This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB architect recognized by AIA for teaching method

Published: February 10, 2005

Contributing Editor

Shahin Vassigh, an architect and structural engineer on the UB faculty, has received international recognition over the past two years for her revolutionary approach to teaching structural analysis and building technology to architectural students—a notoriously difficult enterprise.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced that Vassigh's 2004 AIA pilot project on university research, "A Comprehensive Approach to Teaching Structures Using Advanced Media," will be published in an upcoming special AIA publication.

Vassigh, assistant professor of architecture in the School of Architecture and Planning, also will receive $4,000 from the AIA to support the final production of the project, which was developed by an interdisciplinary UB team led by Vassigh under a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Her original program, "Integrated Structures Instructional Package" (ISIP), is a digital system that does not rely on abstract mathematical concepts alone, but uses high-quality digital graphics, animation and sound to demonstrate visually the principles of structural analysis and building technology.

Vassigh explains that the new pedagogy offers a solution to a difficult and longstanding problem in architectural pedagogy.

"Understanding structures is absolutely central to the education of the architect," she says, "but the content, methods and teaching tools currently available were developed outside the architecture discipline—borrowed from engineering programs.

"As a result, instruction in this field is highly quantitative and even basic concepts must be communicated in the nomenclature of mathematics," she says.

"Many architecture students, however, do not have the background, disposition nor time to master the math skills required to use a system based on highly abstract mathematical models," Vassigh adds.

"As a consequence, they quickly become uninterested, frustrated or intimidated by the structures curriculum and many fail to master the basics of structural theory, not to mention the more demanding aspects of applied structural design.

"The program we've developed at UB," she says, "uses an advanced digital multi-media 'electronic textbook' to help students learn and apply structural analysis and design in ways that are much more appropriate to the needs, capabilities and perspectives of architectural students.

"It allows students to see just what happens to various constituent members as the load travels through the entire structure. It will demonstrate visually ways in which various architects have solved specific structural problems in different buildings, bridges and other structures."

When complete, ISIP will include the multimedia instructional electronic textbook, a detailed user tutorial and a project/product Web site that will provide student support, a structures "chat room" for leaving inquiries and a database of FAQs (frequently asked questions) about structures.

Vassigh's UB team includes her co-investigators Gary Scott Danford, professor of architecture; Andre Reinhorn, professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering; Bruce Majkowski, assistant dean in the School of Architecture who provides Web-design expertise; and architect John Sisting of the Center for Virtual Architecture, who produced most of the digital work for prototype software.

Testing assistance was provided by students of Christine Theodoropoulos of the University of Oregon's Department of Architecture; evaluation assistance was provided by Patrick Tripeny at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Utah.

Content was reviewed by Ronald Shaeffer, professor of architecture at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and Edward Allen, Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Professor of Architectural Design, University of Oregon, both prominent authors of architectural textbooks in the field of structures and construction technology.