Architecture professor explores alternate endings for buildings materials

In a world that can be messy and chaotic, Ang Li looks for loops and loopholes. That is, loops in the life cycle of buildings and building materials, and loopholes where architects like her can intervene to make the process better—more sustainable, more equitable, more closely tied to the history of the community.

“We normally think of architects as people who come in at the beginning of a project and take a building through to completion and then leave,” said Li, assistant professor of architecture in the College of Arts, Media and Design. “Then the building gets occupied and takes on its intended use. I’m interested in what happens when a designer enters at that point in the project and sees a building through the maintenance of its entire lifespan and its demolition and what happens to the materials afterward.”

Li, who joined Northeastern’s faculty this fall, said this approach—considering the entire life cycle of a building—is partially in response to today’s economic and ecological climate.

“I see an increasing environmental consciousness in architecture in general, where you’re looking at buildings not just as static objects but as a sort of cyclical and durational process,” she said. “We live in a very different economic time now than we did in say, the ’90s, and the current climate doesn’t encourage the same kind of building from the ground up on a clean slate that it used to.”

Li is part of a shift in her field toward coming up with new models of practicing architecture that involve adaptive reuse or post-occupancy questions, an interest she also sees in a lot of her students.