Possible Mediums

Page 1

Published by Actar Publishers, New York, Barcelona Editors Kelly Bair, Kristy Balliet, Adam Fure, Kyle Miller Associate Editor Courtney Coffman

ISBN: 9781940291963 A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., USA PCN: 2018931568

Graphic Design Sean Yendrys

All rights reserved. Text and images Š 2018 by their authors.

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165 SPATIAL FLICKERING Bryony Roberts 167 THE NINE-SQUARE GRID AS CREATIVITY MACHINE Alex Maymind 169 LINE BUILDING Kyle Reynolds 171 MYTHS, FAIRY TALES, AND NARRATIONS Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer 173 SIX OBSERVATIONS ON PATTERN David Freeland and Brennan Buck






PREFACE NOTES FROM THE MIDDLE Kelly Bair, Kristy Balliet, Adam Fure, Kyle Miller

Like countless others, this collaboration began as a small group of likeminded people who came together to share their work and interests in architecture. At the outset, we recognized commonalities in that we all studied at the University of California Los Angeles and taught in the American Midwest. When we first travelled to each other’s schools for reviews and events, we uncovered yet another similarity: our home institutions— University of Illinois at Chicago, The Ohio State University, University of Michigan, and University of Kentucky—had a wealth of young faculty using experimental techniques to challenge the conventional mediums of architectural design. Comics and toys showed up alongside perspectives and models; orthographic drawings not only depicted space, they crafted optical tricks; and exotic textures coated objects of all shapes and sizes. With each cartoon, visual riddle, and fuzzy thing we encountered, it occurred to us that something significant was happening in the middle of the country. We quickly developed a desire to mark this moment. And so, in the summer of 2012, we initiated the Possible Mediums project and started planning the first event: a conference with workshops and public conversations. The work of our invited participants presented an initial challenge: how do we classify such diverse projects? Academic conferences commonly require tight themes and the body of work we sought to assemble included balloons, rocks, kites, foam animals, and bagpipes, among other things. We turned to another curious list for insight, a “certain Chinese encyclopedia” that French Philosopher Michel Foucault encountered in the writings of author Jorge Luis Borges, which informed the preface of his seminal text, The Order of Things. In an essay from 1942, titled “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Borges cites the ancient Chinese classification system that divides animals into such categories as: “embalmed ones,” “suckling pigs,” “mermaids (or sirens),” “fabulous ones,” “stray dogs,” “those that have just broken the flower vase,” “those that, at a distance, resemble flies,” and so on. The absurdity of this list is readily apparent as the conventions of taxonomy 16

expected in an encyclopedia disappear; in its place are biological entities followed by imagined ones—presumed facts juxtaposed with overt fictions. The list not only caused Foucault to burst into laughter, but also reflect upon epistemology. He began to question the basis upon which any culture gives order to the world around them. For Foucault, beneath any classification system is a stable datum—“table” or “tabula”—that allows for observations of similarity and difference to become systems of order. The table is the foundation of knowledge. Borges’ absurd list does away with the table altogether as it is impossible to conceive of any steady ground upon which these particular entities could be gathered. The dissolution of a steady ground upon which things can be ordered resonated with us. The delightfully weird work of our colleagues challenged preconceived notions of order. We were educated at a time when there was a relatively stable foundation for assessment—namely, digital techniques and technology. The entry of the personal computer into the design studio during the 1990s initiated a wave of experimental work that affected architectural education. The computer’s potential for novelty compelled schools across the country to rewrite their curriculum in an attempt to rethink design pedagogy. The work that emerged was evaluated in terms of technical mastery with great attention paid to the level of control in the design process. An arms race of technical virtuosity preoccupied schools of architecture for the better part of the early 2000s, but subsided by the end of the decade. As digital proficiency turned commonplace, it was no longer a sufficient claim to novelty. Digital design diverged into separate tracks, each with their own expertise and internal discourse, such as digital fabrication, algorithmic scripting, and aesthetics. The latter saw computationallyderived topological forms assessed in classical aesthetic terms—such as beauty, elegance, or the grotesque—while the former veered toward scientific research. The “Digital Turn” that once dominated the 1990s and early 2000s started to dissolve, and the fragments of new orders and things emerged in its wake.1 Many of these fragments were created by our colleagues, developed in the student work at our respective institutions, and brought together through Possible Mediums. When initiating the project, we asked what structure would produce meaningful arrangements between such a variety of projects? On what terms will this work be discussed and evolve? What will be the tone of this conversation? Who will partake? After much deliberation on how to guide our efforts, we settled on a few key principles: collectivity, communication, and design. Collectivity. The Possible Mediums project is neither reducible to one strain of investigation, nor to select individuals. We began as a group of four, but quickly grew to 16, then to 25, and now have over 40 project contributors. In order to mobilize the current energy surrounding experimental design, we embrace a wide range of approaches. The 2013 Possible Mediums conference included twelve design workshops over four days, located sideby-side in the Knowlton Hall Center Space at The Ohio State University. Public conversations with workshop leaders occurred twice a day. The workshop sessions culminated in a roving review with John McMorrough, 17

