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Researching solutions for the future of architecture

May 16, 2017 - Carolyn Gonzales

From incorporating nature into buildings, to assessing the marketable value of different designs, students at The University School of Architecture & Planning (SA&P) are researching ways to better society through planning.

Students in the research methods course recently presented proposals for independent studios or Fulbright research awards. Many faculty, staff and practitioners asked the students about their research topics and goals for their research.

 “This is their first substantial step in defining their research topics and methods,” said their professor Mark Childs, associate dean for research in SA&P.

Using Nature’s Systems in Buildings
Landscape architecture student Darby Prendergast focused on sustainable design, but looked beyond the realm of vegetation -- to economics, ecology and culture. His work aims at understanding what part buildings play in landscape.  

“Think of how much water is used in buildings,” he said. “17 percent of water use is in buildings – from bathrooms and kitchens in homes to homes swamp coolers. Larger scale buildings consume vast amounts of water, as well.”

Prendergast looked at different learning strategies employed through biomimicry, or designing structures and systems modeled on biological systems.

“By observing nature, we can translate biological systems into an architectural response,” he said. “The redwood tree stores and filters and can move water and nutrients up the height of the tree,” Prendergast said.

The trees can grow as tall as 350 feet and can be more than four feet in diameter and live for upwards of 2000 years. Prendergast believes researchers can push the envelope of what’s possible, to create diagrams and images representing those possibilities.

Apple ID
Among the students is Joshwa Hernandez, whose research focused on Apple Inc. stores. His question explored the architecture of the stores and whether or not it helped or hindered their brand or products.

“Steve Jobs was an eccentric guy. When people buy Apple products, they not only purchase the device, but the Apple lifestyle. There is a certain amount of vanity associated with it,” Hernandez said, noting that he uses a Samsung phone. He says not only are the products branded, but the stores themselves are too.

Boom years for Apple stores were between 2001 and 2007.

“There are now almost 500 stores all over the world,” Hernandez said, adding that word of mouth has provided a powerful message about the company.

Community Engagement and the Built Environment
Architecture student Adriana Oñate sees opportunity to engage the community through the built environment.

“Pedestrians can engage with their surroundings through art and sculpture,” she said, adding that she wants to create an installation that incorporates technology to create a better sense of community and place.

“Through technology and the use of social media, we can create virtual water ripples activated by motion, screens and touch,” Oñate said. She said that the system could run with different human parameters, anytime, anywhere.

Floating Cities 
As humans spread wider and more densely across the globe, Adriana Casas is exploring disaster relief.

“I am interested in response to natural disasters in coastal cities as the population grows, specifically in the buildings,” she said.

Her aim is to explore causes and impacts of natural disasters, which include human urbanization and a lack of filtration as causes. The impact is destruction of infrastructure and water contamination.

Areas Casas has explored are London’s Floating VillageNew York’s Big Sponge and Netherlands’ Controlled Flood (included in link, above).

“Some areas look at evacuating some lands, assessing coastal cities’ risks and prevention,” Casas said.

She added that using ideas from one location could be beneficial in another.

Housing People Post Disaster
Prasad Ramchandra Kamte is exploring architecture as a cultural activist. He studied plate tectonics in the regions of China, India and Cambodia – or the areas where the Indian and Eurasian plates come together to create an earthquake-prone region.

“With more than 60 percent of the world’s population living in this region, the danger of catastrophic injuries and death is high,” Kamte said. “Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has developed a method for creating housing with recycled cardboard tubes to create ‘log’ houses quickly and efficiently. Earthquakes don’t kill people. Buildings do.”

This is just a sampling of the many and varied projects the students presented.

 “Good architectural design can and should address a wide range of issues,” Childs said. “Building the discipline’s capacity to use evidence-based design is critical to our future.  I hope this class is a strong step in developing that capacity.”