February 21, 2020 MacDonald Wins National Design Education Award

Katie MacDonald, a 2019-2020 Tennessee Architecture Fellow, was awarded a 2020 national AIA/ACSA Housing Design Education Award for leading students to investigate urban population growth and designing new models of residential living.

The project, Between Neighbors: Staging Domesticity in Multifamily Housing, equipped students to study the dynamics of communal life, bringing together private units and shared spaces.  MacDonald taught the studio at Virginia Tech in spring 2019, prior to being named a fellow at UT.

While developing research for this project, MacDonald found that as urban populations grow, many cities are experiencing booms in multifamily housing, a phenomenon compounded by aging housing, declining rates of home ownership and ubiquitous technology that can cause social isolation and decline of communal spaces.

“Students often struggle to design forward-thinking housing because they have such strong associations with the homes that they experienced growing up. Many housing studios focus on the aggregation of units, with communal zones occurring in the leftover space, if at all. In this studio, I was interested in how housing might instead be driven by the public spaces between neighbors,” MacDonald said.

The project leveraged film as a vehicle for the study of multifamily housing design.  “I brought in film as a kind of MacGuffin to free students from their preconceptions and illustrate how daily, public life might unfold beyond one’s front door,” MacDonald said.  “Students analyzed and modeled shared spaces from a series of critically-acclaimed films in which housing becomes a character within the drama.”

MacDonald’s students analyzed shared spaces featured in the films then created new models of residential living that featured the spaces between living areas as much as the living areas, themselves. By creating communal spaces first, students refocused their expectations on designing for today’s urban dwellers.

To better convey their designs, students used analog techniques and animation software to create films that staged their designs.

The work informed a studio taught with Tennessee Architecture Fellow Kyle Schumann at UT in fall 2019. In this studio, students transformed invasive plant species into architectural prototypes, making films that conveyed the prototypes’ mediation between biology and technology as well as the potential of the designs to scale up into buildings.

The AIA/ACSA Awards are given annually by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture to recognize the exemplary work of architecture educators, who inspire students, contribute to the profession and extend their work into practice and private sector.  The Housing Design Education Award is given in coordination with the American Institute of Architects.