Office Hours... with Christine Wacta


Each year, President Paula Wallace awards many deserving SCAD professors a Presidential Fellowship for use during scheduled breaks or during spring and summer quarters. The program supplements opportunities for travel, conference support, sabbatical grants and professional development and advancement. SCAD recently spoke with five of the 14 professors whose Presidential Fellowship experiences occurred over the summer.

Today we learn about Christine Wacta, architecture professor at SCAD Savannah, who spent her fellowship in France studying urban design and the specifics involved in creating future cities.

  • Architecture professor at SCAD Savannah
  • D.P.L.G., Ecole d'Architecture de Paris-La-Défense, Paris, France
  • Dip. Arch., Ecole d'Architecture de Paris-La Défense, Paris, France

SCAD: Your SCAD Presidential Fellowship was awarded for a project titled “Urban Body/Urban System: Exploring a Procedural Modeling Approach on Toulouse and Paris, France, as a Promising Way to Address Urban Planning Using Esri CityEngine and ArcGIS Pro.” Tell us more about it, and why you chose this subject.

CHRISTINE WACTA: The Presidential Fellowship took me to Paris and Toulouse where I worked in collaboration with EVCAU lab, focusing on how to use the computing power of the 3-D applications in the urban design process. I participated in an ongoing project using a handful of applications, namely ArcMap, ArcScene, QGIS, sDNA and CityEngine, to explore a more comprehensive and global approach that treats the city as a complex ensemble. The metaphor of the city as a living organism was explored in ways that highlighted performance and systemic function in urban design. Spatial analysis was created to evaluate environmental, functional, economic and sociocultural aspects. Additionally, case studies were made to expose the behavioral and intelligent capabilities of a procedural approach to urban design in order to suggest specific solutions to given urban issues. 

My interest in this subject came from students, who, over the years, asked me a very simple question that I was unable to answer: “What software do you think I should use to work on my studio project?” As simple as that might sound, I found myself unable to help the students as I struggled myself to find a single software that does it all — until I discovered CityEngine.

SCAD: How do you predict the knowledge and experience gained through your fellowship will influence your future work and inform your goals as an educator at SCAD?

WACTA: The knowledge and expertise gained through the fellowship has already been tested in my summer classes. I held an informed discourse in my classes, one that relied on fact and testing rather than utopia and hope. I taught the summer Rising Star class and discussed with the students all of the right tools available out there for design. In fact, I had a very long and exciting discussion with a Rising Star student’s parent, whose daughter is interested in urban planning as well as architecture.

This fellowship has definitely allowed me to redirect my future goals. I am furthering my knowledge and skills in computational and procedural design. I have since started training in Python (coding), a tool that I believe every architect, designer or planner must master in order to be best equipped for the challenge ahead in developing future cities.

SCAD: If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself? Is there anything you would do differently?

WACTA: Think globally, seek multidisciplinary collaborations, and look beyond the barriers of your own field. The one thing I would do differently would be to gain skills in coding and computational design, and to seek more collaboration in the field, such as interactive media, geography, mathematics, geology and physics.

It's gonna be M.A.A.E.


Ever imagine living on another planet — Mars, perhaps? The SCAD architecture department went past imagination with one professor, seven students and their design for a sustainable housing solution for Earth and beyond.

Their design, titled Mars Artificial Atmospheric Envelope (M.A.A.E.), was submitted to the NASA and America Makes 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge. As a new $2.25 million competition, the challenge is to design and build a 3-D printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency’s journey to Mars.

M.A.A.E. is designed with a resilient shell made from advanced 3-D printing technologies and available natural resources to protect against the extreme conditions found on Mars. The approach of the creation focuses on a human-centric design in order to provide for the inhabitants' psychological and physiological well-being. Ideally, the location of this design is inside the Gale crater due to the found layers of in-situ material, natural shelter from extreme windstorms, potential water source and proximity to the Mars Curiosity Rover. The team also designed a more advanced, Mars-sustainable 3-D printer to aid in the creation of M.A.A.E.

On August 10, team MP1-S7 from the summer 2015 Architectural Craft and Tectonics (ARCH 428/728) class received notification as a finalist within the competition. Starting as entry #142 out of over 200 contestants, MP1-S7 currently stands within the top 30 submissions. Now they prepare for the first official phase of the event: the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York on September 26 and 27.

Professor Ryan Bacha leads the talented group of SCAD students that make up MP1-S7: Charles A. Drummond (M.Arch, candidate), Noe A. Figueroa (B.F.A., architecture and sculpture, senior), Karishma A. Goradia (M.Arch, candidate), Cameron N. Hoskins (M.Arch, candidate), Alex Morales (B.F.A., architecture, junior), Alsharif Khaled M. Naha (B.F.A., architecture, senior) and Jordan Rich (B.F.A., architecture, senior).

