Oct 24th 2019

Two College of Architecture Alumni Win AIA Film Challenge

Learning Organisms, Floral Collectives from Meriem Sakrouhi - Mario Serrano on Vimeo.

This year the American Institute of Architects hosted its Film Challenge for the fifth year in a row, asking architects and filmmakers to turn their lenses toward projects that showcase how architects and civic leaders collaborate to create “sustainable and resilient architecture.”

Among this year’s winners are Meriem Sakrouhi (B.Arch. ’16) and Mario Serrano (B.Arch. ’18), IIT Architecture Chicago alumni who won the People’s Choice Award for their short documentary Learning Organisms, Floral Collectives. The film is centered on discussions Sakrouhi and Serrano had with architects and sustainability experts the world over about how new building typologies could stem from concepts like biomimicry and biophilia.

“I think we were able to get a diverse perspective on what sustainability is today and what we can achieve through building,” says Serrano. “We saw that the way forward in sustainability was not only buildings that produce less waste, but also buildings with the potential to regenerate the environments they inhabit and create healthier lives for the people that live in them.”

Sakrouhi and Serrano, who first met as students in the bachelor’s program at the College of Architecture, began working with each other by founding 33M, a firm that serves as an outlet for their side projects while Sakrouhi continues her work as United States east visualization leadproject designer at IBI Group and Serrano works toward his Master of Architecture degree at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London. The duo had already been mulling over new ideas for sustainable building designs when they received an email from the AIA with information about the competition.

“We thought [the competition] was a great idea because that is what we were really trying to do; we were trying to challenge architecture and make it more sustainable, but at the same time we were also really interested in film,” explains Sakrouhi. “We wanted our film to not only be something to document the design process, but also be something in itself.”

Through their interviews, Sakrouhi and Serrano honed in on some concepts for a more environmentally sound dwelling. It could use modular parts made through 3D printing while relying on locally sourced materials. Further, using artificial intelligence-controlled robotics, the building could respond to its environment to save energy.

As architects, Sakrouhi and Serrano aspire to create a prototype that could function along these lines. But as filmmakers, the success of Learning Organisms, Floral Collectives—which racked up more than 180,000 views in addition to its win—inspired the two architects to further pursue their filmmaking endeavors.

“We really decided we need to make a longer version of this documentary,” says Sakrouhi. “It feels like we owe it to the people and we want to share all the knowledge we've been gaining and keep having these conversations and adding them to a longer documentary.”