1. Vroom Room

    June 13, 2024 by Sally S.

    Driving Question:

    How might I refurbish a van to a standard at which I can comfortably travel, live, and thrive in ?

    Project Summary:

    Sally, a grade 12 student from the UK, has always had a passion for adventure and the outdoors. Whether playing rugby, helping in the garden, or camping, she was often found outside, regardless of the weather. This love for nature inspired her mastery project: transforming a cargo van into a tiny home on wheels, aptly named “Vroom Room.”

    The project began with Sally purchasing a 2016 Renault Kangoo van, which she named Reggie. The process was lengthy, involving careful consideration of mileage, age, and build size. Once she had the van, Sally embarked on learning interior design, focusing on color schemes and creating electrical systems, particularly solar-powered ones. She developed a 3D model using an analogous color scheme with yellows, greens, and oranges.

    Sally faced significant challenges, especially with the electrical system. Despite seeking help from friends experienced in robotics, she had to experiment repeatedly before successfully creating a dual system powered by solar energy and the van’s starter battery. This system now supports a fridge, USB ports, spotlights, and a water pump.

    The construction phase involved measuring, cutting, insulating, and wiring the van. Sally encountered multiple obstacles, such as ensuring the wiring wouldn’t break from the van’s vibrations and addressing condensation issues to prevent mold. Time constraints also pressured her, but with the help of an external mentor specializing in furniture design, she completed the interior furnishings swiftly.

    With the assistance of another mentor in renewable engineering, Sally learned wiring, soldering, and connecting systems. After overcoming numerous hurdles, she successfully transformed the bare cargo van into a functional tiny home. The finished van includes a bed, foldable tables, flowing water, and fully operational electrics.

  2. A Tale of Two Cities 

    March 2, 2024 by Kenzo W.

    Driving Question:

    How can we apply the Japanese approach of cultural conservation to design for architectural renovation or innovation in our own home cities?

    Module Summary:

    The teacher-led module “A Tale of Two Cities” focuses on architectural innovation and cultural conservation. The students got to explore how Japanese cultural conservation approaches could be applied to architectural renovation in their home cities. Throughout the term, they had the opportunity to learn from local and global architectural techniques and delve deeper into their own cultural techniques.

    Kenzo W.’s 3D design for the Tale of Two Cities module is a modern Japanese resort/vacation home located in Karuizawa, a town in Nagano prefecture, Japan. This house is designed to accommodate 2-4 residents during the summertime and integrates both traditional and modern Japanese architectural concepts and furnishings, reflecting a blend of his artistic choices and elements from the Japanese lifestyle.

    The key Japanese architectural concepts Kenzo W. focused on were Oku (depth) and the Doma (earthen floor), which were highlighted by guest speaker Professor Daniel during the Kyoto Wexplore. Professor Daniel explained these concepts and their connection to Japanese culture, and the session venue itself represented Oku, the Doma, and the Nakaniwa. In Kenzo’s design, Oku is represented through the flow of the house, emphasizing the concept of depth within a building. The bedroom, the most private part of the house, is the room that requires the most walking to reach, with personal activity spaces like the living room, recreational room, and dining room leading up to it. Despite the large windows on the second floor, there is no direct access to the outside environment.

    The Doma is incorporated through the literal use of an earthen floor in the entryway, serving as a foundation and a slight height difference from the garden and the interior of the house. This facilitates the Japanese tradition of removing shoes when going inside and outside, supported by a shoe box, and acts as a border and gateway to the outside spaces of the house. Kenzo also included Shoji, Tatami, and Futon furnishings to suit the Japanese lifestyle for the intended residents, making the house cozy and representative of a traditional Japanese lifestyle, ideal for his family as a vacation home.

    One of the unique elements Kenzo W. focused on is the roofing, which he considers a key identifying feature of a Japanese house. The design features an angled sloped gable roof fused with a smaller gable roof at a 90˚ angle, emulating the curves of natural environments and avoiding a cubic appearance. This roof design opens up on one side to create more space for windows in the living and recreational areas, directing the house’s face towards a scenic view.

    Kenzo chose to incorporate modern architectural elements as a personal aesthetic preference, inspired by the style of Japanese villa homes, such as those designed by M’s architect. This is reflected in his choice of a gray and brown color scheme from wood and metal materials. He also considered the environment by incorporating large windows facing a predominant direction to take advantage of views such as a sunrise, sunset, or mountain scenery.

