Sherin Wing


Michael Rotondi on His Approach to Designing Sacred Spaces

There are few challenges within architecture as distinctive as designing religious or spiritual spaces. While these projects share the functional challenges of more everyday architecture, the expectation of a deeply-felt spiritual experience adds an extra challenge to these designs that make them unlike most other commissions. How can architects approach such a challenge? In this excerpt from Sherin Wing's forthcoming book "Designing Sacred Spaces," Michael Rotondi of RoTo Architecture discusses how his approach to life informs his approach to designing religious architecture.

Mr. Rotondi’s outlook is guided by an unending curiosity: “I want to know everything about everything before I die and it’s not possible. So I see any project that comes along as a potential research project as well as whatever the practical things I have to solve. So I’m always trying to think about the things I think about often and in different ways. It would be nice if I could see the world as if for the first time like children do, where you have no basis for knowing something because it’s the first time you’ve seen it, it’s the first time you’ve experienced it. And so you see it with great wonder. When you see things over and over again, you see them like an expert.

How 5 California Colleges Approach Campus Design

In this article, originally published in 2 parts on Metropolis Magazine as "Building a University: How 5 California Schools Approach Campus Design" (Part 1 & Part 2), Sherin Wing investigates how different Californian universities utilize the design of their campus to express and enable their differing missions.

A school is more than just the sum of its intellectual records. Its legacy is very much tied to a physical place: its campus. More than a mascot or a symbol, the design of a campus and the buildings that form it greatly contribute to a university's lasting identity.

The key, then, is how a school’s material identity advances its intellectual mission. For example, academic buildings often physically symbolize the type of scholarly exploration and research that takes place therein. Administrative centers, on the other hand, anchor the more idealistic work taking place in the lecture and science wings. At the same time, individual buildings can function collectively as didactic forums for the public, demonstrating such principles as energy and water-use efficiencies. Lastly, the circulation between the buildings themselves is important. Open green space, for instance, can accommodate crowds, lectures, and even protests, providing a counterpoint to the more stately, processional routes that crisscross a campus.

Clearly these are different, and at times conflicting, agendas. How are they ranked and pursued by individual universities? Five campus architects at different California universities reveal how similar factors work in concert to produce very different visions and results. For some the initial plan of a school continues to wield influence over future developments, while in other cases a commitment to architectural movements and types gives rise to an eclectic, flexible approach to campus design.

Find out how these 5 California Universities approach their architecture after the break

AD Architecture School Guide: Brussels Faculty of Engineering [Bruface]

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ULB Solbosch Campus - Building R42. Image ©, via Bruface Facebook Page

The United States has an architecture school in almost every major university in each of its 50 states. And while it’s true that the choices seem endless, it is also true that there are certain values and approaches that dominate. Ecological architecture, for example, is often not passive, but is technology-laden, which means a large production footprint for materials like PV panels, special types of glass, or other cladding solutions. This is just one example of how industry and pedagogy shape one another and in turn influence the perception of “legitimate” architecture. Teaching architectural history offers another example in which what comprises “relevant” history is all-too-often limited to Euro-American examples. Everything in Asia beyond twenty years ago, whether it is Southeast, South, or East, is usually ignored because - although the names of historical architects may well be known in their own countries, they are not easily translatable for the average English-language author of architecture survey books.

The truth is that even in architecture schools in European nations, approaches and emphases on pedagogical content and styles vary widely. For example, schools in northern Europe have very different views on what is important and how to teach it than schools in western Europe. One school with a very defined point of view is the Brussels Faculty of Engineering, or Bruface, created by Vrije Universiteit Brussel in cooperation with the Universite Libre de Bruxelles. There, students can receive a Master of Science in Architectural Engineering; they are trained not just in design, but in engineering, emphasizing a more structural, practical approach.

