Design for Biodiversity: Architectural Responses to Urban Ecology

The Hans and Roger Strauch Symposium on Sustaionable Design took place on February 1 and 2, 2013 in the Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium, Milstein Hall. Before the keynote lecture on Friday attendees gathered for a reception in Milstein Dome. From left, Hans D. Strauch (B.Arch. '80), and Mariel Strauch '14, with symposium organizers Assistant Professor Kevin Pratt and Assistant Professor Jenny Sabin.
A view of the Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium before the keynote address, from the Duane and Delia Stiller Arcade.
A view of the auditorium during the keynote address.
The keynote address, "Biodiverse Urban Design in Theory and Practice," given by ecologist and ecological consultant Michael Wells.
A view of the auditorium during the symposium.
Michael Well's keynote address.
Participants at the keynote address. In the foreground is assistant professor of architecture Jeremy Foster.
Former Department of Architecture visiting assistant professor Dana Cupkova at the keynote address.
Assistant Professor Kevin Pratt at the keynote address.
Michael Well's keynote address.
Michael Well's keynote address.
Michael Wells, left, Dana Cupkova, right.
Symposium organizer Michael Hensel, right, with Jeffery Turko presenting during the "Boundary Connections: The building envelope as Extended Threshold" session.
Michael Hensel and Jeffery Turko.
Symposium moderator Liss Werner. Werner is a German architect and visiting professor at the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. Werner is the recipient of the George N. Pauly, Jr. Fellowship at Carnegie Mellon.
Philip Beesley lecturing on Saturday. Beesley is a professor in the University of Waterloo's School of Architecture, in Ontario Canada. His Toronto based practice PBAI, is a design firm that combines public buildings with exhibition design, stage, and lighting projects.
Philip Beesley lecturing on Saturday.
Mitchell Joachim, right, with Maria Aiolova, cofounders of Terreform ONE. Joachim and Aiolova lectured during the "Boundary Connections: The building envelope as Extended Threshold" session.
Mitchell Joachim and Maria Aiolova.
Architecture faculty and guests during the symposium.
The panel discussion following session two. From left to right: moderator Liss Werner, Maria Aiolova, Mitchell Joachim, Phillip Beesley, Jeffery Turko, and Michael Hensel.
The panel discussion following session two.
Mitchell Joachim speaking during the session two panel discussion.
Jenny Sabin led the third session, "Multi-scalar Architectures: Design Ecologies from Micro to Macro."
Shu Yang, professor in the Department of Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, presenting during session three.
Birger Sevaldson from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design at the third session.
Student's taking in the presentations during session three.
Soren Sorensen, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, making a point during his third session lecture.
Alexander Felson of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and School of Architecture at Yale University, presenting during the third session.
The panel discussion following the third session. From left to right: moderator Dana Cupkova, Alexander Felson, Shu Yang, Jenny Sabin, Soren Sorensen, and Birgir Sevaldson.
Dana Cupkova, center, with students at the closing reception in Milstein Dome.
Dana Cupkova, center, with students at the closing reception in Milstein Dome.
From left, Maria Aiolova, Hans Strauch, and Liss Werner, at the closing reception.
From left, Shu Yang, Phillip Beesley, and Kevin Pratt.
Architecture students with architecture department visiting lecturer Andrew Lucia, on right.

The 2013 Hans and Roger Strauch Symposium on Sustainable Design

Urban Ecology is a field of inquiry concerned with the relations between living organisms and their urban environments. Since its emergence in the 1970s, Urban Ecology has produced a wealth of research and has led to the adoption of policies geared towards the preservation of species in and around cities. Most of these actions have addressed the city at the scale of urban planning. Architecture, at the building scale, has thus far not been extensively tackled, and so the questions arise: How might architecture actively support multi-species habitats? Can these habitats help us replace the existing, fossil fuel dependent, mechanistic systems that underpin our settlements with low impact, ecologically integrated systems that leverage natural sources and sinks of energy and material processing capacity? How does reimagining the city as a locus for multi-species mutualistic interaction change the way we think about urban form and phenomenology? And finally, what are the appropriate models to study? These questions offer fertile ground for experimentation in urban ecological thinking and practice, which seeks to extend access to a variety of species and systems, lending flexibility to function, and enabling more effective control of energy, material, and capital flows.

