Just Air

Architects have inadvertently relegated air to a secondary concern by introducing HVAC systems later in the design process. Air, though invisible, is not immaterial—it is a medium for sustaining life—and its qualities can have lasting effects on our society. Using data visceralizations across body and building, this thesis proposes a responsive data installation and respiratory clinic that empowers those oppressed by air inequity and compels the architectural profession to reconceive atmospheric boundaries.

In 2020, the world saw three major developments in digital culture: the wider acceptance of telemedicine due to COVID-19’s strict quarantine protocols; the pervasiveness of wearables that can interpret physiological and environmental information; and the convenience of LiDAR in Apple iPhones. These instances reveal new intimacies with data. Approaching 2030, advancements in consumer-friendly point cloud processing will allow the public to analyze their surroundings more closely and scan the stuff of clouds. This is critical since vulnerable groups—children and teens with developing lungs, people with respiratory illnesses, people of color and people of low-income—disproportionately suffer from unseeable air injustices. If architects have the professional duty to “protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare,” we are failing to defend at-risk folx from toxic domains—how can we spend 90% of our time indoors and not prioritize air quality?

Just Air occupies the polluted airspace of Bakersfield, California. The first part of the proposal is Breathe, a clinic for patients with chronic respiratory illnesses that circulates air through interwoven structural and mechanical systems. Data-rich interiors are defined by carefully coordinated temperatures, humidities, and pressures (and diaphanous ETFE sheets). The second part is Cloud, a deployable network of LiDAR-equipped air balloons that monitor and share atmospheric data with locals. Together, these interventions sponsor visceral experiences of information, give agency to residents over their air rights, and challenge architects to question environmental limits.
Faculty Advisor:
Cyrus Peñarroyo