2011-12 ACSA/AISC Steel Design Student Competition: David Heck

Out of 303 entries, David Heck, B.Arch 2012, one of Prof. Jonathan Reich’s thesis students, won first place in the international 2011-2012 ACSA/AISC Steel Design Student Competition – Culinary Arts College for his 2011-12 thesis project Paris Market Lab: The addition of a culinary arts school and urban garden to the Marché St. Germain in Paris.

Project description can be found at the end of the competition pannels.

John Vierra's Tsunami "best of show"

John Vierra's Tsunami "best of show"

John Vierra's Tsunami "best of show"

John Vierra's Tsunami "best of show"


Culinary Arts College

“Sustainability” is easily the most misused and co-opted word of our time. It’s not a technology like solar panels or a hybrid car; it’s a context. This project seeks to explore the key components of a sustainable context, and to provide an example of what that context can look like. I hesitate to say that my project is about sustainability, only because the word itself has often been pushed into a very narrow definition of “environmental” or “ecological” sustainability. The objective here is to open the discussion to a more holistic view of sustainability; one that looks not only at the environmental components, but also the social, cultural, and economic components which are all equally fundamental prerequisites for acquiring a truly sustainable context.

The Paris Market Lab is a culmination of 9 months of work, which produced two design competition submittals. The first design competition was for ArchMedium’s Paris Market Lab, submitted after the first half of the academic year. This competition asked students from all over the world to design a high-end culinary school, located in the very historically and culturally rich Saint Germain neighborhood in Paris. The second entry was for the ACSA/AISC Steel Design Student Competition Culinary Arts College. This competition was submitted at the end of the academic year, with a focus on exploring the use of steel. Both the competitions were valuable design experience, and helped keep me motivated throughout the year. They were also very complimentary of one another because I was able to reuse the same program and site for both competitions, thus allowing me to delve deeper into additional thesis ideas.

While both competitions asked for the design of a culinary school, they also encouraged the exploration of additional issues. My thesis project pushed the Culinary school to be much more than just a school, and tried to address issues that can all be linked to this idea of sustainability as a context. The issues addressed in this project include: density/in fill, adaptive reuse, historical preservation, public urban spaces, urban agriculture, and urban design that supports city life and social activity.

Even when focusing on just the environmental component of sustainability, that too has been highly washed down in the field of architecture. Many believe that all it takes to make a green building is few green tech quick fixes such as PV panels, solar shading, passive heating/cooling, highly insulated shell, and energy efficient equipment. While I don’t discourage the use of PV panels or insulated glass, none of these solutions address the idea of context, and none of them address resource consumption and carbon emissions on a large scale. One of the major topics explored in this thesis is the idea that density is a fundamental prerequisite to environmental sustainability because dense urban environments provide an efficient way to handle large populations in a small amount of space. 2008 marked the first time in human history when more people lived in urban environments as opposed to rural environments, with each proceeding year continuing this shift towards urbanization. High-density cities have already proven to have inherent, built-in efficiencies that have the ability to unconsciously shift individual consumption behavior on a large scale. As designers, we need to encourage this shift towards urban environments, and help promote not only high density, but also good density. This project looks to push the boundaries of density, in already dense Paris, while at the same time creating pleasant, livable spaces that add to the quality of city life.

Adaptive reuse is another major component of this thesis. Existing conditions are preserved not only for the environmental reasoning of resource conservation, but equally important is the preservation of history and culture. In a world that pushes for homogeneity, any act of protecting the diversity of our past is invaluable. The Saint Germain neighborhood is incredibly rich in both history and culture, which needs to be respected by any new intervention. The success in any historical preservation projects lies in the project’s ability to create an honest dialogue between existing and new conditions. This creates a clear differentiation, giving the design a high level of contrast that can, when done well, give the observer the ability to see where we came from as a society, where we are currently, and sometimes even where we are going.

In terms of a socially sustainable context, this project explores how to promote spaces for people; spaces that are lively, walkable, and suitable for a variety of social activities. The design tries to do this in large part by acting as an invitation to the surrounding community. This design looks to reinforce city life as a means to help support all types of social activity, not only using food as a facilitator, but also good flow and permeability through the site, added retail on ground floor for shopping, cafes and bars, promoting pedestrianism by creating eventful circulation with a variety of pleasant and meaningful places for people to stay. Additionally, it responds to adjacent public transit stops, in an effort to encourage public transportation use and give equal accessibility to those who don’t have automobiles. Also, instead of exclusively designing a school, many of the spaces are highly public, with flexible use that can adapt to the needs and wants of the community. The school itself is also designed to interact with the community by having students run the bakery, pastry shop, kitchens, and restaurant. This creates a “learn by doing” environment for students, while simultaneously giving back to the community with high quality service and food, grown on-site, at affordable prices.

The Paris Market Lab sees food and community as being inseparable. The societal importance of how our food is grown, where it comes from, how it is prepared, and how it is shared, cannot be stressed enough. And food is the perfect catalyst of bringing people of a community together; the dinner table is a place where people give thanks, share stories, and talk about their day. Students of the Paris Market Lab are taught the importance of all this and learn not only how to prepare high quality, nutritious food, but also how to plant, grow and harvest that food. The new design facilitates this by providing a massive vegetable greenhouse, and vegetable green walls that capitalizes on unused roof surface and southern exposure. This kind of urban agriculture comes at a time when food nutrition and food security are increasingly important issue for cities all over the world.

In the end, this project hopes to open up a more honest discussion of sustainability. We need to realize that there is no such thing as a sustainable building or car, and that truly sustainable context needs to address more than simply reducing CO2 emissions. Architects need to move away from designing objects, and become experts in the complexity of sustainability by exploring the many social, cultural, economic, and environmental factors that contribute to a sustainable context.

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