  3. Carpentry Innovation

    August 1, 2023 by Niko W.

    Driving Question:

    How can you use traditional Bosnian carpentry techniques to create innovative product designs?

    Module Summary:

    The “Carpentry and Innovation” module, tasked students with transforming a plank of wood into an innovative and culturally significant piece over five days. Working closely with local experts in Konjic, the students learned traditional Bosnian carving techniques. They designed and created wooden carvings and objects, using both sketches and 3D models.

    Students visited the Zanat factory and a wood carving museum, where they were introduced to different types of wood, carpentry, and woodworking techniques. They also delved into the innovation aspect, learning about the difference between innovation and invention, legal and ethical considerations, and the process of idea protection through patents, trade secrets, and copyrights.

    After mastering the basics, the students created their final products in two factory spaces: Elektra, where they worked on sawing, chiseling, and filing their basic shapes, and Zanat, where they refined their shapes, added intricate patterns, and completed their projects with sanding and oiling.

    Niko W.’s final product is an oak wooden boat with a unique texture designed to enhance its hydrodynamic performance, akin to the dimples on a golf ball or sharkskin texture. He employed two types of chiseling techniques—flat-headed, curved, and V-shaped—to serve different purposes in crafting the boat. The rip saw, while providing a cleaner cut, required more time compared to the bow saw, which removed more material but left a rougher finish.

    Initially using the rip saw for shaping, Niko later switched to the bow saw based on feedback from Alestra staff, prioritizing time efficiency over surface smoothness, as he planned to refine the boat’s sides through subsequent shaping and sanding. To achieve smoother edges and surfaces, he utilized a file initially for its material-removal capability, followed by 80-grit sandpaper to refine the texture further.

  4. Central Palm Project

    January 28, 2022 by Saffron B.

    I gained a newfound appreciation for all of the work that goes into architecture. This module made me excited for the future since I got to learn about many new and upcoming sustainable technologies.

    -Class of 2023 Student Saffron B.

    My project, “Central Palm,” is located on the golden shores of Kite Beach. The central courtyard is the house’s spine, allowing year-round use due to the shade of the ghaf tree while still maintaining privacy from the outside world. The state-of-the-art Tesla solar roof reduces the owners’ reliance on the grid, even allowing you to sell excess solar energy back to the grid. Water-collecting tech that utilizes local sea breezes alongside sound-absorbing glass, inspired by the Czech Republic Expo pavilion, combines sustainability and modernity, thereby maintaining harmony with the local environment. The house features traditional Islamic design, such as columns, a majlis space for entertaining guests, and a prayer room. This house isn’t the future; this house is now.

  5. Efficient Human Settlement

    January 27, 2022 by Mila F. Mmelta M. and Guillermo H.

    One of my favorite sessions was right after our wexplore, visiting Tierra del Sol. It was unbelievable. The place was fantastic and so heart-warming. Everything was so thought out and showed an impressively accurate representation of what a community space should look like. I spent such a great time there and hope to go again. I learned more than I could’ve imagined.

    -Class of 2023 Student Mila F.

    Driving Question: How might we use our understanding of architecture through time to design a context-informed structure?

    Our group designed what we believe is a modern take on a traditional Oaxacan house and gastronomical hub which showcases the Oaxaca’s rich food and drink diversity.

    What new things did you learn about yourself?

    We learned about the impact of colonialism on Mexican architecture through our experience through seeing the use of traditional European elements that incorporate Mexican structures.

    What are your big takeaway lessons from this project?

    Our biggest takeaway was the process of the environmental impact analysis as I feel like the process of environmental impact analysis will be very important in any project I want to do that involves construction thinking about input and output I am putting in the environment.

  6. Fresh Air Project

    by Sara G.

    This module was unique to me, as I had never known how interested I was in architecture until I experienced it during these two months. I have also learned the importance of focusing on the journey and the learning instead of making my product look perfect.

    -Class of 2023 Student Sara G.

    Driving Question: How can I design and build a model home or community that will function efficiently in a desert environment?

    Are you looking for a house that is both nature-friendly and luxurious? Then my project, “Fresh Air,” is perfect for you! Located in The Palm Islands, it combines different panoramic views, from the relaxing beach view to the moat with the fish, and finally, the lush green spaces all around the house.

