Applied Research Consortium

December 21, 2020

Introducing this year’s ARC projects

Gifts from our consortium members are making possible the following applied research projects this academic year:

Healthy Materials: Seeking the Balance Between Environmental Sustainability and Occupant Health
ARC Fellow: Rachel Yahn, MLA candidate
Faculty Advisor: Elizabeth Golden, Architecture
Firm Advisors: Jill Maltby-Abbott, Bonnie Sanborn, DLR Group

As concerns mount over the growing climate crisis, sustainable alternatives to conventional building materials are increasingly in demand. Mass timber as a replacement for concrete and steel offers potential benefits of sequestering carbon and promoting sustainable forest management practice while also delivering high quality buildings that take less time to construct and offer biophilic benefits to occupants. At the same time, pollution from industrial sites, extraction sites and municipal waste contaminates soil and water, threatening the health and well being of communities. Phytoremediation, which harnesses the natural abilities of fast growing plants such as poplar to detoxify contaminated soil and water, is cheaper and more sustainable than conventional remediation, and offers many additional human and ecosystem health benefits. There is increasing interest in potential markets for these fast growing detoxifiers, including that of engineered wood products. Although cross laminated timber (CLT) is traditionally made from softwood species, emerging research on hardwood CLT panels including poplar demonstrates that it could create a lighter and more cost effective product. My research applies an eco-social lens to explore the potential of creating an economically viable closed loop system between phytoremediation sites and the built environment that can increase human and ecosystem health. I am also investigating the various barriers to the adoption of healthy and sustainable materials more broadly and will build on the findings to identify potential solutions.

Engaging the Mind With Space
ARC Fellow: Kristen Dong, MS Arch candidate, Program in Design Computing
Faculty Advisor: Tyler Sprague, Architecture
Firm Advisor: Ryan Mullenix, NBBJ

This research project aims to investigate the relationship between creativity and space in the workplace. Creativity, defined as the ability to produce novel and useful ideas, is a valuable asset to employers as it provides differentiation from competitors while also increasing employee productivity and satisfaction. Existing research suggests that particular elements in the built environment, such as visual stimulation or open views, may stimulate and foster the divergent thinking needed for creativity. This study will utilize the widespread adoption of work-from-home, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and survey participants on the adaptations for work they have made in their homes. From this pool of participants, a smaller subset will be interviewed on their perceived creative output and take an Alternate Uses Task test, a test used to measure levels of divergent thinking. With these results, this study will then make suggestions for creativity stimulating architectural design features within office environments.

Enhancing Racial Equity in Built Environment Design Practice
ARC Fellow: Jake Minden, MLA candidate
Faculty Advisor: Catherine De Almeida, Landscape Architecture
Firm Advisors: Shazi Tharian, David Goldberg, Katie Stege

The built environment design professions — architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture, and interior design — are in the midst of a reconciliation with legacies of racist policies and practice. Our current moment in history — defined by racial justice movements, a divisive political environment, a rapidly changing climate, and a global pandemic — requires reimagining professional practice with a new sense of urgency. Harmful impacts in the built environment, and on the individuals and communities that exist within it, cannot be reversed until our practice is more equitable and our practitioners more representative of contemporary and future clientele. This project takes an in-depth look into the ways white supremacy is embedded in design practice. Specifically, the research will engage with workplace culture and perceptions of that culture as functions of employee retention. The research will use surveys and interviews from BE design professionals across the West Coast to collect perceptions of firm culture and information on factors related to retention, such as psychological safety, professional growth, and personal fulfillment. Findings will be analyzed to generate actionable items for individual firms to support current and future employees as well as BE design professions at large. There is a lot of important work being done to promote racial equity and justice throughout the career paths of BE design professionals that benefits individuals, businesses, professional communities and ultimately the built environment. It is our hope to contribute to this work and to engender more equitable design practice.

Biogenic Carbon Accounting Method for Upstream Forest Factors: A regional approach
ARC fellow: Chuou Zhang, M Arch candidate
Faculty Advisors: Indroneil Ganguly, College of the Environment; Hyun Woo “Chris” Lee, Construction Management; Tomás Méndez Echenagucia, Architecture
Firm Advisors: Marty Brennan, Jacob Dunn, ZGF

This project will define what types of carbon accounting are missing from current Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodologies and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) when it comes to wood products. This includes documenting how biogenic carbon flows through the two different approaches and how carbon sequestration in the forest could be included in these types of analyses. Current research shows that inclusion of biogenic carbon and forestry practices can have a larger impact on carbon than downstream life cycle analysis factors combined. This dynamic is not recognized in current LCA and EPD analyses that view forest management practice as being carbon neutral over time and between different types of forestry management practices. This research aims to document various methodologies for accounting for biogenic carbon and carbon emission from forestry practice, while also exploring the sensitivity of different inputs for carbon emission around module A4 (transportation) and modules C4-5 (end-of-life), focusing on the Pacific Northwest region. This research will also evaluate two major certification programs in the United States and how they align with Climate-Smart Forestry (CSF): the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) program. For decades, the Pacific Northwest (PNW) region’s softwood log exports have been an important component of international wood products trade in the United States. Balancing CSF with timber output can be a key component in the PNW’s timber industry moving forward.