This Arckit Q&A features Ricky Fairhurst, an architecture student at the University of Maryland who has recently embarked on a 52-week project using Arckit. The photographs below show a selection of some of his latest models. 

We are pleased to share your models with our community. Can you please tell us about yourself, what you do and how you discovered Arckit?

Thank you for having me on this blog! My name is Rick Fairhurst, although many know me by Riky Song Su, a nickname that was given to me when I was very young. I am an architecture student at the University of Maryland, specializing in sustainable urban design, working towards smart “net-zero” structures.

The way I discovered Arckit is quite the story. Last October, I created a website, to act as an online portfolio showcasing my interests in Architecture, Technology and Videography. My audience grew much faster than I had ever anticipated and I received a lot of positive feedback. This really got me excited about showcasing my work, taking the endeavour more seriously and finding new ways to grow.

This past summer I had an inspiring studio-styled internship with a newly created non-profit architecture firm known as KaTO. The program allows students and professionals to work together in designing and building social projects for worldwide communities in need. Along with seven amazingly talented students from around the United States, I not only helped design a community center in Mexico but, I also gained a new appreciation for physical modeling, building construction/assemblies and passive sustainable features.

When my KaTO summer experience ended about a month ago, I thought of creating a physical modeling project where I would design small scaled structures every week and at the end, showcase my best projects in my professional online portfolio. All I had to do was find a model kit and get started! After a few google searches and writing to Arckit about my idea, I purchased the Arckit240 set and soon had it delivered to my front door!

What motivated you to study architecture, sustainable design and urban development?

I originally applied to the University of Maryland as a Bio-engineering major with the goal of creating a non-rejectable human heart for organ transplant labs. I had several engineering and medical related internships, all incredible experiences. In my freshman year, I took an architectural drafting class which I quickly excelled at, prompting my professor to question why I wasn’t an architecture student. After a year of trying to combine both majors, I soon realized I had to pick one. As I signed my name declaring architecture, I was very apprehensive but, later that night, I realized that I had made the right decision.

All my life I’ve had this passion for building, an interest in sustainability and a trained 3D-oriented mind. Architectural is all around us and such an important aspect of each of our lives. I am studying architecture to not only create spaces that improve people lives but to also lower our environmental footprint.

Explain the idea behind your 52-week project. What do you hope to achieve and what features made you choose Arckit for this project?

With this project I aim to build a model every week for 52 weeks. Each of these models will have a strong focus in sustainable design concentrating on the core areas of passive lighting/ventilation, space optimization and constructability.

I want instil the importance of moving physical modeling to the beginning of the architectural design process. Physical models are a great way to see what works and what just doesn’t. They are great way of interacting with the client and sharing ideas. Even with countless sketches and computer designs, nothing beats a physical model in terms of understanding the building assembly and a sense of space. As the project grows, I definitely want to collaborate with other students and really make a comprehensive blog that shows and highlights the strength of modeling in sustainable design.

I chose Arckit because I needed a tool that would enable me to quickly and effortlessly build up my ideas. With Arckit, I can easily see what needs to be changed without wasting time or materials. Using wood and glue to model is a process that’s hard to modify when the pieces are cut and fixed. Because of this, traditional modeling is looked at as an end product after the design has already been hashed out. In the end, Arckit’s versatile kit of parts and simple 1:48 scale can be easily transferred to a sketch or BIM program to polish out the details.

What is your experience with both digital and physical design and what are the main advantages of using Arckit as a physical design tool?

As a student, my experience with digital and physical platforms is still growing. I’ve taken multiple computer aided design classes where I have been exposed to Inventor, Sketch Up, Revit, Rhinoceros and Grasshopper. Out of all those programs, Revit is definitely my default modeling software and something I used professionally at KaTO. I don’t have much experience with physical design, which is the reason I wanted to start this 52-week project. It’s a learning experience/project for me to get me accustomed to “smart designing.”

The main advantage I see in Arckit so far is the ability for a constant reiterative process. Once I got a feel for the kit of parts, it was very easy to try to test new designs. Every time I’ve used Arckit, I have been able to try multiple variations of my design to get a clear understanding of space optimization. Arckit is a modeling kit that was able to keep up with my imagination almost as fast as pencil on paper.

You have already made some amazing models. What has been your biggest design or build challenge so far and how did you overcome it?

Although this project can be looked at as a hobby, I am looking to treat it as if each model is a semester long studio project. My biggest challenge so far is grounding this project in reality. With each of these structural models, I want to convey the ideas of actual constructability and realistic sustainable goals. I’m using this project as sort of a “hands on” textbook along with the inputs from student collaborations and faculty mentors to cross check my designs in a conceivable reality.

It must be difficult sometimes to come up with so many different design ideas. Where do you get your inspirations for your weekly models?

My inspiration comes from all the buildings and structures around me. Here in Washington DC, there is an incredible abundance of precedent architecture. There is an overwhelmingly positive reaction to a sustainable lifestyle as well as a strong push towards net zero buildings. Living in a LEED Gold certified apartment building and being surrounded by many others definitely floods my sketchbook with many ideas of “placemaking” and “smart” architecture.

Do your models reflect actual projects you would consider in professional use. If so, what would those be and how would it impact sustainable design and urban development?

There are a few models at the moment that I feel would reflect professional projects. I’m still pretty early into this project and so far, I’ve been playing around the kit of parts, getting to know how the pieces fit together and optimizing interior space. Hopefully in a couple of months, I will have a very deep understanding of Arckit and will design more comprehensive structures.

At the moment, my blog entries are very basic, merely showing an idea and setting up a criteria. I definitely want it to evolve into professional projects where I break down each project and document topics like lighting design, environmental impact, embodied energy, material documentation, passive systems and climate control.

What practical advice would you give to those who are interested in exploring architectural design and who are new to using Arckit?

The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to architectural design. Space making will always have a powerful impact on how people interact with their environment. As more people are living in and around cities, the idea of “what makes a good space” is constantly changing. There will always be countless opportunities to improve the quality of human life and interaction with the built environment. No matter what path in the architectural field or any career in general, my motto is that if it doesn’t make a huge difference, find something else to do.

For those new to Arckit, I recommend diving right in and playing with your new kit of parts. Start off with small scaled structures to get a sense of space and information on how pieces work. I recommend reading the entire included manual and building the tutorial sample structure to get a feel for things. At first, Arckit may seem very limiting but, it’s only your imagination not knowing what to do! It’s a great tool that I highly recommend for students, teachers, and professionals.

Have you shared Arckit with your professors or classmates? If so, what feedback have you received regarding Arckit as a design tool?

So far I’ve shared both my project idea and Arckit with a few of my professors and peers and have received a unanimously positive reaction. Everyone has agreed that physical modeling at the beginning of the architectural design process would be a welcoming change. With the support of several faculty mentors and students, I hope I can prove that Arckit is a powerful design tool.

What are your future goals after graduation?

After graduation, I hope to continue my education with a masters or PhD in urban design and sustainability. I love to teach and so along with the possibility of being a professor in sustainable design, I want to work on engineering high efficiency graphene coated windows to reduce building energy usage and help with internal lighting design.