I am sincerely grateful to the SOM Foundation for sponsoring and organizing the traveling fellowships. My two-months of traveling in five western European countries and about twenty different cities has tremendously enlightened and inspired me in design, construction, and beyond.
Having studied “Glass Enclosure Systems” through independent research and subsequently being able to physically visit all the building sites was like switching from a static learning mode to a dynamic learning mode. Through traveling, I was finally able to fully understand the context of each site, to feel the scale of the construction, to experience the spatial sequence, to interact with the occupants, and to observe the dynamic responses of the buildings or infrastructures that I had been studying.
I found that articles or books would only show the best “camera shots” of a system or a building. Such representations were often illusive to one’s perception. Even with text, diagrams, or other supplementation, the images might not be the best description of the wholeness or the reality.
Not only had my traveling studies reinforced my initial understanding of glass enclosure systems, but it also induced me to evaluate their designs and applications in new and different ways. From the building sites I visited during the trip, I was able to reaffirm and expand my understanding of glass with respect to form, function, transparency, light, structure, and mechanical systems. I was particularly interested in intelligent glass systems that would improve their energy efficiency through dynamic responses to changing environments (e.g., Das Stadtor, Arkade).
Meanwhile, my views toward the durability, maintenance, and identity of glass enclosure systems had developed substantially throughout the course of my traveling.
Our society currently would receive glass systems as a component of modernity. However, from my comparison of buildings using different materials during the trip, I thought that the durability and abrasion resistance of glass were not comparable to other building materials such as stone, concrete, steel, plaster, or wood. Any local failure in a small area of glass would impact the overall appearance and further capacity of the glass pane or system as a whole. Moreover, once a crack occurs, the glass pane would be in an irreversible failure mode.
Buildings from the Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque period are still standing and conveying their original statement after centuries and centuries of testing. With a brittle character and an irreversible failure mode, how long will glass enclosure systems be able to maintain their original integrity?
My traveling experiences had reinforced myself with the concept that there were admirable differences and distinctions in the materiality, form, structure of public buildings versus private buildings, residential buildings versus office buildings, and so on. Such differences in precedent building examples were driven by reasons and cultures from the occupants and the contexts. Hence, I would criticize the homogenous application of glass enclosure systems that diluted functional and civic identities and abstracted the meaning of architecture and urban planning.
My traveling studies took part in an important milestone of my life. It was right after the completion of my undergraduate studies from the University of Southern California (USC), where I double majored in Architecture and Civil Engineering. I felt that through visiting all the preselected and impromptu sites, my traveling experiences bonded and synergized my understanding in the design, science, and social implications of building construction.
Currently, I am pursuing a Master of Science degree in Design and Construction Integration at Stanford University. The critical analysis, independent observation, and qualitative assessment skills that I developed from my traveling fellowship are valuable to my current study and future career pursuit.
I am thankful to Professor Henry Koffman (USC) for recommending me to the SOM Foundation fellowship, Professor Robert Harris (USC) and Professor Douglas Noble (USC) for research guidance, as well as Lisa Westerfield, Chris Sullivan, Peter Land, Raymond Clark, and Craig Hartman (SOM Foundation) for their valuable advice and support.