Tegan Bukowski: 2010 Outstanding Graduate in Architecture

A new breed of student, compelled to look for solutions

Growing up on a boat on Puget Sound, one learns a thing or two about built and natural environments.

“I grew up in a type of architecture that literally rises and falls with the tides,” says Tegan Bukowski, a senior in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ College of Architecture.

“We always knew exactly how much energy we were using and exactly where our waste was going,” says Bukowski, who will receive a dual degree in architecture and environmental studies in Arts & Sciences May 21.

“It really made me think about the ways people interact with their surroundings through the architecture they spend time in,” she says.

A valuable lesson, one that applies equally to the waters of Puget Sound in the state of Washington, where Bukowski spent much of her childhood, and the bush country of Francophone Africa, where she has co-founded several initiatives.

Chief among these are the Mango Tree Project, which is developing a sustainable energy plan for a Rwandan orphanage; and Sisi ni Amani (Swahili for “We Are Peace”), which employs crowd-surfing technology to map Kenyan peace efforts.

“Tegan is the new student,” says Bruce Lindsey, dean of architecture and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration, “one who comes to the university to learn, not just to be taught.

“Using the eyes of a designer, she is compelled to explore the world, to discover problems and to produce solutions,” Lindsey says.

In her studio work, Bukowski is alternately drawn to the theoretical and the pragmatic. Her hypothetical “Sustainable Renewal Pod” — created as part of an American Institute of Architects award-winning studio in Florence, Italy — proposes a small, self-contained sculptural cylinder that would house public water treatment and photovoltaic systems.

Conversely, Bukowski’s African initiatives are deeply rooted in ground conditions. Last winter, she traveled with Mango Tree co-founders Cody Valdes and David Pool (of Tufts University and the U.S. Air Force Academy, respectively) to Rwanda’s rapidly growing Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, an orphanage located outside Kigali.

Invited by founder Anne Heyman, the three conducted a thorough energy audit, met with local officials and, returning stateside, enlisted classmates to devise cost-effective conservation strategies. For example, simply painting water tanks black would raise internal temperatures and reduce the energy required to boil water.

“We’re also looking at how to implement biogas, solar panels and wind turbines,” says Bukowski, who earned her LEED accreditation last year.

While in Rwanda, Bukowski also visited Children’s Village Kigarama, one of seven orphanages run by German NGO L’Esperance Children’s Aid. The group’s website, a major source of donations, had just been hacked, so Bukowski — an experienced Web designer who created her first site at age 11 — rebuilt its online identity, even establishing a Twitter feed.

“One of our tweets was re-tweeted by NASA astronauts, which was pretty cool,” she says with a laugh.

Bukowski spent much of the spring working on The Bamako Project, an undergraduate studio led by Associate Professor Zeuler Lima, PhD, which centers on designing an eco-friendly hotel near the Niger River in Mali. This fall, she’ll enter a dual master’s program through the Yale School of Architecture and the Yale School of Forestry and the Environment.

But before decamping for New Haven, Bukowski will return to Africa for several months to work with Sisi ni Amani — a semifinalist in the Dell Social Innovations Competition and recently adopted by Digital Democracy — as it prepares for Kenya’s 2012 elections.

As multimedia director, Bukowski will lead a digital photography workshop for children living in Nairobi’s infamous Kibera slums. “We want to explore what the idea of peace means to different people, especially kids,” she says.

Helping participants to visually capture that idea “will hopefully make the prospect of peace seem more real,” she says.

Bukowski also is working to launch a documentary film project. In the meantime, she’s planning both an exhibition and a publication of the children’s photographs.

“We’re going to try to produce a full-length book,” she says, “by the end of the summer.”

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