and a large audience of practitioners, professors, and students who collectively gathered at the conference throughout the weekend. The setup of the conference was relatively straightforward; the results were remarkable. As our guest Jeffrey Kipnis put it: It was one of those rare affairs where all of the forces involved— from the people to the organization, to the architectural space of the school itself—combined to generate a productive synergy that went beyond any and all reasonable expectations. The students were utterly transfixed by their respective workshop projects, and the considerable individual energy of each team welled into an extraordinary collaborative sociology among all involved—think Woodstock.2 Possible Mediums is a group effort. When planning the conference, a recurring discussion emerged in architectural circles about the loss of “authority.”3 In tone, this discussion seemed mournful—a longing for a certain type of architect that could speak truth, or at least state in definitive terms what mattered in architecture. We also sensed this diffusion of voices, but did not see it as a problem. We continue to believe in discourse, in impassioned individuals debating the merits of their work in response to the issues of the day, and in staking claims. We also believe this is best done as a collective. Our approach to shaping architectural discourse is fundamentally influenced by our education. We attended UCLA at a momentous time in the school’s history, undoubtedly due to Sylvia Lavin’s efforts as Chair of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design from 1996 to 2006. Lavin created an intellectual environment where culture, design, technology, and theory flourished and cross-pollinated, cultivating a generation of young architects that significantly impact the field today. From the faculty (Neil Denari, David Erdman, Marcelyn Gow, Mark Lee, Greg Lynn, Thom Mayne, Jason Payne, Heather Roberge, Bob Somol, and Michael Speaks, to name a few), to the curriculum (research studios, theory courses, technology seminars), to the events (symposia, exhibitions, lectures, and workshops), Lavin curated a palpable flurry of discourse that was transformative for everyone involved. It informs the Possible Mediums project and our general participation in architectural culture. Communication. The Possible Mediums project is out in the open: there are no closed-door working sessions and no trade secrets. Design techniques are laid bare, free to be taken up by others, and combined with alternative approaches to produce strange, new hybrids. Sharing strategies in all stages of the design process fosters productive communication. The Possible Mediums conference highlighted design ideas in their earliest stages of formation and provided a behind-the-scenes look at the working methods of each participant. This had profound influence on students and workshop leaders alike. The verbal and visual communication was ecological in nature, like a living organism that evolves based on frequent exchanges with its environment. In 2013, the social media platform Instagram was still relatively new, yet the posts that accrued under #possiblemediums gave us a hint of things 18

