35 minutes from alarm to gate this morning…Charlotte’s legendary traffic isn’t nearly as impressive at 5:00am. A good day yesterday reviewing projects at UNC-Charlotte. Our programs have been nicely hybridized over the last ten years or so–we’ve traded faculty and made enough connections that there’s been a good bit of healthy sharing, and it’s been nice to get out here for the first time in a few years and review Comprehensive Design projects for former colleague Chris Beorkrem.
(I meant, of course, Integrated Design. NAAB’s change in nomenclature is significant, and it represents a shift in what this accreditation requirement means…no longer do students have to show mastery of every technical detail, they have to show that they understand how various systems interact and how a holistic approach to engineering, construction, function, climate, life safety, etc. needs to account for each of these. This isn’t without controversy, but it jibes very well with what we’ve emphasized at ISU. Specialists do the math, we do the orchestrating, and while you need to anticipate what sort of solutions the number crunching is going to give you, we need to get it 90% right to begin with. And, since a 15-week project isn’t really any more than schematic design, it’s getting to this 90% that’s most important–not drilling down and getting one or two systems 100% right and having no time to think about the rest. Soapbox being put back in its place).
Anyway. A lot of 90% being done right in Prof. Beorkrem’s graduate studio review yesterday. By happy coincidence, they’ve been working on a high rise in downtown Charlotte that’s a similar scale as, and on a similar site to our Seattle project, so it felt very comfortable sliding into their world. As you can see, they’ve emphasized all the usual elements–structure, cladding (this one’s got a Ned Kahn-inspired fluttering wind screen). But Chris also asked them to incorporate some parametric aspect into the processes, so there were interesting forms that came about as results of programming, solar, and circulatory responses. What your data come up with are often richer and more interesting than anything that comes out of your aesthetic instincts…but it takes those instincts to make sense of the data. Lessons worth repeating.
UNCC has had an incredible decade and a half or so. It’s gone from being a commuter school to being a powerhouse of design, computation, and fabrication (one of the world’s few degrees in motorsports engineering, e.g.), and any visit means seeing what the new toys are. Robot arm? Check. They live and breathe the philosophy that these are studio toys, though, not lab toys, so instead of being locked away in a clean room the cutters, routers, robot arms, and high-end processors are all in the same suite of rooms that double as classrooms and studios. So students get familiar with the equipment on a day-to-day basis instead of having to run across campus to have a grad assistant run their models for them. As a result, there are some really innovative projects going on, including this one that produced precisely deformed steel sheets by having the robot arm draw with a ball-bearing ‘finger.’ With very carefully calibrated differences in pressure the arm slowly, patiently presses the sheet into forms that could be ornamental, or could stiffen curtain wall panels, etc., etc. Pretty stuff, and nicely complemented by morning reviews of projects in a combined design/computation master’s program that looked at software and hardware ‘nudges’ to change energy-intensive behaviors.
Oh, and the reviews were held in their fifth year graduate suite, housed in the brand new Kieran Timberlake satellite campus downtown, pictured above. Every hip school in the U.S. these days is building a new KT building, of course…