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ASU architecture students experience 'life-changing' Roden Crater during housing-design project

May 26, 2020

Class proposes temporary lodging designs that create sense of community for those working on remote large-scale art installation

Sixteen Arizona State University architecture students were tapped to provide design work around one of the most important large-scale artworks in the world — Roden Crater, the installation created by James Turrell in northern Arizona.

The undergraduates participated in a fourth-year studio course this spring that had a unique assignment: propose designs for temporary housing for construction crews who are working on Roden Crater.

The students were able to visit the crater, an immersive observatory inside a dormant volcano that is seen by only a few hundred people every year. The artwork is still under construction and is not yet open to the public.

The experience was awe-inspiring, and the project was a challenge, according to Marc Neveu, head of the architecture program in The Design School at ASU.

The remote area has no access to power and water, and the housing had to be out of sight from the crater itself. The goal is to preserve the surrounding natural environment.

“So it was complicated for a whole list of reasons,” Neveu said.

About an hour drive from Flagstaff, Roden Crater is on a dirt road and remains closed to the public. Inside the crater, which is a volcanic cinder cone, Turrell has designed over 20 chambers and spaces to experience celestial events and seasonal alignments. At any one time, there are several dozen construction workers carrying out Turrell’s vision.

“James Turrell thought it would be interesting to think about temporary housing for these contractors,” Neveu said. “And we were thinking about other groups of people who could be working there — archeologists and students, who would all be short-term.

“So the question of community came up. How do you build community?”

About three weeks into the semester, the group visited Roden Crater, which has several installations within the cone, including a 900-foot-long tunnel that plays with the view at the end.

“Walking through the tunnel, I knew what was going to happen,” Neveu said. “I knew that the circle would become an eclipse, but there’s moment of magic when you see it that you just can’t describe.

“It’s an uncanny experience, and it’s hard to find the words.”

Dellan Raish was one of the students in the class.

“To be inside and experience that with your own perception and eyes was life-changing,” Raish said.

“The way he tunes each space to capture the light and give you a different perspective on the sky is like sensory overload.”

Each student in the class created their own version of a low-impact, flexible, temporary group of dwellings.

“In terms of construction, they looked at different things, like rammed earth, which has a zero carbon footprint,” Neveu said.

“The material is right there, and the walls can go back into the ground if people leave.”

Other students, including Nasrynn Chowdhury, proposed prefabricated dwellings.

“It had to be temporary so we weren’t meant to be building with concrete,” she said.

“I decided to do a series of structures that would be made in a factory and brought to the site. They would be on these steel screw-pile foundations so they didn’t touch the ground.”

The dwellings could be removed with nothing left on the ground except a few holes.

Chowdhury took a highly flexible approach.

“It has a movable kitchen that’s able to slide into each unit,” she said. “During the night you can make the space into a bedroom and during the day you can create a larger space with both units and slide the kitchen out.

“I understood there would be different needs. Construction workers might want to rest while students might want to be more social.”

Raish designed two rows of buildings with a courtyard in the middle.

“That was to save power and water and by turning off different wings of the buildings when people are not occupying them,” he said.

Seeing Turrell’s work was profound for the students.

“They balanced the extremely practical with the poetic and tried to not just think about the crater, but how a building orients a person in the landscape,” Neveu said.

“You see the Painted Desert miles away and the San Francisco Peaks miles away. The quality of the light and the quality of the sky is very different from here, and that informed a lot of the projects.”

After spring break, the course moved to Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The students used breakout rooms in the online platform to continue collaborating.

In a typical studio course, the end of the semester brings a review in which the students formally present their projects to three or four experts. Instead, this class had a huge Zoom gathering in which the students presented to 45 experts from around the world.

“Presenting in front of people can sometimes get the best of you,” Chowdhury said. “But because this was on Zoom, it felt a lot more interactive because everyone was seeing the same thing and they were able to write comments directly into it, which made it feel more like a workshop rather than not really understanding their feedback.”

Raish said that at the more formal presentations, students almost “black out.”

“Most of the time, students don’t remember what anyone is saying, but this was one of my best reviews because we could record it and watch it back,” he said.

The students’ proposals will be collected and presented to Turrell later this summer.

The architecture studio was part of a burgeoning partnership between Turrell and ASU that has led to the development of ongoing academic experimentation. Several ASU students visited Roden Crater last year as part of four pilot lab courses.

Neveu is teaching an iCourse starting July 1 called “James Turrell and Roden Crater: Working at the Intersection of Art, Design, Science and Technology,” which will examine the installation from different perspectives. The course has no prerequisites and is open to anyone.

