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Shadow hunting: ASU urban climatologist helps us keep our cool

ASU prof maps campus to find the shadiest route.
Shade can make you feel up to 18 degrees cooler, ASU urban climatologist says.
May 30, 2017

Ariane Middel builds mobile weather station to map the most comfortable route through campus on a hot summer day

In an Arizona summer, the best parking spot is not the one by the door. It’s the one a quarter-mile away under a tree.

Ariane Middel, Arizona State University urban climatologist and hunter of shadows, knows this and has created a method to show us a cool way through the shade.

Middel, an assistant research professorMiddel is also a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and on the honors faculty at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a faculty affiliate of the Urban Climate Research Center, has developed a tool that will someday show pedestrians the shadiest — and hence coolest — route to their destinations. It also will tell planners and architects where they should throw shade.

She and a team of computer scientists used high-resolution Google Earth images to generate 180-degree “fish-eye” views to calculate whether a specific location would be in the sun or shade during a certain time of day. It’s a big-data approach that seizes upon Middel’s research.

Two years ago, she led a study to investigate thermal comfort at the university’s student union in Tempe. She and her team found that shade was the most important factor for comfort. Shade can make you feel up to 18 degrees cooler, while air temperature might only vary by 5 degrees. That got her interested in studying shade further.

“Keeping cool and staying comfortable is really difficult here in the desert in summer,” Middel said. “Out of all the variables that determine how comfortable you feel, shade is the most important factor, more important than air temperature, relative humidity, even the clothing that you’re wearing. Shade is the most important factor. That led me to look into the impact of shade on your thermal comfort when you’re outdoors.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

The issue with shade is that it “travels” during the day, depending on the position of the sun. If you look at a north-south urban canyon, you will have shade from the building to the east in the morning, almost no shade at noon, and shade to the west in the afternoon. Middel wanted to look at the distribution of shade on campus and also assess the implications for thermal comfort.

To do it, Middel built a mobile weather station. (She calls it a mean radiant temperature cart. It looks somewhat like WALL-E.) Using the cart, Middel generated fish-eye views for the Tempe campus (one view every 5 yards) and then calculated thermal comfort for two times of day, 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., for a hot summer day last August.

“To make sure that the outputs from the model that we develop make sense, we have to ‘validate’ the outputs using real-world measurements,” she said. “I built a mobile platform that can measure thermal comfort (using three net radiometers that, simply put, measure the direct sunlight and the heat from surfaces that hit the human body from all sides).”

The next step was using the thermal comfort maps to find the most comfortable route from the Brickyard building on Mill Avenue to the Memorial Union. The algorithm suggested a more shaded route — longer than a direct route, but with much more shade.

“What we found measuring thermal comfort using the mean radiant temperature cart last summer was that thermal comfort varies a lot on campus,” Middel said. “It varies much more than air temperature.

“Mean radiant temperature, or thermal comfort, can be up to 60 degrees Celsius in the sun, but then it’s only 30 degrees Celsius in the shade. This is how you would feel this temperature as opposed to the air temperature you get from the weather report. There’s a huge variation due to trees, shade from buildings, shade from overhangs, different surface materials — all of this can be measured using this cart.”

Knowing the thermal comfort conditions at a very fine scale can be very helpful to architects and planners. It can be used in urban planning to assess whether an area has enough shade or maybe needs more shade.

University landscape architect Byron Sampson constantly hears pleas for more shade on campus. A tool like Middel is developing would be very useful to him, he said.

“If the interface will let the user know the shadiest route, we can learn where interventions need to take place and predict pedestrian movement through the university during different seasons,” Sampson said. “The paths do change and evolve over time.  As we look at the form of the built and open spaces in terms of development, we should be able to influence the architectural form to increase the shaded routes in areas where trees cannot be used to do the same.”

ASU urban climatologist Ariane Middel

This and top photo: ASU urban climatologist Ariane Middel uses her mean radiant temperature cart to measure thermal comfort of different spots on campus. Photos by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

As the Phoenix metro area becomes more urban and densities increase, shade will become the asset an area is judged by, Sampson said.

“If you look at the older neighborhoods with large trees (hint: more shade), the property values seem to be higher and stable,” he said. “This could also be a means to have interventions in poorer areas to increase the comfort level and significantly reduce the heat island in the Valley.”

Development on the tool continues. Middel has been using an existing thermal comfort model to translate the fish-eye information into thermal comfort. The model isn’t suited for large areas, because it only works for one fish-eye photo at a time.