Phase one of the competition requires the participants to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts, which take advantage of the distinct capabilities 3-D printing offers. At this stage, judgement awards a prize purse of $50,000. MP1-S7 will present a scaled 3-D printed model, approximately 18”x18”x14”, created at SCAD’s Fahm Hall.

Phase two includes two levels of challenges. Level 1, the Structural Member Competition, focuses on fabrication technologies needed to create the structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables. Level 2, the On-Site Habitat Competition, tasks competitors to assemble full-scale habitats using native content or a combination of recyclables. Each level carries a $1.1 million prize.

With three more weeks until the World Maker Faire, we wish team MP1-S7 the best of luck!

Click here to request more information or apply to SCAD.

White House entrepreneur shares advice straight from ‘Shark Tank’


How important is entrepreneurship to creating a better world? So important that the White House bet $1 billion in private investment to promote it, half of which will go to promising young entrepreneurs like Kirk-Anthony Hamilton (M.Arch., 2010; B.F.A., architecture, 2008), founder of the Infiniti Partnership. In advance of the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya (July 25-26), President Obama recognized Hamilton as one of 75 emerging global entrepreneurs to watch. The panelists from ABC’s Shark Tank joined the White House celebration of these promising young leaders. 

Here are seven tips as told to the honorees by Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John, and passed on to us by Hamilton:

• Be obsessed with your business and love what you do. Money isn’t success. Entrepreneurs should aim to create value.

• The best entrepreneurs are those who respond well when the chips are down. Great entrepreneurs are those who have had to reinvent themselves.

• Invest in what you know. When pressed on his thoughts on investing in Africa, the Middle East or China, Mark Cuban said he doesn’t go after opportunities he doesn’t understand.

Good things happen if you keep on grinding. — Mark Cuban.

• Learn to say no. You cannot be everything to everyone.

• It’s ok if you don’t know the next steps. It’s ok to screw up. (Mark Cuban’s mom was so worried he wouldn’t make money that she encouraged him to learn to cut carpet. Now he's a billionaire.)

• It takes sacrifice. (Daymond John and his mother mortgaged their home for $100,000 to get the FUBU brand going.)

• Stop waiting for that perfect moment; it’s not going to come. There isn’t a point at which everything just clicks and it’s smooth sailing. If that’s what you’re searching for you’re in the wrong space.

For Hamilton, the seeds of entrepreneurship were sown in his home of Jamaica, where he grew up fascinated by designer homes, global travel and the power of influence. After studying architecture at the Savannah College of Art and Design, he became an investor, World Economic Forum Global Shaper and architect of opportunity. Hamilton used his social capital and creative experience to co-found a private investment firm in Florida, which focused on digital media acquisitions and eventually became the Infiniti Partnership. He later co-founded The Destination Experience, which connects decision makers with a network of ideas, people and opportunities through "social discovery experiences." So far, the most successful result to come from the initiative is a $90 million film project led by business titans Michael Rollins and Arthur Wylie and set in Jamaica.

Hamilton says he owes it all to something he calls 'creative confidence.' He’ll speak on the subject at SCAD in October. Look for more information soon from the Office of Career and Alumni Success.

A design solution for Atlanta bridges and traffic-weary drivers


Along with landmarks like Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta is synonymous with traffic. Long lines of vehicles — 300,000 per day — winding through Interstate 75/85 are staples in the city’s landscape. So are the concrete bridges that traverse these five miles of highway. What if these exchanges could delight and inspire drivers? What if, rather than ignoring them, commuters looked forward to passing under the structures for a momentary reprieve from their slow-moving circumstances? That is the reaction architecture students from the Savannah College of Art and Design were going for when they crafted the winning concept for the annual American Institute of Architects National Conference Student Legacy Charette design competition.

In a nod to the host city of their 2015 convention, the AIA asked students to lend their ingenuity to the Atlanta Bridgescape Competition, the city's initiative to beautify the I-75/85 corridor, known as the Connector. Their task was to transform the area between Folk Art Park and the Peachtree Street Bridge, which passes over the Connector. The only requirement was that their “capping mechanism” engage pedestrians and drivers.

The contest's six-hour time limit left SCAD graduate Bradley Green (B.F.A., architecture, 2015) and his team just enough time to present sketches and a site plan for a cap that could be a solution for any city focused on urban renewal.

