Last Thursday we had our first Transsolar Lounge, and what a (literally) bright and inspirational evening it was! Our special guest, Professor Toby Cumberbatch, shared his work on SociaLite, a student-designed, locally-built solar lantern, and challenged us to think about impacts of climate change on those living in extreme poverty, particularly women. As an engineering professor at the Cooper Union, Toby set up the framework by which students from engineering, art and architecture backgrounds could team up to design solutions addressing energy, water and shelter in the majority world (otherwise known as developing countries) – SocialLite was born from this and has since received numerous grants from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy for its continued development. It is currently being built and used by local residents of various communities in Ghana – I should add that much of the “manufacturing” happens under a mango tree. You can read more here and watch Toby in action at TEDx here.
This jives right in tune with Transsolar Academy, a fellowship program we formed as a result of our “Connect Ideas – Maximize Impact” symposium in 2012, to connect with young architects and engineers in parts of the world where we have had nearly no impact. As we welcome our third class of Academy fellows, not only have we had the honor to share our climate engineering practice with them, but we have also learned immensely from them. Sustainability as we understand it in the western and industrialized world is by no means the same everywhere else. But it doesn’t mean that we should not try to understand how our engineering practices and education could positively affect and, more importantly, be affected by lessons learned from those who have less. As Toby put it, “In the end, it is probably we who have a lot more to learn from these women who live in abject poverty than they have to learn from us…”
Many thanks to Toby for giving spark to our first Transsolar Lounge and to our guests for joining us. We look forward to seeing everyone at the next Lounge!