Maria Bninski, AIA is the recipient of VMDO’s inaugural travel scholarship – an annual award that gives promising young designers the opportunity to pursue unique investigations into architectural topics that are of particular interest to them. This fall, Maria will be traveling to London to study ceiling architecture from the 1500s to present day. While there, she will search for ways to shake the daily practice of architecture loose from the assumption of the suspended ceiling grid as the inevitable mediating surface between “systems” and “space.”
As she astutely describes in her scholarship submission: “The ceiling, the surface beyond our reach, has always been burdened with significant responsibilities. Today the demands of lighting, acoustics, and mechanical systems have forced us into an often subservient position from which architectural aspiration appears to be the act of shopping for an alternative ceiling panel product.”
Previously used to display art, iconography, religious devotion, societal values, and political dissent, the ceiling has moved from a place of art and expression to one primarily defined by concealment and technical coordination. Maria will be investigating alternatives to this limited paradigm in ceiling design through in situ or “on site” study, reflection, and technical assessment. Ultimately, she would like to help move the field “from a mode of consumption to one of productive intention” and has proposed a search for generative ideas that begin to upend current architectural thinking and practice related to ceilings.
From the Tudor-era Henry VII Chapel to the modern British Museum Courtyard and Gasholder Park at King’s Cross, Maria will study a range of approaches to ceiling design – from gothic fan vaults and brutalist slabs to sky-lit ceilings and open-air structures. In addition to logging observations through writing, hand drawings, photographs, dimensions, sound measurements, and acoustical recordings, Maria will also develop a lexicon for analyzing patterns across time and place to help assess where we are now and where we have yet to go.
VMDO’s travel scholarship is intended to support an autonomous and self-directed course of study that complements and furthers the work being done in the office. As such, Maria will apply her findings abroad to enrich research efforts at home through a publication as well as a firm-wide presentation. Maria explains: “I’m excited and honored to have received this scholarship, and hope to bring back findings that are fruitful for all of us at VMDO and beyond. I can’t wait to see the contributions of future recipients as well. I think this travel scholarship is a wonderful, catalytic program that will take the culture of learning and discovery that we have here to the next level.”