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School of Architecture Celebrates 25 Years, Welcomes New Director

Francis Lyn, Joseph Choma, Yagmur Akyuz, John Kelly, Michael Horswell


The School of Architecture within Florida Atlantic University’s Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. It also capped off the celebration by welcoming its new director, Joseph Choma.

 The former director of the Master of Science in Architecture program at Clemson University, Choma is considered one of the world’s top experts in foldable structures for architectural applications and has received awards from both the American Institute of Architects and the American Composites Manufacturers Association. His work centers on material innovation, experimental construction methods, and the impact of complex geometries on the built environment.

Choma also will serve as the director of the Design Topology Lab, an interdisciplinary design research practice which primarily consults on innovative and sustainable means and methods of construction for developing countries with limited resources.  He plans to establish a new Foldable Structures and Materials Lab on the Boca Raton campus, which will run with the help of Ph.D. students and provide additional opportunities for undergraduate research.

“Schools of Architecture are a balancing act. There are many polyvalent dimensions that make up architecture,” he said. “I would like our school to focus on three areas: technology, environment and community. How will technology transform the practice of architecture? How can we reduce the carbon footprint of how we build? How can we design for hydro-generated urbanism? What role can design play in social justice? How do we design public space and affordable housing? These are some of the questions which we will tackle as a means to project possible futures for the discourse of architecture.”

In the area of technology, Choma wants to focus on the fact that FAU’s School of Architecture has leading experts in artificial intelligence for the built environment. The school will be one of the first and only to begin to train professional architecture students to learn about how to use AI as a generative design tool. In the near future, the school also will establish an AI Lab on the Fort Lauderdale campus.   

As for the environment, Choma will build on the school’s work on subtropical sustainability and climate adaptation. FAU’s Sea Level Rise Adaptation Framework of Urban Areas, which won the 2018 American Institute of Architects Institute Honor Award, a NOAA Florida Sea Grant Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Award, created a framework for adaptation strategies at the neighborhood and street level, and coupled ecological water management, landscape architecture, architecture, urban design and infrastructure design. This was a starting point for many projects that have followed climate change adaptation.   

Choma also is working on an industry sponsored research agreement with Google to design and build a deployable and reconfigurable event structure for community engagement. This will be the first of a series of collaborations between Google and FAU.

Choma completed graduate studies in design and computation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and completed his Ph.D. in architecture at the University of Cambridge where he was a Cambridge International Scholar.

He will be introduced to the community at an upcoming event to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and commemorate its accomplishments since its founding on FAU’s Fort Lauderdale campus in 1997. These accomplishments include: the founding of a chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students in 1998 by its students and serving as a host site for the organization’s national conference; and in 1999,  when the school introduced the first fully accredited upper division professional architecture degree program in the United States –the three-year B.Arch. – which was initially accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board.

In 2011, the school, through the Broward Community Design Collaborative, hosted the International Subtropical Cities Conference in a partnership with the Queensland University of Technology (Australia) bringing scholars from around the subtropical world to the FAU Fort Lauderdale campus for four days of presentations, lectures, exhibitions and community design activities.  The international conference caught the attention of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, which agreed to host the biennial international conference at FAU again in 2013, placing the school firmly on the map as a center of scholarship in tropical and subtropical design.

The fall event also will celebrate several alumni who have had successful careers:

  • Derek Ullian ’05, B.Arch., is senior vice president at Aimco, a national real estate investment and development firm based in Los Angeles. The firm recently acquired 9 acres of prime real estate in downtown Fort Lauderdale and plans to build a 3-million-square-foot mixed use project with 1,500 apartment units.
  • Carmen Suero ‘01, B.Arch., is principal at Good Project Company in Los Angeles, after working in leadership design positions at national powerhouse firms Parsons Brinkerhoff, HNTB, Clark Construction Group and Parsons Corporation.
  • Todd Evans ’03, B.Arch., is a leader in design for sustainability, and a recognized subject matter expert and part of the U.S. Green Building Council examination writing team. He is energy manager at the U. S. Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, focusing on energy efficiency and climate responsive design at U.S. embassies, consulates and diplomatic facilities around the world.
  • Tabitha Ponte, ’08, B.Arch., is CEO and founder of Ponte Health, an Orlando-based company that develops medical offices, hotels, suites and homes with the goal “to help expand the healing community.” Ponte recently created the Ponte Health Fellowship in Healthcare Building and Design Endowed Fund for her alma mater.

For more information on FAU’s School of Architecture, visit www.fau.edu/artsandletters/architecture/ .

-FAU-