Building Materials & Mechanical Systems: Course Summary

Jessica Jae Ainsworth-Truong

| ID2425 Building Materials and Mechanical Systems | Course Summary |

This summary reflects my personal approach to the course and is based on the course description and competencies outlined by The Art Institutes International Minnesota.

This course is an overview of building and finish materials and an introduction to building structure and building systems.  It provides the necessary information for students to successfully pass into ID3425 Lighting, ID3429 Interior Detailing, and ID3427 Interior Tectonics and Codes.  I have chosen to address these requirements through the lens of sustainability because of its growing and continuing importance to the field.

Overarching Course Goals.

I help students discover their personal definition and priorities for sustainability.  All students have heard the term sustainability, but many cannot tell me what it means.  They have not looked into the depth and breadth of the subject.  Throughout this class, we look at the various concepts and properties that make products, systems, and design sustainable and assess them based on our combined knowledge.

I encourage close observation of the built environment.  The assignments are structured so the students are required to closely observe the buildings around them.  The photo documentation journal has students search commercial space for successful and unsuccessful uses of specific materials.  We take a tour of the two buildings that comprise AiMN’s campus with the facility manager to see how the behind the scenes systems affect a place we are very familiar with.  The students also complete a set of as-builts with all systems of a portion of our building.  They do the systems separately, promoting an understanding of each and its relationship to the others.


The quarter is broken into two halves; in the first I cover materials and in the second I cover building systems.  During the materials portion, I cover the basic genres of building/finish materials, like concrete, masonry, wood, metal, etc.  During lecture, I talk about where they come from, how they are extracted and processed, and how they are used in interiors.  After covering a material, we have a discussion as to if that material is green or not.  The students list the materials positive and negative qualities.   This often leads to a discussion of not if a product is sustainable or green, but under what conditions could it be considered sustainable.

During this section the students complete two types of assignments.  The first is a photo documentation journal where they are tasked with finding a successful and unsuccessful use of a variety of materials in different commercial spaces.  They then use their knowledge from discussion to assess if the material is sustainable to them.

They also complete three partner presentations that provide the details for specific types of stone, types of metal, and wood species.  They look at where they come from, how they are processed into interior building/finish materials, and how they are used.  They also give an assessment of their specific sustainability.

The second half of the quarter, I discuss building systems, including structure, vertical circulation, electrical, mechanical, communication, and plumbing.  This is the first time many of the students have heard about these systems in commercial applications.  I start by showing them standard systems and how they work.  We then look at the ways sustainability can be considered within the system.

During this portion of the class, the students as-built the classroom and part of the adjacent hallway and include these systems.  We do a set of measurements for each system so they are looking at them independently.  This is often the first time the students have completed systems drawings, so there is a lot of direction and assistance.  My favorite exercise happens the day their as-built floor plans are due.  I have the students sit around a conference table and I redline each of their drawings with the group.  This way, they see that everyone is making mistakes, that there are very common mistakes, and they learn from each other instead of trying to draw in a vacuum.  They also complete study guides for chapter readings and take two exams on the topics.

Throughout the quarter, I hope am encouraging the students to practice Intelligent questioning.  Is a material sustainable?  Why is it a good choice?  Why is the system configured this way?  And is there a better way to do this?  These are all questions that should come up in this class and I hope they continue to ask them after it is over.





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