When Assistant Professor of Architecture David Costanza was in graduate school at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), the war in Iraq was coming to an end, and the prospect of rebuilding that country became a challenging speculative study for an architect interested in alternative building materials. Whereas other countries have abundant resources like wood or limestone, Iraq has oil.
“Most building materials in Iraq were being imported,” Costanza says. “So I started thinking, what would it mean to be able to use its largest natural resource, petroleum, as a building material?”
The result was his master’s thesis, The 100% Petroleum House, which suggested – like a line out of the movie The Graduate – that the future of architecture might be one word: plastics. Now, nearly ten years later, he is still fascinated by plastic and its potential as a structural building material. This semester, he is teaching a seminar, “Made of Plastic,” in which the students will study different plastic manufacturing processes, including robotic 3D printing, and how they might be used to create novel building assemblies that perform structurally. According to Costanza, “The shift from single-use to recyclable plastics, and from nonrenewable synthetic to renewable bio-plastics, position plastics as not only impervious, durable, and affordable, but now also sustainable.”
While Costanza has become an expert in plastic, his love of architecture started with wood. When he was a child growing up in Charlotte, his grandfather would come from Lebanon each year to spend six months with Costanza’s family. His grandfather was a woodworker and would build custom doors and other finish carpentry in a local woodshop, where Costanza would often help out.
“I was always interested in the hands-on aspects of architecture,” he says.
When starting high school, Costanza began to homeschool himself and worked in landscaping to help support his family. They moved to Salt Lake City in 2004, and Costanza started taking architecture classes at the local community college. He eventually went on to earn a B.S. in Architecture from the University of Utah before crossing the country again for graduate school at MIT.
It was at MIT that he became interested in academia – not only as a teaching assistant but also through his work at Höweler+Yoon, the practice in Boston founded by Eric Höweler and Meejin Yoon, who was the first female head of the Department of Architecture at MIT. Costanza saw how the straddling of academia and practice “improved the quality of the work in the office,” he says. Upon finishing his graduate and postgraduate degrees at MIT, he accepted a teaching fellowship at Rice University in Houston, where he taught building technology, among other courses, for four years, revamping the curriculum to incorporate new digital tools and offering a better integration between building technology and design studios.
In 2020, Costanza won the annual Rotch Travelling Scholarship, a historic, prestigious award that supports international travel and research. (View Costanza’s winning design here.) The pandemic has delayed his travel, but he hopes to begin in the fall of 2021, touring to sites where architects “have started to challenge the standards by which architecture is typically materialized,” he says. The first stop is Madrid, to see Ensamble Fabrica by Ensamble Studio.
“I’m hoping to study novel building constructions – buildings that use materials and systems in a non-standard way.” Once the documentation is complete, he intends to compile the research into a book.
Costanza’s integration of computational design strategies and material practice is at the heart of his office, DCS. See that work at his website.