to come. Today, #wip (work-in-progress) is one of the most popular hashtags accompanying posts from architects. At times, this is simply a marker of a project’s development, but we believe #wip reflects a fundamental change underway in regards to architecture and cultural production in general. The rapid circulation of online images has replaced the polished presentations common of earlier media forms, such as print. This creates a messy and fecund state of sharing work, facilitated by free flowing and far reaching platforms of social media. Add to this the increasingly opensource nature of technical information, such as free online tutorials, and design starts to resemble a collective hive mind more than a traditional notion of “author.” The Possible Mediums conference happened at a particular place and time, yet anticipated the cross-pollination that the Internet would soon unleash in architecture. Design. Architecture effects change through its physical presence. The agency of architecture, its capacity to impact economic, cultural, and ecological conditions, derives primarily from its status as a physical object. This places great importance on the design of formal and material traits, which are understood not as isolated aesthetic phenomena, but as a means of establishing meaningful connections to broader contexts. This leads to “mediums” as a focal point. We are interested in how architects work, what they choose to work on, and what their efforts yield. A decade ago, the answers to these questions were fixed and likely tied to digital technique, however, this generation of architects approaches design in a multitude of ways. Following Jean-Luc Nancy’s provocation that there are “several arts and not just one,” we use the improper plural “mediums” to highlight the plurality of contemporary architecture.4 Where “media” foregrounds technical apparatuses, “mediums” implicates a broad range of working methods, both material and abstract. There is no longer a single way to conceive of or produce architecture since the field is full of many possible approaches. In art, this is often referred to as a “post-medium condition,” a term coined by art theorist Rosalind Krauss to describe the shift from the few, privileged mediums of Modernism to the proliferation of art forms in the post-war years, such as video, performance, and body art. Throughout her writing, Krauss tracks the waning of “medium specificity,” whereby art is defined by its most essential features—the flatness of painting for example—to a post-medium condition where the fundamental characteristics of art fluctuate. According to Krauss, an artist invents a medium when certain procedures, techniques, or constraints are elevated to the level of a defining characteristic, such as the shape of a canvas in relation to the figures of a painting.5 The specificity of the medium is reinstated through the rules established by the artist as embodied in their work. The Possible Mediums project tracks a similar move in architecture, from a narrow set of traditional design methods to a broader range of approaches. And like Krauss, who shifts focus away from the strict definition of art as a material entity, we are interested in the stages of architectural design that precede its instantiation as building. Architects invent mediums by redefining the terms under which their work develops and elevating certain characteristics of the design above others. 19

When we began the Possible Mediums project, “middle” was a mere fact of geography. Over time it has taken on epistemological significance. Foucault reminds us that our understanding of the world is far from universal, rather it is determined by and changes with the history of thought itself. In each episteme, it is possible to think certain thoughts and not others, a condition governed by the structure of knowledge, not by the nature of reality. And yet, between one historical moment and the next, there exists a middle region where perceptions and thoughts are in flux—that is, where humans confront things outright, before intuitions of similarity and difference pair with patterns of thought to impose order. This middle region is where objects precede systematic philosophies and historical narratives. It is a zone where the artifacts of design hold as much sway as the thoughts and theories of the designers. We believe this historical moment to be such a middle region. Thus, we have structured the Possible Mediums book as a diverse collection of thoughts, provocations, definitions, and images, to capture this moment in the middle. Artifacts, bodies, furniture, graphics, grids, lines, narratives, pattern, plans, plastic, primitives, profiles, puzzles, rocks, stacks and volumes are put forth as new mediums for architecture. Each chapter defines a medium and includes projects with related formal and material qualities. The chapters are followed by guest essays, which reflect upon each medium’s position in contemporary design discourse. The book demonstrates our methods of recognizing and recording new trajectories of architectural design. We approach the diversity of design today with neither cynicism nor divisiveness. Instead, we frame architecture’s potential as simply and optimistically “possible.” Possible Mediums is not a systematic theory, a manifesto, or banal survey—it is a projection of architecture and knowledge to come.


Mario Carpo (ed.), The Digital Turn in Architecture 1992–2012 (Hoboken: Jon Wiley & Sons, 2013)


Jeffrey Kipnis in a letter to the organizers dated September 13th, 2013.


