A structure sheltering the growing plants. (Image by Rohan Goel) 

Living Systems 

Living Systems 

The Living Systems group investigates various active architectural systems that can be integrated on or within the building envelope. We aim to answer questions such as: Can structures respond to their surroundings? Can they think and evolve? In what ways can they give back to the environment? This is achieved by examining the benefits, limitations, and the integration potential of biotic systems in architecture that can range from energy-efficient green infrastructure to self-cleaning materials to building blocks and technology that may improve the air quality. 

Humankind is at the brink of crossing the climate danger threshold, and living architectural systems might prove to be one of the most feasible solutions to address and mitigate climate change. This gives us an opportunity to re-think and redefine architecture in terms of its adaptability and contribution to the environment. Thus, this is a multidisciplinary research group dedicated to developing a performing biological and mechanical “close to life” built environment that can have a positive environmental impact. 

The inside of a farming container, containing all of the required resources for crop growth. (Photo by Freight Farms showcasing the cultivation area)

A Framework for the Energy, Water, and Food Nexus

Within the Built Environment in a Desert Climate

The interconnections between energy, water, and food are essential for sustainable development, conserving resources, and increasing resilience. The demand for each system is rising due to growing populations, rapid urbanization, and the change it caused to diets and economic growth. This Project develops a framework that identifies the synergies and dependencies between energy, water, and food on a building level and the following influence on the urban scale using a bottom-up approach, specifically in Saudi Arabia, which is in a desert climate. The region faces many challenges, as it is under physical water scarcity, highly dependent on fossil fuel energy, and imports most of its food demand. The framework will be developed through a modeling approach, focusing on residential buildings as it has the largest footprint of the built environment and serves as an ideal option for testing Building Integrated Agriculture (BIA). The main component in which all three systems interact is the BIA, which will be added to the base model; the subsequent effects of this addition will be identified and compared with the baseline utilizing a unified metric, the CO2 Equivalent. The three systems will then be evaluated individually and combined using the unified metric.

Proposed framework

Decarbonizing Swarms

Reducing the Embodied Energy in Hybrid Interdependent Fabricated Materials

Knowing that the architecture and construction industry is responsible for almost half (48%) of the world’s energy consumption (Lechner, 2014), sustainable design and manufacturing strategies will become a serious requirement in contemporary built environment research and practice. Taking advantage of the recent advancements in computational design technologies and evolutionary algorithms for optimization and simulation can put an end to the trial-and-error system of design and construction and help us in our journey to decarbonize the built environment. Additive and subtractive methods of digital fabrication also will facilitate achieving this goal by improving the design-manufacture communications. This research is a review and comparison between a hybrid (additive + subtractive) fabricated clay brick and a regular one, in terms of the amount of used material, material distribution, and as their result, energy consumption as well as GHG emission in the stage of construction of a building’s life cycle. In this process, an evolutionary algorithm called ant colony optimization (ACO) will be used as the experimental methodology for multi-agent fabricated clay brick. The result is a theoretical and practical method of optimization and fabrication of multi-agent fabricated clay brick to be used in a bottom-up approach to manufacturing the environment. 

An agglomeration of various Carbon Sequestration (CS) techniques including the prototype of a microalgae façade, a vertical greenery system and smog free tower in an urban space. (Images by Integrated Design Research Lab (UNC Charlotte), Anurag Rathi, Daan Roosegarde (www.studioroosegaarde.net)) 

Building-integrated Carbon Sequestration (CS) techniques 

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. While global warming is occurring at a rate faster than any point in history, the construction industry—which is one of the biggest contributors to climate change—is advancing towards net zero and net positive buildings. However, along with adaptation, and reduction of the future energy and carbon footprint of the built environment, it is also imperative to revert the existing degenerative consequences of human activity. One of the promising approaches towards this goal is Carbon Sequestration. Building-integrated Carbon Sequestration techniques are being researched, experimented with and implemented in different parts of the world. However, they still involve significant complexity, which prevents them from being used as a part of everyday construction. This project, thus, focuses on identifying such CS techniques and on analyzing their integration potential in architectural practice based on scale, usability, and maintenance. It aims to equip designers with cutting-edge technologies that should have a positive environmental impact through design. Exposing researchers, architects and students to a comprehensive review will enable their scholarship and research-based practice to not just reduce their impact, but also transform it to be net positive. 

An accessible extensive green roof planted on the CULC (Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons) building of Georgia Tech campus enhancing the urban green space. (Photo by Rob Felt) 

Thermal Performance Evaluation of Green Roofs

Green roofs are often identified as energy-efficient techniques which, through their various mechanisms, contribute to a comfortable indoor environment. A significant amount of research has been carried out to investigate the thermal performance of a green roof under various climatic conditions and building parameters.These studies displayed quite encouraging results of energy savings by green roofs. But a simulation study showed contrasting results when compared with these findings. The outcomes gave a major insight into the thermal performance of a green roof based on the insulation thickness. The insignificant results can be attributed to comparable R-values of the original roof with the installed green roof assembly. Contemporary codes and standards for building insulation mandate compliance to recommended values that are typically high enough to have thermal efficiency approximately equal to or greater than provided by a green roof. Considering their high installation, operation, and maintenance costs, the average payback period with such a small amount of savings could be considerably high.


Tariq Alshahrani headshot

Tariq Alshahrani

MS Alumni

Jayati Chhabra's headshot

Jayati Chhabra

MS Alumni

Simin Nasiri's headshot

Simin Nasiri

MS Alumni

Deva Shree Saini's headshot

Deva Shree Saini

MS Alumni

Tarek Rakha's headshot

Tarek Rakha

Associate Professor


If you can't find the information you were looking for, we'll get you to the right place.
Contact Us