Conservation Opportunities Inspire Amodeo to Pursue Architecture

October 15, 2004

by Gabriel Chen, 2004

Michael AmodeoIt was a cold, wintry afternoon, and students were gathered at the Trinity café on East Campus at Duke for a warm cup of coffee. I sat opposite Michael Amodeo and dared him to juggle in front of the growing crowd. Without so much as a word of protest, Amodeo bought several oranges, and juggled them with consummate ease – his gaze transfixed on the fruits even as he performed cascades and columns from his bag of tricks.

Like an artist who takes pride in his talent, the civil engineering senior comes across as earnest and passionate even when proclaiming he juggles with knives. After all, he juggled clubs last year in front of a 1,200 capacity audience at Awaaz, an annual Indian music and dance extravaganza held at Duke.

But Amodeo wants to do more than just toss a couple of balls into the air. This summer, he helped create a preliminary design for the Duke Engineering Living Technology Advancement (DELTA ) Project, and was part of a pioneering group of about 15 students researching on environmentally sound home-building strategies and materials as well as technological innovations in home design.

The DELTA house aims to actively expose students to the practical technology of the future by seeking to create an interconnected living environment. This can ultimately contribute to an increased standard of safety, technological awareness, and comfort that is intrinsically linked to the conservation of resources in an already fragile environment. Though an outside architectural firm will create the construction-ready plans, students will work with the architects to conceptualize, design and prepare cost estimates for the house and its systems. Student research will continue long after the construction is completed.

"I learned a lot last summer,"Amodeo said. "Working on the DELTA house introduced me to a lot of concepts within architecture I had never thought about, like what factors are included in the insulation of a building. Although we were paid interns [over the summer], we now help out on a voluntary basis."

At universities, primarily the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , Rutgers and the University of Colorado, smart rooms were created to demonstrate technology available for sensor-based neural networks as an input interface for homeowners. Large corporations such as General Electric and Phillips also built smart homes to show off the best of their new electronic product lines. However, these designs were often expensive and too far in the future for typical home installation.

Conscious of the cost component, Amodeo and his engineering mates set out to research on how architects working in the vicinity of Duke and elsewhere take advantage of solar energy. Solar power is "renewable"energy, in that it is constantly replenished. It is also "clean"or "green"because it produces virtually no pollutants.

Amodeo learned that the sun's energy is currently much underutilized by the housing industry. However, depending on how architects situate buildings on a site, they can harness the sun's energy to heat up the house, rather than waste money on radiators. By showing the average homeowner how they may incorporate technology into their house to improve the home environment, Amodeo hopes to persuade people to save energy, which also translates into the use of less natural resources.

"We want to make this project a living laboratory that college kids can live in and work in, where they can brainstorm ideas and come up with something innovative,"said Amodeo. "In engineering school, you're just taking in the concepts. If we can offer these kids a new place for testing and designing ideas, and ultimately help them obtain their own patents, it would be great for them."

In addition to a civil engineering degree, Amodeo is also pursuing an architecture certificate at Duke. After Amodeo graduates this year, he plans to work for one to two years in a civil engineering firm before doing graduate work in architecture.

Though aspiring to change the home environment in smaller steps, Amodeo confessed he is not exactly your environmental-friendly type role model.

"After all, I drive an SUV,"he quips. "But I do recycle a lot. If you do not take care of the earth, it comes back to haunt you. Resources are limited, and conservation is one of the first steps to keep the planet going."

The Long Island native is glad he lives near architecture that is far from uninspiring. For example, his is attracted to the Chrysler building in Manhattan, which he calls a work of art. He likes the chrome on top, which is so shiny that it exemplifies the bold and ambitious modern-day Chrysler Corporation. However, seeing the beautiful New York City skyline from afar, and knowing that it is only but an half hour away, has made him more appreciative about the aesthetic appeal of architecture in the aftermath of 9/11. The skyline, once huge and expansive, now looks "disturbing"with the lofty towers missing.

"It's a sad patch,"said Amodeo, as his face turned crestfallen. "My roommate at that time had an uncle working at the World Trade Center, but luckily he got out on time. You see it on TV and even today, it affects you and hits you in a way like nothing does."

The 13-member jury appointed to select a 9/11 memorial design announced early January that it chose the plan called Reflecting Absence by Michael Arad and Peter Walker. The initial concept of the memorial at ground zero will be a teeming grove of trees above two deep reflecting pools within the outlines of the twin towers. The memorial site will be landscaped, with the slurry wall around the trade center's foundation exposed below ground level.

"I do not quite like the large tower they have come up with in the empty space,"said Amodeo. "But when it comes to architecture, some people will like it, while some will not. It is hard to please everybody."

Amodeo said the thing he would miss most about Duke would be the people who have made an impact on his life in more ways than one.

"Some of my experiences here have been exceptional," Amodeo said. "My friend and I were in Hudson working on our project at three in the morning. We were frustrated, as we had been there for hours, and still couldn't do Prof. Kabala's fluid mechanics homework. Guess who suddenly showed up but the man himself."

"I didn't know what he was doing at the lab at that time of the hour. He told us to relax, made us some tea, and went through the problems with us. Instead of us spending the whole night there, we were done in several minutes."

Despite the many great experiences at Duke, Amodeo said it is time to move on, as he would like to try something new.

"I don't know where the future will take me, but I have to keep moving,"he said.

Amodeo graduated in May, 2004.