Houses made of sticks and straw didn’t work so well for the “Three
Little Pigs,” but in today’s environmentally conscious world
architecture students at the University of San Francisco are
increasingly being called on to use such “alternative” construction
materials in their designs.
Building a straw-bale house that
will withstand the huffing-puffing winds, hold a heavy, wooden roof,
and withstand rain and retard fire comes with design hurdles, however.
How to solve those challenges and others is the subject of two new
engineering courses, USF’s first.
Of course, straw and timber
aren’t the only construction materials students study. Much of the
course is spent studying more conventional materials such as steel,
concrete, and masonry.
“We consider all the aspects of
building materials – the renewability of the natural origin, the energy
consumption of the industrial process that mine or mill or otherwise
create them, the transportation of the materials, the labor, waste, and
energy associated with their construction, and their durability and
recyclability over time,” said adjunct professor of architecture and
physics Hana Mori, who began teaching Introduction to Structural
Engineering in 2005 and added Introduction to Construction Materials
Then there’s the most important quality of any
building material, from an engineering perspective, its load-bearing
ability, said Mori, who believes a material’s functionality is
inseparable from its environmental aspects.
The classes have
proven popular with students, primarily among architecture and
community design majors, with 13 enrolling in structural engineering
earlier this spring and 15 enrolling in the first semester of
construction materials now underway.
Outside class, students
frequently ask if USF plans to offer an engineering minor, Mori said.
It’s an idea she hopes will find support, not only for the benefit of
architects looking to expand their engineering knowledge before heading
into the field, but as an interdisciplinary minor for majors of science
“Architecture and engineering is a fairly common
pairing at other universities and for students with an inclination
toward the technical, it would definitely serve to increase students’
chances for graduate school acceptance or employment,” Mori said.
basic understanding of how buildings and other structures stay standing
and their capacity to resist directional forces of nature, including
earthquakes and human impacts is critical for a complete architecture
education, said Seth Wachtel, assistant professor of architecture and
community design, and the program’s director.
properties of construction materials gives me a better understanding of
the whole picture,” said senior architecture and community design major
Jovan Blake, explaining that architects focus on designing and
organizing spaces, whereas (structural) engineers specialize in what
keeps structures standing.
The lesson was brought home on a
recent fieldtrip to Applied Materials & Engineering in Oakland,
Blake said, when students conducted an experiment by pouring and curing
concrete cylinders, some unreinforced, some reinforced with steel, and
some reinforced with other materials, then crushed them with special
equipment to test their strength.
“These courses will
definitely help out with my architecture career because to know
architecture you need to know the way buildings are put together and
how strong they can be,” said junior Alexander Clara, an architecture
and community design major who has taken both courses.