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GSAPP Incubator Prize Spring Presentations

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February 7, 2020
Event Recap

The GSAPP Incubator Spring Presentations event featured talks by the 2019-2020 Incubator Prize receipts followed with a discussion moderated by Assistant Professor David Benjamin. The event was entirely virtual; speakers called in remotely to the venue to reduce their carbon footprint.

The presentation focused on the progress of six awarded projects. The variety of the work displayed a multiplicity of design approaches that collectively bridged together critical discourse and active practice.

“Hempcrete for Cities” by Greta Hansen (‘09 MArch)
The Hempcrete for Cities project explores the potential of hempcrete as a ecological and carbon negative alternative to concrete in the urban environment. Hansen, co-founder of the architecture practice Wolfgang & Hite, explains that they face many obstacles which include urban municipalities exclusion of the use of plant based building materials. She asks “…. has modernism’s vilification of vernacular craft blind-sided us to essential carbon negative building traditions?”. Hansen presents comparative studies and tests of how this material can be translated to meet current NYC building codes. She uses the parameters of this translation to create an exhibition consisting of a series of modular hempcrete blocks that provoke the imaginative possibilities of what a future New York City exterior can be. In the next steps of the research, Hansen plans, in collaboration with engineers, to test the material at the national level to gain approval for its use.

“Weaving for Nature” by Dan Luo (‘14 MArch)
The Weaving for Nature project translates traditional techniques of bamboo weaving into a digital workflow through the creation of an algorithmic system. Luo, doctoral candidate in Engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, presents her construction of a three meter high semi-sphere spatial framework prototype that utilizes low-cost connection techniques and displays the projects ability to now shift into larger scales. She states “…..[the prototype] probed the visibilities and structural validities of the entire design-build system”. In the next steps of the project, Lou plans to further expand this system to see how it will perform in a larger and in a more free-form manner to respond to design intent, nature, and local conditions of confirmed rural sites in China.

“Inter Institute” by Eugenia Manwelyan (‘11 MSUP)
The Inter Institute project reimagines a site located in the rural Catskills region of New York, as a multidisciplinary center for art and ecology. Manwelyan,co-founder of Eco Practicum desk-free school for arts and ecology, explains that through feasibility studies and community based engagement that they sought to change their initial site. It was discovered that the client was more interested in the aesthetics of art and ecology rather than development of institution that reflects the democartic and ethical values they aim to share. She explains“There is a danger of playing to the aesthetics of sustainability and rather than sustainability itself”. In the next steps of the project, Manwelyan aims to continue with the community based design process and to have a draft of an architectural design for the project soon.

“Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab” by Adam Marcus (‘05 MARCH)
The Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab project conducts research into ecologically productive floating structures as a form of sea level rise adaptation. Marcus, founder of the architecture, design, and research practice Variable Projects, presents new modular vertical ecological “columns” that are deployed underneath the float lab to conduct material studies. He states “gradation of geometry can create graduated habitats”. These columns are to be monitored over the next few months by a team of divers to record ecological changes. In the next steps of the project, Marcus will be using simulation design to envision a large scale cluster of float labs that act as a breakwater to mitigate coastal erosion of the shore.

“Irradiated Shade” by Stephen Mueller (‘06 MSAAD)
The irradiated shade project develops a means of uncovering, representing, and designing for the unseen dangers of irradiated shade in the borderlands of Mexico and the United States. Mueller, co-founder of the collaborative and interdisciplinary practice AGENCY, discovers the deficiencies of available spatial shading data of the borderlands. In response, he develops a comprehensive building model that better physically computes areas of shade surpluses and deficits. In addition, Mueller creates a spherical mapping projection algorithm that scans and masks obstructions onto a sky dome. This form of representation conveys the amount of UVB radiation an individual is exposed to at any point of the city. He states “masked sky domes are at once a representation of the visibility index from ony point but also a representation of an optimized form for protecting against uvb”. In the next steps of the project, Mueller aims to further develop this tool as a standalone plugin for designers and plans to further develop shaded structures for deployment in selected sites.

Food Security in the Fertile Crescent” by Anahid Simitian (‘15 MSAAD)
The Food Security in the Fertile Crescent project develops a community center that brings together locals and refugees through the growing of CWRs (Crop Wild Relative) in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Simitian, co-founder of the firm Officina Aberta, recently met with a farmer’s coop in January in order to understand the community and site in which she plans to build. She presents a design for a durable and reusable community-based architecture that contains agricultural, educational and commercial entities. Simitian explains “The project is an architectural intervention as it responds to mitigate climate by giving nature and CWR a safe space and providing neglected agrarian communities with a platform to revitalize their economic standing in the current regional landscape” In the next steps of the project, Simitian plans on further developing the design and construction of the community center. She states the construction of this experimental prototype will give the user feedback needed to expand the project throughout the fertile crescent.

In the discussion that followed, David Benjamin brought up the conversation of “climate commitments”. He explained that GSAPP will be hosting an event later this term that aims to bring together architecture and institutions to discuss larger commitments that need to be made in the profession moving forward. Given the topic of the prize, he asked the recipients if they have made any commitments or would like to challenge others to make any commitments. In response, Individuals gave retrospective accounts of how they have dealt with “clean” funding, energy efficiency, advocacy and other ways in which they have approached architecture in a more ethical way. The discussion continued with Benjamin asking how we can incorporate these ideals into the current trajectory of the GSAPP curriculum. He provoked the idea of a school of climate or a degree dedicated specifically to environmental issues. He concluded with a call to develop these ideas into a radical academic transformation that can position the profession tackle critical issues of today.

The GSAPP Incubator was founded by Dean Amale Andraos to provide recent graduates with a collaborative environment to explore new ideas and projects at the intersection of culture, technology and the city. It blends professional settings and a culture of entrepreneurship with the communal creative energy and rigorous discourse experienced by students during their time at GSAPP. This academic year, GSAPP Incubator Prize awarded six alumni prizes of $10,000 to advance their projects and support new forms of engaged practice through a workshop and subsequent presentation led by the director of the incubator prize, David benjamin.
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