The SOM Foundation is pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 Research Prize. Two teams—one from Pennsylvania State University and one from Yale University—will each receive a $40,000 prize to conduct original research that contributes to this year’s topic, “Envisioning Responsible Relationships with Materiality.” The Research Prize was created in 2018 to cultivate new ideas and meaningful research that addresses the critical issues of our time.
Felecia Davis, Ali Ghazvinian, Benay Gürsoy, and Farzaneh Oghazian (Pennsylvania State University, Department of Architecture), along with John Pecchia (Pennsylvania State University, Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology) and Andre West (North Carolina State University, Wilson College of Textiles), won with their proposal “MycoKnit: Cultivating Mycelium-Based Composites on Knitted Textiles for Large-Scale Biodegradable Architectural Structures.” The project aims to explore the interrelated behavior of mycelium-based composites and knitted textiles, where the knit is used as a growing base for mycelium materials, to offer a sustainable and biodegradable building material and structural system that is strong in both tension and compression.
Juror Scott Duncan commented: “The idea that future building materials could be ‘grown’ rather than manufactured is fascinating and one that is worth exploring if we hope to achieve our goals of carbon neutrality. One wonders about the structural potentials of mycelium fibers and what kinds of possibilities and forms might emerge with their use.”
The second winning proposal, “Soil Sisters: An Intersectoral Material Design Framework for Soil Health” led by Anna Dyson and Mae-ling Lokko (Yale University, School of Architecture), aims to investigate a new paradigm for connecting agricultural waste to large-scale regional material supply chains, in which improving soil nutrition and soil resiliency underpins the design goal of providing cross-sectoral environmental performance through the provision of new biomaterial construction systems.
“‘Soil Sisters’ reminds us that, in the end, everything returns to the soil, and it is by reinventing the life cycle of materials that societies will move toward higher ecological efficiency,” mentioned juror Gabriel Kozlowski. “From local soil restoration practices in Ghana and Guatemala to global supply chains of agricultural products and their waste, this multiscalar research project may contribute to broaden our understanding around soil health and how waste by-products can be upcycled into construction materials.”
AMBIS Coconut-Mycelium Composite Module, 2016. © Tanner Whitney.
This year’s jury was led by SOM Foundation Executive Director Iker Gil and included Scott Duncan (Partner of SOM, Chicago and Cochair of the SOM Foundation), Gabriel Kozlowski (Principal of POLES.studio, Rio de Janeiro and Boston), James Leng (Founding Partner of Figure, San Francisco and 2013 SOM Foundation Fellow), Charlotte Malterre-Barthes (Assistant Professor of Urban Design at Harvard University, Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, MA), and Zoë Ryan (Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia).
Juror Zoë Ryan commented: “The proposals were deeply researched, diverse in focus, and timely investigations into some of the most pressing issues related to our material environment. The award comes at a critical moment in the field when new forms of research and inquiry are more essential than ever to push forward ideas that challenge the status quo and offer alternative narratives and ideas that can have lasting impact.”
Research Prize recipients are expected to collaborate with students, faculty, and leaders from various disciplines to pursue their research topics. They will be required to document their findings and develop suggestions for application to professional practice. The outcome of the research will be shared publicly on the SOM Foundation’s website as well as other mediums identified by the winning teams.s.