Kent State to co-lead new Center of Living Architecture with two area universities

Alexandra Sobczak

Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design and the College of Arts and Sciences is co-leading the new Greater Ohio Living Architecture Center to advance research and teaching efforts on living architecture.

The university is collaborating with the University of Cincinnati and Heidelberg University.

Living architecture includes projects like green roofs and living walls. The benefits are beautifying a space, providing energy insulation, decreasing air pollution and providing a controlled ecosystem for various plants, insects, bacteria and fungi to live, even if they are endangered species.

The Living Architecture Center is not a physical center that is being built. Instead, it is a consortium-based effort — one of the first four regional living architecture centers in the United States, according to the center’s proposal — which aims to expand green architecture.

“Consortia is when you have that collaborative effort, and then you made it more formal,” said Reid Coffman, the executive director of the center and an associate professor in Kent State’s CAED. “Physically (the center) doesn’t have a home, but in many ways that’s actually stronger because it moves between institutions in these collaborative efforts.”

The three universities have been sharing research for years, and this year, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and the Green Infrastructure Foundation, organizations that support living architecture, chose the schools to collaborate on the center.

“For the past six years or more, we’ve been collaborating in a lot of different ways,” said Virginia Russell, the director of pedagogy and a professor at the University of Cincinnati. “What we have in terms of collaboration is in all of the academic settings: teaching, research, service.”

The faculty involved in this center are split into two categories — the steering committee and the associate faculty, the proposal said. The steering committee will provide a vision for the center and the members will act as liaisons for the living architecture industry, while participating in all activities. Associate faculty will teach courses and assist in activities. All faculty are expected to publish research, seek funding and work with students interested in living architecture.

The steering committee consists of Coffman; Russell; Ishi Buffam, the director of research from the University of Cincinnati and Mark Mitchell, the director of professional outreach from Heidelberg University.

The 19 faculty members involved in the center possess a combined 117 hours of experience teaching 32 different courses on living architecture, the proposal said. These faculty members are professors both from the CAED and the College of Arts and Sciences. Included are professors from the departments of biology, ecology, geology, hydrology, architecture and more, with varying concentrations.

This variety in specialized knowledge is meant to benefit the center, as it is largely based on the collaboration between architecture and science.

“I’m excited to work with other biologists, ecologists, geologists, chemists … architects, landscape architects, trying to promote living architecture,” said Rui Liu, an assistant professor in Kent State’s CAED and an associate faculty member for the center. “To do a good project, we do need contributions from different sides, from different perspectives.”

Living architecture ties together design and knowledge of the environment. Designers can utilize the research that scientists have done, Liu said.

Although the implementation of living architecture is not an immediate goal of the center, it hopes to educate people on why living architecture is beneficial and how to implement it effectively. Part of its goal is to teach and train students for their future endeavors.

“If more green infrastructure gets built as a result of (the center), then it can happen anywhere. … It could be that a student at Kent State that gets trained as a green roof professional gets hired by a firm in Cleveland, and they get to help build green roofs.

“As a secondary effect of (the center), I think there will be more green architecture built,” said Anne Jefferson, an associate professor in Kent State’s geology department and an associate faculty member for the center.

Kent State’s faculty members of the center had their first meeting Oct. 25 as a kickoff to the project. The members have been working on planning events for the next three years, which include a regional symposium, academic colloquia, training events, a student design and research competition, a job fair and more, according to the proposal.

Coffman said in May, Kent State will host a seminar on living architecture, which will be the first time faculty from all three universities will be in the same place.In Fall 2019, the University of Cincinnati will host an event, which will most likely be a training session.

The center has a three-year designation from Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, with a two-year renewal option after that.

Alexandra Sobczak is the Arts and Architecture reporter. Contact her at [email protected].