A snapshot of projects spanning 20-years of work created by the Center for Design Research in the School of Architecture at Virginia Tech is on display at the Branch Museum for Architecture and Design in Richmond through Sept. 10. “Modeling a Vision: Design, Technology, and Impact” explores a convergence of projects and process while advancing questions about the future of learning, making, and practice.

The Center for Design Research is led by architecture faulty Robert Dunay, Joseph Wheeler, and Nathan King. This exhibition includes Center for Design Research projects that have received widespread recognition, appraisal, and some of the most prestigious national and international awards.

Included among the curated pieces are

  • PLUG (Portable Laboratory on Uncommon Ground), a working and living outpost for researchers investigating communicable diseases in chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa.
  • The Six Day House for the TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in Blacksburg.
  • Four Solar Decathlon Competitions sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The past two applied research projects, LumenHAUS and FutureHAUS, have won the events in Madrid, Spain, and Dubai, U.A.E.

The Center for Design Research will host a panel discussion at the Branch Museum on Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. to explore the major themes reflected in the exhibition. Tsai Lu Liu, dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Design, will join James Bassett, chair of the School of Architecture; Helene Dreiling, 2014 president of the American Institute of Architects; Burt Pinnock, principal and chair of the board for Baskervill in Richmond; Kelly Callahan, principal at VMDO Architecture in Charlottesville; and others to examine experiential learning, evolving technologies, and the future of practice. This event is open to the public, and registration is encouraged.

“The projects in this collection are a testament to the impact of technology and our approach to design education as the industry has evolved over the past two decades,” said Liu. “However, true change in all design fields is a convergence of these practices with thinking and making. Design thinking and making is the thread that connects action to impact, paving the path for future advancement in the field and shaping how we educate the next generation of architecture and design professionals.”

Bassett described this convergence as a dialogue between foundational design questions and ever-emergent tools, techniques, and media.

“This serves as a poignant reminder that, rather than succumbing to a rush toward solutions promised by new technologies, a well-tempered practice emphasizes the pursuit of ideas, experimentation, and discovery endures, not only through the artifacts produced but also via the profound ideas and questions undergirding culture building,” said Bassett.

The artifacts on display reflect an evolution of concept development driven by action, impact, and evaluation. Each piece informs and expands those that follow.

“With each project, the knowledge generated by one team is transferred to and transformed by successive teams, forming an institutional memory that serves future endeavors. This is evident in the increasing sophistication, complexity, and interdisciplinary collaboration comprising the projects over time,” Dunay said.

Looking toward its next decade, the work also fulfills a primary goal of the center: the integration of teaching and research with an increasing focus on digital and robotic fabrication.

A view of The Branch Museum Hall features a 13-by-40-foot wall displaying 150 images of work created between 2002 and 2022.

A view of The Branch Museum Hall features a 13-by-40-foot wall displaying 150 images of work created between 2002 and 2022.
A view of The Branch Museum Hall features a 13-by-40-foot wall displaying 150 images of work created from 2002-22.
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