R.A.W: Sheila Kennedy

23 January 2020 // R.A.W

R.A.W: Sheila Kennedy

Above: Sheila Kennedy

The year 2020 started with a rather negative lining of climate change issues arising around the world. From the Amazon rainforest wildfires to the recent Australian bush fire, we are witnessing an alarming situation. The need to develop more sustainable approach in every realm is the need of hour. How do we see the future of lighting in this regard? How do we achieve sustainability which is more than just achieving energy efficiency?

A fresh new take on it, what could be seen as starting point in this regard is a design solution developed by Sheila Kennedy, principal & founder of Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd. and KVA MATx, material research unit at KVA, Boston. In 2005, under the leadership of Sheila along with Juan Frano Violich, Saarinen Professors at the University of Michigan and with the help of students started what is known as the ‘The Portable Light Project’.

Couple using the Portable light to perform everyday task

Couple using the Portable light to perform everyday task

Basic electricity supply or lighting is still a dream of many around the world. ‘The Portable Light’ in this regard, ensures light supply which is handy to use. The Portable Light Project embeds flexible photovoltaic materials, digital electronics and solid state lighting in textiles, enabling people in the developing world to create and own energy harvesting textile blankets, bags and clothing using local materials and traditional weaving and sewing techniques.

A kid carrying portable light kit on his way

A kid carrying portable light kit on his way

The project is active in different locations around the world. In Rio de Janeiro, nearly five hundred families were outfitted with the portable light kits in order to live off grid. Learn more about the project at ‘Portable Light’.

Another innovative ongoing research project lead by Sheila in collaboration with MIT chemical engineering professor Michael Strano is ‘The Plant Properties Project’. It is an ongoing experiment that is a part of the Nanobionic Plant Project at MIT. The concept uses a collection of chemically interacting nanoparticles that are injected into the plant, diffuse to specific cells and organelles, and transform the plant’s stored chemical energy into light emission.

Glowing plant after injecting of nanoparticles

Glowing plant after injecting of nanoparticles

The Plant Properties installation demonstrates the architecture of a post-electric, vegetal future when people depend upon living plants for oxygen, water remediation and ambient light. The project was displayed at the Cooper Hewitt 2019 Design Triennial.

Plant Properties prototype

Plant Properties prototype

Kennedy is described as an “insightful and original thinker who is designing new ways of working, learning, leading and innovating”. Kennedy has served as an advisor to the United States Department of Energy, the National Academy of Sciences' Government Industry Partnerships, and the Vision 2020 National Technology Roadmap. She is the author of multiple patents for the integration of digital technologies into architecture, building materials and textiles.

Though her background is in Architecture, Sheila believes that architects could broaden the idea of ‘materials’ to include soft infrastructure information, light, energy and digital networks. In 2014 Venice biennale she said, “We explore the soft in design as both a loosening of inherited assumptions and as a new constellation of architecture, natural systems and digital networks.” Her work in true sense pushes the boundaries of sustainability, one which helps in sustaining communities along with energy efficiency through design.

R.A.W Blogger

Dipali Shirsat