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Portfolio... or something like it Aaron L. Humphrey M.S. in Advanced Architectural Design Columbia University, GSAPP 2013 - 2014



Advanced Studio The Future of Museums in China Event City The New Public

Theory Essay - Utopia here, there and elsewhere

Visual Studies The Topological Study Of Form Simulation of Origin + Tangible Form

Theory Essay - Representation + Interpretation

Other Photography



THE FUTURE OF MUSUEMS IN CHINA Dali Arts Center Critics: Jeffrey Johnson [SLAB] + Pei Zhu [Studio Pei Zhu] Spring 2014


China’s Museum Boom... Concurrent with China’s rapid urbanization is a museum building boom, which is producing an average of approximately 100 new museums a year across the country. In 2011, an astonishing 395 museums were built across China.These iconic structures ment and civic centers, CBD’s and cultural centers, symbolizing the importance of culture in the identity of a new China. With this proliferation of new museums and cultural facilities, are there might mark a shift in how the munew roles – socially, culturally, politically - that the museum is playing? And what new architectural forms and spatial organizations are being invented to accommodate these new ambitions?

With a relatively short history of mu- China is certainly experiencing both seum culture - just over 100 years a boom in new museums and in pop – and one that has experienced ularity. It is a critical moment to as sess the museum, and its potential acceptance, how can the role of the role in contemporary China. With all museum in contemporary China be seums made available to the public, historical continuum of past muse- building them hastily has its um culture? Or is it a radical break consequences. from this tumultuous past? Are museums in China today more products The studio utilized a unique ap of a globalized consumer culture or proach to the design of the project. The intention is to reassert the conditions,traditions and desires? importance of nature and the natu Or both? ral setting of the site into the project. The relationship between building As China strives towards equaling or and nature has throughout China’s surpassing its global counterparts in history been of primary importance. museums per capita, an opportuni- How can this be interpreted today in ty exists to reconsider the museum contemporary China when much of project. As is often found in the his- this relationship has been lost? Addi tory of the museum, new types and forms were developed during times ry architectural condition, the studio of expansion and increased public will study and adapt two contrasting archetypes that are analogous with popularity. historical approaches to architecture in China – the Cave and the Nest.


Permanent/Cave/ Programme





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EVENT CITY New Madison Square Garden Critic: Frederic Levrat [Levrat Design] Spring 2014


Event City:

virtual-visual-physical Initial theories of the relation between the Internet, and urban density had predicted the dislocation of the city. Information and communication would melt the dense city center as information was accessible from any point on the globe.

The city and its plurality has become Recently the New York City Coun the interface between the virtual cil voted to let the lease of Madi and the physical, with architecture son Square Garden expire within 10 years. The Manhattan Arena will between the mind and the body. need to relocate, or to be redesigned within a new masterplan for Penn If the main “raison d’être” for a city is Station. The entire neighborhood is its production of immaterial informa- going through a major change, with But the opposite has proven to be tion, how does the physical consti- the gigantic Hudson Yard develop the rule, as information without con- tution of the city encourage and en- ment, the redesign of Penn Station text is meaningless. It is estimated hance this non physical production? and the phase three of the High Line. that more than half of the world population is living in urban centers. But Madison Square Garden is famous what is the actual purpose of such “Event city”, confronting the dislocat- ly located on top of the most active a high density city at the beginning ed data with the physical and human train Station in the United States. of the XXI Century? Why are we pay- context. Is the Event City a human ori- With 640,000 people a day transit ing so much rent to live in the center ented Network, or an information ori- ing through Penn Station, the West of cities like Paris, New York, Tokyo, ented network? It brings us back to the ern gate to the city needs a major Mumbai or Cairo? initial question, regarding the relation- redesign. But the entire West side ship between the Virtual and the Phys- of Midtown is going through a ma jor transformation. The Hudson Rail into question the notion of “Presence” Yard is being covered and massive towers are currently being built. amid a highly constructed event.