    This house combines many aspects of sustainability: It saves water by taking it from the beach and using it in the pool and the moat. The greywater is used for watering the garden and for the flowers all around the house. The materials used (concrete, bamboo, etc.) are very eco-friendly. Solar panels help produce electricity using solar energy. The fish in the moat produce waste that contributes to the growing of plants.

  7. Biocities: Building a Better Farming System

    June 15, 2021 by Seb O.

    Driving Question: How can I apply my understanding of closed system ecosystems to design a better farming system in my city?

    Module Overview: In the Biocities module, Seb looked at how naturally functional systems work and how we can apply that understanding to increase the efficiency of food production in a more sustainable and resilient fashion.

    Project Reflection: “The Biocities module was really interesting. I loved the independence given by the educators and the ability to take the product where I wanted to take it. I learned so much about agriculture, useful 3D design skills, and animation techniques and was able to conduct a closed-system experiment via a BioBottle.”

  8. Engineering Bridges Module

    March 11, 2021 by Marily M. and Diego M.

    Driving Question: How can I engineer the strongest bridge with the most efficient use of the specified material?

    Module Overview: Bridges are perhaps the most challenging and fascinating feats of engineering. 

    In this module, students became civil and structural engineers by working at the Manchego Fromage Consultancy, where they were responsible for coming up with the most efficient bridge design. 

    Students strived to creatively meet their imaginary client’s needs within budget and material constraints. The clients were the City of Rodentia, working in partnership with the Rodent Migration Travel Group. 

    In learning about bridge types, students explored the effect of tension and compressive forces, differentiated between brittle and ductile material properties, and investigated the calculations that go into designing bridges. 

    Marily M.

    I enjoyed the module so much. I love creating and building things, so I had lots of fun building some testing bridges and the final one. I faced some challenges I didn’t think would happen, but I found a way to deal with them.

    For this module, we designed and built a spaghetti bridge basing ourselves on our client’s needs from the “City of Rodentia”. I learned about bridge types, the effect of tension and compression, and the calculations that need to be considered to design a bridge. This knowledge helped me design a strong and effective bridge.

    My final product is an Open Tender, which is the proposal for our “clients.” It includes the price, design, 2D and 3D model, calculations, and other information pieces.

    Diego M.

    I learned how much I like to design things and make them physically. It was enjoyable and challenging to build a bridge with pasta because you need to consider many factors and develop techniques to build the strongest bridge.

    This project allowed me to learn about the different types of bridges and the engineering process and what it includes (different studies from the area, forces of members, strength to weight ratio, etc.)

    Based on our investigations, we had to experiment with building pasta trusses to see what works, what doesn’t work, and which type of bridge truss was stronger than the others.

    We created and proposed an open tender to the fictitious Rodent Migration Travel Group after running our experiments.


    September 3, 2020 by Mat I.

    Driving Question: How might I grow my creativity during the COVID-19 crisis through exploring the science of creativity and innovation and experimenting with art?

    What were your goals for this module? How did you achieve them?

    The main goal for me was: By the end of this module, I will be paying a lot more attention to the creative process itself, instead of the final product. I have experimented with the creative process. I have successfully implemented the incubation period in my creative process. When I first thought of the script, I had several scenes I wanted to do. I distanced myself from my ideas, which increased my productivity. After a walk, I listed all of the thoughts I had and I was impressed by how my list increased beforehand and after the incubation. With the evaluation stage, I am feeling much more eager to share and discuss my ideas with peers, family, and others, and I accept critique as constructive feedback. I think this term was a breakthrough for me in terms of understanding creativity. I am now paying a lot more attention to the process itself rather than focusing on the final product. After experimenting with all stages of the creative process, I enjoyed doing it, and I feel I am much more productive.

    What did you learn about yourself or about your creative process or about your medium?

    I feel that I have really grown in creativity and especially in the creative process. Before the module, I didn’t know that the usual things that I do when creating something have a scientific base behind them. This module helped to focus more on the process of creativity rather than on the final product. As for animation, I took a course on animation (Minecraft Animation), which helped to develop the main techniques such as lighting (Omni lights), animating (3D animating using Blender), interacting with the world (adding items, texture mapping), and rendering. I have successfully experimented with lighting, which looks great (according to feedback) and created a walk cycle, which is essential, and it can be used in future animations. I set up the characters, added skin, changed eye color, and so on.

