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Introducing Georg Reichard: How Lego Blocks Can Help Save Energy

bridges vol. 6, July 2005 / News from the Network 

by Jutta Kern

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Georg Reichard is enthusiastic as he explains the bottom line of his crossover work between construction science and architecture, which he conducts at Virginia Tech. "Currently, developers and architects have to pay a lot of money to a specialist to conduct energy efficiency simulations for new housing projects. However, these simulations are not mandatory like code compliance is and thus are only rarely conducted in the early planning stage. As a consequence, problems aren't being averted, and it costs a lot more to fix them later—if it is not too late at all, like it is sometimes the case for the overheating of buildings. And my work is dedicated to changing that!"

Reichard_Georg_captionHow is he going to do this? Inspired by his seven-year-old son's Lego toys, Reichard focuses his next project on user-friendly simulation software, which allows developers and architects to move single modules within a project from one place to another. The exciting thing about it is that when, say, the living room is moved from the first to the second floor and the kitchen is placed next to the garage, this tool will tell you exactly what you win or lose in terms of energy efficiency, ventilation, and noise levels - and ultimately, costs. "If you can visualize energy-efficiency, it is much easier to understand - for the developer and for the customer," Reichard points out. "The US society is much more open to pay for comfort and efficiency should be established as an aspect of comfort in order to improve the over-all performance of buildings. But in the long run it always comes down to energy - energy used for operation, for construction, or for fabrication of material."

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest}Trained in construction science in Austria with a Ph.D. from the Graz University of Technology, Georg Reichard has always been interested in architecture as well. He pursued an academic career at his alma mater in Graz, Austria. After a year of research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2002 with the Austrian Schrödinger fellowship, he returned to Austria for only a brief 'intermezzo' before choosing between attractive offers in the United States. Although he was offered a leave of absence from his tenured professorship in Graz, he decided to free up the position for other colleagues and - amidst disbelief - from his friends and colleagues - he resigned. "In Austria, construction science, as a discipline, by and large, can still afford to limit itself to publishing in German, since the German-speaking market is large enough not to have to worry about international competition. And, indeed, my field of research, it's much more advanced in Germany and in Austria than it is in the United States," Reichard explains. "However, having returned to Graz from California, I soon felt very constrained in my career prospects and how I could pursue my research interests, and thus decided to accept a tenure-track position at Virginia Tech."

Research in energy efficiency technology addresses frontier issues in times of global warming. Institutions in the United States like the National Laboratory at Berkeley, Virginia Tech at Blacksburg, and MIT in Boston produce cutting-edge research - "but due to the higher demand abroad, they export most of their results," Reichard claims. While energy-efficiency standards in the private building sector in Austria and Germany are very advanced, partly due to the Kyoto Protocol, Reichard thinks, federal regulations in the United States are weak or non-existent. "There are codes and standards but, compared to the European ones, these are very lax. In the US, there is this big fear of regulations, mostly because everybody worries about price increases. The tightening of standards in Europe, however, showed that the market regulated itself within two years." Nevertheless the housing market in the US is very different and characterized by high mobility. In Reichard's view, it would make sense to start applying energy-efficiency standards to federal buildings or to other real estate with a lower turnover of ownership - to create showcases and awareness.
In fall 2005 Virginia Tech opens its new "School of Construction," which will be the first to integrate the two disciplines of architecture and construction science within one school. In Austria, Georg Reichard's attempts to integrate these two disciplines turned out to be difficult, and he often felt himself to be in-between two seats. Naturally, the prospect of a new school dedicated to his discipline inspired his decision to settle in the small college town of Blacksburg, VA. "Blacksburg is for sure quite different from Berkeley" he says, "and yet it is a great experience to live in a small college town with 25,000 students." Creating the new School of Construction at Virginia Tech "is a huge signal for this new approach and for future development. Clearly, it was this prospect that made me decide to accept Virginia Tech's offer."
But Reichard has not completely turned his back on Austria. He will work on joint research projects, and tries to foster student exchange between the two universities. "Austria's university education in my field is excellent," he says, "and I am looking forward to welcoming Austrian students to Virginia Tech. There is also a 'study-abroad program' planned for 2006, where a group of VT students will visit the Graz University of Technology for summer classes."

Contact Information
Dr. Georg Reichard
Professor of Building Construction
Virginia Tech
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
24061 Blacksburg, VA, United States


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