Architecture Student Research Grant Recipients Push Boundaries

The recipients of the 2023 Architecture Student Research Grant (ASRG) utilized their funding to explore creative approaches to everything from the future of biomaterials to novel fabrication methodologies and open-source knowledge. Their work culminated in “Built to Scale,” an exhibit that opened on Friday, February 17, at the Liberty Research Annex. The three teams presented projects titled “Signs of Life,” “Robotic Exhalation,” and “Second Skin.”

Signs of Life

Team members: Axel Olson, M.Arch

While the image of ongoing maintenance – fluorescent orange spray paint, detour signs, and high-visibility workwear – is a common sight on Ann Arbor’s streets, the aesthetics of work-in-progress are less often associated with a walk through the woods. In contrast to their ubiquity on city streets, these markers become the “signs of life” of a larger ecology at work within the Nichols Arboretum, offering a glimpse at how the human hand has assisted in staging what many would consider to be a “natural” (or non-human) setting. In collaboration with the caretakers of the Arboretum, Signs of Life was developed into a scalable system of prototypes for high and low-visibility maintenance. The project provides the otherwise unseen labor of the caretakers with a platform for public interaction at the scale of the marker, the post, the sign, and the web application. 

Robotic Exhalation

Team members: Elliot Smithberger, M.Arch, MS-DMT, and Collin Garnett, M.Arch

Robotic Exhalation explores the materiality of concrete, leveraging compressed air’s innate physical properties and widespread utility as a platform + methodology for patterning, forming, and surfacing material.  This work specifically investigates the consequences of directing one finitely controllable medium (air) into another (cementitious slurry). This simple equation generated a number of complex problems, leading to the team designing and fabricating a computer numeric controlled machine, developing a digital plugin for generative toolpathing, and exhaustively cataloging material properties. The output of this process embodies a seemingly contradictory hybrid of computer-generated toolpaths and material imperfection. While this work has largely been centered on process development and aesthetic explorations, the team intends to push this research forward with low-carbon mix alternatives and rigorous thermal + hygroscopic panel testing in an effort to produce a quantitative body of work that complements and interrogates the research completed thus far.

Second Skin

Team members: Elizabeth Ervin, M.Arch, Maya Fraser, M.Arch, Gayathri Sivakumar, M.Arch, and Douglas Tsui, M.Arch

Second Skin is a collection of responsive architectural wearables which adapt to emotional, kinetic, and physiological stimuli. The garments are a culmination of material research into bacteria cellulose, Arduino processors with reactive components, mechanical motion, and generatively-designed 3D printing. Through the use of gender-neutral silhouettes and size-inclusive garments, the collection invites us to engage with an alternative future where clothes are created for all bodies as they are.

The Architecture Student Research Grant, which was seeded with gifts from the Class of 2013 and continues to be funded through the generosity of Lisa Sauve, M.Arch ’11, M.S.’14, and Adam Smith, M.Arch ’11 (Synecdoche Design Studio, Ann Arbor) and in part by ArtsEngine’s Arts Integrative Interdisciplinary Research Grant, provides a unique opportunity for students to support outstanding research by their peers.