Daniel Fernández Pascual Wins Harvard Graduate School of Design’s 2020 Wheelwright Prize

Daniel Fernández Pascual, photographed by Ruth Clark

Harvard GSD is pleased to name Daniel Fernández Pascual the winner of the 2020 Wheelwright Prize, a grant to support investigative approaches to contemporary architecture, with an emphasis on globally minded research. With his winning proposal Being Shellfish: The Architecture of Intertidal Cohabitation, Fernández Pascual will examine the intertidal zone—coastal territory that is exposed to air at low tide, and covered with seawater at high tide—and its potential to advance architectural knowledge and material futures.

Observing that seaweed and shellfish have served as key sources of both nutrients and building materials for millennia, Fernández Pascual argues that their ongoing role in coastal circular economies opens new possibilities for contemporary architecture. He posits that shellfish waste shells and seaweeds may provide a basis for a new type of concrete, and could offer that and other clues to rethinking the construction sector and its impact in and on the built environment. While exploring such material futures, Fernández Pascual aims also to advance knowledge on sustaining more equitable social structures, while caring for coastal environments and cultures.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard GSD has prioritized the safety of all members of its community. Given the Wheelwright Prize’s fundamental connection between travel and research, Fernández Pascual has offered avenues for adapting his research to accommodate travel restrictions, envisioning a two-phase strategy whereby he would initiate or continue conversations with contacts at each site of interest, then travel to and visit sites during a second, later phase. He also connects the present pandemic to ongoing concerns relevant to his proposed topic, with regard to how his proposal may serve as a lens on how the human and natural worlds may cohabitate.

“We live immersed in ecologies that are eroding and changing at a rapid state, and the current global pandemic is just another sign of that environmental crisis,” Fernández Pascual observes. “As awareness about the environmental footprint of construction increases, there is an urgency to find materials that are responsive to dynamic ecosystems, to support eco-social innovation and architectural ingenuity along coastal zones, and to understand forms of cohabitation between humans and more-than-humans in order to support thriving ecosystems and societies. The Wheelwright Prize will allow me to investigate how the intertidal zone, in all of its complexity, may advance architectural knowledge in an era of climate emergency.”

“I am thrilled by the selection of Daniel Fernández Pascual as this year’s Wheelwright Prize recipient,” says Sarah M. Whiting, Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture at Harvard GSD, who served on the 2020 Wheelwright Prize jury. “By focusing on the potential of natural resources in the intertidal zone, Daniel’s proposal directly addresses one of the greatest threats our globe faces—climate change—by tackling one of architecture’s greatest contributors to that threat—concrete. Daniel has planned a dynamic research effort, reaching out to territories and societies that lie outside much of the architectural canon but that each offer variations on a theme: alternatives to using concrete as a building material. The potential for an investigation to play out so globally, and to draw in sites that offer such specific contexts, is rare, while the relevance of this topic and the care with which Daniel has organized his research agenda make me confident that this work will have a profound and widespread impact.”

Fernández Pascual was among three remarkable finalists selected from more than 170 applicants, hailing from 45 countries. The 2020 Wheelwright Prize jury commends finalists Bryony Roberts and Gustavo Utrabo for their promising research proposals and presentations.

Fernández Pascual holds a Master of Architecture from ETSA Madrid, a Master of Science in Urban Design from TU Berlin and Tongji University Shanghai, and a PhD from the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2013, Fernández Pascual co-founded Cooking Sections with Alon Schwabe. Based in London, their work explores systems that organize the world through food. Using installation, performance, mapping and video, their research-based practice operates within the overlapping boundaries of architecture, visual culture, and ecology. Since 2015 Cooking Sections have worked on multiple iterations of the long-term, site-specific CLIMAVORE project, exploring how to eat as humans change climates.

Cooking Sections was part of the exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion in the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. Their work has also been exhibited widely; upcoming solo exhibitions will take place at Tate Britain and SALT Istanbul, as well as a new commission for P.5 New Orleans Triennial. In 2019, Cooking Sections won the Future Generation Special Art Prize and were shortlisted for the Visible Award for socially-engaged practices. Cooking Sections currently lead a studio unit investigating critical questions around refuse and the metabolization of the built environment at the School of Architecture, Royal College of Art, London.

With Being Shellfish, Fernández Pascual posits that, as awareness about the environmental footprint of construction increases, especially concerning the use of concrete, the intertidal zone can offer more-responsive ways to inhabit the planet and provide regenerative materials. Seaweeds and shellfish are key sources of nutrients and have been used in construction over millennia, he observes; by looking at waste shells and seaweed material cultures in Chile, Taiwan, China, Turkey, Japan, Zanzibar, Denmark, and New Zealand, Fernández Pascual plans to extend and expand an ongoing investigation on ecosocial coastal innovations in the intertidal zone, as initiated via Cooking Sections’ CLIMAVORE project. Within these proposed case studies, Fernández Pascual plans to look at historical and contemporary innovations, such as seaweed thermal insulation and waterproof roofing, as well as the use of waste shells used as cementless binding agents, cladding, and flooring systems in different parts of the world.

