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Oregon Community Foundation Bailey Fund Continues Support of Groundbreaking Architectural Education and Research Project

PORTLAND, OR Portland State University (PSU) recently received the second year of funding from the Oregon Community Foundation’s (OCF) Van Evera and Janet M. Bailey Fund, with five local architecture firms volunteering to participate in a first-of-its-kind collaboration between these professional practices and architecture students at PSU. OCF has pledged to contribute $100,000 to PSU over five years, tapering off as contributions from participating architecture firms increase.

The Research-based Design Initiative (, part of a long-term effort by Architecture faculty to create a practice-based building science curriculum at PSU, places architecture students in multidisciplinary design teams within professional architecture firms working on real-world building projects. Similar to a practicum, the students earn graduate academic credit in a seminar while immersing themselves in building science investigations specific to their team’s building project, reporting the results of their research to the professional team. The firms are then able to put the student’s results to use in their design and construction practices, knowing that the energy-efficient design strategies and systems they are implementing are backed by research.

The project was launched in late 2011 with a grant from NCARB, which enabled the PSU School of Architecture to transform graduate-level building science classes to focus on these practice-based research projects. Due to the success of these pilot seminars, the Oregon Community Foundation stepped forward to support these graduate courses through 2018. Architecture firms are expected to take over funding and sustain the project over the long term.

“This project gives students the opportunity to work in collaboration with a professional team and have an impact on the design of a building before they’ve even graduated from Architecture school,” says Corey Griffin, assistant professor of Architecture, who leads the project with colleague Professor Sergio Palleroni.

Students have conducted translational research by applying cutting-edge simulation tools, post-occupancy analysis and existing academic research to practice. Research topics have included documenting the thermal performance of building retrofits, parametric design to optimize daylighting while minimizing glare, and new sustainable structural systems like cross-laminated timber. Graduate student Christopher Boon, working with ZGF, created a software-based tool for evolutionary analysis that automatically arranges floor plans to optimize complex programmatic adjacencies like those in a hospital, taking into account multiple floors, irregular shaped site boundaries and other factors—a significant leap over existing research in this area.

The students’ work is gaining recognition in the discipline as well. Christopher Boon was awarded the ARCC King Prize this year for his parametric analysis work. Several students had their research papers from the pilot course accepted at a 2013 international research conference in Portugal.

“Conducting building science research is often prohibitively expensive for architecture and engineering firms as they strive to optimize a building’s design,” Griffin continues. “Having our students conduct this important research in a win-win. Firms can conduct research and get access to university resources that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Students gain in-demand research skills and learn about the latest building science tools, making them more valuable employees when they graduate.”

Currently a project of the School of Architecture, the collaboration is expected to widen to include faculty and students in the School of Engineering over the next five years.

Firms that have made financial commitments include YGH Architecture, THA Architecture, SRG Partnership, ZGF Architects and BOORA Architects, four of which were on the 2013 Architect magazine Top 50 list. Additional architecture and engineering firms are expected to join the program in the coming years.

Participating firms have noted the benefits of working with the students.

“Throughout my involvement with the PSU Research-based Design Initiative I have been struck by the unique opportunities it offers to students to directly engage in active projects and offer actionable feedback that can impact the final project designs,” comments Miguel Hidalgo, project architect at BOORA (and previously of THA and YGH). “For firms, the Research-based Design Initiative provides access to engaged and motivated students who can dig into issues that the design team may not have the personnel resources to fully explore. It also is an opportunity for firms that ask questions that may be tangential to project completion — new tools, new process — but can inform later work.”

Mark Manzi, associate principal at BOORA Architects, also praises the program. “This collaboration is raising the awareness for future architects of the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and evidence-based decision-making, a critical understanding for our profession.”

A half-day symposium, showcasing the research of students around a particular building science theme, is in the planning stages to take place in spring 2015 and will be offered to practicing members of the architecture and engineering fields.