The Faculty Research Recognition Award is one of the highest honors a Pratt faculty member can receive, and the recipient is selected through a vigorous review process led by a committee of Pratt’s Academic Senate. Nominees must exceed the criteria outlined in the following categories: impact, critical review and reception, and a strong connection to the Pratt community.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Dr. Haresh Lalvani in the School of Architecture is the recipient of the Research Recognition Award for the Academic Year 2019–2020. Teaching at Pratt Institute since 1970 and a visionary leader in morphology and experimentation in structural research, Professor Lalvani is truly a Pratt treasure.

In these extraordinary times, Pratt Institute is proud to acknowledge Professor Lalvani for his decades of research and his dedication to excellence that have made Pratt Institute what it is today, a leader in impactful, knowledge-generating research. Please join me in applauding Professor Lalvani for this achievement.

Kirk E. Pillow

Dr. Haresh LalvaniDr. Haresh Lalvani

Dr. Haresh Lalvani is a tenured professor in the School of Architecture at Pratt Institute where he is also the director of the Center for Experimental Structures. He is an internationally recognized architect-morphologist, artist-inventor and design scientist.

He has collaborated across different fields which include computer science, engineering, dance and physics in accordance with the pan-disciplinary scope of his work which includes establishing an international standard in telebiometrics. He is a recipient of grants from NASA, NEA, NYSTAR, Graham Foundation and other agencies. His sculptures are installed in public places in New York and his AlgoRhythms Columns are in the permanent design collection in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Q+A with Dr. Lalvani

Here at Pratt, we have a very broad definition of research and its applications. In regard to your own work, how would you define research?

My work straddles two realms, fundamental research and applied research. It deals with structures and meta-structures. This dual location forces me to look into methods and processes, both physical and conceptual. I have found that doing fundamental research with an application-driven environment of design arts (architecture, design, art) facilitates the discovery of surprising solutions to some problems or to problems that have not yet arisen. The latter define solutions that are looking for problems. I work on both ends of this problem-solution spectrum: problem-first and solution-first.

How has your approach to research changed throughout your career?

My first project with Milgo-Bufkin in 1997 was the direct application of my doctoral thesis to mass-customization. This opportunity to apply theoretical work to industrial production and digital manufacturing was a huge change for me, as was the experience of physical making on larger scales within a factory setting. These changes have had a profound influence on me. Now, I am testing whether some of the principles that we discovered in these experiments with a hard, cold material like metal could apply to ways that nature makes its incredible designs. My intuition says yes, but I need to prove it.

Photo credit: Peter Tannenbaum
What was your most challenging research experience?

The challenges haven’t changed over time and remain the same. The most difficult challenge is to discover the bottom-most level, and do so in an integrated way so that all parts connect in a meaningful whole. Then, you must know that you actually have reached the bottom.

The second most difficult challenge is to translate fundamental research into real-world applications. The emergence of synthetic biologists and nano-techonologists as designers shows that the distance between fundamental and applied research is shrinking. In the work I do, I see a similar shrinkage of the space between fundamental discoveries and applied inventions.

What line of inquiry in your research are you the proudest of?

The discovery of the morphology of morphology i.e. the discovery that form has an underlying form, and the two are self-similar. The higher-dimensional diagrams that I use provide a way to enter design and other disciplines. These diagrams demonstrate that form is a continuum. Form is process. This kind of visual mathematical thinking makes you look at things differently, and can lead to surprising discoveries that combine the quantitative with the qualitative. This diagramming is a new ArtSci.

Where do you imagine your research going in the future?

Living organisms display two overarching design strategies: genetics and evolution. These two have come together spectacularly in a very exciting new field, Evo-Devo (evolutionary developmental biology). Some years ago, I hypothesized the idea of a morphological genome. Besides its implications for design, I am keen to find out if it exists in the real world. The only place is in nature, in living things, and I suspect the answer lies in Evo-Devo. I would like to find out. I am also very interested to see that these ideas reach the wider public, and I have been thinking of it in the context of a future exhibit.