Students study the Building Envelope through Reflective Roofing Research

Elizabeth Grant



The design of a roof system has important ramifications. Many architects accept at face value the widespread assertion that white roofs are sustainable and black roofs are less so. However, in the field of roof consulting, there is a growing body of research indicating that there may be some unintended consequences of implementing white roofing. When architects employ reflective roofs in an effort to reduce environmental impact, they may not be aware of the negative effects.


A research project is currently being conducted by the Center for High Performance Environments with the collaboration of an industry partner and the financial support of four independent roofing industry organizations. The study tests the effect of roof color on temperatures in the air, on conduits above roof surfaces, and at adjacent wall and window surfaces. There is also a parallel narrative developing, one that describes the students’ experience of participating in the research. This presentation will highlight the process of designing and erecting the experimental setup.


Understanding how building components are assembled on site is a critical element of the education of an architect, so in the first phase of the work, students installed roof membranes under the guidance of an expert (Figure 1). Architectural education also involves learning how to design problems as well as solve them. With the help of faculty, graduate research assistants and grant-funded undergraduate students conducted a review of past studies on roof membrane environmental impact, investigated equipment components and their interaction, and planned and erected the experimental setup (Figure 2). Throughout the process, students approached the study as a design problem, placing a priority on orderly arrangement of components that will influence the project’s legibility, accuracy, and management. By participating in research, students are being directly exposed to inquiry focusing on crucial questions in the building industry.



Head ShotElizabeth Grant is an associate professor at the School of Architecture + Design. She teaches architectural design, environmental design research and environmental building systems, and is the Associate Director of the Center for High Performance Learning Environments. She has published in the Journal of Architectural Engineering, the Journal of Green Building, Interface, Home Energy Magazine, Revista AUS, and 2A: Architecture and Art; and presented at EAAE/ARCC, ACSA, ICBEST, and RCI conferences. As a registered architect, Grant’s experience includes healthcare, civic, and educational work. Her research, teaching, and outreach interests focus on environmental design, the building envelope, and building systems integration.