THE NEW PUBLIC Staten Island Museum [in collaboration with Mengfan Fu] Critic: Jing Liu [SO-IL] Summer 2013


What is Public Space? How can architecture make “public space”? A question ever more frequently asked, but never more challenging and divisive. Yet, and probably precisely because of that, “public space” is called for in design briefs for almost all projects where tax or philanthropic monies are being spent. It would be overly cynical to discount these questions as merely disingenuous chatter. But if one considers it a valid yearning for a common purpose, a coherent belief, and attempts to answer to it one should really start with the fundamental question, “what is public now”? Only once we have surveyed the extent of this question, we can follow with “what is public space”?

In the name of democracy, public asks for transparency, for immediate access to the objective “truth”, which is proven to not exist in any empirical form. Therefore, “public” ceases to have a singular image. But then how can “public space” be organized?

We have seen petitions; political movements and even revolution spin out of an online discussion and spread via social networks like wild

nistic at times they offer a radically different imagination from what cur The project was situated under the rently is. They are politically mean writings of Frederic Jameson and his ingful, and point precisely towards idea of “utopia” as it is constructed the direction of our collective uncon on the basis of empirical “texts”, scious. phenomenon, values, behaviors and dreams. To account for these vast methods of consuming and diseminating in With the rapid spread of the inter- formation, our proposal for the new net, younger generations grow up in Staten Island Museum allowed for a world that’s inherently ambivalent multiple readings of the exhibition/li and full of contradictions. Informa- brary by creating a drive-thru, ride-th tion is no longer fed and channeled ru, walk-thru environment. through a pre-existing hierarchical structure or in sequential order. This allows us to move through a vaster landscape of projective narratives. We may now have the recourse to art and culture’s incorrigible ambiguity – its desire to be political, critical or even subversive to the social system of which it is part of.




ESSAY: UTOPIA HERE THERE AND ELSEWHERE Metropolis Critics: Enrique Walker + Marina Otero Summer 2013



Via Verde, in all its self-sustenance, can interact with each other and the world beyond; ; solar panels allow for in all its appropriation of its existing energy cuts adding to the self-sustenance of the building which one can and immediate context, is striving for imagine directly helps the residents. Via Verde recognises that our inherent a perfect society; striving for utopia. differences must coincide with our fundamental similarities; we all desire The 222 residential unit complex in healthy and prosperous lives. With all these qualities that provide for and the South Bronx, a 2013 recipient create such a harmonious sense of place, one can argue that there is a of the AIA Housing Awards, is the result of a collaborative effort be- made painfully obvious by a simple question: is “utopia” synonymous with “perfection”? and Dattner. Via Verde adheres to a simple principle: that its inhabitants’ Many will agree that the two are one and the same and because of their synonymousness, utopia is rendered unattainable. French philosopher Mi architecture itself speaks to this, but chel Foucault claims that utopia is “fundamentally unreal space” for the very more than simply a physical struc- reason that it “presents society itself in a perfected form”. Likewise, Fredric ture, Via Verde provides a metaphysical construct through the architec- though they are also non-existent.” Even Thomas More, the social philos tural elements: there is a central opher who coined the term itself, describes utopia as simultaneously “the courtyard dubbed the “children’s good place” and “the no-place”. To hold utopia to such standards as ‘soci play area” where gatherings can oc- ety perfected’ places it out of reach and thus pointless to discuss, for it will cur; stepped roof gardens to promote simply exist. In a perfect society there is no room for criticism, for difference, healthy lifestyles by encouraging the for individualism; no room for identity. It effectively becomes oppressive and residents residents to grow their own the slightest divergence from the established “utopian” order compromises produce; balconies for almost every the entire system, at which point it is no longer utopia, rather the negative: apartment so neighbours dystopia.

