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ArchiCAD behind innovative ‘Net Zero’ building in Maine

Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD drives innovative BrightBuilt Barn project by Kaplan Thompson Architects. “Net-Zero” design thrives in coastal Maine.


Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD BIM tool was behind an innovative BrightBuilt Barn project in coastal Maine. The project meant designing and constructing a building that produces more energy than it consumes and requires no furnace even on the coldest of mid-coastal Maine days. That challenge was met by the architecture firm of Kaplan Thompson Architects. It was a serious effort to develop new sustainable building techniques, then offer them for free to anyone interested in environmentally sound construction. 

BrightBuilt Barn

The BrightBuilt Barn project consisted of 700-square feet of structure with two bedroom/studio spaces and a loft heated by thermal solar. It’s “Net-Zero” design means that it will produce more electricity in a year than it will consume, and its flexible layout enables it to adapt to new users without consuming more energy and building materials. Kaplan Thompson Architects plans to post the recently completed building’s plans and final designs on the Web for free — a type of sustainable design version of the software world’s “open-source” development model. 

“We wanted to do something unique that met many innovative requirements for sustainability, affordability, replicability and what we call ‘disentanglement,’ of utilities and support systems” said Kaplan Thompson architect Phil Kaplan. “It’s a concept that the systems within the building are not completely intertwined, so they can be moved around with much greater flexibility than can be done with regular construction. That makes it easier to modify and add onto the structure.”

Deceptively simple from the outside, BrightBuilt Barn is packed with innovative materials, techniques and technologies. A prominent display panel and a external “skirt” around the building’s exterior enable owners to monitor its energy production. BrightBuilt’s external walls are 13 inches thick and made of 8 layers of insulating material. The walls include anywhere from 10 to 12 items to support disentanglement; a regular wall has about 5 items.

BrightBuilt Barn was built 90 percent offsite by Bensonwood Woodworking, a New Hampshire timber frame company known for energy efficient panelization process, and other building professionals. The precise specifications required to make BrightBuilt’s energy-efficient design work demanded close collaboration between Kaplan Thompson and Bensonwood. Kaplan Thompson used ArchiCAD to produce 3D BIM models of the building that visually communicated to Bensonwood the precise dimensions needed to make the building fit together as designed on the construction site in Rockport, Maine. The models showed every detail of BrightBuilt, down to how the sun would strike it for maximum solar energy production. 

“ArchiCAD enabled us to do shading and shadow studies we could see where windows were covered, where there was enough overhang or too much,” Kaplan said. “The site work had to mesh very closely with what happened at the factory. This wasn’t a site-built project, where the construction crew could just cut a new window if they needed one. Everything had to arrive at the site ready to go. With ArchiCAD, we could talk back and forth with Bensonwood in 3D mode through the BIM models.” 

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