Azadeh Omidfar Sawyer

Azadeh Omidfar Sawyer

Assistant Professor in Building Technology

Azadeh Omidfar Sawyer was appointed Assistant Professor in Building Technology in the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture in 2019. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on quantitative and qualitative methods to evaluate building envelope, its effect on lighting, and occupants’ comfort and visual impressions. One goal is to address how “green” design can result in comfortable and aesthetically pleasant design. Sawyer focuses on evaluating and minimizing the discrepancies between the design of an envelope compared to the actual experience of it. This can be achieved by bridging the gap between building technology, design quality, and by humanizing data though the use of immersive visualizations such as VR.

In her doctoral research, Sawyer introduced new methods to measure users’ perceptions of the spatial distribution of light, as well as a system that allows measured data to be traced back to the façade for further design optimization and adjustment. To evaluate the qualitative aspects of façade design, she conducted an experimental study in virtual reality (VR) using Oculus. Additionally, she measured the effects of color, the use of furniture, and rendering mode on the subjective evaluation of participants in the immersive Oculus headset. The overarching aim of this research is to determine the relationship between the data measured through simulation software and the subjective visual impressions of users in virtual reality. Preliminary results show that participants’ perception and overall preference for a space is associated less to actual measured values and more to the design of the façade, its complexity, and its dynamics. This is important in the realm of design, especially in designing “green” buildings, as post-occupancy surveys on occupants’ satisfaction with lighting may be less related to the actual levels and more to the overall light quality and ambiance of the building.

This research contributes a new way to create and evaluate building envelopes and allows designers to understand the effect of façade design on natural light propagation, so such designs can be adjusted for improved performance. The research pushes boundaries and engages in dynamic new debates regarding qualitative assessment of architectural environment in immersive VR by creating three-dimensional, physically-based scenes rendered in Radiance and used in VR for user preference studies. This particular line of research has resulted in three peer-reviewed publications, with three journal manuscripts and two conference papers in preparation. Based on this work, Sawyer was awarded the Dow Doctoral Fellowship, the Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship, and the Jonathan Speirs Scholarship and medal, and research awards from the Building Technology department at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.

Going forward, Sawyer plans to extend her current research to close the disconnect between measured environmental values, and the users’ sensory and perceptual experience. Additionally, she would like to investigate the effect of kinetic systems and smart materials on occupants’ health, comfort, and circadian rhythm. This inquiry is interdisciplinary, and she has been collaborating with Dr. Jan Wienold, a senior researcher at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and his doctoral student, Kynthia Chamilothori, on the effect of light on perception. Sawyer has also been asked to collaborate with Dr. Ana Baylin, Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences, Epidemiology and Global Health at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health to study the relationship between lighting and obesity (NIH funding pending). To support her own research agenda, Sawyer met with NSF, DOE, and ARPA-E directors regarding the nature of grants offered by different agencies, and would like to pursue the NSF CAREER Program and other appropriate funding sources in the early years of her teaching at the SoA.

As a master’s student at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Sawyer focused on integrating ornamental and complex design with lighting and energy performance criteria and fabrication to highlight the possibilities and challenges of making complex design perform better than standard recommended benchmarks. Her research was published and presented at the International Building Performance Simulation Association conference in Sydney, Australia and awarded the Daniel L. Schodek Award for Technology and Sustainability at Harvard University. Her studies for the Master of Science degree in Architecture focused on the integration of architecture, building technology, survey methodology, and psychology to stress the importance of integrating various fields in the creation of a design to maximize its performance relating to aesthetics, function, physical, and psychological comfort.

Sawyer earned a PhD as a Rackham Predoctoral Fellow in the Building Technology department at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in 2019. She has a Master of Design Studies from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and is the 2011 recipient of the Harvard Daniel L. Schodek Award for Technology and Sustainability. Her research focuses on building skin design, performance, and evaluation. She received a Bachelor of Architecture from California College of the Arts in San Francisco with distinction in 2008, where she received the Technology Book award. Azadeh has been a LEED accredited professional since 2008.