Center for Design Research

FutureHAUS, Malawi Project, Impact Design, and more


The Center for Design Research (CDR) links the academy, industry, and design practice by creating opportunities for collaboration through applied research; establishes corporate partnerships and sponsorships within the prospectus of design research; expands capacity by building relationships within the design professions and affiliated industries; initiates collaborative research projects within and beyond the boundaries of the university; and strengthens all areas of research through cross-disciplinary team building, and the integration of teaching and research. The work of the CDR and its participants expands the scope of design and embraces collaboration across many scales and disciplines with the goal of technological innovation and paradigm shifts that enable more with less in ways that have the potential to expand the research of design/designers to influence systemic global impact.

The CDR is embedded within the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and School of Design and serves as a workplace of collaboration where performance criteria co-mingle with cultural forces, and calculation is challenged by societal precepts producing works of use, surprise, and wonder. Through the design studio, the Center establishes the place and occasion for disciplinary collaboration, the simultaneity of teaching and research, the inculcation of research at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the merging of design, technology, business, and society.


The goal of the Center for Design Research is to exploit the untapped territories of opportunity that lie between disciplines and, in so doing, redefine the role of design education through research and expanded engagement with society. The Center has the following objectives:

  • Amplify undergraduate student exposure to design research;
  • Provide new options and increased linkages between the School’s undergraduate and graduate programs through research studies;
  • Strengthen the educational environment of the school by providing exposure to the profession and industry via guest lectures, adjunct researchers, workshops, site visits and intern/externships;
  • Expand collaborative research projects within and beyond the boundaries of the University and strengthen areas of research through this cross-disciplinary team building;
  • Establish corporate partnerships and sponsorships within the prospectus of design research;
  • Increase external corporate funding through the development of new shared interests;
  • Expand capacity to build relationships within the design professions and affiliated industries;
  • Publish developments and innovations to educate the public of the importance and relevance of design research; and
  • Development of intellectual property.


design technology

The CDR Design Technology Initiative provides a comprehensive overview of emerging technologies, their consequences, and potential to inform new opportunities and solve critical challenges in design practice. Areas of focus include Computational Design; Building Information Modeling; Reality Computing; Design Robotics; Digital Fabrication; Additive Manufacturing; Construction Automation; Material Systems; and Interactive Environments.

Computer Aided Design, Engineering, and Manufacturing (CAD, CAE, CAM) tools have become deeply integrated into many aspects art and design practice. Some of these tools have evolved to provide increased design flexibility allowing for the conception and representation of complex geometries that require increasingly differentiated infrastructural systems to produce. Within this context, the CDR leverages state-of-the art resources to address strategic research and technology development that move toward the realization of applied construction systems through novel material processes.

Design Robotics combines analytic research with open-ended discovery and iterative feedback from material experimentation through the use of automated fabrication tools. Here, the robot is used to support the development of new processes or prototyping larger industrial process. This research is made possible by the large format Design Robotics Studio located at the CAUS Research and Demonstration Facility, integrated Design Robotics facilities within the School of Architecture and School of Design, and collaboration with a number of campus laboratories including the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Laboratory.

For more information please contact Dr. Nathan King.

impact design

From urbanization and climate change, to displacement and equity, the biggest problems of the twenty-first century are attracting design professionals with a desire to leverage their skills to create meaningful solutions. Impact Design is an emerging research area  focused on the understanding of design and design processes to impact impact at levels across a range of scales and disciplines. The concentration in Impact Design is centered about defining and evaluating impact from a perspectives related to the environment, education, economy, society, and individual health and happiness. Through a strategic network of partnerships the CDR engages in study related to development; evaluation methodologies; research methods; stakeholder engagement; policy and planning; non-profit management; design thinking; and strategies for engaging the design process to develop innovative- scalable solutions toward a better world.

For more information please contact Dr. Nathan King.


The Virginia Tech FutureHAUS™ is a revolutionary prototype for the home of the future, offering a stunning preview of how digital technologies, cutting-edge products, and smart building design will unite to make our homes more responsive to our future needs and way of living.

Unveiled in four phases — starting with the kitchen in 2015, the bathroom and living room in 2016, and culminating in the bedroom and home office in 2017 — Virginia Tech and our industry partners are showing how smart design and technology can solve universal challenges in home building to make homes of the future more efficient, sustainable, and affordable.

Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS™ research proposes an alternative to conventional construction: a pre-fab delivery method for assembling medium and high-density urban housing, which can be less expensive, safer, energy-efficient, and of the highest quality. Additionally, the advanced electronics that we expect to have in our homes today can be immediately integrated into the construction and assembly process.

Kitchens, bathrooms, audio visual walls, mechanical rooms and closets can be assembled in a factory as plug-and-play “cartridges” that are fully pre-finished, pre-plumbed, and pre-wired. The process creates a controlled environment to integrate and test advanced technologies, electrical, plumbing, and other home systems. Once at the construction site, cartridges can be quickly installed and linked. By moving building of these sophisticated parts off-site, many concerns about scheduling, weather, safety, and waste are eliminated.

For more information please visit the futureHAUS website.

Design and Health

The Design and Health initiative explores the relationship between the design of the built environment and products with global health and the quality of human life around the globe. The immediate and critical global need for improved health has converged with an increasing understanding of the relationship of design and planning with health outcomes, and presents an unprecedented opportunity to re-position designers as leaders in the field of global health. Reserach in Design and Health aligns related research interests, complimentary resources and expertise across campus and beyond, and strategic partnerships with industry, governments, and NGOs to reposition design as a leading force within critical areas of public health –in local, regional, national, and global contexts.

Beyond health outcomes, the development of enhanced design processes offers the potential to bring together disparate groups of stakeholders to enhance economic, social, and environmental impact during the design, construction/manufacturing of health care related infrastructure, products, and systems.

Initiatives in Design and Health are led by Brook Kennedy (Industrial Design) and Dr. Nathan King (Industrial Design and Architecture)

unpublished publications