Architecture Professor Receives Subvention Award for Book on Early Colonial Buildings in Oaxaca, Mexico

Benjamin Ibarra Sevilla, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, has been granted a $5,000 book subvention award by the Office of the Vice President of Research, Subvention Grants Program. The award will support the book named “Mixtec Stonecutting Artistry / El arte de la cantería mixteca” to be published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico Press.

Ibarra, who was involved in the restoration of early colonial buildings in Oaxaca Mexico, had been planning for a number of years to study the three beautiful sixteenth-century churches of la Mixteca in southern Mexico.

Benjamin Sevilla

His curiosity for these buildingsarose from the extraordinary refinement in the construction and the outstanding ribbed vaults forming the ceilings. These churches have been recognized by art historians for their monumentality, the exquisite pieces of art found in the buildings, and because of their important role that they played in the historic events that took place during early colonial times in Mexico. Ibarra’s work looks at the buildings from a different perspective.

“The churches of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán, San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuaca, and San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcoloula are unique pieces of architecture in the Americas, they are the continuation of the Gothic architecture on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.” wrote Professor Enrique Rabasa who is the author of the book’s foreword.

In order to develop his analysis, Ibarra relied in the latest technologies, which allowed him to analyze the buildings in the digital environment. This required first, to establish collaboration agreements with institutions and the government of Mexico, in order to obtain the permissions for the documentation of the buildings. Once the agreements were in place, Ibarra used a 3D laser scanner that created a 3D model in the computer. These 3D models were analyzed obtaining the information of how the vaults were designed and how they were built stone by stone. The study looks at the buildings from the point of view of the methods of construction and the transference of building technology necessary to complete such complex buildings. The methodology implemented by Ibarra is illustrated through sixteenth-century and eighteenth-century depiction methods in combination with digital models creating a number of attractive drawings and 3D prints.

Parallel to this book, Ibarra has curated an exhibition that includes fifteen models created with 3D printing technology and thirty-seven panels profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings. The exhibition is currently traveling through different cities in Mexico and the US, and it will visit the city of Austin in late 2014. “My goal is to place these buildings in the global context of the History of Construction,” has said Ibarra in his presentations about his research work. He notes his book “will be obligated reference to those who study sixteenth-century architecture in Mexico and those who admire the achievements of the indigenous people during this period of time.”

“Design for a Vulnerable Planet” Explores Our Physical Environment and Its Future

Vulnerable-Planet-cover1-231x300The recent horrific events in Japan were a brutal reminder of just how fragile the human race is. Mother Nature has always been a force to be dealt with; now with our burgeoning population and the rapid urbanization of the planet, her power over our wellbeing is undeniable.

The tragedy in Japan is the most recent on record; however, it follows a decade of destruction. In 2001, the United States experienced a cataclysmic man-made disaster on September 11; in 2004, Asia suffered a debilitating tsunami; in 2005, the Gulf Coast was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina; and in 2010, Haiti was pummeled by a catastrophic earthquake.

Our planet is fragile, and in his just-released book, “Design for a Vulnerable Planet,” Dean Fritz Steiner of the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin tells us why.

Urbanization and population growth contribute to our frailty; however, so do unlimited resources and a vast overuse and misuse of natural resources critical to our survival, such as air, water, land, gas and oil.

According to Steiner, part of the solution toward healing our planet is that architects and planners thoroughly understand the landscapes in the regions in which they work.

“We must understand the full costs — economic, social, cultural, ecological, and environmental — to design and build a better planet,” Steiner says.

In his book, four simple steps are outlined in order to build a better world for future generations. Those steps are:

  • We must acknowledge the relationship between our health and the built environment.
  • We need to build green.
  • We must stop sprawling and do a better job restoring and conserving our current built environment.
  • We need to think, and build, regionally.

The last one is a theme woven throughout the book. Designs and plans that are suited to their place are more sustainable than conventional approaches. By understanding climate and water flows within a region, architects and planners can design more appropriate, more sustainable, buildings, parks and communities.

With the birth of modern design, the age-old concept of regionalism was slowly abandoned. Refrigeration, air conditioning, central heating, television, radios, computers, automobiles and cell phones — those things that connect us — also disconnect us from one another and from nature. Physical and emotional health are connected, and there is nothing more physical than the environment in which we live and work.

Steiner believes that suburban sprawl is an unnecessary evil and that, as American cities continue to sprawl, Americans grow fatter. In 2009, the American Academy for Pediatrics reported that 32 percent of U.S. children are overweight. Their report linked the growing number of overweight children to the physical inactivity and to the lack of safe neighborhood design that supports walking to schools, parks and recreational facilities.

More people live in cities now than ever in our global history and continued urbanization is inevitable. What this means is that natural and man-made catastrophes have and will affect millions more than they would have decades ago. We must learn to adapt our cities and buildings to build a healthier today, tomorrow and future. It is something designers and planners can, and should, be doing now.