Think writer and director, Kurt Wimmer’s 2002 sciutopian cliché), society has reached a point where the economy is thriving and war and crime have been eradihaving emotion being not only suppressed, but illegal, for it is deemed as “the true source of man’s inhumanity to man.” Individuality is non-existent. Art, in all its forms be it painting, vinyl, books, are literally burned. If someone is caught with illegal substances (in this case art, not drugs, though drugs too are probably illegal since it can be argued they give the user an elevated experience), they too are burned. Burning that which gives us pleasure, and to a greater extent burning those who are deemed offenders, is a true sign of obliteration. No trace order can exist. The utopian ideology of society perfected becomes nothing more than a fascist regime. In the context of the built environment, the totalising nature of the government becomes a physical manifestation of power and oppression. The city is monotone; the colours of choice a hue of greys and blues which further express the depressed nature of society. In this “perfect society”, repetition and symmetry are favoured to that of individual expression, which is made obvious in the architectural style. The buildings are massive blocks, stripping away the human experience. Enormous screens are hung from the buildings while blimps projecting the same art, it is merely a machine used to perpetuate propaganda. To a lesser (but not by much) extent, the oppressive nature of perfection can be seen in the many modernist attempts at creating a utopian society – Le Corbusier’s City For 3 Million or the Smithson’s East Berlin proposal of 1958 come to mind.

Richard Rhinehart, director of the Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University, points out that the post-moderns critiqued (quite rightfully) the modernist movement, by exposing their “inability to recognise difference.” The modernist essentially failed because their attempts were more totalising than utopic. He goes on to say that they were so totalising that “they could not even recognise difference between themselves” which “might have ended them even without the post-modern intervention.” This is the root of the concern. One can argue that once more than one person is being catered to, perfection is immediately taken out of the equation. Architectural utopia, or at the very least contemporary architectural utopia, does not have to totally disregard the modernist view of creating a better world. Yet it has to acknowledge, or as Rhinehart says “reconcile” the universal with difference. al, not a perfection. Catering to both the universal and the individual is a formidable task, a task which Via Verde not only underwent, dividuality. A far cry from the drab brick-laden buildings ment, aluminium and wood panels. Even the windows are treated to a splash of colour which add a sense of personality to the architecture. As a universal ideology however, it anchors the neighbourhood as a place for fresh and new development in an area that once had a notoriously bad reputation. It is at once isolated and public, a phenomena site where “one must have certain permission” to enter. In response to Foucault one can say yes. And no. Via Verde, despite appropriating its immediate surroundings, despite encouraging an interaction with the public realm, and even

despite its grand archways which seem to welcome residents and visitors into its walls, is sealed by a metal gate, an unfortunate element which does not speak to the architecture as a whole and honestly seems like an add-on for safety reasons, and not a choice by the archiYou need a key or passcode to enter. “Certain permission.” But why create a new terminology to describe this phenomena? Who decided that utopia is to be placed on a pedestal, never to be obtained, and we have to settle for “a kind of enacted utopia”? But more important, when and why did we all agree? Why can’t utopia exist in various forms in various locations for various reasons? One can look closer at what Grimshaw and Dattner have accomplished with their housing apartments. It is a grave understatement to say that Via Verde’s success is quite and overcome to achieve its utopia (and I contest it is a utoCity is far removed from the culture of Ethiopia. Regardless, Via Verde can be used as a template to tackle the challenge of creating a contemporary utopia, not just for the Bronx, but for the city and to an even larger context, society as a Via Verde may not translate exactly to a larger context, but the ideology of creating a space, rather place that strives to enrich its surroundings can be attributed to society. Utopia does not have to be totalising. It can acknowledge and accept that it is not perfect, but through that inherent imperfection it can grow and adapt. It can change on a whim when change is deemed necessary. It can take the form of A in one location, and B in another. It can transform itself as technology evolves and mature as a generation develops.

Like the icon of the South Bronx, utopia can attribute the qualities inherent to its site, and not only use them, but improve on them, to eventually enrich the qualities themselves. Which will bring Via Verde full circle; by appropriating from its existing context, the societal context can thus appropriate from Via Verde.


