Princeton Fung Fellow wins 2021 RIBA President’s Medal for Research

Jan. 25, 2022

Wesam Al Asali, design and innovation lead at IWlab and a 2021-2022 Princeton University Fung Fellow, has been awarded the 2021 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) President’s Medal for Research in the History and Theory category. 

Al Asali’s research project, “Beyond the National Art Schools: Thin-tile Vaulting in Cuba After the Revolution,” was conducted in collaboration with Michael Ramage, director of the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at the University of Cambridge, and Dania González Couret, professor of architecture at Universidad Tecnológica de la Habana. 

Their project draws on extensive research in the Ministry of Construction (MICONS) archives, as well as site visits, interviews, and digital modeling, and provides a nuanced account of the history of architecture in post-revolutionary Cuba. 

“It is a reminder that construction history is instrumental in learning about sustainable designs under the climate crisis,” Al Asali said of his award. “Stories about architects working around material and technology limitations in the Global South need to be heard and developed. We look forward to translating our research into buildings.”

The RIBA President’s Awards for Research celebrates research in the fields of architecture and the built environment. 

Al Asali received his Ph.D. from the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at University of Cambridge, where he worked on policy, training and design strategies of thin-tile vaulting for low-carbon construction. Through material and building technologies and cultural and social studies, his work investigates and proposes possible grassroots design practices in the context of climate emergencies. During his fellowship year, he is working on his new project, “Cultures of Making,” which investigates the environmental approach behind scarcity-driven informal and vernacular architecture in the Middle East. After his fellowship, Al Asali will be an assistant professors at the IE School of Architecture and Design in Madrid, Spain.

The Fung Global Fellows Program is administered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) and brings together international research scholars around a common topic. The program is funded by a portion of a $10 million gift from Princeton 1970 alumnus William Fung of Hong Kong that is designed to substantially increase the University’s engagement with scholars around the world and inspire ideas that transcend borders.