It was an assignment to take her breath away, says University of Cincinnati architecture junior Emma Scarmack, 21, of Lancaster, Ohio.
|Architecture student Emma Scarmack in UC's Olympic-sized lap pool as part of the new Extreme Environments studio class.|
Scarmack was just one of the UC College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) students who recently jumped feet first into a new Extreme Environments design course that asks the students to first experience the kinds of environments they will later design for.
That’s how it came to be that ten out of the 17 students in the new studio course, led by Brian Davies, associate professor of architecture, swallowed hard and then immersed themselves in scuba-diving training and underwater design efforts. Only one of the students in the class had any prior scuba-diving experience.
At first, Scarmack thought it would be pretty easy to go with the flow of the class. It wasn’t quite the smooth sailing she expected. She explained, “Before we got to the evening where we tried to set up the underwater framework shelter, we had three in-water training sessions. When I actually started to do some of those training exercises, I suddenly found it terrifying to scuba dive. I’ve never been afraid of the water, but you’re asked to take your [breathing] regulator out of your mouth, take off your mask and open your eyes under water and other moves that were pretty scary for anyone who likes constant access to oxygen.”
Fellow student Jason Rohal, 21, an architecture junior from Cleveland, had a different reaction. For him, the experience was pure fun. “It’s the most fun thing I think I’ve ever done. I had a complete sense of freedom under the water. I was able to sit at the bottom of a bed of water and look up and have a perspective I’ve never had before. It was a total ‘wow’ experience for me,” he recalled.
Both this fun and even the fear has a professional purpose: To help the students become better designers of structures set in extreme environments.
This class in UC’s top-ranked architecture and interior design program is part of a long university history, going back to the 1960s at least, of designing structures and tools – and testing these same designs – for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), for the U.S. Air Force and even for other countries. Past design projects have included designing environments for space, for the desert, for polar climates and for ocean surfaces and depths.
“And recently, UC received a prestigious gift for research related to space that will require our college (DAAP) to work with the university’s engineering and medicine programs on projects related to the extreme environment of space. That was really the impetus behind this newest course,” Davies explained.
And as for underwater training to substitute for space design, Davies was matter of fact: “It’s easier to go underwater than space. The weightless environments correspond, which is why NASA trains personnel underwater, too.”
|Rendering of an underwater eco-hotel and research center designed by students Jason Rohal, Heather Vorst and Sarosh Ali.|
In UC’s Olympic-sized lap pool, the students culminated their underwater training by trying to erect the framework for a shelter. In the end, the shelter collapsed in slow motion before it was complete due to challenges related to water-volume displacement, the amount of weight needed at the base of the framework to secure the structure and the necessarily slow pace of under water work that used up both oxygen and the students’ physical energy.
But, said Davies, he and the students probably learned more from the “failure” than they would have from an easy success: “We even videotaped our efforts so we could review it like game-day footage.”
Among the lessons learned
|Rendering of hotel room interior from students' design of underwater eco-hotel and research center.|