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The Outer Space Also Needs Architects

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Architectural Engineering Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Divisions

Architectural Engineering and Construction Engineering

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Paper Authors


Sudarshan Krishnan University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Sudarshan Krishnan specializes in the area of lightweight structures. His current research focuses on the structural design and stability behavior of cable-strut systems and transformable structures. He teaches courses on the planning, analysis and design of structural systems. As an architect and structural designer, he has worked on a range of projects that included houses, hospitals, recreation centers, institutional buildings, and conservation of historic buildings/monuments.

Professor Sudarshan is an active member of Working Group-6: Tensile and Membrane Structures, and Working Group-15: Structural Morphology, of the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS). He serves on the Aerospace Division's Space Engineering and Construction Technical Committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the ASCE/ACI-421 Reinforced Concrete Slabs Committee. He is the past Program Chair of the Architectural Engineering Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). He is also a member of the Structural Stability Research Council (SSRC).

From 2004-2007, Professor Sudarshan served on the faculty of the School of Architecture and ENSAV-Versailles Study Abroad Program (2004-06) in France. He was a recipient of the School of Architecture's “Excellence in Teaching Award,” the College of Fine and Applied Arts' "Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching," and has been consistently listed on the “UIUC List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent/Outstanding by their Students” for 16 different architecture and civil engineering courses. His research and teaching at the University of Illinois were recognized in the Big Ten Network’s (BTN) “Stories of Innovation, Impact and Inspiration.”

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Conventional architecture and architectural engineering pedagogy deals with design of buildings and systems for earth-specific functions, spans and load demands. Architecture curriculum has required educators to constantly transform and innovate their course offerings to meet the changing trends and rapid technological advancements. The discourse about space exploration and colonization have placed a creative onus on educators who have traditionally taught design for earth conditions alone. While terrestrial structures are typically designed for service conditions and region-specific severe conditions, outer space structures in contrast are designed for unique extreme conditions such as zero or microgravity, gamma radiation, high temperature fluctuations, and micrometeoroid impacts. Planetary soil (or regolith) characteristics also present unique challenges that are very different from soil problems on earth.

For a long time, work related to space exploration and design were confined to scientists and engineers. However, the challenges faced are multi-disciplinary and require expertise from several fields such as aerospace engineering, structural engineering, environmental engineering, psychology, urban planning, architecture and design. Architecture firms such as SEArch, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Foster + Partners, and Bjarke Ingels, and offices of Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) and Thornton Tomasetti are engaged in planning and design of structures for Mars and Moon.

In this spirit, knowledge of outer space architecture (OSA) and engineering will certainly provide the foundations, skills, knowledge, and design sensibility that architecture students can build upon in their careers. There may be more graduating architects in future working for space agencies or offices dedicated to outer space designs. But, what exactly should this body of knowledge contain and how should it be delivered? This paper discusses how OSA can be offered as a specialization and/or a joint degree in architecture and architectural engineering programs.

Krishnan, S. (2020, June), The Outer Space Also Needs Architects Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35353

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