THE TOPOLOGICAL STUDY OF FORM Fluid Dynamics Critic: Jose Isaias Sanchez Fall 2013


Architectural form has traditionally been implemented neglecting the mathematical substratum of post-Euclidean geometry. With the advent of advanced time-based computer modeling techniques, architects are able herent dynamics of the architectural program can therefore generate both, traditional relationship diagrams and form. Since these diagrams carry the ever-changing programmatic behavior of a building, generative geometry derived from diagrammatic programmatic connections allows designers to generate and drive geometrical formations. Traditional line-based systems can also generate a structure of forms that incorporate architectural space-form relations. Based on this approach to design, morphology can be studied using the time-based mathematical models inherent in modern software-based digital tools.




SIMULATION OF ORIGIN + TANGIBLE FORM Fluid Dynamics Continued Critic: Jose Isaias Sanchez Fall 2013


The goal is to undertake simulation as the origin of a reality, not as a representation of a formal construct, which can deal with the generation of behavioral models and abstract events without a tactile origin, hence avoiding representing an environment or event. The simulation gives origin to sequential representation of an unknown event that progressively yields to the generation of a tangible visual fabric. In architecture, form abstraction is not always accomplished from a geometry derivative. The concept of abstraction from other disciplines can be investigated and used as a substrate for the generation of tangible form. Abstract visualization no longer precedes geometrical systems as it can be translated into geometrical structures.



ESSAY: REPRESENTATION + INTERPRETATION 12 Dialogical and Poetic Strategies Critic: Yehuda Safran Fall 2013

REPRESENTATION + INTERPRETATION Peter Eisenman, an American ar- role has move beyond mere shelter; it should, as architect Jacques Herzog chitect, says in “Visions’ Unfolding: Architecture in the Age of Electron- senses” (more on this later). ic Media” that “The electronic paradigm directs a powerful challenge Admittedly, I am concerned with an architecture that lies within the in be tween; the continuing ambiguity that is resulted when the cognitive and reality in terms of media and simu- sub-cognitive worlds begin to mesh. I am also concerned with the idea of a lation, it values appearance over existence.” It can be argued that there ture means to us; that the architect alone cannot dictate what his creation is exactly. “For instance, one can see, or persuade others to see, all sorts of “reality,” and because of this our of shapes in a cloud: a horse, a human body, a dragon, a face, a palace, perception on what is in fact real is and so on. Any prospect or object of the Physical world can be treated in bound to be affected. Though I ac- this manner, from which the proposed conclusion is that it is impossible to cept that the line between what is in concede any value whatsoever to immediate reality, since it may represent fact real and what is considered un- or mean anything at all” – Marcel Jean, French surrealist. Yet, I am primarily real has become blurred, I disagree concerned with place. Paul Goldberger, an architectural critic, once asked with Eisenman. Architecture is not “In an age where technology allows you to be anywhere, then what does it “challenged” by the electronic par- mean to be somewhere?” adigm, rather, architecture has the ability to work with the electronic par- Norberg-Schulz tells us that place is “an integral part of existence” that it is adigm, and in many ways it already “meaningless to imagine any happening without reference to a locality,” but does. Though I contest that architec- to say exactly what place is still poses a challenge. One can argue that this “reference to locality” has been made possible due to architecture, for as our body’s spatial experience, its Peter Eisenman also tells us “architecture has traditionally been a bastion

of what is considered to be real.” Yet I believe we currently exist in a world where nothing is absolute, where concepts of reality are challenged and pushed every day. Thus, while acknowledging its importance and relevance, we have to look outside architecture to get a better grasp on what it means to be, and how we represent being. In this essay I will attempt to situate “the representation and interpretation of being” and what it means - or rather could mean - in regards to reality (and to a further extent, architecture), through the use of various scholars and thinkers, but more relevantly, through the use of contemporary cinema. I contest that no other form of media has explored the idea of blurring the distinction between perceptual reality and virtual reality as much as cinema has. As such, no other form of media has challenged the notion of representation and interpretation as much as argue it can now simply be called research) where nofetched years ago, are radically challenged today. To represent something inevitably means we must then interpret it, for if there is some form of representation, then there is some meaning involved that must be uprooted. Unlike abstraction, which simply is for the sake of it, representation alludes to their being layers of understanding which is to be revealed upon investigation. Lebbeus Woods, an American artist and thinker, gives a where he says “Representation occurs when one thing, say, colours smeared on a canvas, makes us think of something else, say, a mountain valley at sunset. Abstraction occurs when one thing, say, colours smeared on a canvas, makes us think of, well, colours smeared