AD Architecture School Guide: National University of Singapore

Ecological design is rapidly becoming a staple in architecture school. Its various names—sustainable, “green,” and environmental—all refer to the objective of designing buildings that have a smaller carbon footprint, from construction materials to functionality post-occupancy. Acronyms like HVAC and PV are now part of the mainstream architecture lexicon. These approaches are not globally applicable, however. For example, in tropical climates, the use of such technology is both impractical and ineffective. Additionally, the carbon footprint resulting from producing these devices and systems can be significant. 

The National University of Singapore (NUS) Department of Architectureis addressing these very issues. Founded in 1958, the Department of Architecture is oriented towards architecture for Asia and the tropics. Kenneth Ho, Design Director and Co-Founder of Hopscape Design + Architecture and NUS alumnus, says, “Everything here [in the U.S.] is about sustainability like HVAC or solar panels. But there, sustainable architecture is passive. For example, when you build a house, it actually breathes because you build it off the ground, the air circulates through the floor and then out through the roof. Because it’s a tropical climate, you have to do this. NUS is one of the leading schools in teaching this in Southeast Asia. Its become a hub for neighboring countries who send their students to study there to learn about this.”

AD Architecture School Guide: The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

MATAERIAL (shown in the video above) is "the result of the collaborative research between Petr Novikov, Saša Jokić from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) and Joris Laarman Studio. IAAC tutors representing the Open Thesis Fabrication Program provided their advice and professional expertise."

Most architecture programs focus on traditional degrees, ranging from practice-based Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees to the more theoretical Doctorate. But, until recently, there has been a void in postgraduate training that actually teaches fresh graduates and experienced professionals new technological skills. The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (or IAAC) has taken an important step towards filling this gap with two programs: the Open Thesis Fabrication (OTF) program and the Fab Academy.

AD Architecture School Guide: Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts

Most architecture schools around the world offer their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in separate tracks. That means that if students want to attain a Master’s degree, they first need to acquire a B.A. or B.S.,which usually takes five years. Altogether, this can be an expensive, eight-year endeavor that can subject students to crippling debt. One US report found that both undergraduate and graduate students can easily accumulate $100,000 in student loan debt, and another finds that “undergraduate students majoring in theology, architecture and history are much more likely to graduate with excessive debt,” compared to those pursuing math and the sciences.

Given these harsh realities, a school that combines both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in a single, five-year program is a welcome option. Enter the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts‘ School of Architecture.

AD Architecture School Guide: University of Minnesota

For most schools, receiving an M.Arch requires 2 to 3 years, and, according to NCARB, IDP towards licensure takes an average of slightly over 5 years, excluding the time to take the exams themselves.

The University of Minnesota School of Architecture is offering two degrees that will significantly reduce IDP requirements—pending approval by NCARB— and thus reduce the time it takes to attain one’s architecture license. Two M.S. programs, an M.S. in Architecture Research Practices and an M.S. in Architecture Metropolitan Design are designed as additional year-long degrees attained while students pursue their M.Arch’s. Even better, both are structured to not only help students attain up to 930 IDP hours toward completing the degree, but to defray tuition while doing it.

AD Architecture School Guide: Jamia Millia Islama

With its current total population over 1.2 billion people, India is the second most populous nation in the world. What’s more, current demographics show that, rather than being concentrated, India’s population is spread throughout its states. In demographic and statistical terms, then, India is ideally situated to provide architecture students with new insights into Ekistics, or the science of human settlements.

Founded in 2001 in response to the ongoing shifts in the urban landscape, the Faculty of Architecture and Ekistics at Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central University, grounds students in the ways that nature interacts with human needs/ethics in order to produce professionals instrumental in advancing a better built environment.

AD Architecture School Guide: Delft University of Technology

Recent reports by the UN on projected population growth until the year 2300, as well as current population trends, have raised numerous issues, from access to healthcare to housing. Of particular importance is how these issues will affect the urban landscape, and how professionals can respond to these changing conditions, on both a local and global scale. Urban planners and designers must not only be concerned about issues such as congestion and mobility, urban renewal and densification, but must also “[take] into account…economic globalization, the consequences of the financial crisis, [and] climate change” as well.

