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UT Architecture Students Share A Bold Vision For Austin’s Future

Rising University of Texas architects say emerging technologies and innovative thinking are essential to the future of design

Images by Bella Chou, Will Hachtman and Coleman Brink

The pairing of UT’s outstanding architecture school and the ever-evolving, youthful city of Austin creates a harmonious balance. Some of the school’s most promising students — such as Bella Chou, Will Hachtman and Coleman Brink — are already at work redefining the capital city’s architectural landscape. Last year, this trio teamed up for a project in their Advanced Design Studio class and won the UT School of Architecture Design Excellence Award, an accolade earned by the votes of first their peers and later a panel of jurors.

(From left) UT Architecture students Will Hachtman, Bella Chou and Coleman Brink.

“The idea was to think about what the campus might be like in 25 to 50 years, and how we might integrate new technologies, like drone technologies and robotic technologies,” says Professor Kory Bieg. The building that Chou, Hachtman and Brink designed envisioned a futuristic, dystopian and eerily prescient setting for an educational setting, in which students would be confined to tiny rooms — “learning pods,” according to Hachtman — disconnected from social interaction with teachers or other students.

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“We were taking this project to the extreme for a reason,” Chou says. “We know that this is a possible future, and we’re addressing how discomforting it could be.” Think of it as a hyper-talented group of pandemic-weary college students waving a red flag about what the future might hold. The creation was made possible in part by using advanced modeling tools and programs.

“The team started the project by looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning, using the computer to help generate space, aesthetics, materiality, all the things that go into architecture, seeing if the computer could take on some of the tasks a designer usually does,” says Bieg. Despite the trio’s unsettling view of future college life, the cutting-edge tools they used portend a future that makes work faster and less labor-intensive for the next era of architects. Brink previously worked with such innovative technologies in an internship at Morphosis, a renowned firm in Los Angeles.

When not playing doomsday prophets, all three of these talented young minds are already at work shaping the architecture of our future for the better. Hachtman has begun a job with Hunt Architecture, working on all stages of projects from the finishing touches onsite to the first drafts of plans based on land codes. The firm works primarily on residential and small commercial projects. Hachtman dreams of one day creating a creative workspace that brings together minds from across disciplines to foster innovation.

“Austin’s got the young, optimistic, hopeful vibe still, where planning and change are still achievable goals, compared to other cities,” Hachtman says. “Health, green spaces, community spaces, spaces we can inhabit that aren’t so mundane and oppressive are things that Austin can achieve.”

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Meanwhile, Chou, currently working with award-winning Austin firm Murray Legge Architecture, says UT prepared her to sway trends within the current world of architecture by challenging her internal biases as a designer.

“The great thing about these conversations is that people are more aware that architecture and other disciplines in general need to be more inclusive,” she says. After substitute teaching for a year between undergrad and her master’s program at UT, she says it would be rewarding to one day design a school that responds acutely to the needs of learners. With Austin’s rapid and unabated growth, the city could certainly provide that opportunity. Whatever path she takes, her hope for the future is to make design more accessible and to explore “a deeper, more nuanced understanding of architecture’s role within the fabric of societal power structures.”

For now, Brink is working on an internship in New York, designing luxury residential spaces in the Hamptons. As for long term plans, he’s inspired by the work of Icon, a company founded in Austin that developed a 3-D printing technology to quickly and affordably produce housing for the homeless in East Austin. Icon will soon begin work on a 3-D printed building planned to house astronauts for long-term missions on Mars. It seems the sky being the limit is passé for architects of the future.

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Bieg, who describes these three students as “some of the best we’ve had in a while,” says they stand out in part because of their prowess with emerging technologies and their diversified skill sets. He explains that the resources of UT’s School of Architecture allow students to engage with new tools — robotic arms and large 3-D printers, for example — that are redefining what’s possible. His hope is that these students take their understanding of these new resources into more traditional firms and challenge them to incorporate them into their approach to architecture.