May 3rd 2019

Illinois Tech Alumna Receives Honorable Mention from ARCC

In March the Architectural Research Centers Consortium announced the winner and honorees of its 2019 Dissertation Award, offered to doctoral students with outstanding dissertations that bring forth new research to architecture and environmental design. Among this year’s honorees was Alia Fadel (Ph.D. ARCH ’18), who received an honorable mention for her doctoral research regarding biophilic design, an area of architecture that seeks to improve an individual’s well-being through interaction with nature.

More specifically, Fadel’s research topic, “Transitional Cultured-Nature: A Comprehensive Framework of Biophilic Analysis Investigating On-Campus Restorative Intervals for Student Stress Mitigation,” sought to uncover stress-relieving opportunities when students interact with on-campus nature and mediums of nature-simulation. This required research that was conducted through indoor and outdoor case studies on both the University of Chicago and Illinois Institute of Technology campuses, and included more than 90 hours of systematic observational research.

The unceasing dynamics of seasonal changes are essential to capture the campus’ biophilic reality.

“I believe stress cannot be eliminated entirely from student collegiate life, but it certainly can be mitigated whenever a restorative opportunity becomes available and accessible,” says Fadel. “These can range from the natural temporal effects, sun and shadow dynamics, cycles of life and decay, seasonal transitions, and weather changes, to the growing moss on urban trees, canopy-like structures, and so much more.”

On Illinois Tech’s Mies Campus, Fadel Fadel looked at the stretch of pedestrian route along Field North of Crown Hall and State Street for an outdoor case study and at the upper studio space in S. R. Crown Hall for indoor research. According to her, Illinois Tech was chosen as an example of an “urban outward collegiate model, where biophilic opportunities are conventionally least expected due to the extended influence of the complex urban effect.”

Fadel found that while urban cues were clearly evident, they didn’t prevent or contradict on-campus interaction and connection to nature, though they overlapped and sometimes impulsively interfered with the overall biophilic qualities. Ultimately, her research demonstrated significant serendipitous moments of biophilic restoration at the Illinois Tech campus. “This is an interesting finding especially when we try to capture Ludwig Mies and Alfred Caldwell’s ‘Campus in the Park’ vision from the sensitive lens of biophilia,” says Fadel.

Biophilic restoration is possible when moments of direct and indirect sensory-stimulating encounters with nature are designed to be accessible.

Beyond these findings, Fadel’s work adds to this burgeoning field of study—a concentric growth approach to observation-based methodology that can be applied in future research studies.

“As an architect and landscape architect, I believe I have an ethical responsibility to research and design for a person’s well-being,” says Fadel. “The reality is that inhabitants of urban settings experience many stressors affecting their physical, psychological, and emotional health. But the restorative value of contact with nature is an emerging multidisciplinary field, so I became very interested in biophilic design as an approach to investigate, highlight, and boost these hidden, nature-driven therapeutic opportunities to support human health, resilience, and productivity.”

Fadel now works as an architectural educator, a biophilic design consultant, and an ethnographic observation specialist in her native Egypt. She hopes to continue adding to the growing area of research in biophilic design and to incorporate biophilic principles within her curriculum as well. “I believe that curricula that are structured to include opportunities for interactive, stimulating, and restorative intervals should contribute to students’ self-healing process,” she says.