What are you doing to help UB become more
I teach courses in the Department of Architecture’s
Ecological Practices Research Group. One seminar, “Questions
of Sustainable Thinking” (developed in collaboration with
other faculty in our research group), is a course that asks
students to think more broadly about sustainability, not only as a
technological question – but also as one that is grounded in
social, economic, ecological, political, and even aesthetic issues.
Each week of the course is devoted to a different theme, for
example: waste, material, food, landscape, etc. I also teach design
studios that promote sustainability as a broader, ecological
agenda. My recent studios, “The Urban Wilderness” and
“Zoological Cities” asked students to consider the
interdependent relationships between human beings and other living
species in the urban environment.
Recently I gave a talk as part of a seminar series for the
Graduate Program of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior, organized by
the program’s Director, Associate Professor of Biological
Sciences Katharina Dittmar. Participating in these types of focused
interdisciplinary exchanges are valuable ways to share ideas across
campus, and generate discussions that will hopefully encourage more
sustainable thinking at UB.
On a slightly different note, having taught study abroad courses
abroad in Rome, Italy and Barcelona, Spain, I am conscious of the
profound impact that study abroad programs have on students. When I
participate in these programs as a faculty member or when I direct
other travel experiences with students, I try to encourage
approaches to learning that emphasize more sustainable ways of
living. I tend toward developing seminars that explore architecture
in cities by walking – a lot of walking. I think it’s
often the case that one can have a more intense experience of an
urban environment, almost completely on foot. When traveling with
students, I try to show how this is possible, and fun.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you
pursue at UB?
In my research and creative practice, I am interested in
exploring ways to incorporate habitat conditions into the built
environment. Urban animals are a critical part of our ecosystem,
and indeed, play a significant role in increasing biodiversity in
cities; yet, they are not typically considered within the realm of
“sustainable design.” My work addresses this gap in the
logics of sustainability. As an architect, I advocate for
“cross-species” design, as a way to move us beyond the
limits of the Anthropocene.
My practice’s recent projects Bat Tower and Bat Cloud
– while mostly funded through external grants – were
developed at UB, working with students, in consultation with UB
faculty (such as Associate Professor Dittmar), and fabricated using
the School of Architecture’s Materials and Methods Shop and
Digital Fabrication Lab. Through a grant from the Baldy Center, I
initiated a research project on mining urban zoning codes to find
opportunities for green infrastructure. This is a project that is
still in progress. Currently, I am collaborating with a group of
faculty (Associate Professor Laura Khan, Assistant Professor
Nicholas Rajkovich, Adjunct Professor and Researcher Mitchell
Bring, and Associate Professor Dittmar) in developing a proposal
for vegetated walls.
I also worked with several other faculty members (Assistant
Professor Martha Bohm and Research Assistant Professor Chris
Romano) from the School of Architecture and Planning to organize
and coordinate the Hive City Habitat Design Competition, which was
a competition for UB student teams to develop proposals for an
installation to house a colony of bees at Silo City. The winning
project, Elevator B, was fabricated by the student team (Courtney
Creenan, Kyle Mastalinski, Dan Nead, Scott Selin, and Lisa Stern)
and sponsored by local manufacturer Rigidized Metals. The
consequences of this endeavor have been quite tremendous. As we
hoped, the project has generated more local interest in bees as a
significant pollinator, and it has shown how architecture can be an
active participant in addressing urban biodiversity. The project
has also brought a great deal of media attention to Buffalo, and
specifically to Silo City as an emblematic example of a
“place” that can emerge from the vestiges of a
city’s industrial past.
How are students involved in your sustainability
I often invite students to work with me on projects. Over the
years, I have actively employed many students and alumni as
contributors and collaborators. Very recently, two alumni –
Joseph Swerdlin and Sze Wan Li-Ban – worked as project
managers and fabricators for iterations of the Bat Cloud project.
Along with another alumnus, Robert Yoos, they traveled with me to
the Netherlands to install a project at the Rotterdam Architecture
Biennale, an international exhibition which focused on the theme
“Urban by Nature.” Graduate assistants have also been
invaluable in helping me develop research agendas. My current
interests in green infrastructure and its relationship to a
city’s legal structures stem from a year of collaboration
with my former research assistant, Michael Kirschner.
I am currently co-editing a book (with Assistant Professor Bohm
and graduate alumna Gabrielle Printz, M.Arch ’14), which is a
project that has included quite a lot of student participation. Not
only is one of the co-editors a former student, but many content
contributors are students as well. The book, titled Beyond
Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice, does not target
“sustainability” as we might conventionally understand
it, but it addresses a broader conception of social and economic
sustainability. We are at a moment when architects are feeling the
effects of sustained economic crises. While the patronage of
clients is clearly necessary to ensure the profession of
architecture’s survival, I think it is important to explore
other viable ways for architects to operate in the world.
It’s important to convey that architects can act as advocates
for particular under served community groups, or as activists for
social causes, for example. Architects can build practices around
agendas of promoting social and environmental awareness.
What is the one thing you would like people to know that you
do in your personal life to further sustainability?
I try not use air conditioning as much as possible. In fact, I
have never personally owned an air conditioning unit. This is
possible because my husband and I have generally chosen to live in
houses and apartments that have good cross-ventilation. More
buildings should be designed to encourage passive cooling.
How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?
Continuing from the last question, UB could really re-examine
its use of air conditioning. When I go to work in the summer, or on
any warm day, I will usually need to bring a wool sweater with me,
as it is so cold inside the buildings! There are also
certain zones of buildings that are hardly used in the summer that
are still being air-conditioned at full blast. If there were study
done of campus buildings and how much air conditioning is really
needed, I would be willing to bet that the university could save
quite a lot of money by cutting down significantly on energy
More broadly, as the university continues to renovate old
buildings and build new ones, we as a university community could be
more mindful in exploring ways to better incorporate passive
cooling and ventilation systems, to reduce the need for air
I also think it would be great for UB to encourage its community
to take public transit. Working with the city to offer reduced fare
NFTA passes to all students, faculty, and staff would be helpful.
Creating a higher demand for public transit could help convince the
city to improve its public transportation system.