on a canvas.” Firstly, allow me to frame what I mean by perceptual and virtual reality. Perceptual reality is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of cognition - due to its perceived lack of existence since we mostly take it for granted. Yet one can argue that perceptual space is that space where we are most powerfully affected, emotionally and physically. Affecting our subjective experience, perceptual space is that view of things that occur at a particular time in respect to the individual - it is thus our “waking life”. We navigate and orient ourselves within this space. The enand decoded, stored and recalled. One can say perceptual space is the “space of current reality.” Architecture, is deeply invested in this space, through which matter, tions, space and place comprise a continuous spectrum. On the other hand, virtual space expands beyond the colloquial understanding of computer-simulated environments, to include the more sub-cognitive notion of cinema, dreams and the dream world. This virtual space can be very similar to perceptual space in terms of how “real” it appears, yet it can also have powerful effects on our emotional state, being “real” in terms of how one feels and not necessarily how the virtual environment appears. In virtual space, everything that can be conceived becomes, in its own right, a reality. For instance, when we dream there are no limitations as to what could happen. We are not bound by the rules of our “current reality”. tion from architecture, dreams, representation and interpretation; Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Inception shows an architect folding the city of Paris unto itself. In virtual space architecture conforms to the interests of the beholder. It can exist without doors and hallways, yet we can easily progress to the next room, where the next room is always where it needs to be and exactly what it needs to be. Before diving further into the movie itself, let us estaba representation of an “other.” It is both real and not real. Existing in a virtual space all of its own, there is a It is not here, with us, now, though we have the ability to watch it whenever, wherever we want. Which makes the example I cited about the folding of Paris even more peculiar. We are separated by not only the mediate of dream. An interesting and obvious enigma, but one that must be called out. Cobb, a professional thief and former architect who, along with his partner Arthur, specialises in stealing process known as extraction. We are introduced to the pair on their latest mission, extracting information from the dream of a Japanese mogul named Saito, who, as it turns out, was auditioning them to perform the highly dangerous task of inception – planting an idea in a victim’s mind that will take root and spread like a virus, fundamentally altering the way the victim behaves and thinks. At its a core, Inception is a heist movie that uses dreams as a plot device. But truthfully, a multitude of questions arise when one fully appreciates the oneiric themes, not

merely as a plot device, but as a critique on our ideas of representation and interpretation. What Inception was able to accomplish on a Hollywood scale, is something we have already known, but probably not able to articulate. It allowed us to question our already imbedded knowledge: is a dream in fact not “real”? Foucault describes dreams as idios, solely mine, as oppose to the world, tout court, which is ours. Yet the shared experience that we all have is the feeling we have during our dreams. Can we not see, smell, touch, hear, taste, and being tells us what we are experiencing when we dream is real, does the fact that it does not occur in perceptual space make it any less emotionally valid; any less real? Our dreams therefore are not mere representations of our waking world; they exist in their own world. They are. One can argue that their existence affects our waking life as much as our waking life affects their existence. Foucault continues to say that “man has known, since antiquity, that in dreams he encounters what he is and what he will be, what he has done and what he is going to do, discovering there the knot that ties his freedom to the necessity of the world.” A strangely familiar yet oddly opposite link can be formed between Foucault’s position and Inception. law and cannot return to his home in America as he has been implicated in the murder of his dead wife, but if Cobb and his associates accept the mission presented charges, allowing him to return to his home and his children. Throughout the movie, the audience is reminded of the dilemma Cobb faces: because of the guilt he has over his dead wife, and the pain he suffers through his work, he often does not know if he is actually awake or

