SOM Foundation Announces 2021 Structural Engineering Fellowship Winner

The SOM Foundation is pleased to announce the winner of the 2021 Structural Engineering Fellowship. Michelle Chang will receive $20,000 to conduct original research. This year’s topic, “Examining Social Justice in Urban Contexts,” encouraged applicants to explore and identify long-term policies, immediate actions, and comprehensive plans which have the potential to shape a more equitable and sustainable future. Chang’s proposal, “Decolonizing Urban Landscapes: Reclaiming a Black and Indigenous Right to the City through Structural Design,” aims to study exemplary structures in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand that address race relations in both process and form.

Michelle Chang is a master’s student studying structural engineering at the University of Washington. She received her BS in Civil Engineering from Princeton University in 2016 with a joint focus on structures and architecture. After completing her undergraduate degree, Chang worked as a field engineer in construction in Los Angeles. She then returned to school to further her formal engineering education in earthquake engineering. For part of her master’s degree program, Chang is currently researching column-to-drilled-shaft connections for reinforced concrete bridges in seismic regions.

“I am thrilled to receive the 2021 SOM Foundation Structural Engineering Fellowship,” said Chang. “In particular, I am excited to study the intersection of social justice and the built environment in a global setting. I believe that the true perception of a structure cannot be achieved solely through readings and photographs; in order to be fully understood, a structure must be experienced firsthand within its physical and symbolic contexts. Just as our human experiences and identities are multidimensional, so are our structures. This fellowship will allow me to engage with underrepresented designers and their works, learn how structures can impact equity and inclusivity, and apply my learnings into practice.”

This year’s jury was chaired by Charles Besjak (Director of Structural Engineering at SOM, New York City) and included Justin Davidson (Architecture and Classical Music Critic for New York magazine and author of Magnetic City: A Walking Companion to New York), David Farnsworth (Principal and Americas Tall Buildings Business Leader at Arup, New York City), and Sabrina Kanner (Executive Vice President and Head of Design and Construction at Brookfield Properties, New York City).

Sabrina Kanner commented that Chang’s proposal is “a thoughtful plan to study a holistic approach to equitable planning, design, and problem solving in the practice of ethical structural engineering.” It includes projects that have “demonstrated improving or correcting social injustices through community outreach, practicing inclusivity when assembling the design team, and physical connections that provide access to all spaces for all people, all while considering issues of sustainability,” things that Kanner sees as “critical to understanding and reversing flaws in the conventional approach to the engineering/planning process.”

Read the Proposal