Ultimately, Fernández Pascual hopes to apply the knowledge gathered via his Wheelwright research to a built project that, in turn, will incorporate and illustrate the material innovations he discovers and serve as an educational facility on coastal ecologies.

As with past Wheelwright winners, the $100,000 prize is intended to fund two years of Fernández Pascual’s research travel.

Fernández Pascual follows 2019 Wheelwright Prize winner Aleksandra Jaeschke, whose Wheelwright project UNDER WRAPS: Architecture and Culture of Greenhouses is in its travel-research phase.

Now in its eighth year as an open international competition, the Wheelwright Prize supports travel-based research initiatives proposed by extraordinary early-career architects. Previous winners have circled the globe, pursuing inquiries into a broad range of social, cultural, environmental, and technological issues. The Wheelwright Prize originated at Harvard GSD in 1935 as the Arthur C. Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship, which was established to provide a Grand Tour experience to exceptional Harvard GSD graduates at a time when international travel was rare. In 2013 Harvard GSD opened the prize to early-career architects worldwide as a competition, with the goal of encouraging new forms of prolonged, hands-on research and cross-cultural engagement. The sole eligibility requirement is that applicants must have received a degree from a professionally accredited architecture program in the previous 15 years.

The 2020 Wheelwright Prize jury consisted of 2016 Wheelwright Prize Winner Anna Puigjaner; Harvard GSD’s Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture, Sarah M. Whiting; Harvard GSD’s Chair of the Department of Architecture, Mark Lee; Harvard GSD Assistant Professor of Architecture Megan Panzano; ETH Zurich Professor of Architecture Tom Emerson; and Belgian architect Wonne Ickx.

2020 Wheelwright Prize Finalists

The Wheelwright Prize jury commends the 2020 finalists for their outstanding applications:

Bryony Roberts
Wheelwright proposalThe Architecture of Childcare: A Global Study of Experimental Models

Bryony Roberts is an architectural designer and scholar. Her practice Bryony Roberts Studio, based in New York, integrates methods from architecture, art, and preservation to address complex social conditions and urban change. The practice has been awarded the Architectural League Prize and New Practices New York from AIA New York as well as support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Graham Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the American Academy in Rome, where Roberts was awarded the Rome Prize for 2015-2016. In tandem with her design practice, Roberts instigates research and publication projects about designing in response to social and cultural histories. She guest-edited the recent volume Log 48: Expanding Modes of Practice, edited the book Tabula Plena: Forms of Urban Preservation published by Lars Müller Publishers, and co-guest-edited Log 31: New Ancients. She has also published her research in Harvard Design Magazine, Praxis, Future Anterior, and Architectural Record.

Roberts earned her Bachelor of Arts at Yale University and her Master of Architecture at the Princeton School of Architecture, where she was awarded the Suzanne Kolarik Underwood Thesis Prize and the Henry Adams AIA Medal. She teaches architecture and preservation at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York.

With The Architecture of Childcare, Roberts proposes an analysis of experimental models of care that hybridize programs to improve conditions for children, families, and care workers: childcare plus housing, childcare plus workplace, and childcare plus landscape. Comparing projects in Scandinavia, the UK, the US, Japan, and Southeast Asia through analytical drawings and contextual research, Roberts seeks to yield a global catalogue of new typologies.

Gustavo Utrabo
Wheelwright proposalRethinking Nature, Assembling Matter

Born in Curitiba, Brazil, Gustavo Utrabo received a degree in architecture and urbanism from the Federal University of Paraná in Curitiba, Brazil, in 2010. In 2014, he also completed a specialization course in National History and Literature from UTFPR. Through his studio, Estúdio Gustavo Utrabo, he intends to expand the architecture field, connect people, and imagine the future through sustainable and inclusive approaches. These approaches come together in an extensive portfolio that has earned significant awards as the RIBA International Prize (2018), RIBA International Emerging Architect (2018), finalist status in Harvard GSD’s 2018 Wheelwright Prize, and a “Highly Commended” award in the Architectural Review Emerging Architecture Awards (2019), among others. Utrabo has contributed to lectures and other actions in institutions including IIT Chicago, University of Hong Kong, Future Architecture Platform at MAO museum in Ljubljana, RIBA London, and FAU-USP in São Paulo, among others. Utrabo recently served as a visiting professor in the Master of Arts program at the University of Hong Kong.

Eyeing intersections between culture, nature, and economics, especially amid ongoing climate change, Utrabo proposes an investigation into merging nature and culture through matter. With “Rethinking Nature, Assembling Matter,” he seeks an understanding of how wood, from its natural, raw status to its final use in architecture, can be used as a primordial resource to compose a cultural manifestation.