Lost in Space: A Case Study on Optimizing Student Spaces at the University of Virginia; Crafting a Biomaterial Culture for Building Process

Cauthen, Joshua, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Neeley, Kathryn, University of Virginia
Bailey, Reid, University of Virginia

The overall goal of this project was to attempt to better understand our built environments. It is often that the spaces we live and work in are not being utilized to their fullest ability, and it is difficult for humanity to imagine what the future of our built environments could and should look like in regard to sustainably constructing and operating them. The technical project sought to optimize student spaces around UVA and provided recommendations based on student and faculty input. Using a systems and design thinking approach was crucial to gathering sufficient data from people who are actually affected by insufficient student spaces. The STS research sought to examine how Ecovative Design, a company at the forefront of the renewable biomaterial industry, conveys information about their extremely unique and widely misunderstood material, mycelium. Examining images on the company's website allowed for this analysis to be conducted and for techniques to understand biomaterials to be learned. The STS research is not directly connected to the technical project, though the technical project inspired my thinking about the spaces we occupy and the materials that make them.
The technical portion of my thesis provided solutions to the Office of the Dean of Students about what current students wanted in their reservable spaces, as well as systematic changes to the reservation systems for clarity and less perceived biases. Surveys were conducted among students and faculty to determine how they currently utilize spaces and reservation systems. We drew conclusions about specific furnishings and equipment students wanted in study spaces. As a result of this project, three new student spaces were created and currently have high rates of utilization. The reservation system is much more transparent and allows students to reserve the rooms they want without bias.
In my STS research, I sought to understand why biomaterials are not currently widely used in construction and analyzed images on Ecovative Design’s website to determine how they expose new people to their proprietary material. At the present, it is very difficult for people to imagine a built environment crafted out of renewable biomaterials that do as little harm to the environment as possible. Ecovative understands this and crafted a very clear and clean website to convey unknown information about their material to whoever is curious. The images are crafted in a way that allows someone new to this information to understand it through the lens of something more common. These techniques Ecovative used will be critical in moving these sustainable biomaterials to the forefront of the construction industry and public minds.
Though these projects were not directly connected, they did influence and enrich one another. The technical project allowed me to better understand the variety of human needs within a space. With their needs in mind and a continuously changing climate, I was inclined to further examine human spaces from a lens of sustainability. As our built environment is a major contributor to climate change, we will not only need to optimize our spaces for human use, but also so that they make the least impact on the surrounding environment and non-human life. The themes covered in STS 4500 and 4600 also shaped my projects by pushing me to see the connections among various actors in a problem, as well as the ethical dimensions of each perspective.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
sustainability, biomaterial, optimization, space, spaces, building, buildings, construction
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: