Oscillating States


Oscillating States


Anushka Pai
Rhode Island School of Design


Silvia Acosta, Laura M. Briggs, & Jeff Geisinger
Rhode Island School of Design



This winning project has a beautiful narrative. The student chose an urban site that deals with internal conditions in an elegant way. The graphics are compelling and the section drawings show intriguing overlapping space. The building is constructed from timber, which the jury also appreciates. The integration of the urban and ecology make an intriguing and educational space for the public.



This is an examination of spaces that engage with ecology to incite curiosity. A composite structure forms the framework to hold bodies that interact and rest. Intersecting planes create thresholds as they slide past or into each other. The proximity of walls guides movement or offers a new perspective. Carved voids containing fragments of ecology: the local park, the river and the freshwater wetland; are embedded, creating a simultaneity within. Bringing forth an architecture where a consistent structure gives birth to oscillating spaces and moments. Spaces that are at once the same and the other.

A distinct threshold welcomes people to draw them in. The spaces should be flexible and simultaneously allow for multiple types of people to gather. Informal learning takes place in open classrooms that are simultaneously autonomous and collaborative. It is flooded with daylight and well ventilated to facilitate alertness, health and active engagement. Allowing it to transform in response to diurnal and seasonal activities. It holds symbiotic events that reveal interconnections. It allows people to learn about their surrounding ecology in providence within the urban condition.

Location: Providence, RI

Program: Educational

Gross Sq. Ft: 38,200 sq. ft


This proposal investigates the potential for a learning space to take on a performative role, and how that can contribute to a collaborative mode of learning. How can a building develop an ecology of its own, and situate itself within a larger system in a productive way? For example, the Providence river and larger estuarine system face issues of nutrient enrichment created by urban runoff/sewage, and the proposal tackles this issue in an active way. The building acts functionally like an organism where it can situate itself in a positive relationship with the river. This materializes through retention ponds and a sculpted ground plane; wetland plants and trees that filter rainwater are embedded in the section. Integrating these moments spatially allows for this relationship to become visible to occupants and the building is able to partake in the educational program as well.


At a regional level, this project took on the research of the North Atlantic Coastal Ecoregion and specifically the Narraganset/Bristol lowland ecoregion. According to the DEM prior to European settlement, Rhode Island was 90% forested land. In contrast, today the state is coping with increased fragmentation of these forests. Thus, fragments of the forest now found in the city begin to posit a larger regional discussion. Providence is home to several learning institutions, Brown University and RISD are near the site. These urban proximities prompted the selection of an educational program that could integrate into the current social landscape. The proposal also attempts to tie in features of the adjacent physical landscape, the river and the local park into the interiors through framed views and sectional relationships. The site is located in Downtown Providence which is very pedestrian friendly with a walk score of 95, bike score of 87 and transit score of 75.


Ecology was considered in a systemic way, the alteration of the ground plane and the creation of water filters through the section allow for a dynamic interaction with water. Much like the dynamic tidal changes in the river, the building is able to reflect hydrodynamic shifts. I also took the position to bring plant life into the building, as a performative element (e.g. purify air and water, support biodiversity). Returning to the question of fragmented forests in Rhode Island, this proposal attempts to confront that head on and asks that if an urban city has to bring flora and fauna into its fold can we embrace this fragmentation?


This site has an uninterrupted Southern exposure which was leveraged for solar heat gain and daylighting. The use of thermal mass in the floor allows for effective winter solar gain, and night flushing during the summer. This project being on a small site also set out to keep building EUI low and tested several measures to find what was most effective, so as to accommodate the solar panels within the available site footprint. The sun shade was calibrated to reflect the summer sun and balance heat gain with daylighting. Providence doesn't have consistent wind speeds enough for wind driven ventilation, so this proposal took on fan driven stack ventilation as an active/passive component. Broadly the bioclimatic design strategies sought to work with and take advantage of architectural features. Pairing stack ventilation with stairs that have beautiful views, pulling in fresh air through a large cavity, a shading system that works with the idea of an oscillating façade; these simple collaborations between parts allowed for a more streamlined approach.


To understand the role of light and air I looked at two sources. The first was biophilic design where I learnt that daylight and fresh air can have measurable benefits on learning ability, alertness and physical wellness. The second, was a paper titled “Evolving opportunities to provide thermal comfort” by Gail Brager, Hui Zhang, and Edward Arens, where they discuss thermally dynamic and non-uniform environments that could provide higher levels of comfort using less energy. The notion of thermal delight through variation or even the possibility thereof drove specific design decisions. The high ceilings and southern exposure lead to well day-lit spaces. I used the daylight autonomy (with a 500-lux benchmark) metric to identify problem areas (very over-lit or dim) and compensated with new window dimensions and sun shades. The sun shades are integrated at the same datum as the high reflectance drop ceiling. This allowed diffused daylight to reach deep into the space while concealing the mechanical systems. The introduction of a large chamber with plant/trees was also leveraged to provide filtered air to the building. The air inlet passes through this space and supplies to the building. This also brings a humidity, and warmth that creates comfort within.


Being part of an estuarine ecology in proximity to a river and the ocean, and in a city, that receives a fair amount of precipitation not only was water a primary consideration it was important for the building to act in sync with the water cycle. This meant reflecting tidal changes, and seasonal shifts. The proposal creates a choreographed narrative as you climb the stairs or enter a classroom that aims to celebrate the rain and engage with the river. Functionally the proposal also assists the health of the river by controlling, capturing and cleaning runoff. The systems set the framework for a net-zero water building that could be developed as the building is used and the real needs are assessed.


This proposal sought to achieve net zero energy, this was examined using simulations to determine the most effective strategies to reduce energy load and then supplement the remaining with renewable energy. The maximum roof area available would accommodate a 120-kW system so this established an upper limit on energy usage and subsequently building height and volumetric dimensions. The proposal has a highly-insulated envelope, with an R-36 wall assembly. The glazing is maximum on the south face at 50% (wall area) to take advantage of natural light and solar heat gains. While the East and West facades are limited to 20% (wall area) and the North only to (10%) to provide natural light to the restrooms.


It was an interesting challenge to explore the potentials of a ten-story timber building. A composite structure of heavy timber (glulam) framing, along with steel structure to support the large cavity. A system of steel bolts was investigated (as shown in the diagram) that contributes to a speedy assembly of prefabricated timber and concrete parts. This allows the timber some room to breathe, which suggests a longer life for the structural system. Using a timber structure also helped lower the embodied energy, and sequestered carbon. The life cycle benefits of different components were evaluated and finally recycled cellulose and locally produced steel panels were chosen as wall assembly components.


The proposal is built to behave like an ecological system, this entails tailoring the water systems as the building is used. It was also important to keep the learning spaces flexible so that they could accommodate a variety of students but also take on another program in the future. To do this the plant life situated in the building is performative as well so it can contribute to another future program and doesn't lose its value or relevance. The joints are designed for disassembly so that the materials can be recycled and/or repurposed should the building be demolished or adapted.


By testing the proposal through simulation and comparing it to values collected during occupancy I could evaluate the strategies that worked most effectively. I would like to test air quality and quantify the improvement on health (referring to findings in the field of biophilic design) and alertness. Does “forest air” produce better results than a mechanically filtered design. Does the building manage to engage the occupants in this performance? Does this have a positive social impact as intended? That would influence my future proposals as well because social impact through buildings is something I'm keen to investigate as a theme though my projects.