This year's Strauch symposium will address these questions by focusing on the extended threshold between building and environment. In all ecosystems such zones are the locus of dynamic change driven by evolutionary pressures that emerge at the boundaries of established hierarchies of energy and material transformation. Such places are, by definition, the ideal location for architectural intervention. Urban ecologists and architects will present methods to explore the questions at hand and engage in a discussion to advance research at the intersection of architecture and ecology.

Friday, February 1

5 p.m. Reception

6 p.m. Keynote Lecture

Biodiverse Urban Design in Theory and Practice

  • Michael Wells, Biodiversity by Design

Saturday, February 2

10 a.m. Session 1

The Bigger Picture: Aims and Actions in Urban Ecology

  • Michael Hensel, Research Centre for Architecture and Tectonics, Oslo School of Architecture and Design
  • Kevin Pratt, Department of Architecture, Cornell University
  • Marianne Krasny, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University 
  • Moderated by Caroline O'Donnell, Department of Architecture, Cornell University

12:30 p.m. Lunch break

1:30 p.m. Session 2

Boundary Conditions: The Building Envelope as Extended Threshold

  • Michael Hensel + Jeffrey Turko, Research Centre for Architecture and Tectonics, Oslo School of Architecture and Design and University of Brighton
  • Philip Beesley, School of Architecture, University of Waterloo
  • Mitchell Joachim + Maria Aiolova, TerreformONE
  • Moderated by Liss C. Werner, School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University

3:15 p.m. Break

3:30 p.m. Session 3

Multi-scalar Architectures: Design Ecologies from Micro to Macro

  • Jenny Sabin + Shu Yang, Department of Architecture, Cornell University and Department of Engineering, University of Pennsylvania 
  • Birger Sevaldson + Søren Sørensen, Oslo School of Architecture and Design
  • Alexander Felson, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and School of Architecture, Yale University 
  • Moderated by Dana Cupkova, School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University

The closing discussion is followed by a reception.

Sunday, February 3

11 a.m.–3 p.m.

Student workshops with symposium speakers, L. P. Kwee Studio Plate, Milstein Hall

Speaker Bios

Maria Aiolova is an educator, architect, and urban designer in New York City. Her work is focused on the theory, science, and application of ecological design. She is the founding copresident of Terreform ONE and a partner at Planetary ONE. Presently, Aiolova chairs the ONE Lab: New York School for Design and Science and the ONE Prize: Design and Science Award. Most recently, she was faculty at Pratt Institute in Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design Program and Parsons the New School for Design. In 2011, Aiolova was the winner of the Victor J. Papanek Social Design Award sponsored by the University of Applied Arts Vienna, the Austrian Cultural Forum, and the Museum of Arts and Design. She has a number of winning competitions including first place in the CHARLES/MGH Station, Boston and the Izmir Post District International Competition, Turkey. Aiolova won the Zumtobel Group Award for Sustainability and Humanity and the Build Boston Award. She received her M.Arch. in urban design from Harvard GSD, B.Arch. from Wentworth IT with honors, Dipl.-Ing. from the Technical University of Vienna, Austria, and Sofia, Bulgaria.

