UB Center for Virtual Architecture Receives Major Grant

Release Date: November 6, 2006


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A team of faculty members in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning have been awarded a $553,045 research grant from the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) to develop educational materials that use advanced media to teach important building principles to architecture students.

The funded project, "Building Literacy: The Integration of Building Technology and Design in Architectural Education," will focus in particular on the development of a new interactive, multidimensional software program to help students develop a better understanding of building systems integration.

The project team will be headed by Shahin Vassigh, an architect and civil engineer with an international reputation in the field of computer-assisted architectural pedagogy. Vassigh is an associate professor of architecture in the school and co-director of its Center for Virtual Architecture (CVA).

"An understanding of building technology and the integration of building systems in the design process are central to the education of an architect," she says, "but today, technology education in American architecture programs is a fundamental curriculum weakness.

"This failure to adequately prepare future architects in building technology already has had national consequences," she says.

"First, since the American building industry is one of the major consumers of energy and materials, the built environment suffers from inefficient energy and materials use," she says. "Second, under-prepared architecture graduates pose a significant risk to the quality of the built environment. Third, inadequate training is one reason the U.S. lags behind other industrialized nations in building innovation.

"The software we will devise in this project will harness the capabilities of advanced graphic media, such as dynamic modeling programs, in a way that will help students visualize concepts that otherwise are difficult to comprehend," Vassigh says. Software programs developed by the project, she added, will be disseminated by a nationally recognized publisher for use in other architecture programs.

Co-principal investigators include Omar Khan, assistant professor of architecture and co-director of the CVA, whose practice spans architecture, installation/performance and digital media, and Kenneth S. Mackay, assistant professor of architecture whose scholarly work involves natural and artificial light, building systems integration and the role that each of these play in generating form and space.

Additional co-principal investigators are Annette LeCuyer, professor of architecture, whose work focuses on the integration of design and construction in contemporary architecture, and Gary Scott Danford, Ph.D., associate professor of architecture, an applied behavioral scientist with advanced degrees in psychology and expertise in facilities evaluation.

Beverly McLean, Ph.D., UB research assistant professor of architecture, will be on the student performance evaluation team; Xiufeng Liu, Ph.D., associate professor of learning and instruction in the UB Graduate School of Education, provided expertise in student evaluation methods. Patrick Tripeny, associate professor of architecture at the University of Utah, will run a parallel study for the purpose of project evaluation.

Ken English, Ph.D., deputy director of UB's New York State Center for Engineering Design and Industrial Innovation (NYSCEDII) and adjunct professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, played a key role in project and proposal development. English will collaborate with UB alumnus Eliot Winer, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, to produce the Web-based visualization environment. Winer specializes in computer-aided design and graphics, scientific visualization and virtual-reality modeling for large-scale design.

The Center for Virtual Architecture, one of the newest research centers in the UB School of Architecture and Planning, is dedicated to projects that explore the impact of digital media on architectural theory, production, representation and pedagogy.

Vassigh was the director of a 2001 FIPSE-funded project to develop methods of teaching structures to architecture students using advanced media. She also worked with Khan to help produce multi-media pedagogical software for the UB School of Dental Medicine, a project funded by a 2003 UB Educational Technology Grant.

A second Educational Technology Grant in 2005 funded collaborative work by Vassigh, MacKay and Venkat Krovi, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, that produced a teaching/learning tool to facilitate the integration of various technology course content in the architecture curriculum into a single digital learning environment.

Vassigh's research focuses on structural and architectural design, and on the application of digital media to structural pedagogy and instructional materials. Her work has been published in Architectural

Design, International Journal of Architectural Computing, Journal of Association for Computer Aided Design and Teaching with Technology.

Her awards include a Technology Literacy Grant, an Architectural Research Centers Consortium Award, an American Institute of Architects Award Research Fellowship and a Construction Materials and Technology Research Fellowship. As a civil engineer, Vassigh has worked on structural and infrastructure related engineering projects throughout New York State.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.

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