Radically Rethinking Environments
Dana Hamdan MA 13 can’t confine her own imagination. In Metropolitan Hybrids, a graduate-level studio held last fall, the recent Interior Architecture graduate presented digital projections of exotic animals designed to run across the walls of an austere human cage: the Middlesex County [MA] Jail, a high-rise penitentiary in Cambridge, MA.
“When I first saw the prison, I was struck by the brutality of the architecture,” Hamdan says. “I wanted to find a way to repurpose the high-rise in a way that was environmentally sustainable. But I also wanted to make a political statement about how cities are turning into urban zoos.”
Graduate students in the MA in Interior Architecture (Adaptive Reuse) program visited the maximum-security detention center in Massachusetts to find new uses for the facility while also exploring the concept of hybrid buildings – multipurpose structures that incorporate multiple needs. Prison officials welcomed proposals from RISD students since they’re hoping to refurbish the interior of the high-rise to accommodate a program to benefit the surrounding communities.
In Hamdan’s proposal, holograms of indigenous species native to icy polar caps, punishing mountain regions, arid deserts – and even volcanic islands – would be digitally projected along the interior cement walls of the prison. Visitors could partake in a physical activity directly related to the “topography” of each artificial environment. For instance, they could ice skate in a room filled with projections of polar bears and penguins. The more adventuresome could zip line through luminous rays that create the illusion of a wet rain forest.
“That’s what I like about design school – it’s our job to shape environments in radical ways,” notes Hamdan. “I believe my proposal would give people another perspective on their surroundings by making them question the function of zoos and prisons.”
If prison officials choose to develop her proposal, Hamdan will build on prior experience to ensure that her project exceeds expectations. In 2010 the native of Lebanon graduated from the American University of Beirut with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and then worked for two years as a junior designer for SETS International. Eager to pursue an interest in environmental sustainability, she applied to RISD’s one-year MA program in adaptive reuse.
“The adaptive reuse program at RISD really is very good,” Hamdan says. “Coming from an architecture background, I wanted a program that would be supportive while still challenging. At RISD the instructors don’t impose a direction on you. They support and discuss whatever ideas you have in mind.”
After earning her master’s degree in June, Hamdan landed her dream job with Gensler, a global architecture firm that prides itself on its reputation for innovation. “The representatives [from Gensler] loved everything in my RISD portfolio,” she says. “And now I'm working on projects that are incredibly similar to those I loved so much during my time in school. I have absolutely no regrets about choosing RISD.”
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