Archive for ‘Thesis’

August 18, 2019

Plastic Nave

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A few months back I submitted an entry to an architectural competition hosted by Young Architecture Competitions (YAC) called Plastic Monument. It is a proposal for a monument meant to embody the problems that plastic waste is having on our oceans and planet. The project brief as well as the selected winners can be found on the YAC website.

I thought I had a chance at winning, but my entry was not selected. I think once again I was probably too ambitious. The winners were either meshes filled with plastic waste to make a desired shape, or else a representation of how plastic is filling our oceans or how many plastic bottles are produced each minute. My project was a nave constructed using a plastic bottle space frame detail that I developed. The bottles are easy to assemble and disassemble making it easy to involve the community and recycle the bottles afterwards. The nave is a an open space of awe and light and side aisles host a photography exhibition about plastic and our planet. The space frame structure is paired with a scaffold that holds a clear modular container that is suspended above the nave and collects the plastic waste collected during the monument’s tour. The container is designed to be lowered and new wall extension pieces added so that it can hold more over time. It can even fill up so much that the whole nave is full and the visitors can only walk through the side aisles.

I think that my proposal is more impactful than others as it would involve the community in the collection of bottles and construction of the nave, impacting their perspectives and using local plastic that may otherwise end up in a landfill. Secondly, a monument that changes physically and takes away the light and beauty of the original construction has more meaning to visitors than a metaphorical sculpture. And finally, the space frame detail, if developed further, could become a construction detail used to make improvements to precarious housing, for temporary constructions like pavilions during festivals, or for refugee housing, a construction that has practical uses in many parts of the world where there is no infrastructure for plastic waste. Even though this competition has ended, I am super excited to develop this prototype further on my own. In a few months Othy and I will be moving to Kinshasa where I hope to collect more used bottles and build a larger prototype.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this competition proposal and the prototype. Feel free to leave comments below! Check out lifesectionstudio.com for more of my design work.

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August 10, 2019

NOCMAT Conference

The International Conference for Non-Conventional Building Materials was held at the University of Nairobi which has a beautiful campus. On day 1 my favourite sessions were a keynote lecture on the development of standards for non-conventional materials, a presentation about the challenges and opportunities for the reuse of excavated material in the built environment, and a presentation on the development of a panelized building system for low-cost housing using waste cardboard and repurposed wood. Another interesting presentation was the one before mine on lessons learned by MASS Design Group and ARUP on earth construction they did for the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture. My own presentation was on the analysis of earthquake testing trends of alternative building materials. It went well and I received some valuable critical feedback afterwards from two structural engineers.

The following day my favourite sessions were on the application of alternative construction techniques in rehabilitation of urban slums, and the study of the socio-economic, cultural, and environmental impact of the use of unconventional building materials in conventional buildings. These were both presented by the partners of a design practice in India called Masons Ink. Overall I enjoyed the conference and made connections from a variety of backgrounds including engineers, materials researchers, architects, and community activists. The overlapping of various disciplines was a welcome sight as collaboration between these groups is what is needed to solve the complex problems in our world today.

August 4, 2019

Bamboo Design Workshop

From July 24th – 28th I attended the International Conference of Non-Conventional Materials and Technologies (IC-NOCMAT). The first day of the conference was a workshop held by an engineer and bamboo specialist from ARUP, a structural design firm that has an international development arm. I found the workshop to be very useful because it helped me understand the strengths and weaknesses of bamboo as a material and the importance of appropriate design for its use. Here are some of the biggest points I took away from it:

