Challenging architecture students to construct habitations on Mars teaches sustainability on Earth, but also encourages professional ambitions on an interplanetary scale.
“When I first took the course, I thought it was more about applying architectural design principles on earth, but now... I am starting to hope this will work on Mars.”
It’s not an aspiration you hear every day from a fourth year architecture student at AUB, but read on and you’ll see Mohamad Nahle is talking complete sense.
This Spring Term, in a long-term collaboration with the Harvard Business School Aerospace Alumni Group (HBSAAG), the AUB Department of Architecture and Design in the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture is offering its first course on design for survival on Mars.
Architecture students are required to take a ‘Vertical Design Studio’ course in their third and fourth years of the program. Different Studios are offered, each devoted to a specific theme and methodology to expose students to diverse issues, techniques, and design approaches. Students can select studios on Innovation, Urbanism, Installation, and now… Mars.
The initial stage focuses on the design of shelters and colonies on the “Red Planet”, which is a subject of interest and exploration by space agencies and private sectors globally. The course could be a starting point to establishing AUB as an academic aerospace research platform, offering useful material to the aerospace community which will be engaged in the design and funding of implementing the proposals.
“The likes of NASA, the European space agency, and the private sector will look into students’ projects to decide if is feasible to take on Mars,” said Maher Ezzeddine, HBSAAG President. “We wanted to bridge the gap between entrepreneurship and students’ creativity […] and I definitely see innovation in the education system at AUB. The students here have passion and this is why we chose to partner with AUB.”
The students presented their work last Friday at a review: Sketches, modules, and presentations of innovative proposals in search for pre-existing structures that would require less energy and are sustainable in themselves.
Fourth year student Ghida Shehab was inspired by insects and spiders to come up with her proposal of a flexible shelter that can be stacked when not deployed. The cocoon of a butterfly gave the idea of a textile structure, a greenhouse exterior, or rings that are suspended by cables and can be twisted to minimize space and facilitate shipping.
Motion, material, time, and space, interacted in the students’ designs; pendulums, inflatable structures, scissor structures, dismantled shell interiors, and cargo and rocket parts were experimented with for the best use of space and material.
The students are not only coming up with original proposals for sustainable housing on Mars, but they also linked the knowledge they gained to arrive at a sustainable, better life for all, on earth.
Associate Professor Karim Najjar who teaches this course, also works on developing high-performance, affordable, space-efficient, climate-responsive, sustainable structures for refugees.
“[The two projects] are very similar because they have to be really efficient and deployable and use natural resources because all the related industries are lacking. This makes what we do here very applicable.”
Like many courses at AUB, this is intended as a multidisciplinary one. It hopes to bring in the principles of physics and biology, design and engineering, agriculture and health, and even psychology as it looks into the long-term psychological wellbeing of humans living on Mars. It is not only about designing shelters that work mechanically, issues such as color and perception of space are also considered.
According to Dr. Raffi Tchakerian, an industrial designer specialized in design for the Aerospace sector working with the students, with the growing entrepreneurial space industry and interest of private companies such as Space X and Google in Mars, it is time for people other than engineers – such as designers and architects – to engage in the human-friendly design of environments suitable for human livelihood in space.
A course that some students expected to be a relaxing flight of fancy has turned out to be a challenge for them to come up with ideas and modules for shelters that are sustainable in all conditions, deployable, efficient, and made of economically and climactically affordable material.
“Looking into the relationship of space, functions, and efficiency will train our students to be very good architects who can respond to all conditions,” said Dr. Karim Najjar. “This is what architects should do: To be able to respond to certain conditions and problematics and come with innovative solutions.”