Joyce Hwang


Joyce Hwang, UB associate professor of architecture and director of professional studies

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

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 work?

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 usage.

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 conditioning.

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.

Learn more about Hwang's research.