Last month, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) launched a joint endeavor, the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), at a multimedia exhibition and cocktail reception held at SOM's recently completed 7 World Trade Center. Although the announcement was largely official, the event was designed to celebrate bridging the professional and academic divide for a common cause: sustainable environments.

CASE participants, both master's degree students and doctoral candidates in the Rensselaer School of Architecture's Built Ecologies program, live in the New York City area and work in collaboration with SOM's engineers and architects. The firm is known for pioneering highly integrated building systems, so setting aside the development of green materials, the partnership takes aim at the heart of the sustainability issue-building performance. An ambitious search for new technologies drives CASE researchers and faculty. On the boards: active vegetative wall systems that can reduce excess airborne carbon, electromagnetic daylight filters (based on pixels), and ceramic masonry components tooled to induce cooling.

According to Anna Dyson, director of CASE and of RPI's Built Ecologies program, it is no accident that the word "science" is included in the center's acronym?CASE researchers look to that field for inspiration. "High performance is already radical in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and material sciences," says Dyson. "How can CASE, through these engineers and architects we are already working with, accelerate the pace of innovation?"

For SOM, having the center headquartered in its offices means the firm doesn't have to wait for new systems to hit the marketplace. And CASE will take SOM's global project roster?including buildings in New York City, Shanghai, and Dubai?as subjects of study. Additionally, the program is an opportunity for the firm to cultivate talent on its home turf. SOM is not the first architecture firm to partner with a university, but with the economic, energy, and environmental challenges that continue to engage the design profession, the move is as much strategic as it is part of a greater collaborative trend.