December 5, 2019 Invasive Species Inspire Students to Design for Sustainability

Photo of the "Branching Inventories" project in the 2019 Material Misbehavior studio
Tennessee Architecture Fellows Katie MacDonald and Kyle Schumann led students during fall 2019 to explore various natural materials and intricacies of design. 

Their studio, titled “Material Misbehavior,” encouraged students to explore unusual materials with a focus on sustainability and Tennessee’s many invasive species.

“As climate change and overextended natural resource supplies threaten the production of conventional construction materials, ‘Material Misbehavior’ looks to invasive species as potential material streams for sustainable design and construction,” MacDonald said. 

Invasive species can be difficult and expensive to remove from an area. By using the invasive species in their designs, designers can add economic value to the process of removing the species. Plus, this removal allows existing ecosystems to return to normal.

The students worked in teams to design structures using different invasive species found in Tennessee.

Photo of the Reflex project in the 2019 Material Misbehavior studio

Second-year graduate Architecture students Roni Feghaly, Yeganeh Rahbari and Courtney St. John created a project titled “Reflex,” using bamboo for the structure. The team experimented with the physical properties and limitations of bamboo, manipulating the otherwise inflexible plant into an innovative and adaptable structure.

The structure becomes flexible and interactive by using actuation techniques and technologies implemented for the joints and bamboo strips in the structure. The team also used motors attached to motion detectors to sense visitors’ movement, allowing the flexible bamboo pieces to move in accordance with the person walking through the structure.

“Learning to combine natural properties with artificial actuation techniques was the most interesting learning experience,” Feghaly said. “It was also interesting to have some failing experiments that permitted us to learn more about bamboo’s potential and its maximum bending angles.”

Photo of the "Branching Inventories" project in the 2019 Material Misbehavior studio
Fifth-year Architecture students Kevin Saslawsky and Tyler Sanford created “Branching Inventory,” a unique structure made of Bradford pear tree branches.

Saslawsky and Stanford chose the Bradford pear because the tree has naturally weak forks, causing it to lose branches easily. These lose branches are then gathered, scanned, inventoried and sorted based on their curvature and thickness, using low-fidelity 3D scanning. The collected inventory is then used to create a curved structure that optimizes the branches’ natural shape.

“There were many times when Tyler and I doubted what was possible or if it could be done; however, our most valuable lesson learned was that if we maintained confidence in ourselves and in each other, there is no way that we would fail to accomplish what we sought,” Saslawsky said.