Design-Build for High Schoolers

(via doggerel)

by Zach Mortice

ACE Design-Build Mentees in Chicago

ACE Design-Build Mentees in Chicago

On a hot, sunny August morning on Chicago’s West Side, Matt Snoap, an architect with the firm bKL, is putting more than a dozen high school and early college students in place for a groundbreaking photo op on one of the city’s many abandoned freight rail lines. But unlike a traditional groundbreaking ceremony, there’s no professional construction crew to take over after the shutter clicks.

“Shovels in the ground!” Snoap shouts. “Now start moving dirt!” These students truly will be the ones to build their project to completion — and soon. They have only seven days to construct a shaded pavilion they designed for an urban farm.

Snoap directs the design-build initiative of Chicago’s ACE Mentor Program, which pairs high school students around the nation with architecture, construction, and engineering professionals. Local chapters offer after-school programs in which students work on a simplified architectural design project, culminating in a final “client” presentation to a board of ACE judges. Chicago’s design-build program takes things a step further, selecting a community nonprofit and enlisting students to work with it.

ACE Design-Build Mentees in Chicago Making the Pavilion

ACE Design-Build Mentees in Chicago Making the Pavilion

ACE Chicago Executive Director Pat O’Connell, who coordinates the chapter’s mentors (mostly volunteers), said the program is a way to pay expertise forward. “It’s a true investment in the future of their industry.”

More than 90% of ACE Chicago mentees are minorities from low-income backgrounds. O’Connell said exposing formative minds from these communities to architecture and engineering builds up a sorely needed pipeline. In a world of increasing diversity, these fields have remained demographically static. Only 18% of all licensed architects are women, and just 9% are minorities, according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. The engineering community faces similar challenges: in 2011, the US Census Bureau reported that only 3.8% of civil engineers were African American, 7.2% Hispanic, and 13% female.

Mentee Presentation

Mentee Presentation

Both the after-school and design-build programs focus on building social capital rather than technical knowledge. Students learn about the basic functions of architects, engineers, and builders, improve their presentation skills, and practice working in a team; in the design-build track, they also get to construct what they design. There are some pretty significant material benefits as well: ACE Chicago has given out 139 internships and almost $1,300,000 in scholarships over its 16-year history.

Finished Pavilion

Finished Pavilion

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Buildings that Grow, Breathe and Burn Calories

(by Zach Mortice via OZY)

Buildings That Grow, Breathe and Burn Calories – Zach Mortice

Last fall at an exhibition in Chicago, something was pumping and hissing. Twenty-two tanks, all in a stack, filled with water and framed in wood. Weird art? But clearly it was some kind of wall system. So … weird architecture? And getting closer doesn’t clarify matters.

The name of this oddity: “Amphibious Envelope,” a project by David Benjamin of The Living. In each tank, there are aquatic plants, snails and a small frog. Triggered by motion sensors, the tanks suck in air. Stand back, and when oxygen levels in the water are depleted and the frogs surface to breathe, motion sensors trigger the inhalation of air — yeah, just like breathing. The frogs are acting as living sensors, and the resulting inhalation of air through the water weeds out particulate matter and other junk.


And it’s way more than a high-tech party trick — it’s part of a radical frontier in thinking about architecture, namely in how buildings of the future will function.

There’s a growing consensus that it’s time to tear down the strict division between “inside” and “outside”; to let light, breezes and data pass through the borders of buildings. Some say that tomorrow’s buildings won’t be hermetically sealed off from their environment. Rather, their environment will be co-opted to make them more efficient and sustainable. Designers have begun to shift from systems that mitigate carbon emissions to ones that actively produce positive environmental benefits. “Sometimes you want to be one with [the environment],” says Ihab Elzeyadi, an architecture professor at the University of Oregon who runs the FIT Lab, which tests facade systems. “Sometimes you want to amplify it. Sometimes you want to reduce it.”

Driven to create more energy-efficient buildings, architects are finding all kinds of ways for the outside surfaces of buildings to regulate interior temperatures and humidity. They’re sussing out ways to generate energy that make solar panels look as old-school as window panes — and they’ve got ideas for controlling breezes and ventilation a lot more nuanced than hand-operated windows. Buildings are already measuring their own energy usage, water usage and interior environmental quality. From here, the sky’s the limit … kind of literally.

For one thing, who says walls and building exteriors have to feel hard, like solid ground, to do their job? Geoffrey Thun and research partner Kathy Velikov, architecture professors at the University of Michigan, are researching a mechanical system called Responsive Pneumatics that’s examining ways to make buildings soft. All you cold-weather dwellers, picture your favorite parka: Their system uses air-filled membranes as interlocking, structural elements. Sensors detect environmental conditions and pipe air into plastic membranes, inflating or deflating them to vary the amount of air that can pass through the facade and vary the amount of thermal insulation. “You can inflate the buildings like a puffy coat in the winter, and then can you deflate parts and allow air to pass through in the spring when you don’t need so much insulation,” says Velikov.

Thun and Velikov expect this research to lead to buildings than can lean and twist in order to better regulate their internal environment. Imagine a building leaning westward toward the afternoon sun to gather up a bit more heat that keeps the hot yoga class inside at a balmy 98 degrees.
Schools involved: