Launched in 2020 by AIA Austin in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Force-Majeure is a design ideas competition that prompts critical thought on architecture in times of crisis. This year’s competition challenged participants to reimagine vital communal spaces, with provisions for the social distancing brought about by COVID-19. The Jurors Commendation award was created to recognize the sci-fi-level speculation presented by “Futura,” a middle school by Jeanne Schultz, Danielle Eke, and Aman Bhadauria that responded to the post-pandemic education scenario put forth by the competition.
Futura looks well beyond the scope of the current pandemic to address an eerie, post-apocalyptic Austin that has suffered at the hands of human over-consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, natural disasters, and repeated pandemics. “We didn’t think of this pandemic as an isolated moment,” says Schultz. “We wanted to push it further and think about the longevity of our solution.” The middle school is a cluster of intertwined pods perched on tall, sinuous stems high above a desolate ground plane. The pods are connected by a looping transit system through which students and faculty circulate on individual hovering devices programmed to follow a strict schedule and maintain proper distance from one another. Circulation paths along the lower perimeter of each pod allow students to file into place beneath each classroom before ascending to their own sanitary niche.
The school has eight levels that move up from administration and shared spaces to sixth, seventh, then eighth grade classrooms, finally culminating in three lushly planted nature conservatories at the apex. In the world of Futura, most of the life forms with which we currently share our planet have become extinct, and the middle school serves as an earth-bound spaceship where students may interact daily with flora and fauna.