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President's VIew

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.

A Bold Step Toward Sustainable Architecture

The Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) heralds a new collaboration between business and academia

Immediately after the October grand opening of EMPAC—the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center—Rensselaer took another bold step toward unleashing the power at the nexus of art, science, and technology.

The latest initiative is the newly announced collaboration between Rensselaer and the venerable architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM). This partnership, known as the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), combines a right-brain emphasis on design and a left-brain focus on environmental sustainability, and may well mark the first time that business and academia have chosen to work together in this way.

The CASE mission is the innovation of systems and materials that will shift building performance toward sustainable and energy self-sufficient models. CASE will bridge the gap between cutting-edge architectural design and technological experimentation. In addition, it will raise the profile of the Rensselaer School of Architecture, which will frame its graduate program in Built Ecologies around this initiative. The Built Ecologies program will enable students to develop doctoral theses aligned with specific ecologically based challenges emerging from SOM projects.

We have found an ideal partner in SOM for the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology because, like Rensselaer, SOM is a leader in innovation. The firm has a long history of creating ecologically sustainable design, including the 71-story Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, designed to harvest wind and solar energy, and 7 World Trade Center, the first Gold LEED-certified commercial office building in New York City.

The Center for Architecture Science and Ecology will push the boundaries of environmental performance in building systems, and is expected to have a substantial impact on the energy-inefficient U.S. building sector. Building construction and operation account for more than one third of U.S. energy consumption, and nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon production.

This initiative is mutually beneficial. It offers Rensselaer students and faculty an opportunity to work with leading architectural consultants in deploying next-generation green technologies, both on our Troy campus and at our new satellite campus in New York City. In turn, it opens doors for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to develop a deeper understanding of emerging technologies. The partnership will facilitate access to funding that would not exist for either entity separately, and offers limitless opportunities for interdisciplinary research.

CASE combines a right-brain emphasis on design and a left-brain focus on environmental sustainability, and may well mark the first time that business and academia have chosen to work together in this way.
For example, our Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) enables architecture students to create multivariable optimization models on the effects of such factors as sunlight, humidity, and wind. The black box studios of EMPAC (a building which itself boasts an environmentally sustainable 20,000-foot glass-and-steel heated curtain wall) may be used for environmental performance simulations. These multidisciplinary resources are key. Developing even one dynamic solar façade to maximize use of solar energy requires the input of as many as 30 individual disciplines including physics, optical engineering, mechanical engineering, and lighting, and thousands of drawings.

Perhaps no profession integrates art, science, and technology as seamlessly as does architecture. The Center for Architecture Science and Ecology enables Rensselaer once again to reach across disciplines and campus, linking together departments, schools, and interdisciplinary centers, and stimulating the quest for inquiry, new knowledge, and education.

CASE would not exist without The Rensselaer Plan, which draws its strength from the Institute’s two sustaining roots. The first of these, written by our founders 184 years ago, is “…the application of science to the common purposes of life.” Our earliest graduates did this by creating the infrastructure that formed the backbone of the 20th century. Five great New York City bridges were designed and/or built by our alumni, as was the old Yankee Stadium. Likewise, our alumni were instrumental in the completion of the Panama Canal. Today, the common purposes of life include global challenges, two of which are energy security and environmental sustainability. It is these two challenges that Rensselaer and SOM will help tackle via the new CASE initiative.

The second root of a Rensselaer education is the unique strategy for engaged, interactive, self-directed learning. Our revolutionary educational methodologies, now, include multidisciplinary design studios where students team up to solve real-world challenges in partnership with some of the world’s largest, most innovative companies. CASE, of course, is one such branch sprouting from this deeply embedded root.

Nobel laureate and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has called the global reality of sustainable development “our biggest challenge in this new century.” With CASE, we are meeting that challenge head on.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.