While Roden Crater is open only to invited guests while under construction, anyone can experience Turrell’s work manipulating light and perception. “Air Apparent,” just south of Biodesign C on ASU’s Tempe campus, was installed in 2012 and is open to the public 24 hours a day. Part of Turrell’s Skyspace series, “Air Apparent” is best enjoyed at sunset.

Top photo: Marc Neveu (left), head of the architecture program in The Design School at ASU, and his students pose for a group photo near Roden Crater in northern Arizona. Photo courtesy of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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ASU develops state’s first saliva-based COVID-19 test

May 26, 2020

Simplicity of new test kits make supply chain easier to maintain, but could also help bring the cost of testing down

Editor’s note:  This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

In an effort to make COVID-19 diagnostic testing easier and more readily available to Arizonans, researchers at Arizona State University have developed the state’s first saliva-based test.

Dr. Joshua LaBaer

Joshual LaBaer

“This new saliva-based test will be a real game-changer for those individuals who want to know whether or not they have an active COVID-19 infection,” said ASU Biodesign Institute Executive Director Joshua LaBaer, who leads ASU COVID-19 research efforts. “As we return to the workplace, schools and other daily activities, testing early and often is going to be the best way to help us prevent the spread of COVID-19.” 

Diagnostic tests detect an active COVID-19 infection by measuring the amount of virus present in the body. Because it can take as long as eight to nine days for an individual to develop symptoms after infection, a diagnostic test is the only test that can accurately detect an early infection. But individuals with early infections can still spread the virus.

The saliva diagnostic test starts with a collection kit that is as simple as spitting into a screw-top tube through a straw, making collections possible at drive-thru sites, doctors' offices, the workplace, and even at home. This will not only make the supply chain of test kits easier to maintain, but could also help bring the cost of testing down. 

“One of the bottlenecks with diagnostic testing has been the ability to quickly obtain samples,” LaBaer said. “Even with a highly-trained medical staff, medical providers have been limited to an average of 100 people with the nasopharyngeal (NP) swab collection in a four-hour window of drive-thru testing. The goal of the saliva tests was to overcome these obstacles.” 

For the past couple of weeks, ASU’s Biodesign Institute has been pilot testing the saliva-based testing with its first responder partnership network. This was performed alongside nasal swab collections samples to validate, as well as reconfigure its high-throughput robotic instruments, which currently have enough capacity to perform 1,200 diagnostic tests per day.

“From those results, we found that the saliva-based tests were just as good, if not even better, as those collected from NP swabs,” LaBaer said.

LaBaer points out that saliva tests offer several benefits over the NP swab tests while providing the same accuracy and sensitivity, including:

• Accuracy: The Biodesign saliva test uses the same diagnostic qPCR assay as the NP swab tests and are 100% accurate if there is any detectable amount of virus present in the sample. Research shows that saliva tests are as just as sensitive as NP swabs for detecting SARS-CoV-2 infections. One study suggests that saliva tests may offer even greater sensitivity.

• Safety: NP swab tests pose a risk to health care workers because they can make people sneeze or cough. Saliva tests can be self-administered and require minimal interaction with test site staff.

• Less invasive: NP swab tests can be invasive and uncomfortable, reducing compliance for repeat testing. Saliva tests are minimally invasive and thus easier to gather a sample from participants.

• Less PPE: NP swab kits and the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to administer them are in short supply. Saliva tests require less PPE during sample acquisition.

• Less labor intensive: Saliva tests eliminate the need for swab kits, reduce the amount of PPE required, and reduce the amount of staffing needed at COVID-19 sample collection sites.

ASU’s Biodesign Institute will pivot its current diagnostic testing of first responders to switch its entire NP swab collection protocols for the new saliva-based kits. The Biodesign Institute has also applied for FDA Emergency Use Authorization for the test and will make its protocols readily available for other commercial and academic partners so they can adapt their instruments to perform saliva-testing.

“The goal is to rapidly increase statewide diagnostic testing to continue to protect first responders, get more Arizonans back to work, and students back to school again this fall,” LaBaer said. “Ultimately, we are going to need to continue the testing blitz underway and quickly ‘test, trace and isolate’ individuals to get society back up and running.”

Top photo: Diagnostic tests, like the ones performed at the ASU Biodesign Institute's Clinical Testing Lab, detect an active COVID-19 infection by measuring the amount of virus present in the body. Photo courtesy ASU.

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences) , Media Relations & Strategic Communications