Clearly, these are not matters that can simply be understood by scrolling through different websites over the course of a single afternoon. Luckily, just these issues are explored at Delft University of Technology’s Master of Science in Urbanism.

AD Architecture School Guide: Institute on Aging and Environment, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning

According to the UN, the elderly population not only exceeds the population of children in developed nations, but will increase more rapidly than any other demographic over the next 50 years -- in fact, it could even triple.

Although most countries deal with the elderly population through institutionalized care, whether public, as in Canada or in Great Britain, or private, as in the U.S., the quality of care is widely divergent. It’s therefore fitting - and necessary - that the physical environment’s effect on elderly care is becoming a more prominent issue for research. 

One institute that is leading the way in this research is the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning’s Institute on Aging and Environment.

AD Architecture School Guide: Carnegie Mellon University

At Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, prospective students are likely to find a course of study that will interest them. The School’s newly revised undergraduate curriculum allows students to choose studios in their 4th and 5th year that concentrate on breadth or depth in the following topics of interest: Sustainable Design, Digital Design, Management and Critical Practice, Design/ Build, Urban Design, and Future Studios. For example, students interested in digital fabrication, computational design, and new materials may choose to concentrate in Digital Design.

AD Architecture School Guide: Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Parametric Modeling/Parametric Design Studio (image via

What makes a good architecture school? Clearly there is no single factor that comprises a good, or even a great, architecture school. Different aspects are important to different people. Students often cite access to well-known faculty members—otherwise known as “starchitects”—as an important feature. Professors and instructors mention their school’s outreach programs, pioneering studios, technologically innovative labs, and exchange programs. All of these are valid and important.

Of course, these factors must be weighed against practical considerations that include tuition, the cost of housing, and other expenses. Why? Because in Western Europe and North America, tuition can be measured in the tens of thousands. What’s more, in the U.S., student loans aren’t forgivable which means your survivors can inherit up to US $90,000 worth of debt. And if the current economy has taught us one thing, it is that it’s cyclic.

So before investing all that money, it’s important to determine how a school will help you succeed. What are the practical and critical skills the school’s curriculum will impart to ensure a) your professional success, and b) your personal success (that means your overall quality of life). Because upon graduation, the goal is to gain skills to support yourself well while doing what you enjoy.

Read our CASE profile after the break

The Indicator: Imbued with Silence

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Courtesy of Imbue Design

By Sherin Wing and Guy Horton

Utah’s red rock country is sublime in a Martian Chronicles sort of way. Its geologic folds, wrinkles, bridges, and domes compose a forbidding yet stunningly beautiful world of rock and sky. It’s the sort of landscape John McPhee would lyrically traverse in his book Basin and Range, in what he refers to as a “physiographic province.” It is also the psychological province of vision quests, the kind of vast and mystical space that Jim Morrison might have experienced. These are just some of the images that emerge from this landscape.

The work of Imbue Design, the Salt Lake City-based, three-person firm made up of Hunter Gundersen, Matt Swindel, and Christopher Talvy, is inserted here to form a meditative retreat that rises out of what McPhee would describe as a “silent world of austere beauty” (1). The project is captivating not merely because of its form or material, but because of its program as a meditation retreat for practicing Buddhists or others seeking to enter a silent world. It’s also a home away from home.

Read the interview with the Imbue’s design team after the break

AD Architecture School Guide: Forensic Architecture at University of London

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Analysis of white phosphorus munition behavior in urban environments (image via

When people think architecture school they think of training that teaches them how to make things: build spaces or develop sites for, primarily, human use. Over the years, this concept has expanded to encompass social activism. In the States, for example, there are programs like Architecture for Humanity, Project Row Houses, and Make It Right that address issues of poverty, displacement, and housing. Human Rights, however, extends beyond creating spaces for the economically disadvantages or impoverished. In fact, the term Human Rights often conjures up people’s rights within the context of conflict. Most people, however, do not think of architecture as encompassing the lack or destruction of structures.

