New Faculty Grant Supports Research on Pressing Matters

Taubman College is excited to announce the inaugural recipients of Pressing Matters grants. The new research incentive funding program will support work that advances the state of knowledge and/or practice in architecture, planning, urban design, and urban technology; addresses societal priorities of our time; and forges new interdisciplinary opportunities.

“These projects explore new ways for our disciplines to address some of our most pressing concerns,” said Dean Jonathan Massey. “Taubman College faculty are collaborating to discover new methods for fighting climate change, expanding access to quality housing, strengthening regional ecosystems, and finding the right balance between privacy and policing. These grants will help our faculty and students define the state of the art in these key domains.”

Over the past decade, Taubman College’s internal research incentive funding programs have supported research and creative practice to advance and generate knowledge in targeted focus areas. These include the Research through Making, Research on the City, Research through Planning, and Prototyping Tomorrow programs. Building on this legacy, and the significance of this moment in time, the Pressing Matters grant program highlights the value that architecture, planning, urban design, and urban technology can bring to bear on complex global challenges.

A central criterion for the Pressing Matters grant program was relevance to one or more core Taubman College disciplines and one or more of the University of Michigan’s “big picture” multidisciplinary themes. In addition, Pressing Matters grant applicants had to demonstrate that their project would activate collaboration between fields within the college, with another U-M unit, or with an external partner and show that their work would empower constituencies to improve their quality of life. Another factor was the project’s ability to garner future external funding and leverage this award with funding, data, resources, or capacities from other sources.

The Pressing Matters review panelists were Zeynep Celik Alexander (Columbia University), Joyce Hwang (SUNY Buffalo), and Eric Shaw, director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development

The following proposals are receiving 2022 Pressing Matters funding:

Collective For Equitable Housing

The Collective for Equitable Housing (CEH) is an interdisciplinary research group focused on housing and urban communities. Through collaborative and project-based research, the team  seeks to convene expertise and resources from architecture, urban planning, real estate, and related fields to identify and address emerging issues and opportunities afforded by new technologies, changing market conditions, and shifting policy priorities. These include: innovative and sustainable housing production, design, and construction; co-living and co-working hybrids; affordable housing and community development financing; institutional and regulatory frameworks; and international housing policy and development. The group establishes a base for building richer interdisciplinary teaching and practice as well as developing cross-disciplinary teams across campus and with institutional, governmental, and organizational partners. Established in 2020, CEH has recently undertaken an in-depth scan and analysis of faculty in Taubman College and across the University of Michigan to identify existing overlaps and gaps in housing research and creative practice. This work comes at a critical moment, as local, state, and federal governments look to address affordable housing through the lens of social justice and equity. While national attention focuses on the crisis of affordability in select, growing cities on the east and west coasts, Taubman College’s location in the rustbelt region poses unique and compelling challenges that the team’s partnerships seek to tackle.

U-M Research Team:

  • Sharon Haar, professor of architecture / coordinator
  • Ellie Abrons, associate professor of architecture
  • Lan Deng, professor of urban and regional planning
  • Meredith Miller, associate professor of architecture
  • Marc Norman, director of real estate initiatives and associate professor of practice in urban and regional planning
  • De Peter Yi, lecturer in architecture

Partner Organizations:

Samaritas, Wayne County Economic Development Corporation, Ann Arbor Housing Commission, Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, City of Detroit Planning and Development Department (existing) and Department of Housing and Revitalization (anticipated), the Weiser Center for Real Estate at U-M’s Ross School of Business, the Problem Solving Initiative at the U-M Law School, and U-M’s Urban Collaboratory.

river [hi]stories: wahnabezee and the urban park futures

river [hi]stories: wahnabezee and the urban park futures is a collaborative research and pedagogy project supporting the co-creation and circulation of community narratives along the transnational waters of the Detroit River. The proposal centers the investigation on Wahnabezee, the largest city island public park in the U.S., as an experimental prototype for the development of innovative methods of public scholarship and situated pedagogies. Wahnabezee, also known as Belle Isle, exists both as a real site and an imagined place, a fluid commons of sorts. Its insular nature has historically enabled narratives of belonging and exceptionalism, registering economic booms and crises and evolving notions of urban modernity, nature, and justice. Attending to the collaborative nature of the project, the formulation of the areas of focus builds on the network of regional partners and mission-driven organizations that are part of the Detroit River Story Lab. Specific to this grant proposal, the team aims to advance two pressing matters: (1) climate uncertainty requiring attention to the impacts on the island’s landscapes and cultural institutions; and (2) the park as a pluralistic cultural commons instigating the re-examination of past and present [hi]stories and imagined futures. While distinct and grounded in place and time, these two project components build on the premise that addressing the critical societal matters of our time demands new coalitions and modes of knowledge creation centered on the recognition of the diverse expertise and lived experiences of the communities we work with.

