Students in a recently developed design class at the University of Cincinnati are meeting and working at the bottom of the university’s Olympic-sized pool.
It’s all part of a new Extreme Environments design course. The point of the underwater exercises is the same as that for any site visit: to first experience an environment and then design for it, according to Brian F. Davies, associate professor of architecture in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning and initiator of the Extreme Environments design class.
Archinect had a chance to talk to Davies, as well as to third-year architecture student Emma Scarmack who was a participating student.
Archinect: What type of real-world situations require underwater architecture, or do you foresee requiring underwater architecture in the future?
Brian Davies: One of this quarter’s students, Amanda Davidson, has positioned her floating residence as a remedy in case of either global warming or a new ice age. While I admire Amanda’s research and proposal, I hope neither force delivers the necessity for underwater architecture. Our foray into underwater architecture is motivated by a conviction to inspire greater respect for the planet and by opportunities to enable exploration and science that will contribute broader understanding to fuel such respect. This is not a new futurist architecture, rather more of an analogous reflection of where things are and where they should or need to be moving.
Emma Scarmack: Currently, real-world situations that require underwater architecture belong to research and scientific development of the unknown world. Most closely resembling space exploration. It seems very feasible that, in the future, we will rely on underwater architecture because, currently, we know more about space than we do about our own oceans. The need for requiring underwater architecture, however, might not happen in this generation’s lifetime, but just as space offers possibilities, so does the water, and we should start exploring and experimenting now.
Communicating the deployment sequence for the 'DAAP-I-SPHERE'. (Photo: Ashley Kempher/U. of Cincinnati)
A: Sustainability and environmental sensitivity is a big part of the process in design now. Are these concerns of similar importance in extreme environments? Are there any issues of sustainability that arise in extreme environments that may not be as important in typical environments?
BD: The greatest value of the extreme environments studio is as a brain-teaser for the interplay of design and environmental impact…life-cycle thinking is almost inherent, there is nothing to take for granted and few commonly held assumptions, nearly every decision "depends". How can the desired materials reach the intended location? There are no public utilities, nor services for power, water, waste…no transit system to conveniently convey food stocks, etc, etc, etc. So students have to consider passive energy systems and imagine alternative options. A colleague of mine at DAAP, Soo-shin Choi, and I had to run scenario after scenario and were greatly aided by students in anticipating the outcomes and impacts of design decisions in our first applied research effort in this area. These problems present the perfect studio project to imagine all the hypothetical "what if’s"! And that is the type of thinking that design education is better suited to than are other educational models…which is where I envision realizing the greatest opportunity.
ES: As designers it is our job to be knowledgeable and respectful of the impact structures, be it land, water, or space, have on the environment. The technology is here currently for us to be more conscious of built structures on land, but maybe not entirely there for underwater structures. It’s all apart of the process. It is important to do what we can and know so far as far as respecting environmental sensitivities, but there are still going to be a lot of pieces that won’t fit together yet.
Also, wave generation is such an abundant renewable resource that should be explored more thoroughly and put into use in our every day lives.
Negatively buoyant, ready for air. (Photo: Ashley Kempher/U. of Cincinnati)
A: What other forms of extreme environments interest you, or have become part of your own research?
BD: The college [DAAP] has a legacy in space exploration. As a matter of fact, a DAAP alumnus designed the NASA worm logo. And the college ran collaborative efforts prior to 1969 focused on space exploration. I am very content to live in the ocean for awhile though. I cannot even imagine all there is to see and learn.
ES: I am mostly intrigued with underwater architecture and using the ocean’s abundant resources as an area of research. I also find extreme issues of sustainability interesting, too, such as designing a house off the grid in areas such as New Mexico.
DAAP-I-SPHERE with sand-filled PVC base. (Photo: Lisa Ventre/U. of Cincinnati)
A: The formal aspect in the architecture of extreme environments must follow far behind the function. How much design creativity does a designer have in an extreme environment?
ES: Working in collaboration with an interior designer in the Extreme Environments studio Spring Quarter, we took the project very conceptually. We wanted to see what we could think of with all bets off. We wanted to redefine the definition of architecture for extreme environments. Would it work underwater? Probably not, but the idea was to get a foundation for something and hopefully one day be able to build upon the initial idea and form.
Ryan Cornsbruck and John Sebastion—second-year architecture. (Photo: Lisa Ventre/U. of Cincinnati)
A: What types of collaborations and consultations occur in the design of extreme environments?
