigate heat transfer especially in Florida, but then we advanced to the issue of storm sheltering, to the issue of storm sheltering resilience. So, it started from a simple shading project, then it became a whole building envelope system simulated, built, and experimented over the past few years.”

Beyond FIBER and ABEL, Dr. Sharston is also involved with various other projects, experiments, and studies throughout Florida, such as one he is conducting in cooperation with United States Department of Housing and Urban Development where he is examining designs for energy-efficient and carbon-neutral modular constructions. However, in the long term, Dr. Sharston hopes to connect the concepts of sustainability and resilience quantifiably.

“Sustainability has been my passion since I was an undergraduate, until I entered the world of resilience, and I see a lot of overlaps and potential tradeoffs between these two worlds. And I really want to be the person who can scientifically quantify these overlaps and make these two worlds communicate to each other more efficiently. Basically, to find the commonalities, to find the differences, to find potential compromises; how can these two worlds embrace one another, and where are the areas where there might be some conflicts that we can find solutions for? That’s my vision.”

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