U-M Research Team:

  • María Arquero de Alarcón, associate professor of architecture and urbanism
  • David Porter, professor of English and comparative literature
  • Ana Morcillo Pallarés, assistant professor of architecture
  • Jon Rule, assistant professor of practice in architecture
  • Olaia Chivite Amigo, lecturer in architecture
  • Claudia Wigger, lecturer in architecture
  • Taru, Ph.D. candidate in urban and regional planning

Partner Organizations:

Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Conservancy

Robotic Additive Spraying (RAS) Reinforced Concrete Structures

Carbon Neutrality for future manufacturing in Civil Infrastructure Design and Construction

3D concrete printing promises to significantly decrease CO2 emission, energy consumption, waste, and cost related to concrete construction. However, the process-inherent unsolved challenges posed by extrusion-based additive manufacturing of concrete (such as weak interlayer bonding, high shrinkage, the challenge in the integration of reinforcement) have inhibited innovation in large-scale structures and draws back the economic and feasible digitization of the concrete industry. To overcome these challenges, this collaborative research proposes Robotic Additive Spraying (RAS) technique as an alternative to extrusion-based 3d printing. RAS i s a robotic-controlled manufacturing process that uses compressed air to spray and project material with pressure incrementally and layer by layer to create 3D concrete components. In RAS, the high kinetic energy at impact produces a robust interlayer bond. The objective of this proposal is to 1) develop a prototypical robotic additive spraying system and framework with two spraying tool heads for fiber and mortar, 2) investigate the buildability through a fundamental understanding of the intertwined mechanisms between chemistry, printed filament layer solidification, 3D printing successive-layering-deposition process, and the interfacial interactions between printed layers that control the bonding mechanism.

U-M Research Team:

  • Mania Aghaei Meibodi, assistant professor of architecture
  • He Zhu, assistant research scientist in civil and environmental engineering

The invisible climate warriors: intersectional approaches to community organizing in slum upgrading

Translating Research on Sustainable Informal Settlements Upgrading in Areas of Environmental Protection in São Paulo’s periphery into User-Driven Strategies for Climate Action

Research on climate action in informal and precarious settlements is relatively new, and governments do not fully invest in risk-mitigating infrastructure or adaptation strategies, as the judicialization of the cases makes the legitimacy of the public investment questionable. As with other improvement projects aiming to increase resilience in these communities, land conflicts, poverty, and inequality remain the main barriers to concrete action. Further, the issue of intersectionality is crucial to climate resilient slums upgrading, since women, non-binary, Black, brown, and indigenous residents living in these communities are extremely vulnerable to the shocks of climate change. Although recent responses are starting to include a gender-based lens, their responses often reinforce traditional gender roles, placing the burden of community adaptation and resilience work on low-income women. This project builds on a multi-year participatory action research that examines the housing and environmental conflicts that informal and precarious settlements face in their quest for access to a more resilient future. Specifically, the team will focus on the path to self-managed slum upgrading experiences through the lens of climate justice, health, and gender equity. Decarbonizing slum upgrading practices, especially young land occupations, and prioritizing the well-being of women, non-binary individuals, and racial and ethnic minorities addresses a critical aspect germane to the path to community organizing for resilience through the lens of climate action. The larger research body under development in the South Periphery of São Paulo provides the background, the initial data, and the local partners to enable a transformational impact through this grant.

U-M Research Team:

  • Ana Paula Pimentel Walker, assistant professor of urban and regional planning
  • María Arquero de Alarcón, associate professor of architecture and urbanism
  • Mieko Yoshihama, professor of social work
  • Odessa Gonzalez Benson, assistant professor of social work.


Benedito Roberto Barbosa, coordinator of the Central de Movimentos Populares, co-founder of the União dos Movimentos de Moradia de São Paulo, and lawyer at the Center Gaspar Garcia for Human Rights; Marilene Ribeiro de Souza and Sheila Cristiane Santos Nobre, members of the Women’s Secretariat of the União dos Movimentos de Moradia de São Paulo; Nunes Lopes dos Reis and Caio Santo Amore, architect-partners at Peabiru Trabalhos Comunitários e Ambientais, a São Paulo-based nonprofit technical advisory firm; and Ivaloo Gusmao, social worker.

You Are Being Watched: Assessing Algorithmic Surveillance in Detroit through Participatory and Creative Engagement

As more cities embed facial recognition and artificial intelligence into their operational and security, addressing questions of privacy, accuracy, and morality becomes increasingly pressing. For residents of Detroit, as an example, advocacy organizations and politicians have debated using such technologies in the police departments’ Project Greenlight surveillance system. Many have raised concerns about the potential improper use of these technologies, especially around reports of false arrests. However, small, minority-owned businesses comprise a large portion of the network. While it is easy to criticize the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence and surveillance technologies, one can see that different groups have differing opinions of the pervasiveness of such technologies. Additionally, the varying levels of understanding the public has on the technology can affect apathy or anger on policies that govern their use. This project seeks to assess the opinions and sentiments, collective visions, and alternative imaginaries for using artificial intelligence and surveillance technologies in cities — with Detroit as a case study — through a multi-disciplinary, community-engaged, and mixed methods approach. The team first will seek to understand the sentiments of citizens and organizations affected by Project Greenlight by assessing general awareness of these technologies and measuring how views differ across populations and groups. Secondly, they will use interactive, speculative experiences to engage the public into conversations at scale to assess their understanding of the technologies and their implications. Thirdly, through participatory methods, the team will collect diverse voices to collectively generate an alternative vision for these technologies that best serve Detroiters. They aim to do this through equitable partnerships with advocates and organizations who have been engaged in this domain.

The impacts of this study can provide alternative visions of how such technologies may be developed as Detroit and other cities debate their use of these systems. These projects will also enable sharing resources and knowledge between researchers and community partners.

U-M Research Team:

  • Anthony Vanky, assistant professor of urban and regional planning
  • Bryan Boyer, director of the Bachelor of Science in Urban Technology program and assistant professor of practice in architecture
  • Rebecca Smith, Ph.D. candidate in architecture
  • Sol Bermann, university privacy officer and clinical assistant professor of information

Pressing Matters is made possible through the generous support of Alan and Cynthia Berkshire.