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04/15/22 Doris Sung, Director of Undergraduate Programs at USC School of Architecture, Tackles Climate Change and Public Health with Low-Tech, Environmentally-Responsive Technologies

 

Doris Sung, Director of Undergraduate Architecture Programs and Associate Professor at USC School of Architecture, is passionate about sustainable design and making a real impact not only on the environment but also on public health.


As a biologist turned architect, Sung approaches sustainable design in a unique way. She’s all about making building skins sensitive and responsive to changing environments much like human skin.


“It’s no longer just about the ‘greening’ of a building. We have to go far beyond that and bring active systems to sustainable design,” stated Doris. “Architects need to be cognizant of this and strive to contribute to both planet and human wellnesses.”

Through grant-funded research and her innovative work as the founder of DOSU Studio Architecture and the recipient of fellowships from Google’s R+D for the Built Environment, United States Artists and the Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, Sung focuses on the development of smart materials, such as thermobimetals, and passive systems to self-ventilate, self-shade, self-structure, self-assemble and self-propel in response to changes in temperatures - all with zero-energy and no controls.


“Forty percent of all energy used is in buildings and twelve percent of that energy is spent on cooling interiors,” explained Sung. “So any amount of reduction has a tremendous impact on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.”

As a pioneer in sustainable design, Sung has received numerous awards and recognition for her significant contributions to addressing the global climate crisis and wellness.


In 2021, Sung’s InVert Self-Shading Window system, which uses smart thermobimetal pieces inside the cavity of a standard double-glazed window to shade a building in a magical way with a kaleidoscope of fluttering butterfly-like pieces, was bestowed several awards including the prestigious Cooper Hewitt 2021 National Design Awards in the Climate Action category, the Falling Walls Award in the Art & Science category and the Green Good Design Product Award.


Since then, Sung has set-up three different pilot installations of InVert throughout Southern California.


The first can be found at an architectural firm Brooks + Scarpa in Hawthorne, CA. The individual pieces respond to the sun and reduce the need for dark coatings on windows, allowing more natural daylight to enter the building and a view out with a broader range of color spectrum—thereby improving the natural circadian rhythm, sleep cycle and productivity of occupants.


The second can be found at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). Entitled “sm[ART]box”, Sung transformed a 20-foot steel shipping container into both an art installation and energy-saving device using smart material-based technology. The project’s aesthetically pleasing smart materials curl to block the sun at different angles as it moves across the sky thereby reducing energy consumption from air conditioning by 30% while improving the well-being of occupants in the building. Monitors in the sm[ART]box have been measuring the efficacy of the windows for the past year.  

“We’ve been monitoring exactly how much energy these pilot installations have been saving to confirm our simulation models,” said Sung. “And doing it in a way that beautifully blends art, wellness and sustainability.”


The third pilot installation is located at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) in Los Angeles.


“By responding to the sun, InVert dynamically blocks solar radiation from heating the building and reduces air-conditioning usage all while using zero energy and no controls,” stated Sung. “It took years of research, innovation, engineering and design but I am happy to share that InVert is now commercially available and we have already started taking orders.”


In addition to saving energy, Sung is also passionate about improving public mental and physical health.


She is currently designing architectural panels that will have gestures like smiling that will contort with temperature changes in the environment. Her theory is that passer-byers will smile back at the “smiling” architectural panels and therefore boost their endorphins and happiness levels.


“Imagine improving the mental health of the city by simply using these smiling architectural panels. We have the power to contribute significantly to mental and public health as architects by reimaging what we can do with low-tech materials,” said Sung.

Sung is also currently developing low-tech, passive smog-eating architectural panels in multi-disciplinary partnership with Profs. Ivan Bermejo-Moreno and Mitul Luhar in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Prof. David Sloane in the USC Price School of Public Policy and Prof. Edward Avol in the USC Keck School of Medicine.


“We’re focused on creating these panels that can be used on buildings to remove smog particles in the street and sidewalk area with the aim of mitigating lung disease and improving overall wellness of pedestrians especially in urban city areas. And who knows maybe one day these panels will help remove infectious disease particles in the air as well,” stated Sung. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

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