  • Bamboo can last forever if it can be kept free of beetles, termites and rot
  • The best and safest form of treatment is the use of Boron (and it’s also readily available as it is used as a fertilizer for agriculture), but it’s biggest weakness is that it can wash out if exposed to moisture
  • Therefore all exposed bamboo structures need to be protected entirely from rain and splashing and for rain a 45 degree angle must be considered when designing roof overhangs because rain can always come at an angle.
  • There are three ways the bamboo can be treated with Boron. The most traditional way is piercing the inner nodes with rebar and using a bath (7-14 days in cold water, 7 hours in hot water). There is also a “boucherie” method where the end is clamped and the liquid is forced through the longitudinal cells of the bamboo. The last way is called VSD  where the bamboo are stood up on end in a scaffold, all the nodes are pierced except the last one, and the bamboo is filled up for 7-14 days.
  • In some cases fire protection needs to be a consideration. Bamboo walls can be protected using mud plaster, cement/lime plaster or gypsum plasterboard. The plaster would need to be applied to a matrix that helps it adhere to the wall system. 25mm of mortar or 12mm of gypsum plaster board provides a 30 minute fire rating
  • Bamboo is strongest in compression. I always thought it was strong in tension too but because of the connections, bamboo is much weaker in tension. One design consideration is to consider using bamboo in compression where it is strong, and use steel rods in tension.
  • Another thing to consider is that bamboo is weak in the cross-sectional direction. Because of this a design should try to create direct load paths. For example, it is better for columns to move past beams so that there isn’t a heavily loaded column bearing on a beam
  • Connections are always the weakest point and a few things to keep in mind when designing them are to minimize holes, pre-drill all nails and screws, use dry bamboo (and keep it dry), reinforce against splitting, consider corrosion protection to steel, fill nodes with cement mortar (that will not shrink or expand), and design out areas where water can collect.
  • There are few codes and standards available but the most well developed one is the Colombian code NSR-10G developed specifically for the Guadua variety. ISO has developed codes 22156 and 22157 but they currently have errors. The good news is there is an updated version in development. In the meantime a good guideline is the IStructE Note series.

That is a summary of the most valuable lessons I took from the workshop. Of course this summary does not replace the need to consult an experienced structural engineer when working on a specific project. I hope that I will get an opportunity to work with bamboo in Congo! The reason why it has become established as a building material in Colombia is because the government supported it, standards were developed, and architects such as Simón Vélez have made some beautiful projects out of it that are showing the possibilities of what can be done with good design and craftsmanship. So perhaps the same is possible in Congo and we can start using a building material that is available, affordable, and highly renewable!

December 15, 2018

E4C Research Fellowship 2018

From May until September while I was in Beni serving with IRI, I also had a part-time job working as an Expert Fellow with E4C. I oversaw the work of three fellows from Guatemala, Kenya, and India. One of my fellows was working within the habitat sector and the other two within agriculture. One of the ongoing tasks of the fellowship is to research products to be included in E4C’s growing Solutions Library, a database of technologies that are intended to be accessible to low-income populations around the world. My role as a research fellow was to assign my fellows their tasks, keep them on track in completing them, and finally review and edit the finalized reports. I also had the privilege of helping push three larger research reports, two in agriculture in partnership with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), and another in habitat with Good Earth Global. I particularly enjoyed the report about earthquake testing trends as I did not have experience in this area. Here are links to the final reports:

Working remotely has its rewards and challenges. It was quite an interesting challenge getting on calls with everyone from around the world. For me in Beni the calls happened in a window between 4pm and 10pm. I was thankful for the extra financial support, another opportunity to learn about products and services being implemented around the world in the habitat sector, and the opportunity to take leadership and grow my network.

