To say that Sheila Kennedy is redefining architecture is not an understatement. As the 2014 recipient of the Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize, Kennedy is recognized not only for her innovative approach to soft infrastructure — expanding the idea of “material” to include the organizational systems with which architecture is made — but also for her dedication to supporting underserved women’s communities through her work.
Made possible through a bequest by UC Berkeley alumna Sigrid Lorenzen Rupp, the bi-annual Berkeley-Rupp Prize of $100,000 is given by UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design to a distinguished design practitioner or academic who has made a significant contribution to advance gender equity in the field of architecture, and whose work emphasizes a commitment to sustainability and community. The prize includes a semester-long professorship, public lecture, and gallery exhibition at CED.
As a founding principal of KVA Matx, Sheila Kennedy directs an interdisciplinary design practice that works at the intersection of architecture, urbanism, and new infrastructure for emerging public needs. Her award winning projects in Brazil, France, Germany, China and the United States include notable building commissions with leading research universities; the East River Public Ferry Terminal in Manhattan; the Soft House work/live residences in Hamburg, Germany; Boston’s Chrysanthemum Building, a low-carbon model for urban housing; and the Portable Light Project, a Matx non-profit design, research and engineering initiative that builds upon the skill sets of women makers in the developing world by integrating clean energy and lighting with textile craft traditions.
Kennedy is also a Professor of the Practice of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture & Planning, the first woman to hold that position at MIT.
“We are delighted to recognize Sheila Kennedy with this prize. Her work is expanding the boundaries of architecture through designs that transform the way we think about materials and urban infrastructure. Her leadership in developing ecologically responsible soft design solutions to enhance the lives of women in developing countries — and her commitment to apply these innovative design principles here at home — exemplifies the highest goals for the Berkeley-Rupp Prize,” said CED Dean Jennifer Wolch.
Kennedy will begin her period in residence at CED in January 2015. As part of her research, Kennedy will partner with NGOs to engage communities of fabricators in three developing regions around the world. She will lead UC Berkeley students in computation, architectural design, engineering, and city planning in a series of hands-on design workshops exploring new urban infrastructure. Using soft materials — from paper to wood to bio-plastic — the group will develop open-source digital fabrication techniques and create adaptable prototypes such as pop-up solar streetlights, soft refridgeration kits for bicycle vendors, and public benches that collect and clean fresh water. These prototypes will be exhibited at UC Berkeley and fabrication kits will be shared with NGOs and the public online.
“Design leadership that integrates systems, inspires collaboration, and honors culture is essential if we are to craft a sustainable future,” said Allison Williams, vice president and director of design at the global engineering firm AECOM and a member of the nominating committe. “Sheila’s creative work in inventing new links between urbanized and natural ecologies, and changing the ways in which we think about material culture and manufacturing in a society that is increasingly local and global, is the embodiment of what we strive to cultivate with this prize.”
On Wednesday, January 28th, Kennedy will give a public lecture at Wurster Hall Gallery on soft infrastructure including her work on the Portable Light Project. From April 8th through May 1st, 2015, in Wurster Hall Room 108, Kennedy will host an open studio exhibition showcasing her research and work-in-progress by students in her graduate design studio.
A hallmark of the CED program is its relentless commitment to addressing the most critical challenges facing society today with an attention to sustainability, design excellence, community involvement, and technological expertise. CED faculty continually lead the way in promoting these values not only in the classroom but beyond it as well.
No event demanded the application of these principles more than the disaster that occurred March 11, 2011. The most powerful earthquake ever to have hit Japan caused huge devastation triggering a massive tsunami responsible for meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Along with tremendous rebuilding needs, the country whose lifestyle depended on reliable electricity, was now forced to rethink its energy use.
This became the catalyst for Architecture.Energy.2011, an intensive 4-day workshop, June 23–26, 2011 in Tokyo, developed by CED Professors of Architecture Dana Buntrock and Susan Ubbelohde. Intended as a quick response to the catastrophe with longer-term follow-up, the workshop was designed to introduce advanced concepts of building energy use and occupant comfort through the lens of architectural space and material as a filter for the environment. A subsequent workshop was held in August of 2012 at Berkeley, offering participants knowledge and skills that continue to be applied today.
A different way of thinking
Having been involved in architectural research in Japan since the late 1980s, Dana Buntrock has an intimate familiarity with the country’s approach to building design and a strong affiliation with the architectural community there. She reached out to her colleague Susan Ubbelohde, realizing that while Susan and her firm, Loisos+Ubbelohde, had no prior experience in Japan, their leading-edge expertise in technical analysis and energy efficient building practices was essential.
Historically, Japan has placed little emphasis on basic energy conservation approaches, such as insulation, in architecture. Because living and working spaces are typically very small, and households are in the habit of heating only one room at a time, per capita energy use has been relatively low. Energy saving practices that we take for granted in the US — like thermal insulation, day-lighting and energy performance measurement and analysis — are rare in Japan and although a building code related to energy consumption exists, compliance has been voluntary. While Japan places great importance on environmental policy as it concerns greenhouse emissions, there was little relation to efforts to reduce overall energy consumption, especially connected to buildings.
