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Posts by Robert Vaughan

In its second year, the annual CDR-Design Design Robotics Summit will be hosted by the Virginia Tech Center for Design Research at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies Research and Demonstration Facility (RDF)- Design Robotics Studio on February 12th and 13th . The annual summit is led by professors Nathan King, Chip Clark, and Bob Dunay, and is intended to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and technologies by providing a platform that extends the collaborative potential between local and regional partners from academia, industry, and design practice. Building on the success of the 2015 event and as an extension of ongoing research, this year’s summit will focus on the design and realization of complex wooden spatial structures and will include 100 participants from the Virginia Tech School of Architecture +Design (VT A+D), The University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT), The University of Virginia (UVA), Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and industry partners Autodesk, Delcam, and Rudabega. Using a combination of Dynamo, Autodesk React Structures, and the new Dynamo-to-Robot workflow (developed in part during the 2015 summit), this workshop will explore integrated computational design and structural optimization-to-robotic fabrication workflows to design, evaluate, and fabricate a large format prototypical spatial structure using human-machine collaboration.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the latest piece of the FutureHAUS project will debut at KBIS 2016 in Las Vegas, the largest kitchen and bath industry show of its kind. You may recall that the FutureHAUS’s kitchen debuted there last year, where it received a great deal of attention, including an article in USA Today.

The bathroom offers a lot of new and exciting ideas, many that were suggested by students during an interdisciplinary research class in fall semester that included students from architecture, industrial design, and computer engineering.

Here’s a sneak peak at some of the features the bathroom has to offer:

The FutureHAUS™ research team at Virginia Tech has designed a smart bathroom that integrates new and innovative fixtures, technologies, and materials to create the Internet of Things bathroom. The work proposes a comfortable home environment that is smart, functional, user-friendly, accessible, and energy and resource efficient.

The prototype integrates user-friendly electronic interfaces to control water and temperature flow, to monitor energy and water usage, to accommodate working heights for multigenerational users, and to customize music and lighting. An interactive mirror display is the information wall for the bathroom, serving as its virtual interface. The mirror provides useful information including time, date, weather, and morning traffic along with bathroom performance data.

The focus of the bathroom is innovation, predicting the future on how integrated technology will improve the way we live. This high-tech room is another prototype testing the viability for pre-fabricated “cartridge” components to transform the way we build buildings in the future, especially as we expect our architecture to accommodate innovations of the digital age.

And here’s a behind the scenes look at the construction process:

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”22″ gal_title=”Building FutureHAUS bathroom”]



Simon Babin of Mount Airy, Maryland is a third year architecture student. He is currently considering what study abroad program he wants to do next year and hopes that program will help him decide on his plans for after graduation.

What is your favorite color?

My favorite color is teal. I think it’s mainly because of the refreshing sensation I get when I see the color. Seeing it reminds me of the moment you jump into tropical water on a hot day.

What led you to choose Architecture?

Since middle school, I was drawn to the profession for some reason. When asked now, I say it’s the idea that my design decisions influence a person’s way of life, but I really don’t know what it was in seventh grade.

What about Virginia Tech?

When visiting, I really enjoyed the college’s curriculum that allows you to explore other tropics related to design and not just a linear path to traditional architecture.

What is the most recent project you’ve worked on?

Currently, we are tasked with designing a room in a garden. The abstract nature of the prompt really allows us to explore our interests in design in relation to the given site. The smaller scale also gives us the opportunity to more thoroughly consider the construction process. My project focuses on the idea of creating thresholds at a given interval, in the hopes of creating the impression of procession in relation to my room.

What have you enjoyed most about this project?

I really enjoyed developing the pathway through the garden in such a way that each portion can be considered an architectural moment while still making the occupant aware of the greater boundary of the path.

What is your favorite part about your major?

Definitely the studio culture. The sense of community is amazing and I love the supportive mentality. The discussion on design present between both professors and students can last for hours and still remain interesting! To be a part of a discussion in which personal interpretations can vary so greatly and yet there is no singular answer is really stimulating.