June 24, 2018

ISHOW Kenya and E4C Kick-off

In the beginning of May I had the privilege of attending Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) Kenya, an event that brings together inventors/entrepreneurs who are developing technology solutions that are accessible to low-income populations. Nine finalists from across Africa were invited to participate in the event. On May 9th the event was launched with an introductory session in the afternoon followed by a dinner. The next day the finalist teams went through rotations of meeting with industry experts in a particular area of product development. E4C was also a part of the rotation and interviewed the finalists to determine whether they were appropriate products to include in the Solutions Library. The finalists included a producer of biomass smokeless brickettes, a hands free pedal tap retrofit, a cart for street vendors that incorporates solar panels, a machine that harvests water from the atmosphere, an environmental controller for monitoring baby chicks, a biogas milk chiller for off-grid dairy farmers, a neonatal bacterial meningitis diagnostic device, and a smart electronic walking stick for the blind. As the expert fellow who was familiar with the library, I conducted the first interview, and then allowed all of the fellows to have a turn interviewing or note-taking. It was very interesting to talk to the teams of entrepreneurs. At the end of the afternoon there was a reception, and the judges announced the three winners who would receive between them the $50,000 seed grant and access to prototyping equipment. The winners were the biogas milk chiller, the biomass brickette producers, and the chick monitoring device. I like the structure of the event because all of the finalists get to network and benefit from the knowledge of the consulting experts. During the reception I conversed with several different people including an interior designer, business coaches, entrepreneurs, and global development practitioners.

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The next day the E4C Kickoff session started bright and early. It was similar in structure to last year except that we shared our introductions over Google Hangouts with the fellows who had attended the kickoff session in Portland. Since favourite movie was already done for the Portland session when the fellows in Nairobi were the ones calling in, we came up with the idea to share something that might be surprising about ourselves. It produced some very interesting stories! Next we had a presentation from a representative from Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), a producer of sanitary pads using banana fiber. Then Iana, the E4C president, and Mariela, the program manager, took turns presenting different aspects of E4C as a whole, the Solutions Library, and how the fellows would be contributing to the work. Near the end of the day I had a time slot to bring the fellows through the practice of filling out a product report for the Solutions Library. For happy hour we decided to go to a neighbouring hotel called Ibis that has a nice rooftop bar. It started raining just as we planned to go and so we ordered Uber rides to get only a few hundred meters! We socialized over drinks (and cocktails because there was a special 2 for 1 happy hour deal) and I enjoyed hearing a bit more of people’s backgrounds and areas of work and research. This year’s cohort is from around the world and I am looking forward to working with them over the next four months!

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October 24, 2017

Impact Engineered

In mid-October I had the opportunity to go to an event hosted by Engineering for Change (E4C) in New York called Impact Engineered. Even though it wasn’t a regular part of the E4C fellowship that I did over the summer, it was a great way to wrap up the experience with them. Impact Engineered was a half-day event that brought together mechanical engineers, policy-makers, and global development practitioners across multiple sectors, to share and celebrate work that is happening in the domain of technology for development around the world. The event was also partnered with an event for the ISHOW (Innovation Showcase) finalists. The E4C fellows were invited to come a day early to help interview the finalists to see if their products would be appropriate for inclusion in the E4C Solutions Library database. It was a great opportunity to meet the finalists from India, Africa, and the USA, who have designed products that have the potential to alleviate poverty. The innovations included (in India) a compact sanitary pad making machine, a neonatal breathing device, a braille reading and writing tool, (in Africa) a malaria diagnostic tool, a science set, a sign-language to speech translation glove, (in the US) a clean cookstove, a portable eyeglass prescription device, and a low-cost mobile refrigerator. That evening we had an informal dinner so that we had a chance to continue talking and networking.

The Impact Engineered event was held the next day at the Centre for Social Innovation. It didn’t start until the afternoon and so Grace, a fellow E4C researcher, and I decided to work a bit at a cafe in the morning and then walk across town to get there. I introduced Grace to the Highline which was very close by to the venue and saw the Zaha building almost complete and the Shed still under construction. The Centre for Social Innovation is located in an old industrial building that had been transformed into a creative and flexible work and event space. There were options to participate in a main group of presentations or break off into smaller workshops depending on our interest. Themes included discussing how to enable an ecosystem for social impact, what engineering for 2050 might look like, and case studies of different solutions being implemented around the world. After the sessions there was an awards ceremony and a reception. I met many interesting people including a few designers and construction material experts who I interviewed during my research fellowship! It was also nice to spend more time with the other E4C fellows who attended. After the event we were pretty fatigued, but hungry, and so Grace and I went to a bar around the corner from our hotel where we had a good meal, shots on the house, and I learned that in the US they call mixed drinks with the cheapest liquor “well drinks”. The following morning I headed home already and by the afternoon was back at work!

