Creating truly sustainable architecture demands constant innovation. Modern-day building systems are continually evolving to achieve more energy efficient targets, but these are ineffective unless they can be harnessed by forward-thinking firms and integrated throughout a structure in intelligent ways. No firm understands this better than Handel Architects, a practice at the forefront of sustainable, high-tech design.
“Handel Architects is a diverse practice with studios here in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Hong Kong, working in major cities around the country and around the globe,” said Gary Handel, principal at the firm. “Our goal is to find projects in which we can make a difference.” Making a difference requires taking creative risks and rigorously testing ideas, which makes Handel Architects a perfect firm to try out the HP Z2 Mini, a powerful new workstation that was custom-designed with pioneering architects in mind.
The first thing strikes you about the Z2 Mini is its size. “I didn’t realize how small it was really going to be,” said Katie Donahue, associate at Handel. The Z2 Mini measures just 8.5 inches wide and 2.3 inches high — shorter than your coffee cup — meaning that it takes up minimal real estate on architect’s desk. “It’s very streamlined,” said Donahue. “It looks the way we think about a lot of our buildings … it was the first time we were really excited to put a computer, a piece of technology, on our desks.”
Of course, a highly compact workstation is all well and good, but it doesn’t count for much unless it possesses power that belies its diminutive stature. Handel Architects put the Z2 Mini through its paces with multiple applications, and according to Donahue, the workstation held up admirably. “The Z2 is really great because it allows us to use all of the programs we need … it’s surprisingly powerful for something so small and compact.”
Thanks to its powerful processing capabilities — the workstation comes with current and next generation Intel® Xeon® Processor options — the Z2 Mini empowers design professionals to multitask without problems. “The Z2 Mini allows us to use all the programs that we need to use at the same time,” said Donahue. “It allows us to use [all of our complex design programs] from start to finish in a creative process.”
Handel Architects envisioned using the Z2 Mini on their most environmentally ambitious projects, such as Cornell Tech’s New York City campus on Roosevelt Island — the world’s tallest tower built to Passivhaus standards. “It’s a building that really takes to heart our core values and shows new ways to be sustainable,” said Donahue. “[It proves] that we can create beautiful buildings that are also environmentally responsible, and technology played a really large role in that.” The technical complexity of this project made for a perfect test of the Z2 Mini’s credentials.
“For this project,” explained Handel, “It was important to combine form and function, art and engineering, poetry and pragmatics into a single gesture. Everything needed to be that tight.” Establishing the perfect thermal solution for such a building required the design team to undertake an iterative process, constantly optimizing the form of the building and modeling its external envelope.
“We came up with the idea of the project as almost this thermal wrapper wrapped around the building,” said Handel, “Overlapping itself and creating a beautiful vertical slot that rose from the top to the bottom of the project. That moment unlocked the formal possibilities of this project.”
These creative processes can be catalyzed by a compact workstation like the Z2 Mini, which allowed the architects to switch quickly between 2D and 3D representations of the structure, examining and efficiently adapting it using multiple programs. The workstation features NVIDIA® Quadro® Pro Graphics that allow the design team to collaborative complex 3D models in real time without delays, which is crucial as “it takes a lot of energy and a lot of people to come together for that creative process,” emphasized Donahue.
As evidenced by Cornell Tech Campus, projects with demanding technical criteria are becoming commonplace in architectural practice, making workstations all the more vital for leading firms. “It’s really important to have the right computers and the right tools,” said Donahue. “You have to have something that’s powerful enough to get the job done. With architecture, we’re finding programs that run more and more data, and the projects that we’re working on can be really complex. It’s really important to have a computer that can keep up with you.”
Ultimately, the combined qualities of the HP Z2 Mini frees Handel Architects up to concentrate on what matters — improving our urban environment through innovation. “Architecture at its best is a bit like alchemy,” said Handel. “We take humble materials, like concrete, steel, glass, wood and stone, and hope to elevate them into something higher … to create buildings that not only take care of our basic needs but can uplift the human spirit, inspire us and give us a glimpse into a more positive future.”
With the right computing tools at their disposal, these architects are hopeful of doing just that.