What is your favorite thing you’re involved with outside of your major?

It’s hard to choose, but probably XYZ Art Gallery. We might not have as prolific shows as galleries in major cities, but it is amazing to see how a student-run gallery can still affect the Blacksburg community. As one of the presidents this year, I am always impressed by how much the events are worth it from start to finish and how willing members are to volunteer their time.

IMG_3257 [182961] (1) Jade McNair of Columbia, South Carolina is a junior majoring in Building Construction in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies with a minor in Spanish. One day, she hopes to start her own international construction company in Vancouver, Canada. What began as a class project in 2014 became an organization called Building Women In Construction, established by McNair and two other women majoring in Building Construction.

What made you choose Virginia Tech?

Most of my family lives near the Virginia Beach area, so I was kind of born into the Hokie life. Plus, down in South Carolina they don’t really have a building construction major, so I gravitated towards Virginia Tech.

Why did you choose Building Construction?

I love buildings. I always thought I wanted to do architectural engineering, right up until my senior year of high school. I looked into the Building Construction major at Virginia Tech and it seemed small. I like the fact that you have the faculty to student ratio that’s 1:3. I like that interaction. As for the buildings part, I love to see how it can be grass one day and months down the road it’s this huge building. The process has always fascinated me.

What made you start the Building Women In Construction Group?

It started out as a class project. There were five of us in BC Seminar with Mills, and he had everyone start an organization or something within the major. Two of us took it and ran with it because we liked the idea of getting the women in the class involved. My first class it was 70 people and there were only four girls. We have women from Building Construction, Construction Management, Architecture, Residential Design – basically anything that comes back to buildings. We bring companies in sometimes. Two people got internships through our organization last year, so we just try to get women comfortable with the industry and make sure they have opportunities.

What do you do in Building Women in Construction?

We actually do a lot, which surprises people because we are such a new organization. A few things that we do are: have interest meetings, bring construction companies to speak to our members in a social setting, hold bake sales throughout the semester, participate in community service, and go to schools to talk to students about construction. We also help sponsor industry days, which is when we bring in many different companies on one day and allow anyone to come and listen to what the representatives have to say, as well as allow for questions that someone wouldn’t normally be willing to ask in a more formal setting.

Who is going to carry on your legacy when you leave?

We’re actually doing induction-type activities next semester. It’s going to be a shadow program, so whoever wants to apply for the exec teams is going to shadow us for the semester and then we’re going to turn it over to them the next year and watch them because most of us graduate after that. It gives them time to understand their positions.

What are you passionate about?

I am very passionate about helping others. I am a tutor for math and reading at the elementary, middle, and high schools around the Blacksburg area, which I enjoy because I am able to watch students improve themselves which will help them in the long run when they apply to college. I do talk about Virginia Tech to them, so I hope I can persuade them to come here.

To learn more about Building Women In Construction, check them out online, or email Jade at jmcnair1@vt.edu.





Shabnam Kavousi

Shabnam Kavousi

Virginia Tech graduate student Shabnam Kavousi presented An Exhibition on Cultures from Monday, November 10 to Thursday, November 12 in the Art + Architecture Library in Cowgill Hall.

Kavousi, a Ph.D. candidate in the Architecture and Design Research Program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies held the exhibition as part of the Diversity Scholars program.

Shabnam’s vision for the exhibition was to embrace diversity and improve the interaction between domestic and international students. She believes that by enhancing the informal interactions among students through multicultural events, students become conscious learners and critical thinkers.

The call for objects requested media, pottery, fabric, calligraphy, and more from countries and cultures around the world.