Our undulating designs allowed room for commissioned art, worked to collect rainwater in bioswales and used wind turbines to collect wind energy that would also create a visual display of light underneath the bridge. — Bradley Green

Inspired by the roundabout in Folk Art Park, the designers envisioned a collection of earthen mounds to create greenspace for pedestrian traffic on top of the cap. Some mounds would be constructed as verticle tunnels, either hallow — to allow light to spill through onto vehicles below — or equipped to host multiple genres of artwork to be enjoyed by those passing on top of and beneath the bridge.

Creating a spectacle – to be constructed so as not to endanger drivers – was only one part of the SCAD team's intention. The other objective was to promote interaction with community groups who could provide the art, and even among drivers and pedestrians who could see one another through the hallow mounds. It’s Green’s way of bringing the tight-knit feel of his hometown of North Augusta, South Carolina to the big city. "As an architect, I’m doing a lot more than creating a building; I’m creating a long-standing relationship with the area I’m building in," Green said.

Thanks to the SCAD team and the finalists of the National Bridgescape Competition, traffic won’t always be the only thing by which we remember Atlanta’s roadways.

Inside the preservation story of Atlanta's Ivy Hall


In honor of Preservation Month, we celebrate Savannah College of Art and Design's Ivy Hall. On May 21, 1917, the Great Fire of Atlanta spared one of the South’s rare examples of Queen Anne-style architecture, the Edward C. Peters House, or Ivy Hall after the Peters family symbol. Flanked at the time by a long dirt road, now the busy thoroughfare of Ponce de Leon Avenue, Ivy Hall landed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. In 2000, as The Mansion Restaurant, Ivy Hall barely survived another devastating blaze. It took more than fate to intervene and save the house a third time.

“We worked seven years on the process and we were glad to see SCAD come in on a white horse to really save the building,” said Boyd Coons, executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Center. "We stopped the destruction, but we needed SCAD to come in and be the steward of this.”

As Atlantans and tourists may recall, the once grand manor resembled a haunted house until SCAD received it as a donation in 2007. After undertaking an award-winning restoration that involved interior design and historic preservation students, the university reopened Ivy Hall in 2008 as home to SCAD Atlanta’s writing program.

That’s good preservation because it’s not just making a house a museum, it has a sustaining purpose. That kind of use and adaptive reuse is what’s really important. - Boyd Coons

Ivy Hall hosts writing classes and connects students and the public to renowned writers like New York Times best-selling author Augusten Burroughs, Camille Paglia, Pearl Cleage and Cinda Williams Chima. In this way, Ivy Hall’s importance has come full circle.

Another pivotal author, Margaret Mitchell, is said to have based Gone with the Wind’s character Rhett Butler on Richard Peters, father to Edward Peters who built Ivy Hall in 1883. His home lives on as a center for aspiring writers. Quite a journey for what was once considered one of Atlanta's most endangered places.

Architects will save the planet


Architecture students, get your super-suits ready. We need you. Other keystone players will also play critical roles in promoting climate change and halting resource depletion, but I’ll stick with the notion that architects are superheroes. You know the ones. We're masked (because few really know who we are, unless we design a big shiny thing in the center of a world-class city), mega-muscled, hyper-focused oddballs who fly straight at the metaphorical meteor and redirect it away from Earth in the nick of time. That’s us.

I teach architecture and urban design at Savannah College of Art and Design. My students are ready to wear the super-suit, and it fits them well. They understand the urgency to design better buildings and cities and see the opportunities to fix our broken environment through mindful design. It’s a sure bet that our emerging architects will change the game. Most of the architecture and urban design students I talk with want to earn LEED credentials before graduating, and, if they’re in my sustainable design class, probably will. They’re also designing beautiful bio-climatic projects in studio to meet the Living Building Challenge, modeling energy consumption and learning about topsoil science and the importance of nurturing healthy urban ecosystems. This isn’t your grandfather’s architecture school.

We now teach and practice creative and integrative design that demonstrates the approach we must all pursue as part of a global solution to resource depletion and climate change.

The urgency is in the numbers. In 2013, 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption was attributed to residential and commercial buildings, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and that number continues to rise due to growing building size, population and consumption. North Americans still consume three and half times more energy than the global average per capita. Many scientists and policymakers agree we only have a decade to definitively reverse our CO2 emissions before hitting a point of no return. 

The architect’s responsibility is evident in our market impact. There are 5.5 million commercial buildings in the U.S., with a conservative renovation cycle of 30 years and an estimated 15 percent demolition rate during that period, creating a potential retrofit market of around 150,000 buildings each year. Additionally, over a million new commercial buildings will be constructed within that same 30 years. Who is designing these retrofits and new buildings? Architects. That’s a call to don our capes and tights and save the planet. The majority of all renovated and new buildings must be designed for current or near-future net zero carbon operations with minimal ecological footprint, or we could lose the game.

