Christian R. Pongratz
2012 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Professor and Director,
Digital Design and Fabrication Program,
College of Architecture
By melding his admirations of science, technology, and design, Professor Christian Pongratz has crafted an impressive career in architecture and accomplished much as a Texas Tech Integrated Scholar. Pongratz is based in Lubbock during the academic year, teaching and directing the college's Master of Science Program in Digital Design and Fabrication (DDF). Extending learning opportunities to the summer months, he leads a study abroad program for architecture students, allowing them to travel to Verona, the stone-producing center of Italy, where Pongratz operates an architectural firm with his wife, Professor Maria Perbellini, chair of instruction in the College of Architecture. Pongratz's work has focused largely on the building envelope, essentially a structure's skin, which divides a building's interior from the outdoors. He has conducted research into design computation and geometry, building materials and assembly, and construction assembly processes. Pongratz's designs have been exhibited throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. Born in Germany, Pongratz came to the US to pursue graduate studies in the field of architecture and eventually founded the DDF Program at Texas Tech.
Learn more about Integrated Scholar Christian Pongratz in this question-and-answer session.
What are your research objectives and interests?
My interest in contributing to retooling the discipline from three research areas, design computation and geometry, materials and fabrication, and new processes of construction assembly is the guiding agenda. I envision a new digital craft culture, which considers design as an integrated activity. That's why, I am interested in design, computation and the geometric potential of surfaces in architecture, and in particular the way how professional practice and academia are revolutionized on many scales by digital design and fabrication techniques. I love to get involved with materials, not only those used for façade claddings and internal wall claddings but also surface textures such as for products through continuous research on emerging computational design processes and advanced modes of industrial manufacturing.
In particular, I am looking for innovation in the fabrication processes as practiced by many companies in my search for new tactile surfaces, which was rewarded with leading edge design products in the past.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
My main interest in what I term the Eco building envelope, or environmentally responsive building skins is a small contribution, but the façade is still the part of a building where we can influence sustainable aspects the most by reducing the use of material amounts in construction, and increasing energy efficiencies through synergetic material systems. I think we need to alter the amount of energy and resources invested and one answer is to study the envelope assembly as an integrated system such that its properties and performances are converging into a distributed environmental sensibility. This leads us inevitably into the nano scale and composites, though I am also working with natural materials like stone.
One of the important questions with both is DESIGN and GEOMETRY. First, I am engaging the parametric associative paradigm or advanced computation, because it empowers architecture to employ a new technological potential to design and economize the way materials are used.
Secondly, I explore emerging material systems, because architectural geometry and material characteristics are creating synergetic structures on several scales. I believe if we fully take on computation in a "bottom up" design approach, we can foster an unprecedented scalability which ranges from the nano scale and molecular material composition to the macro-scale of a larger urban agglomeration. This premise drives my research to focus currently on ecological, green building envelopes as integrated, all-inclusive material systems.
What types of service projects have you been involved with?
With my arrival at Tech, I initiated the new Digital Design and Fabrication Program (DDF), a Master of Science in Architecture specialization and a Graduate Certificate at the College of Architecture. This effort includes also a continuous financial investment into equipment for the new DDF_lab in order to bring students and faculty in contact with state of the art design and fabrication.
In order to deepen further the experience of students in foreign cultures and to learn from the challenge of designing a project in an Italian urban setting, I founded in 2008 the Study Abroad Program in Verona, Italy, a faculty-lead international summer program which I am directing and enjoying every summer since. In collaboration with two large international organizations, Hanley-Wood Dallas and Marmomacc/ Veronafiere Verona, I am currently developing a mentorship program, "Profession and Academia", for participating students from the College of Architecture, which brings them in contact with industry leaders and professional practice. In this regard I brought students to participate in the Marmomacc Stone Academy in Las Vegas in 2011.
In 2011, together with chair Prof. Perbellini, I organized an architecture exhibition with parallel activities for kids of Lubbock's community during the Lubbock Arts Festival. It was so much fun, seeing the little visitors of different ages, as they were engaged with us and our students and re-used our CoA's shop material waste we piled up for them. They built a to our students "competitive" model for Ave J in Lubbock during the festival weekend.
I do enjoy my participation in international design juries, such as for the Marble Institute of America (MIA) or the Innovationspreis of Messe Nuernberg, Germany, because it brings me in contact with many ideas from colleagues.
Since this year, I am also a member of a committee for the evaluation of research programs and results, in Rome, Italy, which is a part of the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, MIUR.
What are you currently working on?
I do have a continuous research theme with a focus on designing wall systems and their related construction processes and assemblies. The current title of one project is "Green Curtains in stone", and its about new ideas for the fabrication and assembly of load bearing but light screens. This is in collaboration with Prof. Harald Kloft from the University of Braunschweig, Germany and together we study the surface geometry of non-standard components. I was fortunate that the project is also partially funded by Texas Tech University's FY12 CAHSS internal competition at level 3 since fall 2011. Another important work is also my collaboration together with Prof. Perbellini on a text book to document our innovative ideas on teaching "digital media" to our students, and then we are getting close on the translation to English of our latest book "cyberstone". It showcases many projects and ideas on innovation with natural stone.
Where do you find your inspiration?
In many places from magazines, the internet to books, where technology and innovative materials are dealt with in a challenging topic. All of this lends me to question the architect's role today.
I also think that the architect's knowledge in the building process needs to be expanded into new materials and manufacturing logics, so we can get closer to a sustainable practice.
What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research, and service—in their careers?
If you start to develop a discourse first, the related design research and the professional practice where you try to apply those ideas, all together will lead you to a network of interconnections of all areas of scholarship. That's what Peter Eisenman told me. And you have to define yourself through someone else, someone that you follow his ideas.