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.