Praxis (Building Solutions)

EDEN: Ecological Development. Emergent Neighborhood

Design by Noelle Via

Advisor: Max Zahniser
Master of Science in Interior Architecture and Design Thesis
Drexel University
Best Thesis Award 2010

Advisor's Note: Following her research project, In Search of An Ecological Architecture, which arrived at a visionary conclusion, Noelle bravely and ably tackled the almost ridiculously ambitious goals (listed below) that grew out of that research. She reached for a utopic model of human built+living system development. Dense urban location, mixed-use, transit oriented, passively resilient, neighborhood scale water collection, treatment and distribution, energy optimization and production, food production, and other green infrastructure and ecosystem services were ALL concluded to be requisites of a TRULY sustainable (indefinitely repeatable) future model. Emerging design and fabrication technologies were embraced as also inevitable, and a complimentary match with age-old, climate and context responsive passive strategies. All this yielded a compelling vision for a generative development approach in which built systems truly function as a sensitively, but deeply integrated prosthesis for living systems. A true Thesis (capital T) if I've ever seen one.   

Philosophical Motivation:

The environmental reawakening of humanity demands a new architecture. This architecture will be boldly different from its collaborators to its process, from its form to its performance, from its construction to its disassembly. The process of this ecological architecture will push all those involved to question every method they considered fixed and every course they deemed constant. This new architecture will spawn from a process that mimics nature to create structures that mimic nature. Linear notions of communication, form, technology, society, and economics will be discarded in favor of nonlinear understandings of the systems that make up the planet. This change will not be about form or about function. This change will be a reflection of organization, the process itself. The product of that process, diversity, will be the catalyst that reminds humanity of its connection to the whole.

Project Goals:

Challenge conventional design practice and notions of living to create a high-density mixed-use micro city that looks to nature for solutions.  The design layers urban with pastoral environments and aims to bring human life back in line with natural systems. A cohousing model for residential development renews community connections as integrated gardens renew humanity’s connection to nature.


Former Philadelphia Post Office, 30th and Market Streets, Philadelphia, PA

Site Overview: A building birthed in the 1920s during a period when machine was king and the fuel-dependent habits of today were burgeoning. The former post office is one of the largest masses in the city limits with a million square feet that barely see the sun. 

Daylighting Analysis:

Through daylight modeling, readings from each equinox and solstice, three times per day, were taken. Images demonstrate the transformative effects between existing and post-design daylighting conditions.

[Advisor's Note: This daylighting-diagnosis led to an intervention involving coring out a large courtyard, which would provide air and light to all parts of the development, make agriculture viable, and allow for a tiered hierarchy of public, retail, community and private spaces; all while fully preserving the magnificence of the building's facade and potentially even its beautiful lobby on the eastern edge of the first floor, thus honoring the historic significance of this mammoth landmark.] 

 Sustainable Strategies:

Sustainable practices were applied according to the necessities for life: energy, air, water, nutrients, and quality of life.

Design Generator:

Bone and spinal structures and their interpretation in architecture through tensegrity structure.





A technical sustainability consulting company with clients and strategic partners including University of Pennsylvania, the Pentagon, B Lab, the U.S. Green Building Council, Autodesk, Con Edison Company of New York, Wallace Roberts & Todd, Humanscale.