2017 Virginia Design Medalist - Joe Wheeler

The Virginia Design Medalist at Hanbury, a program now in its 13th year, is awarded to a professor of architecture, planning or design-related curriculum, who spends several weeks with the firm. The professor participates in design discussions, critiques work and delivers lectures, both formal and informal. It is an opportunity for the firm to have an academic assessment of its work. It is also an opportunity for the professor to step into the world of design practice.

This year's 2017 Virginia Design Medalist, Joe Wheeler, AIA, is a Professor of Architecture at Virginia Tech and brings an abundance of energy and curiosity to the challenges and opportunities that we encounter in architecture. His hands-on approach is informed by thoughtful inquisition and fueled by practical application.

While with Hanbury for two weeks in late July and early August, Professor Wheeler presented a series of five keynote lectures drawing from his research in building construction process and methods - pre-fabrication, componentry, smart systems – and innovations in technology and fabrication. His findings challenge the conventions that tend to rule the way buildings are constructed and hitherto the way we approach design, potentially altering our profession and practice significantly.

Anna Carpenter, an architect with Hanbury, reflects on the experience. "Joe’s energy and passion for design were contagious," Carpenter says. "Whether he was giving a presentation on the future of design technology or engaging in a project design review, his excitement and desire to push the envelope elevated our discussions to the next level." 

At Virginia Tech, Wheeler is deeply involved in research that relates to practical application. His research focus is in environmental and sustainable design, and he assumes a leadership position in the implementation of design theory and ideas. Because he believes that there’s a distinct advantage exposing students to the direct making of architecture, he engages in multidisciplinary full-scale research projects. As co-director of the School of Architecture + Design’s Center for Design Research, Wheeler has led multiple interdisciplinary projects which include the 2005, 2009 and 2010 Solar Decathlon house projects, the latter of which won first place overall in international competition in Madrid, Spain. 

Other research includes projects that are related to industrialized processes, modular construction and energy efficiency. Additionally, Wheeler has also led exhibitions for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) at the Javits Convention Center in New York, the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, Italy and the Cologne Furniture Fair in Germany. Recent awards include a national design honor award from the AIA, the NCARB Prize for creative collaboration between the academy and the profession, the Virginia Society AIA Research Prize, and the Xcaliber University Prize for Excellence in Outreach. Other contributions include testimony before Congress regarding national energy issues.

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