Latest Round of Pressing Matters Grants Provide Practical Solutions to Societal Priorities

Five projects will receive funding in the latest round of Pressing Matters grants, a research incentive funding program that supports research advancing the state of practice in Taubman College’s various disciplines and forges new interdisciplinary opportunities. Aligning with its title, the Pressing Matters grant aims to spotlight projects in the college that address societal priorities and provide practical solutions.

The funded research is relevant to Taubman College disciplines and the University of Michigan’s “big-picture” multidisciplinary themes. Recipients of the grant have demonstrated active collaboration between fields in the college, with another U-M unit, or with an external partner, proving that their work would empower constituencies to improve their quality of life.

“The selected projects address some of the most imperative concerns facing our disciplines,” said Dean Jonathan Massey. “Taubman College faculty are collaborating to expand access to affordable housing, preserve history while looking toward a more equitable future, make homes in low-income areas more efficient and comfortable, broaden the accessibility and effectiveness of online learning, and develop climate-friendly alternatives to common building materials. These projects will help our faculty and students continue to work on the leading edge in these fundamental areas of research.”

This year’s jurors were Anna Dyson (Yale University), Bon Ku (Thomas Jefferson University), Vishaan Chakrabarti, creative director of PAU Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, and Lola Sheppard (University of Waterloo), founding partner of Lateral Partners.

The following proposals are receiving 2023 Pressing Matters funding:

Catalyzing a Michigan Zoning Atlas

The need to understand local zoning codes – the local laws that shape the location and character of new development – has taken center stage recently in Michigan due to growing interest in zoning reform at the local and statewide levels to inform housing and renewable energy policy. Projects elsewhere to create zoning atlases that contain consistent, high-quality data describing the boundaries and details of zoning codes have fueled research, advocacy, and reform. Our team has formed to create such a zoning atlas for Michigan and decided to start in the Grand Rapids area, where local jurisdictions have been focused on how zoning reform can result in more affordable, diverse housing. The project will result in data that can be used for local and regional scenario planning, inform statewide policy conversations and legislative advocacy such as the Housing Michigan Coalition, and lay the groundwork for a statewide atlas to complement the Michigan Association of Planning’s Zoning Reform Toolkit.

U-M Research Team:

  • Robert Goodspeed, associate professor of urban planning
  • Sarah Mills, senior research area specialist at Graham Sustainability Institute


  • Ryan Kilpatrick and Brooke Oosterman staff for Housing Next
  • Andrea Brown and Leah DuMouchel from the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP)
  • The Graham Sustainability Institute.

Reconstructing Black Bottom

Reconstructing Black Bottom in the Virtual Urban Imaginary is a collaborative research, architectural reconstruction, and oral history project to acknowledge and learn about the loss of a thriving Afro-American neighborhood while navigating the spaces of urban renewal in the city of Detroit. The project will specifically examine the neighborhoods demolished as so-called “slums” for the construction of two contemporary urban renewal areas: Lafayette Park, built in 1956, and the I-375 Chrysler Freeway in 1961. Based on Sanborn maps from 1951 of every building demolished, U.S. census records from 1950 of up to 40,000 displaced people, Polk City Directories from 1953 of every business evicted, and 1950s urban renewal survey photographs from demolition crews, we will construct a public-facing interactive map and a Virtual Reality immersion of Black Bottom. The results will use architecture and planning visualization tools to synthesize the four sources in a new digital medium that will empower Detroit residents (and the broader public) to engage and understand their lost community.

U-M Research Team:

  • Ana Morcillo Pallarés, assistant professor of architecture
  • Myles Zhang, Ph.D. student in architecture
  • Jonathan Rule, assistant professor of practice in architecture
  • Robert Fishman, professor emeritus of architecture


  • Earl Lewis, professor of history, Afro-American and African studies
  • Maya Sudarkasa, Ph.D. student in history
  • Daniel Jin, Ph.D. student in American culture
  • Rita Chin, associate dean of social sciences at Rackham Graduate School
  • Christine Hwang, Ph.D. candidate in planning
  • Detroit residents and Lafayette Park Residents

Linking Design Research for Passive Cooling Strategies in Self-Built Homes with Low-Income Communities to Improve Health Outcomes from Extreme Heat

