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Students challenged to push the boundaries during Sustainable Design Week
10/6/2017
Jennifer Muller  |  Office of Communications  |  media@aub.edu.lb  | 
Four well-known international figures in the field of architecture and design came to participate in the Sustainable Design Week conference held by the Department of Architecture and Design in the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, October 4–6, 2017. Over three days, the visitors delivered workshops to students and engaged in stimulating roundtable discussions, ending the week with a public presentation of student projects. 

This model of integrating workshops with the conference started last year and was well received by all participants. It offers an opportunity for the students to work closely with architectural and design professionals coming from different contexts, with novel ideas about sustainability.

“You always learn from someone you don’t know and who has different horizons,” said fourth-year architecture student Careen Matta, remarking on the Sustainable Design Week. “You get their experience, their point of view, and you learn more. It’s basically a crash course on sustainable design.”

Now in its third year, this workshop and conference is aimed primarily at third-year students in the department, but other interested students and faculty are encouraged to take part. This year’s theme was focused on “sustaining the dialogue” among the many disciplines that play a role in shaping the built environment. Professor Aram Yeretzian, who organized the conference along with Professor Ghazal Abbasy, explained this year’s theme.

“More and more, this issue of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work and research is becoming very needed and very efficient in solving problems,” Yeretzian told us. “The whole thing is about sustaining the dialogue. We want ideas to be challenged, we want to address and investigate alternative thinking.”

Workshops took place over the first two days of the conference, with students working in groups with the guest educators. The visitors gave the students a theme or topic related to sustainable design and worked with them directly as they tackled their projects. One of the guests was David Benjamin, founder and principal of the award-winning design firm The Living in New York City.  Benjamin told us about the unconventional design concept that he put to students in the workshop.

“The students and I are going to explore an expanded definition of sustainability through grown materials. Instead of keeping the living out of architecture—which has been the goal of most architects for most of history—we might start bringing the living into architecture, including growing the building blocks of our buildings and cities. One example is growing bricks from agricultural waste and the root-like structure of mushrooms. This offers possibilities for building materials and supply chains with almost no waste, no embodied energy, and no carbon emissions,” explained Benjamin.

After the daytime workshops, the visitors joined faculty from different disciplines at AUB to have roundtable discussions followed by an extensive Q&A session meant to “generate interactive debate for the students,” according to Yeretzian. 

The first roundtable’s theme was “urban scale” and included David Benjamin along with Jose Luis Vallejo, whose Madrid firm Ecosistema Urbana is focused on urban social design. The second roundtable explored sustainability from the “building scale,” looking at the dynamic interface between climate and buildings. This discussion engaged Swiss architect Philippe Rahm, whose prize-winning international work extends the field of architecture from the physiological to the meteorological, as well as Bernhard Sommer, who teaches and researches in the field of Energy Design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.

Bernhard Sommer, whose Exicon practice works to integrate engineering skills into the architectural design process, explained that one of his reasons for traveling to AUB for this conference was that “science needs exchange and an international perspective.” He also told us that he wanted the students in his workshop to “learn to design ‘abstract’; like painters learned to paint abstract.”

To close out the Sustainable Design Week, students had the opportunity to share the projects they completed in the workshops and learn from each other. Coming at the beginning of the term, the idea is that this crash course on sustainable design will inform and inspire their learning throughout the semester.
Story Highlights
  • ​​​​Four well-known international figures in the field of architecture and design came to participate in the Sustainable Design Week conference held by the Department of Architecture and Design in the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, October 4–6, 2017.
  • Over three days, the visitors delivered workshops to students and engaged in stimulating roundtable discussions, ending the week with a public presentation of student projects.
 
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