QUARTZ

Aug 2015 – Aug 2016   

 The online portal for the Quartz database at  quartzproject.org/q .

The online portal for the Quartz database at quartzproject.org/q.

 
 

Quartz is an open database

(not to be confused with qz.com) that catalogues the health and environmental impacts for 102 of the most common building products used within our built environment. Developed through a partnership between Flux, Google, thinkstep, and Healthy Building Network (HBN), the Quartz Project seeks to drive market transformation towards less toxic, lower-impact materials by promoting the transparency of material composition.

While at Flux, I worked on the project as the database and quality engineer during the database's construction, as well as, the application engineer after its completion.

 

The Database

The database was built and hosted with neo4j, a graph database technology that allowed us to organize and store the research performed by HBN and thinkstep in an easily understandable and searchable way. As the research teams completed data collection and standardization of a given building product, I added new nodes and relationships to the database encoding the product's description, chemical composition, byproducts, and environmental and health impacts. Below is a screenshot of how a product might be represented in neo4j.

The red node in the center stores the product name and description, the teal nodes represent the different components of the product, and the pink nodes store the data sources from which we retrieved the product compositions.

 

QUARTZPROJECT.ORG

Once all 102 building products were catalogued and reviewed for accuracy, the Quartz team launched a free online portal for people to access the database. The portal was unveiled in November of 2015 on the Greenbuild conference stage, drawing significant attention from the architecture, engineering, and construction community. Read the Quartz team's blog about the project here and here, or press coverage of the initiative here.

 
 Quartz team members staff our exhibit at the 2015 Greenbuild Conference in DC.

Quartz team members staff our exhibit at the 2015 Greenbuild Conference in DC.

 

 

The Application

After the launch of quartzproject.org, I began building a separate application for building designers to use our data. It allowed them to conduct whole-building health and environmental analyses during early-stage design.

Although other softwares exist to conduct whole building assessments, they are all restricted to evaluating late-stage designs, at which point most of the decisions have already been made. By giving designers the ability to analyze buildings earlier in the design process, the Quartz application could become a powerful decision-making tool for enabling healthier and more sustainable decisions.

In the initial prototype, I used Excel for the user interface and Flux, our company's cloud-based software, for the back-end computation.

In the initial application prototype, I designed a simple user interface in Excel. Users could enter information about their building design into the spreadsheet and send those inputs to Flux, using the Flux plugin for Excel.

Once Flux was done calculating the whole building health and environmental impacts, the Excel plugin would output the results back into the spreadsheet. The results were visualized in charts for readability. 

To overcome technical limitations and improve usability of the initial prototype, I rebuilt the application for the web using HTML, CSS, and Javascript during a week-long company hackathon.

Using the web-based Quartz application, users could load in a building model and tag its layers with materials from the database. The application would then compute the health and environmental impacts of the building and visualize the results in a chart.

Material assignment options saved on the Design page could be compared with one another to make more informed building product choices. I ran out of time during the hackathon to fully implement the Compare page, but each column would have displayed a heat map of the impacts overlaid on the building model and the corresponding results chart upon selection of a saved option.

Users could consult a description of the Quartz building products at anytime under the Quartz DB tab.

I ultimately wasn't able to finish implementing certain features, but the app provided a proof-of-concept for the Quartz team to build off of in the future. View the code on github, and watch the explainer video of the app below. (Excuse the crappy hackathon quality.)