UIC Architect Receives Rome Prize to Explore Energy as Building Material

Sean Lally, assistant professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has received an international award that began in the 19th century to develop a 21st-century idea: to use energy systems as building materials. He received the 2011-2012 Prince Charitable Trusts Rome Prize in landscape architecture from the American Academy in Rome.

“The same way we use steel, glass and concrete to build space, we can now do with energy — the waves, particles and chemical properties of energy,” Lally said, noting that the potential of these properties has not yet been realized. “Instead we use them to condition interiors with ideal light and temperature. We don’t ask them to be architectural, to define space.

“That will soon change,” Lally said. “Architecture will shift from being defined solely as walls and surfaces, and start engaging the design of micro-climates on the outside.”

Lally is using his 11-month fellowship to write a book, “The Air on Other Planets,” which he describes as a projection into the future in which architects will design spaces defined by energy systems.

The book, Lally said, will incorporate ideas from his Chicago-based firm, WEATHERS/Sean Lally LLC, which designs “exterior installations as well as larger-scale proposals for public buildings and parks that engage a broader city fabric.”