Summer Research Fellows Explore Architecture in Europe and USA

Summer Research Fellows Explore Architecture in Europe and USA

By Cara Armstrong, Director, School of Architecture + Art

Three undergraduate architecture majors were among 26 Norwich students awarded competitive six- and ten-week Summer Research Fellowships by the university’s Undergraduate Research Program. Mentored by Professor Cara Armstrong and using stipends of up to $4,400, Peter Misner ’19 , Kevin Svarczkopf ’19, and Olivia Towne ’17 conducted original research on diverse architectural topics this past summer in Europe and the U.S.

Misner developed a proposal for retrofitting the currently abandoned Faliro Olympic Beach Volleyball Center in Athens, Greece, designed by Thymios Papagiannis and Associates, into affordable housing. He studied Olympic venues in London, England and Barcelona, Spain, and then headed to Athens, researching how Olympic stadiums can continue to foster community and economic growth once the Games are over.

“Every two years a country spends billions of dollars on infrastructure, stadiums, and roads to host the Olympics, but shortly after the Olympics are over, many of those stadiums often sit unused,” Misner reflects. “The vacant structures either waste public money through maintenance and upkeep or through initial construction and lack of use afterwards.

“I chose this building in Athens because it is a venue whose specialized use as a beach volleyball stadium has no practical function in daily city life. I wanted to see how I could reuse the building and weave it back into the fabric of the city.”

Misner regularly updated a blog that used photos and drawings to show how his research evolved into a schematic proposal for a project that would bring economic vitality and much needed housing to Athens. “I learned a lot during my research fellowship,” says Misner. “I learned how to manage my own time for a big project, such as redesigning a stadium, how to make the most of my time spent abroad, and how to navigate a foreign city on my own.”

The fellowship had a broader impact as well. “Overall, the research helped me grow as a person and as an architect in training,” he explains.

For his fellowship, Kevin Svarczkopf researched the work of award-winning American architect Peter Bohlin, FAIA, founding principal of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, to better understand how to integrate a building with its site.

“To discover ways that Bohlin used to integrate the built space of a site into the natural space, I traveled to the Combs Point Residence in New York, to the Ledge House in Maryland, and to the site of a proposed visitors center at the Westcott House Foundation in Springfield, Ohio,” says Svarczkopf. “At each of these sites, I was able to take pictures of the buildings and the site while circulating through them. I also had a chance to meet Peter Bohlin and talk to him about his designs. When I got back to Norwich, I was able to analyze each photo and make diagrams and notes based off my observations. Following my initial analyses, I was able to organize my findings into different categories of methods of design for site-inclusive architecture.”

Svarczkopf was also able to sit in on the architect-client meetings about the proposed Westcott Visitors Center that will be located between the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Westcott House and the Norwich student-designed Solar House, which is now part of the foundation’s programming. Bohlin’s center responds to each of these buildings as well as to the surrounding landscape.

“Peter sees the potential of the site and tries to find the magic within the site,” says Svarczkopf. “He will find what is important in the site and try to find places in it that have a certain psychological feel… the careful placement of windows, the building’s form and organization, and thoughtful choice of material and how it is used on the building are a few strategies that Peter uses to celebrate place.”

Traveling to England, Olivia Towne explored how architects design hospitals and other public health facilities to create not only a “safe” environment, but also one that supports the health and healing of the mind, body, and spirit.

Towne notes that “people who are ill or in some state of need often feel helpless, isolated, and like they have lost control in their lives,” which makes  it very important for health facilities to create and promote a positive atmosphere. “After studying multiple health facilities in England, which gives free, equal access to health care through the National Health Service, I created a set of design principles that support the body, mind, and spirit that need to be taken into account in order to design a hospital that heals.”

Maggie’s Center, Evelina’s Children’s Hospital, and St. Mary’s Hospital are a few of the health facilities Towne visited in London. She also visited Clacton Hospital in Clacton-on-Sea, England, the most economically deprived area of England. At each facility, she did a series of sketches, analytical diagrams, and took photographs to discover and document successful design strategies. She also created a checklist of features that support healing architecture and organized them into three categories:  “Body”— ways in which architecture, interior design, and behavior contribute to a healing environment; “Mind”—ways in which design can support the mind and identity by considering symbolic interaction or inviting a different kind of self-reflection; and “Spirit”—ways in which design can support key aspects of spirituality that work to produce health benefits in terms of prevention, recovery from illness, or coping with illness.

Towne gained new perspectives on architecture and human interactions from her fellowship.  “I learned that architects may not be able to find an actual cure, but they are able to create an environment that supports the mind, body, and spirit. There is amazing opportunity for architects to change the environment that all humans live in, whether it physically enables a sick child to be more comfortable through air, light, or heating and cooling, or lifts the spirits of a suffering family through the use of material, space, light, and color.

She adds, “I watched as my research expanded after talking to actual patients and realized the impact that the architecture had on them and their healing process. My project started as something as little as looking at buildings, to something that I saw as a necessity for every health facility.”