Sean Ahlquist is an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan – Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He directs the Lab for Socio-material Architectures, and is currently the director of the Master of Science in Digital Material Technologies (DMT). Ahlquist is a member of the Cluster in Computational Media and Interactive Systems – connecting architecture with the fields of material science, computer science, and performing arts technology. His work addresses architecture’s pressing need to leverage the techniques of computational design and technologies for novel for constructing material systems towards generating inclusionary spaces, particularly regarding communities identifying as disabled. In 2020, Ahlquist received the ACADIA Innovative Research Award of Excellence for connecting material expertise with applications to enhance social opportunities for communities often underserved by the field of architecture.
Research is centered on the fabrication of malleable, sensory-responsive environments and the study of their role in fostering social behavior for individuals with disabilities, in particular focusing on children with autism spectrum disorder in the context of public educational spaces. Through the use of industrial knitting technologies, material investigations involve close collaboration with the fields of materials science, and civil and environmental engineering, and industry partners in automotive design and aerospace engineering. Examining architecture’s influence on behavior in public environments stems from Ahlquist’s experiences with his autistic daughter Ara. Connecting with the autism community as well as the wider disability community involves collaboration with the fields of kinesiology, psychiatry, behavioral science and data science. Working with the local Ann Arbor community brings collaboration with the public school system (AAPS), the HandsOn Children’s Museum (AAHoM) and the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL). Works have been installed and studied at a range of sites, including children’s museums, classrooms, therapy centers, the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, the 2021 Big Umbrella Festival at Lincoln Center in New York City and the Common Senses Festival in Omaha, Nebraska in Spring 2022.
Ahlquist teaches across the full range of academic programs – UG, MArch, MSc and PhD – at the college of architecture. Students are currently engaged in a multi-year collaboration with the AACIL. The curriculum challenges the students to develop design methodologies that capture motivations related to disability theory and equity and combine them with the highly technical skills of material fabrication and computational design. This plays out through a wide range of discussions and activities with members of the disability community, artists, advocates and staff of the AACIL. Students of the 2021-22 DMT cohort are developing material systems to serve as both work and social spaces as part of the design of a new art studio space being built at the AACIL facility. Future collaborations look to involve local therapy centers working with children with autism and secondary schools with specialized classrooms for students with disabilities.
Ahlquist holds a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Architecture from the Architectural Association – Emergent Design and Technologies Program in London. He continues his PhD research with the Institute for Computational Design at the University of Stuttgart.