The Catholic University of America

Architecture Grad Combines Art, Sustainability

After four years of showing his architectural designs to classmates and professors, Chris Urban, B.S. Arch. 2014, saw his work displayed in an entirely new venue this spring: the walls of a museum.

Urban was one of eight CUA undergraduates whose work was chosen to be displayed at the District Architecture Center as part of a spring exhibition, “Professing Architecture: Connecting Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality.”

The displayed works were produced in a Catholic University Sacred Space and Cultural Studies Studio, which explored the ways spiritual, cultural, and functional needs could intersect in various Washington, D.C., buildings. The studio was taught by 2013 Walton Critic Visiting Scholar Claudio Silvestrin, with Associate professor Julio Bermudez and Dean Randall Ott.

For his project, Urban designed a homeless shelter in the Chinatown neighborhood of D.C.

“The basis of the project is disrupting typologies — taking the typology of a building and doing it in a new way, branching out of the box,” Urban said. “So with the homeless shelter, I wanted to give the homeless people a place to go where it’s not just a room with cots in it, where each person has their own room and they kind of have activities to do during the day, to build community and education as well.”

To bring a sacred aspect into his proposed shelter, Urban designed a meditation room, where residents could pray or reflect. He also included a library, dining areas, recreation rooms, an art studio, and sleeping areas for up to 100 people.

The project took Urban an entire semester, during which time he built three-dimensional computer and physical models of his design. His work was exhibited at the District Architecture Center from Feb. 19 to March 25. Seeing his work on display for the public was “very interesting,” Urban said.

“I visited the center a couple of times while it was on display and it was very cool being in there and having random people go and comment on your work, whether it’s bad or good,” he said. “It’s nice to hear different people’s opinions.”

Urban first became interested in architecture when he was a senior in high school. He said when he learned how to use computers to make models of designs in an architecture class, he was hooked.
“It’s a way to bring art into the real world,” he said.

Urban chose Catholic University in part because of its location in Washington, D.C.

“It seemed like somewhere I would want to go, especially for the city,” he said. “Being in D.C. and doing architecture seemed like a good combination.”

Urban will remain at CUA this fall as a graduate student pursuing a dual degree in Emerging Technologies and Media and Sustainable Design. President of the University’s United States Green Building Council student group, Urban has always been interested in sustainability. He says that combining new technology and sustainability will train him to design buildings that are as innovative as they are environmentally sound.

“I like the idea of being able to one day build a building that could give back to the community in a way and be useful,” Urban said. “I’ve always been interested in sustainability as a way to make a building that is not only sustainable, but also beautiful.”


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Chris Urban

Hometown: Monroeville, Pa.

Degree: B.S. in Architecture, 2014

Favorite architects: Modernists like Peter Zumthor and Herzog de Meuron, “It’s hard to describe why I like their work, it just gets me.”

Favorite building in D.C.: The East Gallery of the National Gallery of Art

Best memory from CUA: Studying abroad in Barcelona and being able to travel to Rome