Supporting a sustainable future with AIA research grant

Now entering its 10th year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Upjohn Research Initiative continues to support growth within the design industry with grants to fund applied research. Judged by a double-blind peer review process, five projects have been selected this year to receive the 18-month grant. A total of $100,000 will be divided across these.

Circadian Daylight Metric and Design-assist Tool for Improved Occupant Health and Well-being

Five projects will be supported by this year’s American Institute of Architects (AIA) Upjohn Research Initiative, covering innovations from a circadian daylight metric to walls made from waste to post-consumer plastic ‘masonry’ (pictured above).
Image © Meredith Miller and Thom Moran

Principal investigator Kyle Konis, AIA, PhD, of the University of Southern California will use the grant to investigate lighting conditions within buildings—specifically, to determine where the interior is too dark to support circadian stimulus and therefore long-term health. Konis seeks to develop a design-assist tool and daylighting metric to help professionals assess this, mapping eye-level light exposures.

Post-natural Material Assemblies

From the University of Michigan, Meredith L. Miller and Thomas Moran are the principal investigators delving into the architectural potential in plastiglomerates—that is, material formed from post-consumer plastic fused with inorganic material such as rock). By building an architectural assembly from such material, this team aims to develop sustainable, inexpensive, and durable ‘masonry’ units.

Smart Cities: Population Health and the Evolution of Housing

The University of Kansas’s principal investigator Joe Colistra, AIA, will explore prefabrication and ‘smart’ techniques to develop healthier multi-family housing types supportive of aging in place. Colistra is pursuing a cost-effective solution incorporating such technologies as motion, fall, and sleep sensors, gait analysis, automated lighting and medicine dispensers, and smart mirrors and toilets.

Smart Tiles: Novel Application of Shape Memory Polymers for Adaptive Building Envelopes

With Dale Clifford of California State Polytechnic University as the principal investigator and Kelle Brooks (California State Polytechnic University), John Brigham, PhD (Durham University), and Richard Beblo, PhD (University of Dayton Research Institute), as collaborators, this project focuses on developing self-adapting façade systems. The goal is to create shape memory polymer building tiles responsive to solar radiation, temperature, light, humidity, and pressure, which will shift and reposition to maximize shading and harvest energy.


This project’s principal investigators—Taiji Miyasaka, Robert Richards, and Vikram Yadama—are based at Washington State University, as is one of its collaborators, David Drake. Another collaborator, Rex Hohlbein, represents the Facing Homelessness initiative and Rex Hohlbein Architects. To create more sustainable, insulated, and attractive walls, the team will repurpose materials from the local solid waste stream. If created as planned, the walls will feature an R-value of R-10 or greater, cost less than 10 cents per square foot, and be fire-safe. The high-performing and inexpensive nature of the walls makes them a good contender for backyard transitional housing solutions for Seattle’s homeless population, with laboratory and field-testing both planned.

Published Upjohn-funded research from previous years is available here.

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