1GB Midterm ’10 \\ Jonathan Henry

I was invited to attend the 1GB midterm review at SCI-Arc on Wednesday. While there I was able to see half of the students from the studio as they were struggling and working on the problems set by their studio. While not all of the students have the same background, these students are in their second semester of ‘architecture’ work. The issues addressed through the brief were quite interesting.

The program was a Recreational Center located just outside the doughnut of highways that create an implied demarcation line around the city proper. The main intent of the brief is a struggle that defines the avant-garde approach.  I myself have fallen, many times, into the trap that their studio was seeking to relieve themselves of. Known as the top down approach, the model for the process of architectural design is easy. Start with a concept. With a well flushed out concept make every move echo your intent. By the end of the design process (i.e. when your instructors give you a deadline) your design will reflect your intent and will be legible, if not to society, to the jury invited.

Rather than creating what you plan on creating, the studio professors sought to use a bottom up approach. What this entails is a kind of wandering exploration through geometry. While some of my classes used formal geometry as the condition to create the unexpected, this studio was utilizing networked and aggregated systems. First, they started with physical explorations. The students went to models without preconceived notions. Stacking, grouping, folding and twisting, the physical models were objects of their own, devoid of architectural intent. Step two was to be critical of your newly emerged conditioned. While some explorations were wildly more successful than others, the next step was to infuse program. They were to take their models and site them with programs of their choice.

Here is a twist. Identifying topologies of objects through the classifications of line, surface, volume; the explorations were categorized and appreciated for what they were. As anybody knows who has worked on the creative fringe of formal geometries, you cannot just take your diagram and put it on the site. Some would caress, some would jam and cram and some just threw it all away in favor of what they already know. Taking a leap into the unknown is no easy feat. With direction from those that came before you blindly follow some procedure that does not fit your understanding of architecture.

I always say that if you are in school and you are a rebel and you rebel against anything anyone tells you, you will never learn. The point of being in school is to broaden your horizons and to seek for other ways of doing things in an effort to learn. Only after appreciating and learning can we be critical. Criticality without understanding is just short sidedness.

The professors left the students with a lot of room to work. Rather than dictating program, the students were allowed to choose their own programs from a matrix of possibilities. The professors were being VERY generous with this open-endedness. The point of this freedom was kind of like asking someone to be your valentine and giving them a box of chocolates. The candy is there to tell you that things are going to work out despite their reservations. To prove that their earlier studies were not in vein the students could choose programs that fit their interests (unfortunately some of the students still needed to do their homework on the specificity required of the programs they chose).

The matrix consisted of [line, surface, volume] in the x direction, and [vertical, horizontal, and differential] in the y direction. From this matrix they could choose the programs that best fit their emergent conditions or choose ones that directly fought it (I am in favor of contrasts as much as the next designer but in this situation if you choose to select programs that are not conducive to your initial studies, then you waste time and waste the opportunity for extracting an emergent condition from them).

What a lot of the students did was to choose programs but not pay attention to the requirements of the programs.  Some used their choices as a way for all geometry to be appropriated. This is an easy way out. These students chose specific programs in order to relinquish program from becoming a design principal. By doing this they are shot in the foot just before the hike leave and will be in the rear of the pack the entire trail.

Precisely what their exploration needs is a critical choice of program. Because program was pushed from the onset, and real buildings are expected as an outcome, the programs they choose will give their formal explorations the  much needed push to change them from concepts to designs. While some students chose well and some chose poorly, out of those that chose well the attention to specifics was lacking.  This problem led some of the jury to suggest more restraints (I agree). Looking towards the final, the students needed more than program to tackle the transformation from the emergent to the designed. Suggestions ranged from multiple ontology, buildings system, structural systems and site conditions. I totally agree. Their next step is to take the fascinating things that they made and poke at them and make the objects do things that they were not intended to do. This would create a feedback loop of emergence.

Final note is that this is one way of attacking the problem of design. In the same way that the brief rails against procedural design, this is just that, a procedure. Follow the suggestions of your professors, they are very talented and have been working at these problems for longer than you knew that they were problems. Explore with intent and have fun. This is just the midterm and a lot of work is still to come and I look forward to seeing the final outcome!

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~ by jonathanhenry on March 4, 2010.

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