Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Welcome to the studio. This is a description of the course:

The cells in the skin of the human body have the capacity to transform sunlight into vitamin D, an essential nutrient to our thriving and growing. Without it our skeletal system deteriorates, and bones become weak. Certain plants have the ability to ‘breathe’ light as we breathe air. Photosynthesis is a metabolic pathway that uses light to translate carbon dioxide into nourishing organic compounds, releasing oxygen as waste. The class will look at the capacity of the skin of a building to harness light and nourish life within, resulting in case studies for a new building typology: the vertical farm.

Taking as a point of departure the sun tunnels developed by VELUX to deliver daylight to interior spaces efficiently and cost-effectively, the studio will begin with full-scale constructions of a device for light sited in the former mill building that now houses the RISD architecture school. Working in teams at existing skylight and window locations in the building, students will measure and manipulate the daylight present. They will construct full-scale installations that transform the physical and ephemeral aspects of the sun as it enters the building from the side (through windows) and from above (through skylights). They will verify their observations through photography and drawings, and the devices themselves will be rigorously tested and documented in detailed studies and working drawings.

Building on the concepts and physical manipulations of light established in the first exercise, the remainder of the semester will be spent investigating an underutilized 19th c. mill building in Providence. Students will analyze and then reconfigure the existing structure to develop a rich and varied day-lit environment indoors. The building will be modified into an environment for growing, harvesting and selling food. The program will be a ‘vertical farm’ and marketplace, with offices and incubator spaces for new food products.

Light and its very real relationship to an interior will be studied and then crafted through subtractions and additions to the existing structure. Traditional and experimental growing technologies will be explored to illustrate the potential for ‘cradle to cradle’ local, year round food cultivation. The program will address (and question) food farming in all its aspects: space requirements, initial nutrient generation, light, air and water requirements, sustainability, community and labor, infrastructure, harvest and the market/commerce of harvested foods, food waste and compost. Students will investigate these infrastructural, cultural and formal issues through the architectural problem of reusing and re imagining an existing heavy timber & masonry building sited in a particular neighborhood in Providence RI. Parallel to this, students will delve into the role daylight plays in nurturing people in their homes and workplaces. How does daylight affect those employed at the vertical farm in terms of morale, creativity and efficiency and those visiting the market in terms of purchase decisions, frequency of visits and attitude toward the enterprise?

Innovative re-imagining of interior spaces through the judicious deployment of daylight both from above, via skylights and vertically, from windows, will be the center point of the class. The studio is sponsored by VELUX, and is endow
ed with a budget for full-scale work, as well as a travel fellowship for a single project at the end of the semester. Students will explore the differences between lighting from above and vertical lighting and will learn from the model of innovation and contextual problem solving which is the foundation of the VELUX company. The company’s history, mission and technological innovation in day-lighting will serve as the cornerstone for the student’s own innovative look at adaptive reuse and new building typologies.

In an effort to further their specific knowledge of daylight, students will also be able to collaborate with light artist Paul Myoda and light engineer Rashid Zia from Brown University. A workshop at the beginning of the semester will introduce certain concepts, and ongoing critique of the work will help guide the projects. The semester will end with a publication and formal exhibition of the students’ projects. These documents will serve as a demonstration of the innovative reuse of buildings for urban agriculture, and to illustrate the new building typology of the vertical farm to a wider audience.

Criteria for Evaluation:

The following are the expectations for the studio, and form the criteria for the juried prize:

• The project must artfully employ daylight, from early concept through the construction of a full-scale mock-up to the translation into a comprehensive building proposal. In particular, the project will demonstrate the creative use of lighting from above via skylights in conjunction with other openings in the building’s skin.
• The project must artfully and comprehensively develop an enclosure or a ‘skin’ system that promotes the program and the day-lighting strategies.
• The project must successfully develop the programmatic relationships internal to the building and outward with the community.
• The project must successfully develop from conceptual origins to fully realized building proposal.
• The project must clearly communicate these attributes through artful documentation and representation.

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