BD: I have two answers. Not enough. And enormously rewarding ones. At the moment, we are enjoying the implications of both. Engineering has been the dominant discipline in designing for exploration and extreme environments in our lifetimes with design and architecture being newcomers. Yet supporting and sustaining human explorers has been a critical component of exploring extreme environments—which I hold central to the efforts of design and architecture…extreme or otherwise, simply enhancing life. And as aspirations for exploration increase so do the risks and strains and support needs. Bringing a human user focus to the complex matrix of criteria in designing for extreme environments…
Under the "enormously rewarding ones", the studio dynamic certainly counts. Because every decision warrants a second thought, the studio confers all the time and shares research even as they are advancing individual proposals. Last quarter (Spring 2008), many of the students elected to collaborate based on common interests in sea life or environmental issues and went on to negotiate formal proposals as a collective. And while diving, their lives are literally in each others guard. (Parents note: certified SCUBA instructors were present at all times!) That level of trust among a studio is a goal in itself! Companies value such team building environments at incredible rates and measures, and we obtain it as an outcome of the process.
ES: During the Extreme Design Studio, there were many collaborations/consultations between many more departments involved than originally anticipated. We had an ongoing collaboration between architects and interior designers. Occasionally, we would meet with industrial designers and transportation designers bringing to the table of discussion more of an understanding of ergonomics and human proportions. Also, we met occasionally with scientists who looked at our projects on a more practical scale, offering us input directly from experience. I can imagine that in "real world" applications, this process would involve even more collaborations.
A: Thank you very much for the interview.
The UC Extreme Environments design course ran through this summer. In August, the students submitted designs to France's "Archipelaego" competition in an effort to win the "Jacques Rougerie Architecture of the Sea Award." (Monsieur Rougerie visited the college from Paris in February 2007, and gave a very inspiring talk on his lifelong love of architecture and the sea.)
This less-than-two-minute video shows students trying to erect their framework shelter underwater, secure the base with weights, communicate while underwater, shrug off the challenge and, of course, wave to the camera.
Selected student projects from the Extreme Environments design class:
Emma Scarmack and Jennifer Moots: "Flatback Habitat: An Underwater Sea Turtle Research Facility" , collaborative proposal for a research habitat off Australia to study Flatback Turtles
John Rezsonya, third-year architecture, and John Ariosa, third-year transportation design: "Deep Search: Exploring the Unknown on our Own Planet" , project for an unmanned drone (this project was a cross-disciplinerary collaboration)
Sarosh Ali, Jason Rohal and Heather Vorst: "Cayo Costilla Resort: the Science & Economy of Ecology" , collaborative project for a hybrid resort/research station at the Belize Coral Reef.
"People have always had an interest to know more, to see greater things, and to experience them first hand. As technology increases rapidly so does our ability to progress. An underwater hotel and research facility combines the ever increasing possibilities. People who share a passion for underwater habitats can learn from each other and coexist with the life under the sea in our design. It will help preserve the pristine world below water by giving a renewed understanding and appreciation for it. By researching how to design for extreme environments, architects and interior designers can help make the transition into the new world." — Heather Vorst
Kelly Hogg: "Underwater Residence for the Near Future"
Brian F. Davies
Water matters. I grew up swimming, sailing, and fishing in Upstate New York on Lake Ontario and stayed in New York to attend Cornell University. Despite the time demands of studio education, I joined Cornell’s freshmen rowing team spending many pre-dawn mornings on Cayuga Lake. While earning a B.S. in Cornell’s Department of Design & Environmental Analysis, I spent a semester abroad in Sydney Australia and had the incredible opportunity of exploring the Great Barrier Reef. After graduating in 1991, I lived in San Francisco, worked in Miami Beach, returned to Cornell for a Masters degree in Interior Design, and recently taught interior architecture at the University of Oregon, all of which afforded engagement with beautiful marine environments. Immediately following my bachelors degree, I had interned with SOM in Chicago and enjoyed a 9th story view out over Lake Michigan.
And after all these places where I have lived, worked and studied in close proximity to great bodies of water, it is here in Cincinnati, Ohio, that my passion for architectural design and my respect for aquatic environments have coalesced into a curricular focus on designing for extreme environments.
Such are the opportunities at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning [DAAP], where upon joining the faculty in 2005 as an Associate Professor in the college’s School of Architecture and Interior Design [SAID], I was invited to collaborate with colleagues from industrial design, bio-medical design, and tele-surgery on an interior design project for an international, marine-research vessel (the outcome of which we hope to publicize in the near future). The diverse expertise and network of that collaboration enabled the offering of the studio “Design for Extreme Environments” which has catalyzed interior design and architecture students working together with external dive masters and UC faculty from medicine and psychology in addition to SAID faculty.
In educating designers and architects to create experiences and environments that maximize human emotion while minimizing impact on the natural environment the issues inherent in designing for extreme environments certainly contain lifelong lessons. Design matters.