Philip Beesley is a professor in the University of Waterloo's School of Architecture where he serves as director for the Integrated Group for Visualization, Design and Manufacturing, and as director for Riverside Architectural Press. His Toronto-based practice PBAI is an interdisciplinary design firm that combines public buildings with exhibition design, stage, and lighting projects. The studio's methods incorporate industrial design, digital prototyping, and mechatronics engineering. Beesley's work is widely cited in the rapidly expanding technology of responsive architecture. He has authored and edited eight books and appeared on the cover of Artificial Life (MIT), LEONARDO and AD journals. Features include national CBC news, Casa Vogue, WIRED, and a series of TED talks. His work was selected to represent Canada at the 2010 Venice Biennale for Architecture, and he has been recognized by the Prix de Rome in Architecture, VIDA 11.0, FEIDAD, two Governor General's Awards and as a Katerva finalist. A practitioner of architecture and digital media art, he was educated in visual art at Queen's University, in technology at Humber College, and in architecture at the University of Toronto.

Dana Cupkova holds a Lucian & Rita Caste Chair Assistant Professorship at the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University and is a design principal of EPIPHYTE Lab, an architectural design and research collaborative. Her work engages the built environment at the intersection of ecology, computationally-driven processes, and systems analysis. Cupkova's research focuses on adaptive methods for systemic integration of discreet energy harvesting systems into architectural membranes that perform on multiple interlinked scales while responding to specific climactic and socio-economic conditions. Her work has been supported by the AIA Arnold W. Brunner Grant, the Cornell University Faculty Innovation in Teaching Grant, the New York State Council on the Arts, and was recognized by ACADIA, an international network of digital design researchers and professionals. Cupkova received a graduate degree of engineer architect from the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Design at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava and a master of architecture from the School of the Arts and Architecture at UCLA, where she was awarded the Unrestricted University Fellowship, the Mimi Perloff Award, and the Kate Neal Kinley Memorial Fellowship for outstanding design work.

Alexander Felson is an ecologist and registered landscape architect. His scholarly research focuses on urban land systems, including green infrastructure, local and regional park design, community to landscape ecology, and climate change adaptation and migration. Felson's design work integrates basic and applied ecological research as a driver of the form, layout, and function of urban design, planning, and infrastructure projects. He seeks new ways of constructing biologically rich systems through research-based design and adaptive management. He worked with Ken Smith Landscape Architect on projects, including New York Public School 19 (built in 2003), the East River Marsh Planter, and the Santa Fe Railyard Park in New Mexico (built in 2008). As an associate and director of ecological design at EDAW/AECOM, Felson designed the New York City Million Trees project on parkland. He is now a principal investigator implementing a large-scale ecological research project to study carbon accumulation, sustainable management, and biodiversity. Working with a developer for his Ph.D., Felson implemented experimental research on amphibian species as a design tool to inform the master plan.

Michael Hensel is a professor of architecture at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design where he directs the Research Centre for Architecture and Tectonics. He is a founding member of OCEAN (1994), founding chairman and board member of the OCEAN Design Research Association (2008) and SEA – Sustainable Environment Association (2011). He is currently a board member of the Biomimetics Network for Industrial Sustainability (2007) and on the editorial board member of AD Wiley. Previously, he has taught at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London (1993–2009), where he codirected the Emergent Technologies and Design Program (2001–09). Forthcoming publications include AD Primer – Performance-oriented Design (AD Wiley, 2013). Hensel has written extensively about research by design, performance-oriented architecture, and other topics in architecture and urban design and has published, lectured and exhibited in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.

Mitchell Joachim is a founding copresident of Terreform ONE. He is an associate professor at New York University and European Graduate School. He was formerly an architect at Gehry Partners and Pei Cobb Freed. He has been awarded fellowships at TED 2010, Moshe Safdie Associates, and Martin Society for Sustainability at MIT. He won the Zumtobel Group Award for Sustainability and Humanity, the History Channel and Infiniti Excellence Award for City of the Future, Time Magazine Best Invention of 2007, Compacted Car w/ MIT Smart Cities and a Bronze Medal at iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) for Gen2Seat. His project, Fab Tree Hab, has been exhibited at MoMA and widely published. Rolling Stone honored Joachim in "The 100 People Who Are Changing America." Popular Science featured his work as a visionary for "The Future of the Environment" in 2010. Dwell featured Joachim as one of "The NOW 99" in 2012. He was the winner of the Victor Papanek Social Design Award sponsored by the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Austrian Cultural Forum, and Museum of Arts and Design in 2011. Joachim earned his Ph.D. at MIT, M.A.U.D. from Harvard GSD, and M.Arch. from Columbia University.

