Research Studio with Heather Roberge

M.Arch. Third Year


A life immersed in a fluid-air or water-is, of course, nothing unusual for an architecture. Almost as commonly, the architecture and fluid move with respect to each other, either through locomotion, as winds or currents across some sedentary object, or as fluid passes through internal conduits. Clearly then, fluid motion is something with which all buildings must contend; as clearly it ought to be a factor to which the design of buildings reflects adaption. –Edited, Steven Vogel, Life in Moving Fluids

News headlines are full of descriptions of calamity wrought by water. We have in turn, too little or too much of it. For years, Southern Californians have worked to reduce water use in response to a hotter climate and a multi-year drought. While nearly simultaneously, this summer’s monster trio of hurricanes, Irma, Harvey and Maria, presented the human toll and destructive after-effects of coastal storm surge, impervious urban development, inadequate storm water management, and human inaction in the face of climate change. Water is, and will continue to be, at once a global problem and a regional one, the scope of which we cannot fully describe and do not fully know. We have water scarcity, eminent sea level rise, melting glaciers, a lack of clean water, falling groundwater levels, seawater inundation, and catastrophic flooding. Throughout human history, water has been a source of political, economic and social struggle. This will be further magnified by climate change and population growth. This research studio will not solve any of these seemingly intractable problems. We will not collect and illustrate data on these issues. Instead, the studio’s objectives are twofold. First, we will consider the history of water, our technical means to divert and contain it, and will adopt a stance toward water that actively transforms the design of landscapes and architecture with it. Second, the studio will speculate on the relationship of water and its movement, containment, and phase states to architectural organization, program, and form.

We typically think of an architect’s relationship to water as one of risk management. How do we keep the water out? Undoubtedly, there is a fair amount of risk management at the scale of details, finish and material specifications, snow and ice protection, etc. We worry about water vapor, dew points, water tables, runoff, roof water, etc. We also groom landscapes to direct water away from structures, to slow its movement, to retain its accumulation. In short, we take steps to prevent its damage. We have not developed a symbiotic relationship to water —one that acknowledges its dynamic states and plans for its variability. Nor have we acknowledged its embodied energy and rising levels in planning for our future settlements. This studio asks students to consider water’s technical, historical, and social conditions in order to articulate a disciplinary stance toward it. This may help us to incorporate water management into our work as architects rather than leave it to the civil engineers to direct. How might future designers prepare and act in the face of the challenges water will bring to bear on landscapes and architecture? This research studio considers these questions, invents forms (of representation, of scapes, of massing) to operatively engage water, and speculates on architecture’s possible responses to its excess.

Students: Sin Ying Ip, Chihiro Isono, Tong Ruby Liu, Dylan Murphy, Kyle Reckling, Gayle Schumacher, Eric Wall, Yeqi Wang and Kristen Young.


Heather Roberge