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E4C research fellows reunited!

October 1, 2017

More about my E4C experience

From May until September I worked as a part-time research fellow for Engineering for Change. It was a busy season because I did the work in addition to my regular job and so was putting in 50-60 hour workweeks. Despite the hard work I am glad that I had this experience. The E4C work was different and interesting, and so broke up my workweek with a new and exciting challenge. I enjoyed learning about various poverty alleviating products and building methods being implemented around the world. I think the most interesting ones I researched were earth bag construction, HyPar thin shell concrete roofs, earthen floors, compressed earth blocks, and modular roof panels for slum house upgrading. Over the course of the fellowship I researched 34 products, filling out or cleaning up a report for each one, that will eventually be added to E4C’s growing Solutions Library. My job also involved contacting and interviewing designers and manufacturers of the products if we could not find enough information online. Although many people didn’t respond to my inquiries, many surprisingly did. I learned that it never hurts to send a reminder or make a phone call because people may want to contribute but just might have busy schedules. I also prepared a trend analysis for alternative building materials for which I interviewed expert practitioners working with a selection of materials that included earth building, bamboo, compressed earth blocks, earth bags, and the reuse of industrial waste. It was inspiring to see what people are working on around the world to solve the problem of affordable quality housing.

The final contribution I made was writing two articles for the E4C media platform, one of which is published and the other coming soon. The first one is called Easing Land Conflict in DRC: An Introduction to Open Source Mapping Tools. It was great to have an avenue to share some of my mapping research experience with a broader community. On September 15th E4C held a closing design charette where all of the fellows contributed feedback both from the experience of the fellowship and thoughts on ways to improve the Solutions Library as a whole. All of my encounters with the other research fellows beyond the kick-off session were on weekly Google Hangout video calls. The other fellows are equally passionate about global development from their respective experience, and I hope I will be able to stay in touch with them. I will get one last opportunity to connect with more people within the E4C network at an upcoming event called Impact Engineered which will celebrate and promote the work being done in the domain of engineering for global development. Research Fellows who live nearby were invited to attend and I am glad that Toronto isn’t so far from New York! It has been strange to be done with the fellowship because my week is no longer broken up by a different type of work. I have moved onto my next task which is to study for my final exams for licensure as an architect that I will be taking next month! It also feels strange to be coming to the culmination of ten years of combined study and work! It is an exciting time and I am thankful to God for bringing me to this point.

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June 7, 2017

E4C Research Fellowship

This spring I applied and was accepted for a part-time summer research fellowship with an organization called Engineering For Change (E4C). It is an exciting opportunity as the role involves researching poverty-alleviating products and services being implemented around the world in the housing sector. The information that I research will be added to a growing solutions library that is available to the public. The fellowship runs from mid-May to mid-September, and on the May long weekend I went on a trip to New York City for the kick-off session. While I represent the housing sector, there are eight other engineering researchers representing the other target sectors of energy, sanitation, ICT (information computation technology), agriculture, transportation, water, and health. The kick-off session was on May 19th (my birthday!), and so I took the Thursday until the Monday off of work so that I could attend the session and then enjoy some time exploring the city. I also decided to take the opportunity to make a quick stop in Boston by arranging to fly back from Boston instead of New York. Since I am horrible at planning trips on my own, this was the perfect motivation for a short holiday!

I flew out of the Island airport which was a fairly stress-free experience even though my flight was delayed. The more complicated bit was figuring out the bus to get into Manhattan and then the bus was stuck in traffic for quite a while (I found out later I could have taken the train!). I arrived in the city pretty exhausted at around 9pm. I had dinner on my own at the hotel and then went to bed early! The next day I made the short walk around the corner to 2 Park Avenue where the ASME offices are located. Everybody slowly filtered in and we enjoyed a light breakfast while we introduced ourselves. The morning was an introduction to the program and its purpose and objectives, and the afternoon went deeper into the standards for the research itself. I appreciated E4C’s clear desire to go the extra length to collect high quality data.