Marianne Krasny is professor and chair in the Department of Natural Resources, and director of the Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University. Her work focuses on environmental education and social-ecological systems theory in urban and other settings in the U.S. and internationally. Krasny has a long history of conducting science and environmental education outreach in partnership with community-based organizations. She is interested in civic-ecology practices, including community gardening, community forester, watershed enhancement, and other forms of urban restoration. Her research investigates how environmental education programs situated in civic-ecology practices foster resilience in social-ecological systems. Krasny holds bachelors degrees in human development and botany, and both a M.S. and Ph.D. in forest ecology.

Caroline O'Donnell is assistant professor, Richard Meier Professorship of Architecture at Cornell University. She has previously taught at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, at the Cooper Union, and Princeton University School of Architecture. She gained experience at KCAP Architects and Planners in Rotterdam and at Eisenman Architects in New York, where she was project architect for several projects, including the Hamburg Library and the Pompei Santuario Railway Station. Her writing has been published in several journals including Log, Thresholds, MAP, and Pidgin. O'Donnell is currently the faculty editor of the Cornell Journal of Architecture issue 8. Caroline O'Donnell is the founding principal of the design office CODA. O'Donnell received her B.A. (honors) in architecture and B.Arch. (with distinction) from the Manchester School of Architecture, England, and her M.Arch. at Princeton University.

Kevin Pratt is a registered architect in New York state with 13 years of experience as a researcher and designer and is a principal of the multidisciplinary design and research practice EPIPHYTE Lab. He is expert in the use of computational technologies and their application to the process of sustainable design. Pratt is assistant professor of architecture at Cornell and has been a visiting critic and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his B.Arch. from Columbia University and a M.A. from the Environment and Energy Programme at the Architectural Association in London.

Jenny Sabin's work is at the forefront of a new direction for 21st century architectural practice — one that investigates the intersections of architecture and science, and applies insights and theories from biology and mathematics to the design of material structures. Sabin is assistant professor of architecture at Cornell, and previously taught design studios and seminars in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania from 2005–11. She is principal of Jenny Sabin Studio, an experimental architectural design studio based in Philadelphia. She is cofounder LabStudio, a hybrid research and design network, together with Peter Lloyd Jones. She was a founding member of the Nonlinear Systems Organization, a research group started by Cecil Balmond, where she was senior researcher and director of research. Sabin holds degrees in ceramics and interdisciplinary visual art from the University of Washington and a M.Arch. from the University of Pennsylvania where she was awarded the AIA Henry Adams first prize medal and the Arthur Spayd Brooke gold medal for distinguished work in architectural design. Sabin was recently named a USA Knight Fellow in Architecture, one of 50 artists and designers awarded nationally by U.S. Artists.

Birger Sevaldson is professor at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Institute of Design. He is a member of the OCEAN design research association. He is trained as an interior architect and furniture designer and he has been practicing in various fields of design, including architecture and interior design, furniture design, industrial design, and art-based projects. He has a PhD in creative design computing and has been researching systems thinking in design for the last 10 years. His research focus is to develop system-oriented design thinking and practice for meeting the increased challenges of globalization and the need for sustainability.

Søren Sørensen is an architect, educator, and researcher. Since 1997 he has been at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), as assistant professor responsible for the implementation of digital technology in the educational curriculum and as a master level. Sørensen has been researching virtual and augmented reality in relation to architecture since 2003, and is responsible for the field at AHO. The interdisciplinary research has been undertaken in cooperation with Institute for Energy Technology in Halden, Norway, and the Kyoto University, Japan, and led to the establishing of AR-Lab Norway. He has published papers internationally, both on augmented reality for visualization of architecture and within the field of Nuclear Safety. Sørensen is a graduate of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, where he received his diploma in 1982. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. within the field of architectural representation and augmented reality.

