Structures for Relief & Resiliency: Enhancing Creative Applications of Technical Acumen through Constrained Conditions

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Whitehead, Rob
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The design of places, objects, and experiential operations are of great importance to the relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts that affect millions of people each year. Proactively designing for these scenarios requires a more than just sensitivity to the vexing nature of the people and their problems. The inter-disciplinary teams that assist in these efforts must be able to translate these activities into solutions that have insights into the structural, material, and construction considerations. Without these qualities, the tangible, useful, and deployable solutions could be marginalized until they become the lowest common denominator of design solutions.

The value of design is largely excluded from the operational considerations. Surprisingly, the manuals used by these agencies have very little, if any, information about the actual design standards for these necessary resources of food, water, shelter, etc. Design solutions, and the associated technical acumen necessary to create these solutions, are un-necessarily absent.

Addressing these challenges educationally also presents challenges. The multi-faceted nature of the problems, the constantly changing sites and users, and the diverse teams of experts needed often excludes this work from design studios or building technology courses—or worse, the complexity of the issues are marginalizes as simply a search for a “better” shelter.

This paper will argue that the constrained conditions related to disaster relief and resiliency are ideal topics for building technology educators as they amplify the importance of the tools, design tactics, and technical principles that are integrated into the process and they create an inherent evaluative standards for performance assessment (i.e., maximized material utilization, integration with means of production / deployment, and resiliency).

This paper will describe several projects that have been developed in the last few years by an inter-disciplinary team of students in the College of Design at Iowa State University as part of a design-build option studio called, Structures in Service: Design for Relief and Resiliency. This course’s activities are based on the premise that relief and resiliency efforts can be meaningfully improved by a dedicated group of integrated designers that are able to leverage the benefits of contemporary design and production tools towards these efforts.


This presentation is published as Whitehead, Rob (2019) "Structures for Relief & Resiliency: Enhancing Creative Applications of Technical Acumen through Constrained Conditions," Building Technology Educator's Society: Vol. 2019
Caryn Brause, Peggi L. Clouston, Naomi Darling (Eds.), Amherst, MA, 2019. Posted with permission.