In this studio course particular attention will be paid to the realm of material manifestation as a critical juncture in the formulation of architecture. In the concern for the materials of building and the manners of construction the architect commits speculation to action; attempts to convert intention into palpable reality. It is here that architecture is most fully and deliberately engaged with the world and here that architecture initiates the world's response in turn. It seems clear, however, from even casual observation that while this subject matter may be vital it is oftentimes treated as a marginal concern. The class begins with the assumption that a denial of Architecture's material potential seriously undermines architecture's value in society (and raises fundamental questions about the legitimacy of our profession more generally) and in contrast, the embrace of architecture’s material reality unlocks its potential for wonder and delight.
This studio poses the proposition that the artifact of building possesses intrinsic meaning and value, not reduceable to a text in its conception. It aims to mine those material, physical qualities so as to rescue them from the yoke of illustration; to present a fresh orientation and an avenue for design.
Starting with Things…
Architects are always thinking about places and landscapes, culture and living, history and time. Every project has its program and site. These are particular and explicit, and every building is designed in response to these specific concerns. However, there are other inclinations that are also present and provide continuity in an architect’s work. One might have an interest in presence, character or identity; in purpose and usefulness; in time, memory or tradition; in making and materials. These predispositions come from another place than the architect’s response to explicit circumstances and betray a powerful guide to their work.
Architects are curious about and engaged with the physical world and, it seems, almost always surround themselves with things. Things tend to be a daily presence in our lives; they sit on our desks, appear on our bookshelves and materialize around our studios. Some are relics of our past or from our travels. Others are representative of the materials or workmanship that inspire us. Others still simply spark our imagination. There are many characteristics of our things that cannot be experienced through photographs of them – the immense weight of a bronze maquette, the acrid odor of a candle burning, the resistance of a circuit breaker, the bright ring of a bell, the balance and fit of a tool in one’s hand, or the movement of crystals when light reflects off of them, for example. These physical and atmospheric qualities are even more poignant when posed against the weight of the visual.
Things are meaningful in and of themselves. They have immutable physical properties. Some things are significant because they have a history. A stone from the Western Wall in Jerusalem is no longer an ordinary piece of limestone; it is a sentinel, a marker of time and a witness to a place. A barn raised by a village is not the same as one contracted with a builder; it contains the aspirations and the effort of a community. These are not representative things; they are real, authentic. They contain knowledge, craft, work, history, events – all embedded in the artifact itself. Moreover, history is continuously made and prompted by things, and their meaning evolves with time (don’t we all know that feeling of something being different once we know what it was used for or where it has been?). And beauty is there in our things too….
These things that we cherish open a door to our creative process beyond words and diagrams. They betray who we are and what we value – and point to our personal positions and interests. They highlight the tendencies of our work beyond our response to explicit circumstances.
Project 1: taking things seriously
Project 2: building as a noun; building as a verb: a room
Project 3: building a container of things