How can low-income residents who self-build their homes in precarious settlements gain knowledge and appropriate technology that is most suitable for making their homes more resilient to heat? What can be known about available, local and affordable materials, costs, and passive cooling technology strategies to inform the construction of self-built homes in Nouma, Burkina Faso, Bucaramanga, Colombia and São Paulo, Brazil? This proposal seeks support for partner engagement, design research, simulation, and communication design objectives that contribute to a Phase 2 clinical trial study in Burkina Faso beginning in January 2023. In order to broaden the impact of this work and to demonstrate its feasibility for additional communities, locations, and climate zones, this proposal also seeks support for partner and community engagement, design research, simulation, and communications design objectives in cooperation with community and university partners in Bucaramanga, Colombia, and community partners and low-income housing advocates in the São Paulo Periphery, Brazil. Our long-term research goal, in cooperation with our research and community partners, is to identify viable passive housing adaptation technologies that will boost people’s well-being and health. In pursuit of this goal, we will study passive cooling strategies, and their local design ecologies, as a means to reduce the burden of heat stress in communities adversely affected by heat.

U-M Research Team:

  • Ana Paula Pimentel Walker, associate professor of urban planning
  • Lars Junghans, associate professor of architecture
  • Gabriel Harp, director of research and creative practice development


  • Dr. Aditi Bunker and Prof. Dr. Till Bärnighausen, Heidelberg Institute of Global Health (HIGH), and Dr. Ali Sié, Centre de Recherche en Santé de Nouna (CRSN)
  • Julian Constantino Carvajal Miranda, lawyer and coordinator of the Land Legalization and Slum Upgrading Program
  • Dr. Carlos E. Vecino Arenas (Universidad Industrial de Santander)
  • Dr. Caio Santo Amore (University of São Paulo)
  • Benedito Roberto Barbosa, coordinator of the Central de Movimentos Populares
  • 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 (UMM-SP)

More Room at the Table 

Piloting a Shared Digital Pedagogy

The space of teaching is changing. The collective undertaking of how we learn and understand the world around us has been both enabled and precluded by recent developments. As the digital melds with the spatial, the ways we learn have only been partially addressed, understood, or acknowledged. Uneven access, insufficient feedback mechanisms, and misunderstood or misleading contexts all make online education a complicated proposition. The focus of this project addresses these issues through the development of a MOOC course, “More Ways of Seeing,” on spatial and digital literacy as core competencies for the future workplace. This project’s specific focus is on testing how shared XR assets could be utilized in such a pedagogical context. This project will focus on producing a mock-up of the overall project by creating a pilot episode. The working out of the episode will be an opportunity to establish the conceptual, narrative, and visual aspects of the overall MOOC and especially to implement a shared XR asset within the teaching environment.

U-M Research Team:

  • Jonathan Rule, assistant professor of practice in architecture
  • John McMorrough, associate professor of architecture
  • Julia McMorrough, associate professor of architecture
  • Ana Morcillo Pallarés, assistant professor of architecture


  • Center for Academic Innovation
  • XR Initative- XR @ Michigan
  • Ross School of Business
  • Taubman College Visualization Laboratory (TVLab).

Fabric Formed Poured Earth 

Limiting Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Eliminating Portland Cement

Portland cement, the main binding agent of concrete, contributes at least 8% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if concrete was a country, it would emit the third largest amount of greenhouse gasses on earth, behind China and the United States. And while these are very familiar facts to the design community, not enough research is looking for radical solutions or solutions that remain clear of greenwashing; most research is still focusing on technique and not the material itself. Alternatively, this project explores a natural material with an extremely low carbon footprint, earth. Earth, formulated across a long-time frame from the decomposition of rocks, plants, and animals, has been used as a building material for thousands of years. Earth building offers several advantages to the environment and occupants like being inherently fire resistant, limiting carbon emissions through production and transportation, design for disassembly and circular economies, ability to absorb pollutants and store heat, ease of construction for non-professionals, and its ability to improve indoor air quality. Ultimately, this project proposes the next best innovation in concrete; don’t use it.

U-M Research Team:

  • Peter von Bülow, professor of architecture
  • Charlie O’Geen, lecturer in architecture


  • Catherine Page Harris (University of New Mexico), co-founder of Poured Earth Collaborative
  • Thierry Joffroy (Université Grenoble-Alpes), architect, researcher, and president of the International Centre for Earth Construction
  • University of New Mexico
  • CRAterre
  • McLean Street Sculpture Park, Detroit, Michigan.

The Alan and Cynthia Berkshire Fund and The A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Fund generously support this grant program.