Shabnam gathered more than 50 objects from more than 25 countries around the world as well as objects from Florida, Alaska, and Virginia.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”21″ gal_title=”Exhibition on Cultures 2015″]

The purpose of the exhibition was to serve in:

  • Enhancing the informal interactions among students through the creation of a multi-cultural exhibition
  • Motivating students to promote their culture and represent the respective craftsmanship that has developed there
  • Providing the opportunity for students to become familiar with different aspects of other cultures from different countries and states
  • Providing an educational environment where students can learn from each other in experiencing the crafts across cultures and backgrounds
  • Increasing the understanding of forms of material arts and objects that arise from specific cultures

Diversity scholars are graduate students who specialize in and advocate for the awareness, knowledge, and skills associated with diversity and inclusion in the Graduate School and greater community. A diversity scholar’s goal is to create dialogue, provide advocacy, and implement change for a more diverse and inclusive experience for all graduate students, faculty, staff, and administrators. This involvement can take place in many forms and can be specific to a particular curriculum or department, or it can be more global.

Kavousi’s research interest is in student cognitive learning processes in the domain of architectural design problem solving. During the time of her Ph.D., she received a Master of Arts in Education (MAED in Curriculum and Instruction) focused on education psychology in 2014. Shabnam also holds an M.S. of Landscape Architecture from the University of Putra Malaysia since 2010. In addition, she has the “Future Professoriate Graduate” and “Cognition and Education” certificates offered by the Graduate School at Virginia Tech.

Thompson_PortraitHenry Thompson of Ashburn, Virginia is a senior studying Visual Communication Design who grew up outside of Chicago in St. Charles, Illinois. His favorite part of his major is getting to watch his friends improve as designers and produce bigger and better things every semester. Ask him about his plans after graduation and he’ll tell you he’s not even sure what he’s doing tonight.

What’s your favorite color and why?

Pantone Cool Gray 3 C. It’s the same as hex color #cccccc. I’m deuteranopic (red-green colorblind) so that particular gray is a color that I gravitate to a lot. It’s faint, but not lost, visible, but not intrusive. It’s a safe color, but works well in a lot of schemes. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also very easy to remember.

What led you to Visual Communication Design? 

I have been interested in art since I was very young, and creativity was always one of my strong suits. I fell in love with using a computer and the perfection that could be achieved on a digital interface, so meeting half way between art and computers seemed like a no brainer. In middle school, I would make MySpace layouts, album covers, and logos for my friends’ bands. I think I would say those are the first things I really designed.

Tell me about your most recent project.

If only there was just one! The biggest project I’m currently working on is the November issue of Engineers’ Forum. It’s a Virginia Tech-based magazine about engineering research and design here on campus. You can pick up a copy in Squires, Newman, Norris, Surge, Torgerson, and Hahn North.

What’s your favorite part about working on this?

I’m the art director, so I have a lot of say in how everything gets put together. It’s a lot of work but the finished product always feels like such an accomplishment. We get 2,000 issues per magazine, so there’s pressure to get everything just right, but once the shipment from the printer arrives it’s very rewarding to hold an entire box of something you designed. It’s a surreal feeling watching it progress from sketches to print.

Are you working on any other projects right now?

I’m currently working on a side project that’s actually too good to even talk about. I will say, however, that it is a mobile app that’s going to change the way we grocery shop. It’s almost ready to be pitched to our potential investors. I wish I could say more, but it’s just not ready yet. You can find me on the Forbes list in a few years.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Stay golden, ponyboy.


John Lawson (left) and Donald McNamara (right) said that recent graduates should be proactive, not reactive, and be able to make quick decisions, whether they’re right or wrong.

Virginia Tech alumni John Lawson and Donald McNamara spoke to a packed house about the Lost Art of the Deal on Friday, October 23.

John Lawson, President and CEO of W.M. Jordan Company, and Donald McNamara, Chairman of Hampstead Holdings, highly successful real estate entrepreneurs, spoke to students about real estate investment and development.

Lawson spoke of a highly successful real estate development called the Virginia Tech Hampton Roads Centers in Newport News and Virginia Beach. Lawson was inspired by the success of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, VA and knew that there was an unmet need for educational services in the Hampton Roads region. Collaborating with Virginia Tech, Lawson was able to bring the innovative project to life over a two-year time period.

When asked what was important for recent graduates to know when trying to become a successful entrepreneur, Lawson emphasized a willingness to make quick decisions, whether they are right or wrong, and being decisive in all situations.

