On March 21-22, the BioBE Center team took to Detroit to present “Biology & Buildings: How Indoor Environments Affect Human Health” to the American Institute of Architects Design & Health Research Consortium. We were encouraged to see the diversity of research blooming at our fellow ACSA schools of architecture. For example, Joseph Kennedy from the NewSchool of Architecture & Design presented fascinating work on natural building materials in a panel discussion with members of the BioBE team. Bita Kash from Texas A&M University presented excellent work on integrating health and design, discussing ideas of fundamental adjacencies in the design process. Every panel was excellent, and the broad concern for integration of empirical methods to design evaluation was wonderful to see.
Most interesting was to learn from leading architecture firms about how they integrate research into their design practices and how they have developed funding models to support this research. Upali Nanda (@upalinanda) of HKS Architects (Houston) talked about the importance of pooling research resources and openly sharing new knowledge in order to more rapidly progress the field and avoid redundancy. Jeri Brittin, Director of Research at HDR Architects (Omaha) eloquently described how the research design process shares similarities with the building design process and how she has effectively used this analogy to explain the value of a rigorous research design process to firm decision makers. Robert Phinney (@rsphinney), Sustainable Design Director at Page Architects (Washington DC), described the uphill climb that many firms face when trying to meaningfully integrate original research into the building design practice, stressing that measurable outcomes and financial metrics dominate the discourse. What was most encouraging was that all three firm leaders described the immense value to their firms and clients of maintaining a tight relationship with university research and how rewarding it can be to work with academics to leverage their technical skills to help overcome the “pain points” facing their practice. We couldn’t agree more!
Some of our most rewarding research has been closely linked with practical industry needs. However, there are some challenges that we face in the academy when integrating our work with industry objective. First and foremost, is to ensure academic integrity when creating the research design to avoid real or perceived biases associated with industry engaged research. Without this, the research has no value to industry or to science. Other important considerations is to be nimble enough to complete the research at the “speed of business” and to work out possible concerns with intellectual property. All of these, and other concerns, can be, and have been overcome. The result in an opportunity to bring the leading scientific processes and utmost rigor to important problems that face society. Industry partners can help to focus academic research and help it gain traction to make greater impact more rapidly. It is for these reasons that we have launched a new industry engagement model here at the University of Oregon.