Concepts in Form & Energy was a Master's studio taught by Joe Dahmen at UBC during the Spring 2011 semester.



Since Leibniz devised a new theory of motion in the 17th century, the dual principles of energy and entropy have achieved widespread relevance throughout the sciences. Defined as the ability to do work and inert uniformity respectively, these two concepts are central to our understanding of physical phenomena. The law of conservation of energy states that no energy is created or destroyed, but only changes form, whether kinetic, potential, thermal, gravitational, sound, elastic or electromagnetic. Beyond its utility for scientific explanations of physical phenomena, energy is a contentious political issue, without which contemporary life is inconceivable. Perhaps more than any other resource, energy has been the motivation for the subjugation, division, and occupation of territories from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

Architecture is inextricably tied to energy: the built fabric demands as much as half of total secondary energy supply globally. Recently architects have begun to engage with spatial issues surrounding energy generation and consumption. Office for Metropolitan Architecture has contributed to Roadmap 2050, published by the European Climate Foundation, which envisions a low carbon energy supply for Europe. Beyond Entropy, a research cluster established at the Architectural Association in 2010, speculates on what energy might suggest as form. Concepts in Form and Energy proposes to go beyond functional issues, using these and other sources as points of departure to consider the architectural implications of energy.



This studio used design as a research methodology to investigate the possibilities energy and entropy offer in spatial and architectural terms. The studio was divided into three units. During Unit 1 we researched various forms of energy in scientific terms as we reviewed the work of artists and architects dealing with this topic. Unit 1 culminated in the creation of a site-specific spatial installation amplifying the effects of energy or entropy in a natural or built environment. During Unit 2 we applied the conceptual understanding we had gained to develop a prototype building block that engages with the dissipation or generation of energy. During Unit 3 the building block were deployed in an assembly as a response to specific programmatic concerns. The course was taught as a research-driven design studio, with lectures, student presentations, design reviews, and lectures given by outside experts in the energy field.


Expected Outcomes

Concepts in Form and Energy is exploratory rather than instrumental, considering energy from wide-ranging perspectives encompassing installations, propositions for new materials, and original speculation on energy as it relates to architecture. Practical outcomes could include building blocks that capture energy from the natural or built environments, installations that make evident the flow of energy in contemporary built landscape, or other spatial manifestations of energy. While a range of outcomes is acceptable, it is expected in each case that students develop program related to the unique concerns of each architectural proposition.


Selected Student Work
MINESWEEP / Sindhuja Mahadevan

Minesweep is a speculative design proposal for post-technological landscape reclamation using passive phytoremediation technology and eco-tourism strategies. Coal was first mined at a large-scale during the Industrial Revolution, which consequently produced the first post-technological landscapes in the form of vast coal mines.

Acknowledging the manufactured terrain of a recently closed coal-mine as the genesis of a new landscape / park typology, Minesweep integrates phytoremediation strategies and recreational programming over an extensive timeline. A series of site-specific interventions offer multiple, phenomenological readings of the site, and become a reference point for a larger discourse on the idea of reclaiming among all landscape producers.


Selected Student Work
INSTANT MONUMENT / Sam Ostrow & Maire-Claude Fares

The Instant Monument is about the exploration and explication of wasted energy potentials. We were interested in calling attention to an exhaust vent that lies within a well traveled edge of a huge bald spot at the heart of the UBC campus. It goes unnoticed by hundreds of people a day, many passing within a foot of the powerful updraft. We wanted to play upon the incredible force and unexpected centrality of the site while responding to the large empty space. We created a balloon in a box; rapidly deployable, light, and large. We wanted to create a moment of drama in a transitory space; a spectacle that would draw attention to the unused space as well as the unused energy.

In order to create a large, light structure we decided to tape thin sheet plastic together; maximum area for minimum weight. We taped the seems both inside and out. It was important for us to have as few joints as possible to minimize week points. All seems were applied with as few pieces of tape as possible. After a quick test balloon of 16’ tall by 17’ circumference inflated in approximately 2-3 seconds we realized that we had enough force for a much larger (and potentially more complex) structure. We used sewing techniques like pleating (to allow for expansion and reduce the circumference at the base). A simple cardboard base was enhanced with a ring to receive the balloon. Our semi-sealed base proved too effective and we popped the next three baloons we tested. Even using thicker plastic and providing two plate-sized vent holes proved too feable for the air flow. The easiest solution to prevet further blowout would be to provide a base that held the balloon intake off the ground by a few feet. More specific testing would need to be done to calculate more precisely the CFM of the vent.


Selected Student Work

The UBC Centre for Aquatic Health and Relaxation combines two distinct programs to create a project that focuses on effective energy use and user comfort.  By employing a series of heat exchange methods, this project removes waste heat from computer server racks and then uses it in temperature based amenities for relaxation, such as hot pools.  The design offers the university a much needed central server centre while also giving the student body a unique building on campus to help lessen the stresses of studying.