McNamara spoke about his revolutionary development in Dallas, TX that had a tremendous impact on the city. The development transformed a neighborhood with the highest crime per capita in the district to one of the most desirable places to live for young people in Dallas, now referred to as Uptown.

McNamara bought a large piece of land from Southland Corporation after it filed for bankruptcy. He developed the east side first with a goal of lower density development. Later, he sold the holdings on the east side to fund west side development.

The west side was developed with the intention to increase density while approaching I-75. This was the first successful urban mixed-use project in Dallas.

When asked the same question as Lawson, what is important for recent graduates to know when trying to become a successful entrepreneur, McNamara stressed the need to be proactive and not reactive. He spoke about not sitting on the sidelines when big decisions are being made, but being involved in every step of the way.

Written by Rory Halligan of Manchester, Vermont, a junior Communication Studies major in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

L’Union International des Femmes Architectes and The International Archive of Women in Architecture will present Libby Skala’s internationally acclaimed play “LiLiA!”  at the Lyric Theatre at 135 College Avenue in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Thursday, July 30 at 4:30 p.m. as part of the 18th UIFA Congress.

The performance is open to the public and tickets will be available at the door. General admission is $10.00, or $5.00 for students. For more information please call the Lyric Theater at (540) 951-0604.

Libby as a child with grandmother Lilia. Photo by Grace Polk.

Libby as a child with grandmother Lilia. Photo by Grace Polk.

The show is performed by actress and writer Libby Skala who portrays the life of her grandmother, architect and Oscar-nominated actress Lilia Skala, whose architectural drawings are archived in IAWA’s permanent collection in Special Collections within Virginia Tech’s University Libraries.

Viennese born, Lilia Skala became the first female architect in Austria, a stage star in Max Reinhardt’s theater, and finally a Hitler refugee who worked her way out of a New York zipper factory to an acting career on Broadway, television, and film.  She collected award nominations for her performance in “Roseland” (Golden Globe), “Eleanor and Franklin” (Emmy) and most notably Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her role as the Mother Superior in “Lilies of the Field.”

Out of this remarkable journey emerges the story of a relationship between Lilia and her granddaughter, Libby in which the Grande Dame serves as mentor, role model, and at times, unwitting adversary.  Before she died, she asked Libby to write a part for her. Libby began developing the show shortly thereafter.

In 2003, Lilia Skala’s architectural drawings were added to the IAWA’s permanent collection in Special Collections and have toured to destinations as far reaching as Japan and Outer Mongolia in the IAWA’s traveling exhibits. These drawings will be on special display in the library in conjunction with the congress and performance of “LiLiA!”

“We are thrilled to present Libby’s show about her grandmother Lilia Skala here at the IAWA as a part of the 18th UIFA Congress and have looked forward to this moment since we were given Lilia’s drawings by her two sons in 2003. This is a very special moment in casting these wonderful materials and this important history into the future,” said Donna Dunay, G.T. Ward Professor of Architecture in the School of Architecture + Design and chair of the IAWA. “Everyone should go see Lilia’s drawings prior to the play, just down College Avenue where they are on display at the University Library in the windows of Special Collections beside the College Avenue entrance.”

Libby Skala wrote and has performed the critically acclaimed “LiLiA!” to sold-out houses across North America, in London sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Forum, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in Berlin and Dresden, Germany, and in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. It ran off-Broadway produced by Mirror Repertory Company. Her second play “A Time to Dance” won “Best Solo Performer” Award at The London Fringe Theatre Festival. She played Viola in Twelfth Night at St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, appeared in the film “Birth” with Nicole Kidman and is a graduate of Oberlin College.

SoniaAwardThe Urban Affairs Association (UAA), the international professional association for urban scholars, researchers and public service professionals, convened its 45th Annual Conference in Miami, Florida – April 8-11, 2015. Over 900 participants, representing universities, research institutions, nonprofit organizations, and public and private organizations/institutions from around the world met to discuss 21st century issues impacting urban populations and places. Conference participants represented institutions from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Florida International University served as the local sponsor for the event.

