The winning team, made up of students, alumni, and instructors, created a sustainable, energy-efficient design
By Cristina Schreil
Their aim was zero energy—and they went above and beyond.
In a unique and fruitful cross-collaboration between six Academy of Art University students, alumni, and instructors from three departments—the Schools of Interior Architecture & Design (IAD), Landscape Architecture (LAN), and Graphic Design (GR)—one team won the Honors Prize in the Architecture at Zero competition in March. It’s a top achievement, coming with $10,000.
Led by IAD alumnus Alex Chuang, who now lives in Taiwan, the team, called “Crezlab” (pronounced “crazy lab”) assembled last fall to tackle this year’s competition prompt: a recreation center comprised of two attached buildings on the California State University, Monterey Bay campus. “I knew I wanted to help other students gain professional experience outside of a classroom that could help them get jobs and internships,” Chuang wrote via email. He added that it would bring participants “a sense of team responsibility, goal-seeking, mutual learning, and thinking.” Upon chatting with Academy instructors Stephanie Smith-Haenel and Michael Sammet, Chuang assembled a team. They separated into two groups: one focusing on architecture and another on interior design and landscape. Students worked through their winter breaks. Chuang said that solid communication and responsibility made them successful.
The team also included students from Ming Chuan University and Chun Yuan Christian University, both in Taiwan. Academy GR alumna Linyi Guo acted as graphic design consultant for the team’s report.
Their design, titled “Changer,” had a unique inspiration: an ocean kayak. Chuang explained, “The fluid dynamics and design features of the ocean kayak inform the approach to passive solar and the arrangement of solar panels on the building exterior. The idea that a kayaker achieves the most powerful and efficient stroke by minimizing excess body movement within the kayak informs efficient energy use.” The design also incorporated such features as a fog catcher, solar panels, and wind turbines to achieve a completely energy-efficient design. They also used recyclable materials. The jury praised the team for its energy analysis and use of sustainable strategies.
The competition, launched eight years ago in reaction to zero net energy goals put forth by the California Public Utility Commission, has different levels for professionals and students. It’s also in response to the commission’s goals for all new residential and commercial construction to be zero-energy by 2020 and 2030, respectively.
“By getting to know how green buildings or net zero architecture operates, we need to understand how it works first,” said LAN M.A. student Yungting Hsu, sharing that it gave her a sense of fulfillment. “I learned a lot from my teammates.”
IAD instructors—Smith-Haenel and Sammet—advised the team throughout. This included a site visit in November. Sammet, who’s been teaching sustainable design at the Academy for almost 10 years, said this experience is vital for students. “The Academy has so much on sustainability,” he said. “You can’t have [students] graduate without them understanding how to reduce energy, water, materials and toxic chemicals in the environments and the environments you build. … For at least 10 or 20 years, the field of architecture has been moving to this concept of net zero.”
Smith-Haenel said the team’s dedication was inspiring. “The students actually took ownership,” she said. She added that they went beyond the classroom mindset of finding the right answer. “We did treat them, in this case, more as peers than as our students…I could see the growth. There’s a huge difference from where they were in the classroom and where they are now. This experience and this interaction between different people and different responsibilities on the team really did help them to understand a lot more about how it is in the real world.”
For team member and IAD student Bella Chen, it did just that. “I learned how to work with different people from different fields and respect their profession,” she said. “Also the first time I dealt with sustainable design, I knew a lot of sustainable strategies and how to apply to architecture.” She said everyone researched together, taking on the case studies and analysis, and divided up the work. Chen was in charge of the interior floor plan and the furniture layout and selection. “I learned more about how professionals really think.”
Upon finding out that they won in March, the team was ecstatic. Some students are using the money to fund their LEED exams. Chaung said the next step is to enter more competitions—“all in the efforts to support the professional goals of the students.”
For Smith-Haenel, it meant even more. “The fact that there was so much Academy of Art at different levels speaks to the community that’s built while we’re all students,” she said. “It lives on after you graduate and it trickles down. I always say that our alumni are everywhere—they really are.”