January 16, 2002
Notes from Deborah Snoonian, P.E.
I admit it: Im biased toward architecture mixed with
a social conscience, and Power
to the People: Photovoltaic Shade Structures for the Developing
World serves up just the right brew.
The exhibit at Fordham University presents three models of
solar-powered community buildings for the developing world,
designed by students in Design and Nature. During
this semester-long course, the students learned how to seek
design inspiration from forms in the natural world and local
contextand how to implement projects with minimal environmental
impact. The class was conceived and taught by Colin Cathcart,
AIA, of Kiss + Cathcart, Architects, and Nicholas Goldsmith,
FAIA, of FTL-Happold Design and Engineering Studiotwo
firms with established reputations in sustainable building
practices, whose prototype solar power stations are displayed
alongside the models.
Each proposed facility addresses community needs in areas
with no access to the power grid. For regions of Botswana
and Vietnam that struggle with soaring HIV infection rates,
two student teams designed AIDS education and treatment clinics.
A third team conceived of a communication center in a largely
nomadic area of Morocco that would help knit together the
few permanent residents there. The designs incorporate flexible
solar panels in tension structuresalso known by their
humbler name, tentsthat hover over the buildings they
protect and serve.
The tents recall the local vernacular in each settingin
Botswana, for instance, the shape of the tents brings to mind
thatched roofs; and in Moroccos deserts, tents have
long been used to provide shade and keep temperatures cool.
Worldwide, nearly two billion people (thats two billion
people) dont have electricitya reality that severely
limits the quality of their health care, education, and communication.
Power to the People acknowledges that while design alone wont
solve social or economic ills, it can stave off some of their
more dire consequences. Adding solar panels to portable tent
structures was merely a beneficial change to a building technique
already familiar to the areas that were studied. And generating
electricity locally is cost-effective and environmentally
responsiblewhether in developing countries or isolated
regions of prosperous nations. Though the modest, unpretentious
structures may lack finesse, their inherent value for the
communities they serve far outweigh such imperfections. Now
thats design power.
Power to the People
runs through January 19, 2002, at Fordham Universitys
Center Gallery, 113 West 60th Street, New York. The gallery
is open Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm. Call 212.636.6303
for more information.
to "From the Field"