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Big Orange. Big Ideas. They’re fueling UT Knoxville on its journey to become a Top 25 research university. Here are two faculty members who are bringing big ideas to life in the classroom, through their research, and through community service.

John McRae

John McRae
McRae in Haiti.

Shortly after a massive earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, a group of UT students and faculty formed a team to plan a secondary school complex for Fond-des-Blancs, an area that saw a large infusion of relatives and others seeking refuge from Port-Au-Prince.

Led by Professor John McRae, former dean of the College of Architecture and Design, the Haiti Project is a collaboration of students and faculty from the College of Architecture and Design and the College of Engineering.

For the past two years, McRae along with students and faculty have traveled back and forth to Fond-des-Blancs to develop the school’s schematic design and construction plans.

The boarding school, which will accommodate about 500 students, is scheduled for completion in the fall. This year, the Haiti Project studio class began working on additional designs for faculty and staff housing for the school.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work directly with the Haitian community,” said McRae. “Education is one of the most important opportunities these children will have. It’s also one of the most important opportunities from which Haiti can gain strength and advance.”

Scott Poole, dean of the College of Architecture and Design, said McRae’s Haiti Project studio class has had “an immense impact on our students.

“Not only are they designing and building works that will influence many generations of Haitians, they are realizing the value of service and its power to positively influence lives and the world,” he said.

McRae came to UT in 2005 as dean of the college; however, he stepped down last year and returned to the faculty.

McRae Monster
One of McRae's ceramic monster sculptures.

Before arriving at UT, McRae was the senior director of grants and development for the American Institute of Architects. He served as the dean of the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University for fourteen years and held faculty and administrative positions in the University of Florida’s College of Architecture for twenty years.

In 2008, McRae received the Architectural Research Centers Consortium James Haecker Distinguished Leadership Award for his contributions to the growth of research culture in architecture and related fields.

When he’s not teaching or building schools in disaster-stricken areas, McRae enjoys creating ceramic sculptures, or, “monstrosities,” as he calls them. He also is working on illustrated children’s stories with his colleague Jona Shehu.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in architecture from Rice University.

Edgar Stach

Last month professor Edgar Starch became the first faculty member from the College of Architecture and Design to receive a joint appointment with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Edgar Stach
Stach at the Living Light house, during its construction on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

During the yearlong appointment, Stach will work on finding cost-effective technologies to make both new and older buildings more energy efficient.

Sustainability and ecological sensitivity are Stach’s focus areas. He founded UT Zero, a multidisciplinary team with the goal to develop new technologies for zero- energy building, and UT’s Institute for Smart Structures, which brings material science, engineering, and architecture disciplines together to find cost-effective, energy-efficient solutions for the building sector.

“Professor Stach has led the way for our university in the research and application of energy-saving technologies for the built world around us,” said Poole. “His concern for the build environment is reflected in his practice, teaching, and research, which has earned him international recognition through the years.”

Stach recently wrapped up two years of helping to lead Team Living Light, UT’s student and faculty team that competed in the US Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon. The project involved more than 300 students from nine academic programs in planning, designing, and building a 750-square-foot zero-energy home. About forty members of the team transported the home to the National Mall in Washington, DC, where they finished eighth among twenty teams from around the world.

“We were proud of our outcome in DC,” said Stach. “The high caliber of our faculty and the enthusiasm and dedication of our students allowed us to excel in several of the individual events, placing in the top five in five categories. They took the project from conception to implementation and devised new methodologies for energy-efficient construction and design. As the Living Light house tours the region, I look forward to how the students can learn to challenge what they’ve already accomplished.”

In 2008, Stach received the Education Award for Excellence in Teaching from the American Institute of Architects for his Smart Structures project—a collaborative effort between UT and European architecture students. In 2009, he was named a James R. Cox Professor, a university honor for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service.

Before coming to UT in 1999, he taught for five years at Bauhaus University Weimar in Germany. He is a co-founder of Architekten Klinkhammer and Stach, an architecture firm based in both Cologne and Weimar, Germany.

Stach holds a master’s degree from the Rheinisch Westfälish Technische Hochschule University in Aachen, Germany.