still dreaming. To test which state of consciousness – which state of reality – he is in, Cobb uses his totem; a small spinning top that keeps spinning if he is dreaming, (though even personal reality itself is questioned in the prisoner of a “false reality”. Where Foucault tells us that it is through our dreams we discover the knot that ties our freedom to the necessity of the world, in Inception, the dream is the ultimate antagonist; it is the one thing that is always questioned, that Cobb is always trying to escape. It should be stated that the movie itself performs a kind ed about moments in recent cinema. After completing his mission and returning home to his children, Cobb gets to check it when his children call out for him. The camera zooms in on the top as it spins and just as the audience is on the edge of their seats, wondering whether or not the top will fall, the image cuts to black and the movie ends. The imagery is powerful, not only because the results of the spinning top will signify if Cobb did indeed return home or is stuck in a perpetual dream, but because it places us in the same predicament Cobb is in. What the cut to black represents (and this is the difal dreams) is our yearning for closure; our need to know. What is essential here then is not if Cobb made it home, but whether or not we, the audience, are aware of our own existence; are aware of our own understanding of -

deeper meaning or a clearer understanding? We thus question our own grasp on what is real; a dangerous thing, for – and if I may be so bold – as Descartes tells us, the only knowledge that we can trust is our own, hence his famous dictum cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes’ argument is that everything, including reality, is doubtful. But by thinking about, even doubting in for once you think, you think of something. Descartes’ stance can also be seen interpreted in another contemporary cinematic piece: The Matrix. The Matrix takes place in a cyber-punk future and depicts a world after a 21st century war between humans and machines, with the latter being the victor and enslaving humans, trapping them in a virtual simulation of 1999, from. Human existence is thus merely a façade; a ruse; a dream world. Or so we are told. It is contrary then that we are also told that if one dies in the Matrix, that person dies in “real life” because “the mind makes it real.” So what then is real? Is it the world “re-presented” to those whose minds are still trapped in the Matrix, or is it the cold, desolate world that their bodies (and only their bodies) physically exist in? When the main protagonist ask this very question – what is real – the response he receives is rather contriving: “If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” It is interesting to note then that in neurobiological terms, “‘reality’ is little more than a representational model of

the world, a construct generated by multiple neural circuits acting in parallel. This model is based on sensory experiences received by the brain via the senses, which can detect only the narrowest range of stimuli.” But is it truly merely a “representational model”? If so, if our reality is only a representation – an enacted matrix (the comparison to Inception is intentional) – when does our view of reality simply considered to be? I say that acknowledging that it is a loaded question, for the state of “being” is simultaneously universal and obscure. So how then can reality be framed in a term which is – and has As Martin Heidegger puts it, Da-sein, that state of “beingwhat being means […] when we ask “What is being?” we stand in an understanding of the “is” without being able to determine conceptually what the “is” means.” Foucault surmises that Da-sein can be described as “presence-to-the-world” , and though I do not attempt to analyse either Foucault’s or Heidegger’s work in depth, I do postulate that this “presence-to-the-world”, this Da-sein, is somehow located in our dream state; that state mentioned earlier where we belong, were we be. It is not a representation, meaning we cannot interpret it, at least not in the traditional sense. Of course there exists a plethora of texts, documentaries, etc, interpreting what dreams mean, but that seems to be only in hindsight. When we are situated in our dream, there is no mediate; we thus have an immediate experience, and that phenomena is quite extraordinary. So what is real? Sadly, in spite of all my rhetoric, I still do not have the answer. Or perhaps I may indeed know the answer yet cannot articulate it in a way that is both simple and cohesive.

resenting what we believe to be real, then perhaps one day, after intense interpretation, we may discover what we have always known. What that is exactly, is left to be said.


OTHER Photography Critic: Myself Spring 2014






Architecture Portfolio Columbia GSAPP MSAAD 2014  

A selection of my graduate work at Columbia's GSAPP. Master's of Science in Advanced Architectural Design, 2013-2014.

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