Jeffrey Turko is an educator and researcher based in London. In early 2000s he founded the design practice NEKTON Studio and works on projects ranging in scales form urban design, private houses, art installations, and objects. NEKTON Studio's work has been published and exhibited widely, including representing the UK at the Beijing Biennial 2008. Turko is a board member and research director in the OCEAN Design and Research Association, and has been involved with OCEAN since 1999. He joined the faculty at the University of Brighton in 2011 as a senior lecturer in architectural design with a focus on digital creativity, and is currently a studio leader on the masters of architecture program. He has previously been a senior lecturer at the University of East London and the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture where he was unit master of Diploma Unit 12 from 2008–10, and where he is currently the program director of the AA Global Visiting School in Sydney Australia. He is a graduate of the AA School of Architecture where he received his diploma in 1999.

Michael Wells is an ecologist with over 25 years of experience in ecological science and nearly 20 years in professional ecological consultancy. He has worked on a number of major ecological assessment and design projects around the world, and bases his design concept on sound scientific, social, and economic analyses in Environmental Impact Assessment. He is part of the steering group responsible for developing the new national guidelines on ecological impact assessment for the UK. A particular area of interest and expertise is in wetland creation and management. During his time at NPA Environmental Planners he was involved in making the case for a new mangrove and wetland park at Fung Lok Wai in Hong Kong in collaboration with EcoSchemes Asia Ltd. Reviews of wetland parks around the world formed part of this work and extended to the world famous mangrove reserve at Sungei Buloh in Singapore. Wells is currently a visiting research fellow at Bath School of Architecture and Civil Engineering where he teaches sustainable ecological design. 

Liss C. Werner is a German architect, and visiting professor, awarded the George N. Pauly, Jr. Fellowship, at the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. At Carnegie Mellon she runs the upper level computational studio X 'Codes in the Clouds' and the seminar 'Architecture and Cybernetics'. She is a registered architect at the Architektenkammer Berlin and founder of Tactile Architecture — Office for SystemArchitektur, based in Berlin since 2007. As architectural teacher and researcher she has been teaching studio and lecturing since 2002 in London, Nottingham, and Dessau Institute of Architecture, and was invited as critic at University of Liverpool, the Bartlett and TU Berlin. Werner received her master of architecture with commendation from the Bartlett in London, for which she also received the Peter-Fuld Scholarship for talented students. Prior she studied at RMIT in Melbourne and University of Westminster where she received the DeVere Urban Design Prize and was awarded a bachelor of arts with 1st class honors. Currently Werner is writing her doctoral thesis, "Architecture and Cybernetics with focus on Gordon Pask," at Humboldt University, Berlin.

Shu Yang develops new methodologies for the controlled synthesis, fabrication, and characterization of materials with specific and unique structures and functionalities inspired by biology. Special interests include preparation of functional (co)polymers and investigation of their self-assembled nanostructures; understanding the self-organization process at surfaces and interfaces; development of novel response materials and non-conventional approaches for nano and micropatterning of complex 2D and 3D structures; controlling wetting, adhesion and biofouling on polymer thin films. She earned a National Science Foundation Career Award in 2006 and was named the one of World's 100 Top Young Innovators by Technology Review in 2004. Yang received her B.S. in materials science in 1992 from Fudan University in China and her M.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry and chemical biology from Cornell in 1999.


Jenny Sabin, Kevin Pratt, and Michael Hensel

This symposium is jointly organized by the Cornell University Department of Architecture and the Research Centre for Architecture and Tectonics at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Funding for this event is provided by a gift to Cornell's Department of Architecture by Hans and Roger Strauch.