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New Faces: Joshua Vermillion

The architecture professor talks about becoming part of the city’s creative class and learning to embrace messy mistakes.
People  |  Oct 2, 2013  |  By UNLV News Center
Joshua Vermillion, School of Architecture im Lab coordinator (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Joshua Vermillion takes over this fall as the School of Architecture's Sim Lab coordinator. He previously ran a similar lab at Indiana's Ball State University. Vermillion's teaching and research focuses on architectural applications of computational design methods, digital fabrication tools, robotics and responsive systems, advanced materials, and other emerging technologies.


The School of Architecture at UNLV is a young program, and I saw this position as a chance to have a meaningful role in the school's further growth and evolution. Also, Las Vegas is a pretty interesting and brand new place to me. Its location, climate, culture, the Strip, the downtown, the surrounding natural wonders -- all of these suggested that Las Vegas is a good place for someone in the creative class. I've been pleasantly surprised, as well, by how family-friendly Las Vegas is.

Where did you grow up?

The Midwest, in Indiana

What's the biggest misconception about your field?

There are so many misconceptions about architecture out there, it's really hard to pick one. I mean, it's stunning how little the public knows about design as a discipline and the value that good design adds to our lives. It's ironic, really, since we all experience the built environment almost every moment of our lives.

What's the biggest challene in your field?

The U.S. building sector consumes roughly HALF of all of the energy we produce. On top of this, over 25 percent of the waste in our landfills is building-related. The EPA estimates this at about 164 million tons of waste annually.

Those are obviously huge problems that affect every living organism on our planet. My research and teaching interests in high-performance materials, new fabrication and building methods, smarter sensing and responsive building systems, and other emerging technologies are, hopefully, several ways to address these problems.

Proudest moment in your life?

Some combination of my wedding and the births of my two children.

One tip for success?

Learn to embrace failure. "Fail early, fail often" is the mantra I use in the design courses I teach. The design process isn't clean and linear ---- it's messy, iterative, and full of dead-ends. Good design involves a complex negotiation between many competing criteria and constraints. It can't be done well without prototyping, testing, and critical feedback from peers, and failures are a natural and necessary part of that design feedback loop.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I'm probably addicted to social media.

What kind of professor do you want to be known as?

I try to integrate my applied research with coursework -- this presents many opportunities for students to leverage their design and prototyping skills toward tangible projects, to generate new knowledge and intellectual property, and to build bridges to industry. The students I work with are expected to develop their leadership skills, to be entrepreneurial, and to work collaboratively.

I want students to learn about themselves, about their own interests, and to take the initiative to help drive their own educational experience. I learned a lot from my professor and mentor, Kevin Klinger, when it comes to the educator's balancing act between imposing educational outcomes versus allowing a student to construct and understand her/his own outcomes.

What can't you work without?

My iPhone. I'm constantly using it. Actually, I might get more work done without it!

Who is your hero?

Steve Jobs

Pasttime or hobbies?

Not a lot of time for hobbies. I live vicariously through my kids who like to draw, paint, and play sports.

--compiled by Jennifer Vaughan, public relations director for the College of Fine Arts