At the end of the session we went to have happy hour on a rooftop bar called the Monarch. From there we had a view of the empire state building and we stayed until the sun set and the empire state lit up green. This was a chance for us to talk more and get better introduced. I wish that I had more time with these people as they all seam so interesting and equally passionate about this work. This year’s fellows represent six nationalities! After the sun had set and our reservation ended, three of us decided to go up the empire state building. There was a bit of a wait but we were too busy chatting for it to really bother us. The view at the top was incredible. The view looked very different then when I had been up there more than ten years earlier! By the time we came down I was so exhausted I knew that I would not be able to accomplish anything else. Returning to my hotel room before 11 felt a bit anticlimactic, but I had a lot planned for the next day!

Here is an article on the E4C website introducing the fellows. I’m looking forward to a summer full of learning about interesting products, collaborating with great people, connecting with other global development practitioners, and making some written contributions! Ready, set, go!

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January 26, 2016

Subtle Technologies

In November our office hosted a Subtle Technologies event. Although it required a big effort to clean up the office, it was kind of fun to open the place up to people. My office is a pretty awesome place to work. Even though I’m working on the architecture side of things, I’m surrounded by experimental sculptural work! It was the perfect place to have the event because Subtle Technologies is a platform that bridges art, science, and technology.

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October 22, 2015

RGS Annual International Conference 2015

This post is coming a bit late, but it continues to describe my time in the UK for the conference this past September!

The conference began full swing the following day. I was slightly distracted thinking about my own presentation that I would be giving later that afternoon. One interesting session that I went to was called “World Game”. I knew it would interest me because I was inspired in my thesis research by the work of architect and theorist Buckminster Fuller who came up with the concept of the World Game. Fuller proposed the idea of a game that could simulate events in real time and therefore drive political decision-making and bring about global action. The World Game session at the conference was lead by Anthony Hodgson who is the founder of Decision Integrity, a company that facilitates complex decision-making by applying strategies of holistic thinking, system mapping, and participatory group activities. His game is inspired by tribal “wisdom councils” where elders responsible for specific aspects of a community meet with the chief and he listens to them one by one. The attendees for the session were divided into twelve different world issues such as governance, health, and habitat (I represented trade), and we were provided with assigned “indicators” giving key information for each. We were then placed into groups of four and played out several scenarios for which we had to identify the problems for each issue and come up with creative solutions that benefited all four issues. It was an interesting way to incite creative problem solving and discussion. Here is a similar version of the game that was applied to the city of Glascow. Because there were many people at this session who were interested in system mapping, I discovered that there is a program called Powersim that maps/diagrams complex, non-linear decision paths so that companies can understand the ramifications/big picture before proceeding with a project. The program reminds me of Grasshopper (algorithmic modeling for Rhinosceros) except that is is for general decision paths and equations instead of equations that manipulate digital 3D geometries. It’s the same general idea that you can simulate the path before actually going ahead and “baking” the best recipe. Mapping will definitely begin to use more complex simulation models as we use it to monitor resources and make future proposals/predictions for our growing cities.

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I had my presentation later that afternoon and it went very well! The panel was called GIS and the Anthropocene, Educational Perspectives. Our presentation was called “BeniAtlas: A platform for learning about the city” and it outlined the methodologies that IRI is using in the development of their mapping program, and introduced the Sharing the Land project that has developed from the initial research. Othy and Archip were able to listen in over Skype. After the presentation there was a reception and I talked for a while with the other people from our panel and received really great feedback. I had to leave early though to meet Alice who would be my couch surfing host for the next three nights. She and her boyfriend and another friend picked me up from the Imperial Pub near the university. At her apartment we had home-made ramen and watched Tales from Earthsea, a Studio Ghibli film. I slept on the couch in Alice’s living room and had the company of her three cats!