Architecture Students Develop New Environmental Infrastructures to Combat Air Pollution in Beijing

A group of people walking in a narrow urban alley
Andrew Wong (B.Arch. '18), left, and Eujean Cheong (M.Arch.II '18), far right, observe details of the hutong. photo / Sadhika Baveja (M.Arch.II '18)
A group of people next to the windows of a high-rise office building overlooking on a cityscape
The group received an impromptu tour of Beijing's Central Park Plaza designed by MAD Architects. photo / Sisi Xi Yu (B.Arch. '18)
overhead view of people standing in an elevator
The group poses in an elevator during a tour of one of Beijing's high-rise office buildings. photo / Vaharan Elavia (M.Arch.II '18)
October 20, 2017

Undergraduate and graduate architecture students spent eight days on a field trip to Beijing, China, as part of the fall architecture option studio Breathing Architectures: Air Remediation Center/Carbon TradeXchange: New Public Atmospheric Infrastructures. The class is taught by Gensler Visiting Critic Shawn Rickenbacker.

The students were challenged to address the problem of air pollution in Beijing by designing an urban air remediation infrastructure for the city. To that end, they explored a resurgence in public infrastructure architectures that reduce energy consumption, remediate environmental degradation, and harvest and distribute renewable energy.

Rickenbacker, who is cofounder of the technology, data, and design consultancy Urban Data + Design (UDD), said the studio's visit to Beijing allowed the design teams to "critically reexamine their understanding of a contemporary global city."

"Navigating the narrow streets and alleys of Beijing's hutongs, the vast public transportation network, and mega-scale developments provided insight into the challenges of rapidly growing global cities," Rickenbacker said. He added, "The student teams were willing and eager to address the growing challenges of intelligent building, cultural integration, and environmental remediation," and even wore particulate respiratory masks common in Beijing as they documented "wildly fluctuating air pollution effects."

Site visits included Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and Beijing's 13th-century hutongs and siheyuan (historic courtyard residences), as well as CCTV Headquarters designed by OMA; Chaoyang Park Plaza designed by MAD Architects; Galaxy Soho by Zaha Hadid Architects; and two SOM-designed complexes, Beijing Greenland Center and Poly International Plaza. The studio also met with Ying Long, founder of the Beijing City Lab (BCL) at Tsinghua University, as well as the architectural team of MAD Architects, which has offices in Beijing, Los Angeles, New York City, and Rome.

A highlight of the trip for Anders Izumi Evenson (B.Arch. '18) and Eujean Cheong (M.Arch.II '18) was a spontaneous tour of the Central Park Plaza designed by MAD Architects. The trip influenced their project to focus on fluidity of the urban texture through an aerodynamic pleated facade. "The weaving architectural notion expressed by the expansion and compression of pleats," said Evenson, "creates spaces for air-purification infrastructure and moments for the public realm, such as concourses and great interior courts, which are reflections of siheyuan."

Luciana Fiorella Ruiz (B.Arch. '19) was also impressed with seeing the siheyuan. She and Lawrence N. Wyman (M.Arch.II '18) call their project Remediation Hills, which mimics the city's landscape in a series of rotating, stacked fins coated in titanium dioxide to maximize the amount of surface area, followed by the use of electrostatic precipitators and wet scrubbers to purify the air. The system culminates and "deconstructs" into a canopy intertwined with an adjacent park and waterway into which clean air is released.

"Remediation Hills serve as pavilions housing a library, auditorium, classrooms, and research lab spaces," said Ruiz, "but most importantly as a catalyst to help clean polluted air and to create microclimates that can help restore plants and animals that have been lost within the city."

"Key visits to historic landmarks such as natural resources, contemporary architecture, and urban landscapes contributed to the students understanding of the interdependency of systems that global cities rely on," said Rickenbacker. "Special thanks go to Ying Long of Tsinghua University; Ma Yansong, Vevina Chin, and Dang Qun of MAD Architects; Mo Zheng and Martin Miller of Antistatics; and Yichen Lu of Link-Arc."

The other students who traveled to China are Sadhika Baveja (M.Arch.II '18), Vaharan Elavia (M.Arch.II '18), Robyn Houghton (B.Arch. '18), Jee Young Oh (B.Arch. '18), Andrew Wong (B.Arch. '18), Sisi Xi Yu (B.Arch. '18), and Wangda Zhu (M.Arch.II '18).

AAP's Gensler Visiting Critic Program brings world-class architects and instructors to teach advanced programs in architectural design, covering topics in urban design, architectural technology, computational design, ecology, culture, and representation.

By Patti Witten