Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship
My Fellowship Proposal
Humans live in a predominately self-constructed environment, though some cultures still maintain a strong connection with the natural environment. By reconnecting with vernacular building traditions that respect and are inspired by nature, an architect can gain valuable knowledge regarding structure and environmental response. This knowledge serves as a bridge between the fields of design and construction, creating sustainable architecture that meets functional needs without compromising environmental resources. My interest in architecture has always been inspired by my passion for resource conservation and environmental stewardship. As a future architect and leader in sustainable design, my design solutions must be able to serve communities, assert cultural identity, and be sustained by natural resources.
My intention in applying for the 2007 Keegan Fellowship is to encounter vernacular architecture of regions around the world which are threatened by the homogenizing forces of globalization. Through independent travel and observation, as well as work with international non-profits promoting humanitarian and environmental architecture, I hope to learn from traditional architecture directly through interaction with local communities. While living and working in each community, I will focus on their use of local materials, responsiveness to the environment, cultural influences, architectural function, and construction methods, as well as commonalities and disparities with other architectural traditions. Only through personal knowledge of a region's cultural and environmental needs can the relationship between these factors and vernacular architecture be truly understood. The Keegan Fellowship would advance my education beyond my academic study of architecture begun at Vanderbilt, exposing me to international perspectives on the role of architecture within cultural and environmental contexts.
In our increasingly global world, deteriorating cultural identity and poor management of natural resources have complicated the current design challenge. The United States has become a model that less developed countries are trying to emulate, despite the fact that this model promotes urban sprawl, dependency on automobiles, and buildings that consume 48% of our annual energy usage according to the American Institute of Architects and the U.S. Green Building Council. The application of Western architectural styles and methods in the place of traditional building design ignores regional climate, materials, cultural identity and environmental concerns that are essential to sustainable living. It is critical in both the United States and developing global communities that design solutions be found that enable people to live in comfort while preserving regional culture and protecting natural resources. Having the experience of learning directly from cultures that respect and relate to nature will enable me to be a leader in the movement to make the built environment in America more sustainable.
A sustainable built environment reduces the consumption of resources-including raw materials, energy, and water-through the application of natural methods of heating, cooling, and daylighting, as well as increasing efficiency through design. Buildings have a reduced impact on their site and their ecosystem; use materials that are locally extracted, manufactured and recycled; and provide a healthy, well-lit and well-ventilated space that meet occupant needs. Sustainable design can make a difference in the future of our planet.
Buildings were traditionally designed to respond to a particular environment, using materials readily available and considering factors such as sunlight, wind, water and landscape features when developing a particular building form and aesthetic. This created stylistic variation between regions that contributed to a sense of cultural identity and resulted in architectural traditions with an environmental impact less substantial than that of modernized built environments. Around the world, regional architecture that evolved over the centuries to fit the needs and express the identities of local cultures is being replaced by modern, standardized architecture. All too often, new construction is based on Western models, which tend to be overly dependent on technology, have high embodied energy inputs, and are isolated from the surrounding cultural and natural environments. The sustainable design movement seeks to rethink current approaches to design in order to be more sensitive and responsive to the natural environment. There is much to learn from vernacular architecture found in global cultures that are distinct from highly consumptive and standardized modern nations.
During the fall semester of this year, I completed an independent study course on the application of Critical Regionalism in architecture. This theory, introduced by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre in 1982, promotes preservation of regional culture through reinterpretation of the principles and concepts manifested in traditional architecture into new forms. As opposed to thoughtlessly applying visual symbols traditional to a regional culture onto a modern architectural form, Critical Regionalism calls for modern forms that respond appropriately to a region's history, climate, environment and culture. In my course I discovered that a region's traditional architecture is not only critical to cultural identity, but can also provide valuable insights to sustainable design. Traditional building practices were guided by climate conditions and locally available materials, responding appropriately to the constraints of the natural environment. Many passive solar heating, cooling, and daylighting techniques, as well as structural design solutions, that I observed in vernacular architecture of the Southwestern and Pacific Northwestern United States are being reconsidered and reinvented by architects practicing sustainable design in those regions today. My research for this course inevitably extended well beyond the United States and exposed me to cultural architecture of other regions. I was left eager to observe and learn from these unique cultures that have maintained their architectural traditions, cultural identities and, relationship with nature.
In my fellowship travels, I will engage with various communities while studying their vernacular architecture traditions. By working with non-profit groups focused on design and environmental issues specific to a region, I can learn about regional tradition and culture while providing assistance to communities facing shortcomings in housing or other basic infrastructure. While humanitarian aid efforts often rely on modern technologies, there are also opportunities that encourage preservation of cultural identity, increased self-sufficiency and use of local traditions to meet community needs. From my research on non-profit design and regional architecture, I have developed a strong interest in exploring countries in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia, although my final itinerary would be guided by the presence of non-profit organizations relevant to my inquiry.
Before I pursue a Masters of Architecture in a program emphasizing modern Western design solutions, it is important to me to gain the invaluable experience of witnessing other approaches to architectural design that take into account distinct regional characteristics and natural environments. Exposure to diverse design solutions will enhance my ability to respond to cultural, environmental, and functional needs often forgotten by modern architects trained in Western societies.
I am convinced that sustainable design is the future of the architectural profession as society realizes value of protecting our non-renewable natural resources for future generations. Engaging with traditional communities distinct from current Western models will teach me about truly sustainable living practices that people have been implementing successfully for hundreds of years, enabling me to educate others and be more inspired in my designs. The Keegan Fellowship would bestow on me the opportunity to expand my studies beyond Vanderbilt University and learn from architectural practices of international regions still relatively isolated from modern Western culture. This unique personal opportunity to experience creative and sustainable design solutions in vernacular architecture will enable me to inspire change in the built environment of our society and promote sustainable modes of living through my future work as a designer.
August-Early September: Europe
Mid September-December: South America
Early January: Mexico
March: Central and Southeast Asia