Buntrock and Ubbelohde were not out to champion California energy policy. “We were not interested in suggesting we are better at energy conservation than Japan, but simply that we offered a way of thinking that filled out an area where Japan had not yet developed strengths,” explains Buntrock. Ubbelohde echoes the sentiment, “Japan has a challenge to maintain their current quality of life without nuclear power. Japanese architects now have the opportunity to look at building science as a means of addressing that.”
Light. Heat. Air. Energy.
The June 2011 workshop, funded through a variety of resources that Buntrock and Ubbelohde put together, including money from the UC Berkeley Center for Japanese Studies and personal resources, was designed to provide tools and ways of approaching energy efficiency for architects already leading the profession in Japan. Seminars on the physics of building performance based on daily themes — Light, Heat, Air, and Supplementary Energy — were followed by an Environmental Measurement segment where participants used devices to discover how metrics relate to experience, and a Design Lab where teams were tasked with re-designing a contemporary building. Energy modelers from Loisos+Ubbelohde and UC Berkeley simulated energy performance and gave feedback to the participants as they worked.
The workshops were truly a cross-cultural collaboration, with organizers and leaders from both Japan and the US. Along with Professors Buntrock and Ubbelohde, and L+U principal George Loisos, groups were led by L+U staff Brendon Levitt, Ibone Santiago, Eduardo Pintos — all CED alumni — and Santosh Phillip. CED graduate student participants included David Fannon (M.Arch ’12), Kyle Konis (PhD Arch ’11), and Jeremy Fisher (M.S. Arch ’11). Collaborators in Japan who helped with organization and logistics included Shuzo Murakami, Building Research Institute; Masao Koizumi, Tokyo Metropolitan University; Kengo Kuma, Tokyo University; Nobufusa Yoshizawa, Insitute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation; and Balazs Bognar, Kuma and Associates.
Response was overwhelming. All together, 57 individuals participated. Many firms and organizations, under pressure to respond not only to the paradigm shifts in thinking about energy, but also to the more immediate need to rebuild in devastated areas, sent different participants on different days.
The follow-up workshop the next year at Berkeley, funded by a grant from the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership, focused on energy efficiency from a policy and application perspective, and concentrated on a more substantial sharing of available tools. Many of the same participants or participant firms took part in the second workshop along with first-time attendees.
Expressing her amazement at the level of engagement of the workshop participants, Susan Ubbelohde remarked, “These were some of the best designers I had ever worked with. Since the workshop, we’ve had a number of architects and engineers from Japan visiting the office and now there is an ongoing dialog that has really benefited the entire office. It’s been great.”
Making a Difference
While it may be a while before significant results are achieved, participants are beginning to put their experience to use. Norihisa Kawashima, an architect at Nikken Sekkei who came to Berkeley as a visiting scholar and worked with L+U to learn Berkeley-based simulation approaches, is now back at Nikken Sekkei sharing what he has learned.
Partners from the Tokyo-based ADH Architects, designing publicly financed homes in the earthquake region, have been working with L+U to propose upgraded approaches to efficiency. They will work with another workshop attendee, Dr. Masayuki Mae of the University of Tokyo, to do thermal testing after completion.
Not surprisingly, the workshops have also had an impact on the Berkeley student participants and faculty. David Fannon now works as a building scientist and specialist in high-performance design for Syska Hennessy Group in New York. Kyle Konis was moved after meeting young Japanese designers who, though their lives had been dramatically affected by the disasters, were driven to have a positive impact. Konis now teaches sustainability classes at USC and has incorporated his Japan experience into the themes of his teaching.
“There are social implications to energy,” explains Dana Buntrock. “Without electricity thousands of buildings in Japan became at least temporarily uninhabitable because of poor thermal and day-lighting qualities. Beyond reduced reliance on fossil fuels, which Japan now must consider, energy efficiency has larger implications for human comfort. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to continue working with Japanese colleagues on the energy demands of buildings.”
Dana Buntrock is Chair of the University of California’s Center for Japanese Studies and a Professor in the university’s Department of Architecture.
Her work focuses on interdisciplinary collaborations in Japanese architecture and construction practices, starting with her first book, Japanese Architecture as a Collaborative Process: Opportunities in a Flexible Construction Culture (London: Spon, 2000). It dealt with the radical changes that occurred in structural design and their exciting architectural outcomes following the 1995 Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake. She has conducted fieldwork in Japan, the US, Taiwan, and Korea, supported by fellowships from the US National Science Foundation, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars, and the Social Science Research Council.
Professor Ubbelohde and her partner George Loisos lead an office of unconventional practice, bringing research methods and physical and computer modeling to a wide range of architectural design solutions. The firm has pioneered new methods of energy conservation, production and analysis; lighting and daylighting design and analysis; natural ventilation analysis; concept design and fabrication of light emitting and controlling elements including light sculptures. Most projects are collaborations with other firms where L+U contributes tools and processes to reveal aspects of building performance. The firm works closely with University researchers, LBNL and other research institutions to bring the most sophisticated and appropriate technology to the practice of architecture.