  10. Nebula VR: Designing an Omni-Directional Treadmill

    May 21, 2020 by Njeri N.
    A model of Njeri’s omni-directional treadmill

    Driving Question: How can I use my passion for applied physics to create an omni-directional treadmill?

    Project Description: Nebula Model O is an omni-directional treadmill specified for virtual-reality gaming.

    My goal was to design a functional, beautiful, and structurally sound omni-directional treadmill. Moreover, I wanted to use sustainable, very accessible materials like carbon-glass and other used in 3D printing.

    Njeri’s Process Portfolio

    The Fool’s Journey: A Look at my Creative Process

    I will say, the look of the audience when I lead my presentation with “Hi I’m Njeri, and I am presenting an omni-directional treadmill I devised,” was very close to the best part of it all. It was a look that I am well accustomed to receiving; the look in between intrigue, and “what the heck is she on about?” The key, however, I have learned, is maintaining that perfect balance between eccentricity and conventionality to hold the intrigue of the audience. You see, the eccentricity is what feeds intrigue, but should it not be fed with the spoon of conventionality; you risk losing intrigue in favor of being tossed in the looney bin. It appears, however, that this process of maintaining a balance between sanity and insanity only applies to my presentation technique and not my decision-making process.

    Till this day, it both haunts and fascinates me that, inspired by the Australia VR module, I decided to develop an omni-directional treadmill holding only a laughable amount of the prerequisites necessary for such a task.

    Expert level understanding of engineering concepts, an understanding of how to use complex virtual engineering software, an advanced understanding of statistical mechanics, material physics? Allow me to laugh in announcing I had none of these.

    Zero, zip, zilch.

    Quite literally, all I had was an idea of how I wanted it to look, work, and feel, paired with an understanding of classical mechanics in my intellectual toolkit. For lack of a better way to phrase this, in terms of knowledge and skills, this project required a crane, a forklift, and an array of construction equipment, while I only had a small tool kit with a single screwdriver. So my decision, in choosing to build an Omni-directional treadmill may look like one of great hubris, it was one of a much more formidable nature; foolish.

    As I embarked on my project, I had to painstakingly learn a six-month formal course on how to use the engineering software Fusion 360 in less than a month. This program served to communicate my idea into a physical form but did nothing to prove it’s functionality. And I was much more interested in functionality than I was in physical design.

    In fact, the guiding question throughout the entire project was “Can spherical motion provide an Omni-directional experience, and to what extent is it feasible for the human gait?” The former part, I could only answer through countless simulations I ran. The overwhelming answer was a screeching yes. The answer to the latter, however, can only be theorized for now until a physical human-sized-model is printed and assembled. For now, the assumption is yes.

    But you see, in presenting the burning questions that fuelled me through this project, I gloss over the most important part of it all: I had to stumble through it all like a fool. Because I did not exactly have someone to guide me through the janky technical aspects of it, I had to discover things for myself. Moreover, because I was essentially a blank slate in terms of scientific knowledge (in comparison to what I needed to know), I had to treat everything experimentally.

    One example of this is when one component would exert far too much pressure on another, a singularity would occur every time I ran a simulation. So I observed it, recorded graphs based on this behavior, then googled it and found out that this phenomenon was statistical strain. It had been discovered more than 100 years ago and sat on the coattails of the theory of thermodynamics. I realized I was in a very unique position where these concepts were not just formulas on a university textbook, but rather something I was actively observing and working with in the most practical sense.

    So while I was stumbling through this desert of knowledge as a directionless fool, my lack of direction allowed me to do what science is all about: ask and observe free of any biases. My acceptance of being a complete fool allowed me to skip the Dunning-Kruger curve all together in embracing that I know nothing, and thus birthing my greatest ambition — I want to know.

    The truth of the matter is that from a surface level I did it. Against my own expectation (and anyone with even a sliver of reason), I actually managed to do it. Should I have the funds tomorrow, I could print out the human-sized version of the device and begin working on the electrical aspect of it. I could easily have a finished product in less than a year. But that doesn’t matter to me. Nebula is just a device, its inventor, however, as I discovered, is the most foolish, audacious, stupidly curious person who will get it done. That is the greatest discovery I got from this project.

    And from this project, I have realized one thing for certain: as long as I live, I will create things, fail, and succeed, allowing the ocean of curiosity to guide my foolish mind.

    So I shall leave you with this rhetoric that I continually ask myself: Does it take one to know, to do? or does it take one to do, to know?

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