Frank Wickstead, an adjunct professor in the School of Building Construction and Managing Partner at Alair Buckhead Studios, has taught several SLS affiliated courses, often with an emphasis on connecting to communities where there are great strengths, and also dire needs. Most recently, he has partnered with the US Ukrainian Foundation and Uzhgorod National University and with Izmir Institute of Technology. Below, Frank offers us insight into this important partnership and the impact it has and will have on both the partner constituencies and the students. 

Would you describe the very partnerships you’ve created for your Residential Design Build students?

During Spring semester 2023, BC6675, Residential Design Build, partnered with the US Ukrainian Foundation and Uzhgorod National University to design housing that could fill the need for temporary to permanent housing for those displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Student participants were assigned different components of the home to find a viable and regional solution. Components of the structure were power production, power use, potable water collection/heating/distribution, wastewater management, wall/roof/floor panelization, heating/ventilation, block-scale development, and community involvement. The midterm presentation was delivered to the US Ukrainian Foundation, Habitat for Humanity International, industry experts and faculty from both Uzhgorod National University and Izmir Institute of Technology (IZTECH). The presentation went well enough that the US Ukraine Foundation asked that we deliver the final presentation as a webinar hosted by their organization and delivered worldwide.

We will continue the course through Summer 2023 as BC8903 with the focus shifting to an effort by IZTECH,  Politecnico di Milano, and Georgia Tech. The EPA International Summer School wants to transfer the scientific knowledge around the process of adaptation that cities have to face to tackle polycrises. Through a combined session of theoretical, practical, and operational- GIS communication, and with the involvement of local experts who guide the students throughout the field, the School will provide an immersive, context-based experience of performance-based design sessions in one of the most densely inhabited and vulnerable coastal city of the Mediterranean basin, Izmir Turkey. Izmir was within the impact area of the series of earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria earlier in the year. The result is a need similar to that of Ukraine. Planning continues for BC8903 which will be an SLS affiliated course.

What is most exciting to students about this work? Where and how in particular do you see them thriving in the context of this partnership?

The class ends at 9pm on Tuesdays, and I find myself looking at my watch at 9:15p as they are still actively engaged. That is a fairly strong indicator. While this course always includes a real-world project with a nonprofit, this cause seems to be hitting folks in a deeper place. My feeling is that it is because the entire world went through a pandemic, a financial crisis, and as we all begin to surface and assess, Ukrainians find themselves under attack by a neighbor and for no apparent or rational reason. I think we can all relate, and we all want to do what we can to help. This course offers a means to do so beyond waving a flag. 

What is challenging to your students and how do they navigate the project's challenges? How do they engage with the broader global contexts of this work? 

The challenge is around the weight of the immediate need and a demand for a real-world, practical solution. For example, we decide that a wood stove with the ideal flue, wall escutcheon, weight, and ability to be used as a cooktop is the perfect solution and then we (they), start in Ukraine and work their way away, geographically, from Ukraine until we find a unit that is off-the-shelf and ready to go at scale. It's easy to suggest a philosophical solution, it's extremely difficult to find something real. And the wood stove we settled on is manufactured in Ireland. 

What is fulfilling about this partnership for you as faculty member/project leader? 

This is why I teach. I want to present students with challenges that they will talk about for years. I want to show them that what they do is translatable anywhere in the world. I want them to be inspired and love their work like I do. Our career, it can't just be a job, we spend entirely too much time doing it. It must fulfill. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University System of Georgia, or the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.