This is a huge opportunity for architects to make better buildings, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save the planet. Mindfully designed buildings mean healthier people, happier clients, a robust economy, vibrant cities and healing ecology. Opportunity emerges in specialization, as well. Once you put on your super-suit, what will your superpower be? Designing hospitals that contribute to faster healing? Or schools that inspire better learning and nurture curious students? Maybe today’s architecture students will take a significant step toward moving residential design to high performance, low consumption, healthy environments for families.

If we’ve already reached the tipping point for sustainable design, then today’s architecture students are the beneficiaries of this momentum. To ride this wave, every architect needs to understand not only how to make a beautiful building that will be loved, but also how to make it perform like a symphony of integrated parts—generating more than it consumes, while contributing to a vibrant sustainable economy.

Elaine Gallagher Adams, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is a professor of architecture and urban design at SCAD. Follow her on the SCAD Architecture Voices blog.

Immersion Hong Kong: a tour of the city's architectural gems


In case you’re stuck somewhere cold, snowy, uninspired, or all of the above, here’s some eye candy that’ll whisk you away on a virtual, albeit momentary, adventure.

The images come from 18 graduate and undergraduate students from Savannah College of Art and Design's School of Building Arts who are traversing Hong Kong in search of the neighborhoods, architecture, and urban design that make it one of the world’s great cities.

Hong Kong's historic and modern culture provides students with rich perspectives of Chinese architecture, social and political influences in its urban design and architecture. - Hsu-Jen Huang, Professor of Architecture

These postcards and excerpts from the travel-study itinerary document the field trips and assignments the students have participated in since arriving in Hong Kong. SCAD Hong Kong's location in the North Kowloon Magistracy Building has not only provided a welcoming home base, but a context for understanding development and preservation in Asia at large.

Day 1: Arrival in Hong Kong.

Day 2: Orientation and first class meeting at SCAD Hong Kong, then dinner with SCAD architecture alumni representing Handel Architects, Marc & Chantal Design, Aedas and Pleasanthouse Architects.

Day 3: Chungking Mansions site visit followed by a walking tour of the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade and the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Day 4: Fa Yuen Street Market, Ladies Market and Jade Market.

Day 5: Field trip to Macau and the Ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Day 8: Firm visit at Foster + Partners. Meetings with local residents, preservationists and firms give students a taste of what it’s like to be engaged in a global practice. Then a stop at Kowloon Walled City and a discussion of the Kai Tak Airport redevelopment site.

Day 10: The pier at Cheung Chau Island.

Day 13: At the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, students pitch in and help the American Institute of Architects teach architectural sketching for the Draw Together Hong Kong event, which teaches participants how cities develop through observation and the resulting drawings.

Day 11: A field trip to Tian Tan Buddha.

For more photos follow SCAD Architecture on Instagram, #immersionhongkong.

Jason Hackenwerth sculpture honors SCAD School of Building Arts


Everyone likes balloons at a party. In the case of installation artist Jason Hackenwerth’s (M.F.A., Painting) buoyant sculptures, balloons are the party. Miami’s Art Basel, New York’s Guggenheim and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum have hosted Hackenwerth's stunning creations. Last night, he debuted his work in Atlanta at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

The city’s botanical gardens have exhibited Dale Chihuly’s blown glass sculptures but, floating from the sky, Hackenwerth's similar sea-like behemoth made those reveling beneath it feel as though they were sitting on the bottom of a prehistoric ocean. It’s safe to say those in its shadow hadn’t seen anything like Hegemonster’s blue-green glow, which emanated from the terrace above Peachtree Street at SCAD Atlanta. Eighteen feet tall and 21 feet in diameter, Hackenwerth's sculpture was the envy of Midtown’s rooftops.

In the exclusive one-night showing, Hackenwerth unveiled Hegemonster high over the heads of giants of a different kind: captains of interior design and architecture who gathered to celebrate the School of Buildings Arts’ most recent honors.

For the second year in a row, DesignIntelligence ranked SCAD the No. 1 interior design program in its list of “America’s Best Architecture and Design Schools.” This summer, SCAD’s Master of Architecture program became the first in Georgia, and one of the first in the U.S., to earn the new maximum eight-year term of reaccreditation by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

Jason Hackenwerth with Hegemonster
Jason Hackenwerth with his installation

Throughout the reception Hegemonster’s audience couldn’t take their eyes off the otherworldly form. In a nod to the company he kept, Hackenwerth reflected on the sculpture’s construction and the design cues it takes from his alma mater.

“This towering sculpture stands on four strong legs which support a cavernous form,” he noted. “These four legs could be compared to SCAD's four campuses and the supported body, the limitless potential of the students that come to SCAD to begin their careers."

Just like his sculptures, Hackenwerth keeps rising to the occasion.