Giving housing a lift

Prithula Prosun profileBangladesh is known for many things, but for architecture graduate student Prithula Prosun two in particular leave an impression: poverty and floods.

So for her master’s thesis, she created LIFT, or Low Income Flood-proof Technology, a unique way to offer struggling families sustainable, flood resilient housing. The houses she built float during a flood and return to ground as the water recedes. “Architecture has to adapt to nature in its most primitive form. Let the water run its course,” she says.

Without buoyant housing, the Bangladeshi poor are often forced to flee their homes with each flood. Prosun’s houses, however, are separated into two portions: the two floating units made from bamboo, and a sustainable brick and concrete services spine that holds rainwater and offers composting toilets and solar panels.

Currently, a family is living in one unit while the other unit is used for demonstration purposes. Prosun plans to continue work on the project even when she begins to practice architecture in Toronto. “The moment the first building floated during testing, it was all worth it,” she says. “Now I can keep going.”


  • Jeff Lederer, general manager of Waterloo’s School of Architecture and an adjunct professor, won a 2010 CMHC Excellence in Education Award in recognition of his work in graduate education related to urban design and innovative service learning.
  • Faculty member Lola Sheppard, a founding partner of the Toronto architecture firm Lateral Office, won the $50,000 Professional Prix de Rome in Architecture for 2010. Administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, the award recognizes excellent achievement in Canadian architectural practice.

Breaking new ground

With Hylozoic Ground, Philip Beesley doesn’t push traditional boundaries so much as smash them into thousands of tiny pieces.

Picture a delicate canopy of clear acrylic meshwork. Underneath, frond-like structures undulate gently, while tentacles sense and react to human presence. “It’s a bit like a giant sensitivity plant that responds to you and moves around you,” the School of Architecture professor explains of his art installation. More than that, it’s a vision of how buildings could evolve.

As Canada’s entry at this year’s Venice Biennale, the world’s largest architecture exhibition, Hylozoic Ground won both critical and popular acclaim. Thousands of visitors came to stroke the fragile structures and watch them ripple with movement and light. The result, Beesley says, was an utterly different public energy than you would find in a football stadium or subway station.

The architectural experiment brought together a wide range of disciplines, including robotics, chemistry, industrial design and digital fabrication. If it all seems a little esoteric, think again. The technologies that underpin Hylozoic Ground can be used to produce highly practical building structures, Beesley says. “Compact it into a set of layers, maybe turn it sideways so it becomes a wall, and you get a pretty good next- generation envelope,” he points out.