For his first teaching assignment at the University of Oregon, Mark Fretz taught an advanced technology course to architectural students at the University of Oregon, Portland, called “Design the Unseen“.  Mark is the Director of Knowledge Exchange at the Institute for Health in the Built Environment, and as an architect, researcher, and health practitioner, he created an architectural design course that would bridge those areas.  Student groups were charged with synthesizing a design project for Portland firms, with the goal of combining building design, aesthetics, and health.  Some of the research topics and possible design projects covered in the class included Acoustics and Health; Mass Timber and Health; Passivhaus and Health (building envelope and indoor air quality), and Daylight, Indoor Air Quality, the Microbiome and Health.

Dr. Sue Ishaq, research faculty based in the Biology and the Built Environment Center in Eugene, traveled up to Portland to give a guest lecture on the indoor microbiome, including an overview of current literature, research questions yet to be answered, some common microbiology and molecular genetic techniques for studying the indoor microbiome, and several examples of experimental designs that architectural students could implement into their design projects.

Following the lecture, one group of students chose to focus on natural daylighting in an office setting, and to incorporate the effect of daylight on bacterial culture plates.  Students took E. coli cultures and created a standard dilution series, in which each dilution reduces the culture population by a factor of 10.  Dilutions were then spread onto standard culture plates, which were placed around the office under different lighting regimes, with exposed (daylighting treatment) or covered (non-daylight controls) plates, and replicates, matched at each location.  After several days in the office, the plates were removed and students counted the colonies at each site and treatment to determine the effect of daylight exposure on E. coli growth. “I’m enthusiastic to help introduce the concept and practice of microbiology to architectural design students. While these students may not change their career track, they will change the way they think about the built environment.  Whether we know it or not, or like it or not, microorganisms are rife in the built environment and it bears consideration from design to construction to use of a building if we are to keep buildings and people healthy,” said Sue Ishaq.  “I really like the hands-on teaching approach this course provided, and I look forward to collaborating with Mark on expanding this and other courses on the built environment.”

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