Read about the Forensic Architecture program at the U. of London after the break

AD Architecture School Guide: University of Kentucky College of Design

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Early in August, we introduced Sherin Wing’s latest exciting series she’s writing for ArchDaily: The AD Architecture School Guide. In case you missed it, you can check Sherin’s review of the University of Utah here. And don’t forget to follow her on Twitter if you want to provide any feedback.

At the University of Kentucky College of Design or UK/CoD, the School of Architecture has taken the goals of engagement, service, and education as an opportunity to transform not just the physical landscape but the economy and social structure of the Commonwealth as well. It is, frankly, an exciting program. And as exemplified by the The River Cities Project, practical skills are combined with pedagogy to enrich and improve the lives of all people: students, faculty and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. If that seems like a tall order, read on because this is definitely a program that succeeds.

The Indicator: Nobody Puts Buddha in the Corner

The Indicator: Nobody Puts Buddha in the Corner - Image 1 of 4

A while ago I was talking to someone about designing a Buddhist temple. I began to think about the subject of sacred spaces: their configuration, their meaning, and most importantly, how people use those spaces to give their religious practice meaning. I realized that designing sacred space is a pretty unique endeavor. And given the nature of commissions these days, the chances that people are unfamiliar with a particular religion is pretty high.

So here’s a hypothetical for you: imagine someone unfamiliar with Christianity has been commissioned to adaptively re-use, say, a building for a Catholic church (L.A is full of such storefront churches). And this person has discovered from an online source that of central importance is the altar and the altar table. But, if that person is not a practitioner, it’s possible that s/he might think, given the limitations of the pre-existing structure, that the altar could be placed in one corner and the altar table in another.

Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Well, something similar was proposed for this Buddhist temple: the altar was placed to the side of the North-South axis. But you can’t place Buddha off to the side. Placing a Chinese Buddhist altar along the North-South axis is of paramount importance. This was, in essence, a big cultural mistake

Presenting the AD Architecture School Guide: University of Utah

Presenting the AD Architecture School Guide: University of Utah - Featured Image
University of Utah campus

It’s pretty easy to check out what the top architecture schools are, parsed by country. Just try Google and you’ll find a list of Top 10 Architecture schools in___. There is, most obviously, our own ArchDaily list of the Best Architecture Schools in the US. Another search yielded this site which ranked the Top 10 schools based on a vote and parsed by continent. In other words, it’s pretty easy to find school rankings.

What’s less easy is to actually 1) get accepted to one of these schools, and 2) figuring out a way to afford them. Besides which, it may not be appealing to attend one of those really famous schools because after all, they can be very large, intimidating, and even factory-like, depending upon how big the classes are. What many people are seeking is a balance between the quality of the faculty, class size, location of the school, and cost.

If this sounds like someone you know (or maybe it’s you), we’re here to help. In fact, if you’re attending a school that you think is great and deserves some acknowledgement, tweet me @xiaying.

In the meantime, there are a lot of schools that are running some very innovative architecture programs all over the world. And we will be looking at some of them to help people make what can be a pivotal life decision. In fact, what school you attend often shapes who you are to no small degree—at least at first.

(Read our first featured School after the break)

Techne: The Carbon Calculator for Buildings and Sites

Techne: The Carbon Calculator for Buildings and Sites - Featured Image

At the University of Minnesota’s College of Design several projects have been developed to advance more cost-effective, more environmentally aware buildings, infrastructure, and even communities. One very useful program they’ve developed falls under the Building Evaluation category. It’s called the CBSR Site and Building Design Carbon Calculator. What does it do? It measures the carbon footprint of any building or site. In other words, it measures greenhouse gas emissions from sites and from building development. Even better, it can be used by both professionals and the general public alike, for either existing or future structures. Indeed, after downloading the calculator, which is very well-researched and comprehensive, it is clear that this tool is self-explanatory and very easy-to-use.