“We are currently developing our own outdoor thermal comfort model,” she said. “Once working, (it) will be able to calculate thermal comfort at street level for any city where Google Street View data and basic weather station data are available.”

As Shakespeare said in “A Merchant of Venice,” “Some there be that shadows kiss; Such have but a shadow’s bliss.”


Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News


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Artist uses taxidermy, bones and more to bring exhibit to life

May 30, 2017

ASU Art Museum features Mexico-based artist Gabriel Rico for his US debut using objects from School of Life Sciences

Neon and taxidermy animals usually scream gun shop, feed store or Arizona honky-tonk.

This time it says art.

“Art can be anything — good taste, bad taste, avant-garde, digital — it’s just material,” said Gabriel Rico a Mexico-based multimedia artist making his U.S. debut this week at the ASU Art Museum in Tempe.

“An illusion to create all kinds of possibilities.”

The 36-year-old artist has created many illusions and possibilities in his new show, “DEAD, DEAD, LIVE, DEAD,” which will open June 10 and remain up through Sept. 2.

An opening reception will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 1, with Rico present. The event is free and open to the public.

For Rico’s first museum exhibition in the United States, he has borrowed objects from ASU’s Life Sciences program to create a one-of-a-kind installation. He uses materials such as taxidermy animals, bones, pelts, neon, projection, ceramic plates and other objects to address the relationship between nature, architecture and the future ruins of civilization.

It sounds a bit esoteric, but there’s also lots of humor and absurdity in Rico’s work. Don’t be surprised if you see an entranced fox sitting and staring at a hole in the wall, a formation of small birds outlining a 3-D box or a fowl clutching fruit above a Coke bottle.

“It’s playful and it’s fun, but there’s a lot of surrealism and still-life influences from the 16th and 17th centuries in his work,” said Julio Cesar Morales, ASU Art Museum curator. “He’s one of the best artists of his generation coming out of Mexico.”

Rico is visiting the Valley as part of an international artist residency and cultural exchange between the cities of Phoenix and Guadalajara, Jalisco, organized by the ASU Art Museum, the CALA AllianceCALA stands for Celebacion Artistica de las Americas, and is a non-profit organization that creates shared arts experiences that encourage cultural understanding between people of the Americas. and Programa Annual de Open Studios in Mexico.

Called the GDL-PHX Residencias Artisticas, it will offer fully sponsored residencies to artists from Guadalajara to travel and work in Phoenix, and to Latino/a artists from Phoenix to travel and work in Guadalajara.

The goal is to provide opportunities for artists to grow their creative practice, experiment with new approaches and create a dialogue between Phoenix and Guadalajara to foster deeper cultural and artistic knowledge, according to CALA Alliance Curator Casandra Hernandez.

“There are many parallels between the cities and arts communities of Guadalajara and Phoenix,” Hernandez said. “Both cities are thriving, growing and culture flows out of these two places.”

She added that both cities are sometimes ignored in favor of their larger metropolitan counterparts — Mexico City and Los Angeles — despite the fact that Guadalajara and Phoenix boast thriving arts and culture scenes.

In conjuction with his installation, Rico will also present “Muero Vivo” at 6 p.m. June 1 at the ASU Art Museum Project Space in downtown Phoenix. For that exhibit, Rico selected insects from ASU’s Hasbrouck Insect Collection to be displayed with his sculpture and video work.

Woman in front of wooden structure

Phoenix-based artist Estrella Payton is one of the first participants in GDL-PHX Residencias Artisticas, a residency program between the cities of Phoenix and Guadalajara, Jalisco. She will head to Guadalajara on June 25 to begin her five-week residency. 

Three weeks after Rico’s two exhibitions open to the public, Phoenix-based artist Estrella Payton will be headed to Guadalajara on June 25 to begin her five-week residency as part of the GDL-PHX Residencias Artisticas program.

“I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the city’s colonial history and seeing how that will influence and develop my work,” said Payton, an interdisciplinary artist who explores the use of building materials, constructed spaces, movement, map-making, text and collage.

“I’m going to make as much of the experience as I can.”

Top photo: Artist-in-residence Gabriel Rico looks at pictures on his phone for reference as he installs his show “DEAD, DEAD, LIVE, DEAD,” at the ASU Art Museum on May 25. Rico’s exhibit mimics realistic still-life paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. He is has borrowed objects from ASU’s Life Sciences program such as taxidermy animals and bones. No animals were harmed for the exhibit. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now