Highlights from 2016 AIA Convention

If you did not make it to Philly for the 2016 AIA Convention this year, you really missed out! For the architectural and design community, it is the event of the year when like-minds come together for an incredible experience. As you might expect, you get the opportunity to learn from industry experts, gain insight into what is happening in the built environment, and get inspired by rising stars in the design world. While this year’s convention really delivered in all these fronts, I found this year’s convention particularly meaningful. In this post, I wanted to share my top three highlights with you.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium was honored with an AIA Twenty Five Year Award

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recognized EHDD, a San Francisco based firm, for their “architectural design of enduring significance conferred on a building project that has stood the test of time by embodying architectural excellence for 25-35 years.” They were recognized for their got-it-right venues, connections to the ocean and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, and use of materials that have stood the test of time. All these characteristics come together to form one of the nation’s premier aquariums that hosts over two million visitors annually. Hats off to Chuck Davis, Founding Principal who served as design principal on the aquarium, and his crew. On behalf of Rudolph of Sletten, I can say we continue to be proud to be your builder/partner since the aquarium’s inception.

The event’s location provided a suitable backdrop for design invention and imagination

Philadelphia is the home of Ben Franklin who is known as an inventor, philosopher, scientist, politician, soldier, ambassador, bookseller, and cartoonist…the list goes on. Some of his noteworthy inventions include bifocals, the lightening rod, flexible urinary catheter, odometer, swim fins, and a stove.  He discovered electricity and mapped the gulf stream.  Let's just say, Ben was pretty cool.  You will also find Philadelphia to be the home of Independence Hall where the Constitution of the United States was debated, drafted and signed and approved. As a home of one of nation’s founders and birthplace of the Constitution, the City is a great place to imagine the possibilities.

Keynote Speaker Neri Oxman offers up incredible breakthroughs in material use and 3D printing. The pioneering design and biophelia research from Neri Oxman and her Mediated Matter Research Group at MIT sounds like something out of a good science fiction novel. In this case, life is stranger than fiction. Get ready for this…they are testing the use of chitin (shrimp shell material) to serve various building applications. So far, the group has been able to use a 3D printer to repurpose chitin into building elements ranging from structural components to windows. Another highlight from the Mediated Matter Research Group includes the Silk Pavilion, which explores the relationship between digital and biological fabrication in architecture and products. This project enlisted 6,500 silkworms positioned at the bottom rim of a scaffold to spin flat non-woven silk patches. The intent was to explore “the formation of non-woven fiber structures generated by silkworms as a computational schema for determining shape and material optimization of fiber based surface structures.” Needless to say, exciting innovations in building materials are definitely coming to the built world.

The takeaway from these material breakthroughs is that we are moving away from a world of parts or separate systems. Innovative design will combine and integrate structure and skin, i.e. structures will be continuous material systems, not the assembly of parts. If we take this premise into consideration, a building skin will serve as it’s own structure with the ability to be transparent in some areas such as windows and thick or dense in others, as foundation or structural frame. 

Too heretical? Over 250 years ago, Ben Franklin started with a kite and a string.



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