During the conference, awards were presented in recognition of outstanding scholarship and service. Among those honored was Sonia Hirt, associate dean and professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Hirt was awarded the 2015 Best Book in Urban Affairs Honorable Mention Award. Forty-one books were nominated for the Best Book in Urban Affairs Award this year. The authors of these books represented several different disciplines and a variety of urban topics.

For honorable mention, the committee selected Sonia Hirt’s Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation, Cornell University Press. This book seeks to answer the question: How is it that freedom-loving Americans, who have almost continuously throughout their history, been suspicious of government regulations, have in place the most detailed, constraining, ubiquitous regulatory land use system in the world, especially where detached single family homes are concerned? the committee stated, “We thought that Prof. Hirt, through a detailed and creative historical and comparative analysis, answers that question thoroughly. We learn, for example, that the US is the only country of those surveyed with a planning system that is purely local or that forbids other uses in single-family districts. Prof. Hirt, we thought, quite successfully explains this American exceptionalism. And for that explanation, you have to buy the book.”

Sonia A. Hirt is a Professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as Associate Dean. She holds doctoral and master’s degrees from the Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, and architectural diploma from the University of Architecture in Sofia, Bulgaria. She currently serves on the Board of Governors of the Taubman College. During her sabbatical, Hirt was a Visiting Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University, where she taught Urbanism in Europe and served as design critic. Hirt has over sixty publications in the history and theory of urban form, urban design and urban planning. Hirt is the author of Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulations (Cornell University Press, 2014); Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Postsocialist City (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012); and Twenty Years of Transition: The Evolution of Urban Planning in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, 1989-2009 (UN-HABITAT, 2009, with K. Stanilov). Iron Curtains received the Honorable Mention for the 2013 Book Prize in Political and Social Studies sponsored by Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

The award committee included Chair Nico Calavita (San Diego State University); Colleen Casey (University of Texas – Arlington); Michael Glass (University of Pittsburgh); Kevin Keenen (College of Charleston); Myron Levine (Wright State University); Elizabeth Mueller (University of Texas – Austin); Anne Wessels (University of Washington – Tacoma).

Dealing with DeindustrializationMass factory closures in cities and regions across the Midwest of the United States in the 1970s and 1980s has been a research interest for Margaret Cowell, assistant professor, Urban Affairs and Planning, since she was a doctoral student at Cornell University.

Cowell’s study of what happened as leaders in Indianapolis, Indiana; Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Detroit, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reacted to the news of each plant closure and to the broader deindustrialization trend that emerged during this time period has culminated in her newly published book, “Dealing with Deindustrialization: Adaptive Resilience in American Midwestern Regions,”published by Routledge.

The book shows how the leaders in eight metropolitan areas facing deindustrialization strived for adaptive resilience by using economic development policy. The unique attributes of each region which include asset bases, modes of governance, civic capacity, leadership qualities, and a number of external factors influenced both the responses that leaders employed and the outcomes that were achieved as a result.

Using adaptive resilience as a lens, Cowell provides a thorough understanding of how and why regions varied in their abilities to respond to deindustrialization and explains why she has labeled Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee as “Basic Betters,” and why Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh are identified as “Bowing Out.”

“The Basic Betters all crafted strategies that focused on the retention and expansion of manufacturing firms and most struggled to adapt as a result. Regions Bowing Out looked for alternatives to manufacturing, which tended to pay off in the long run,” Cowell said. She found that the degree to which a region was rooted and wedded to the idea of manufacturing played a role in whether or not it exhibited adaptive resilience.

“Dealing with Deindustrialization” is included in the Routledge Research in Planning and Urban Design series, which provides the reader with the latest scholarship in the field of planning and beyond. The series publishes international research covering spatial planning, regional planning, planning history, planning theory, communities, impact assessment, transport, sustainability and urban design. Building on Routledge’s history of academic rigor and cutting edge research, the series contributes to the rapidly expanding literature in all areas of planning and urban design.

Story from National Capital Region (NCR) Highlights.