Graduate Architecture Researchers Transform Their Field and the World

Making environments that are clean, efficient, elude us, "know" us

Release Date: April 25, 2008

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A unique and challenging model of graduate architectural pedagogy established by the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning is graduating experts in domains that are revolutionizing the field of architecture.

The school offers Graduate Architectural Research Programs that permit students to focus on one of four areas in which the UB school has particularly strong faculty and research commitments: sustainable environments, material culture, inclusive design and situated technologies.

Mehrdad Hadighi, associate professor and chair of the school's Department of Architecture, says few other graduate architecture programs require the structured interdisciplinary research demanded here, and that UB is only able to do so because of the university's decades-long commitment to cross-disciplinary work.

He says this initiative and others like it are imperative if the school is to reach its goal of becoming an internationally recognized institution that will attract a global population and whose graduates will be in demand by top firms, public agencies, and academic and research institutions around the world.

"The architecture department has a legacy of creative practice, esteemed faculty and renowned research. This provides the impetus for the kind of innovations represented by this program, which not only serve our students exceptionally well, but advance the quality of graduate architectural education itself," he says.

In addition to a year of highly structured training in domain-related theory and technology, the program requires, as a fundamental component of their education, that students conduct intense theoretical investigations and collaborative research with faculty experts in one of the fields above.

UB architects have for years conducted nationally recognized work that synthesizes the theory and practice of several fields. Among them are visual studies, emerging technologies, rehabilitation medicine, engineering, landscape architecture, media study, industrial engineering, computer technology and urban and regional planning, as well as history, communication and psychology.

The school also is the home to important centers of funded interdisciplinary research whose work is integral to the development of the four graduate research groups. The curricular research programs operate parallel to the research centers and employ the same faculty, although the graduate research groups are intentionally not housed in research centers.

In explaining the reason for the development of the research groups, Brian Carter, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, says, "Architecture is an extraordinary mix of ideas that embrace both art and science.

"The development of those ideas, through the combination of design and research across the disciplines and in truly integrative ways, can create buildings and environments that improve the quality of life for everyone," he says.

"Student research is not bound by the strictures of sponsored research," Hadighi says, "so students have considerable creative freedom in designing their projects." He adds that such creativity and openness bodes well for the work conducted in both realms, since the programs will converse with one another as they conduct studies in their cognate fields.

The school does not require all graduate students to belong to a research group, as some elect to train as generalists. It is also the case that some of the students take courses in more than one -- sometimes all four -- of the research areas in order to develop expertise in more than one area.

"One thing I want to emphasize," Hadighi says, "is that while we have excellent computational equipment, we do not use computers simply as representational devices. In all our programs they are used to lead students through a virtual door so that they can work with greater precision in a physical space."

The Situated Technologies Graduate Research Group, whose faculty members are affiliated with the school's Center for Virtual Technologies and Situated Technologies, focuses on the design of artifacts, spaces and media responsive to the settings in which they are found.

Faculty members directing the group are Omar Khan and Mark Shepard and Shadi Nazarian.

The Graduate Architecture Research Group in Material Culture conducts research on the relationship of material practice and the built environment, developing unique, even startling applications.

The group's work involves full-scale fabrication, assembly, installation and the critical exploration of design and production. Its affiliated faculty members are Hadighi, Frank Fantauzzi and Jean LaMarche, Annette LeCuyer and Kenneth MacKay.

Students in the Graduate Research Group on Inclusive Design aim to improve the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safer and more appealing to people with a wide range of abilities throughout their life spans.

The group's faculty members are affiliated with the UB Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center), whose international reputation in this global field indicates the quality of the resources available to students. Faculty members Edward Steinfeld, Gary Scott Danford and Beth Tauke all produce award-winning research that involves person-behavior-environment transactions. The center Web site is available at

"The graduate research programs are much more intensive than most architectural graduate programs," says Danford.

"The faculty has much higher expectations of our students and they graduate with a much greater level of expertise than if they were in involved in a general curriculum."

The work of the fourth Graduate Group in the Investigation of Sustainable Urban and Natural Environments parallels the work of the architecture department's Urban Design Project (UDP)

The UDP is devoted to the critical practice of urban design, and is closely associated with the school's Department of Urban and Regional Planning. This graduate research group offers an intense exploration of the role architecture plays in the making the emerging world one that is sustainable, healthy and resilient. Faculty members are Dennis A. Andrejko, Hiro Hata, Lynda H. Schneekloth and Robert G. Shibley.

The Graduate Architectural Research Program is supported by one of the finest machine and assembly shops in any U.S. architecture school; a digital workshop that provides a range of the latest equipment dedicated to material research, model making and fabrication; a visualization lab that assists research on virtual reality, computer graphics and interactive techniques through a unique blend of engineering, science, art and technology; a new visual resources center that directly supports the curriculum with a vast collection of slides, videos and the latest equipment.

The school also has 63,000 net square feet of studio and studio support space, and architecture and planning library. The 15-member digital media group provides printing, plotting and digital equipment services to facilitate the production of faculty and student projects and portfolios.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system that is its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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