In his keynote speech as the ACSA 103rd Annual Meeting in Toronto, titled “Originality and Authority,” Peter Eisenman professes the dissolution of authority figures in architecture.


See Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994)


See Rosalind Krauss, Under Blue Cup (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011)

Acknowledgements Although our story is one of self-discovery, we’ve benefitted immensely from the foresight and support of numerous mentors and administrators. All of our schools were under new leadership when this project was conceived, and those leaders invested heavily in young faculty and their ideas. We owe a great debt to them for their unwavering support of not only us, but of speculative architecture in general. Their encouragement, advice, and participation throughout this process is an implicit nod to all that is possible in architecture and to them (Michael Cadwell, Jeffrey Kipnis, Rob Livesey, John McMorrough, Monica Ponce de Leon, Robert Somol, and Michael Speaks) we say thank you! Additionally, we would like to thank Courtney Coffman for invaluable editorial guidance. The Possible Mediums book is funded by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the University of Michigan, Syracuse University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.


MEDIUMS ARTIFACTS are man-made objects gathered and reused in the composition of new constructions.


Ambivalent towards the ever-persistent notion of newness, architects are producing projects comprised solely of found objects, ranging from dollar store items to precious relics. The reconstitution of trash and the transformation of treasure have become tactics to impart significance upon artifacts and dislodge their fixed historical associations. Displayed in this work is the pleasure of ennobling mundane material, elevating everyday things to constructions much grander than their own existence. 29

Projects comprised of found objects pursue incongruity and informality over fluidity and elegance. The  ORGANIZATION  of these artifacts either celebrates their individuality or shifts emphasis to a new whole. When haphazardly piled, artifacts produce composite objects that diminish the legibility of individual parts. Alternatively, artifacts can neatly pile to maintain a degree of visual autonomy in each individual object, resulting in a whole contingent upon the legibility of its parts. In both scenarios, artifacts shed their previous associations and functions, as they are subsumed in complex amalgamations of things.


1.1–1.3 Design With Company’s Late Entries for the Chicago Public Library Competition presents a stack of familiar cultural icons: the Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier, the owls from Harold Washington Library, and Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital. 2.1–2.2 Unified through an underlying grid, Bureau Spectacular’s Lost and Found is an assemblage of isolated baskets, chairs, buckets, cups, and bowls. The organizational strategy yields a collection of uncanny urban objects.







Beyond organizational strategies of piling, the fusion of multiple parts into a new whole is effected by  COLOR.  Altering the color of individual artifacts can highlight—or deemphasize—their presence in an assembly. Applying the same color to each artifact highlights a visual unity among the collection. Conversely, an artifact’s original color can be preserved to emphasize the individuality of the part. The manipulation of   SCALE  denatures found objects and relics. While the size of physical artifacts cannot be changed, the placement of reference figures confuses a proposed scale—such as model people. This scalar effect is akin to a Claes Oldenburg sculpture, where large replicas of everyday objects invert the relationship between the human body and the artifact. 3.1 Comprised of found objects, Andrew Kovacs’ Architectural Cliff is piled to form “spaces of architectural mountaineering.”


1.4–1.5 1.4–1.5 To unify the collection of objects, Late Entries for the Chicago Public Library Competition whitewashes artifacts, then freely alters the scale of each relic to create a set of similarly sized buildings.



3.2–3.3 Andrew Kovacs’ Architectural Cliff prolongs the legibility of an individual artifact through complimentary-colored objects. The model is littered with small-scale figures to destabilize the familiarity of the found object turned architectural artifact.




1 Late Entries for the Chicago Public Library Competition is a speculative building by Design With Company exhibited at the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial. 2 Lost and Found is a speculative interior by Bureau Spectacular exhibited at the 2015 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture. 3 Architectural Cliff is a model by Andrew Kovacs exhibited at Storefront for Art & Architecture in New York in 2014.


BODIES are continuous topological forms with features resembling human or animal body parts.


Difficult to depict in plan, section, and elevation, bodies are designed in a topological space of continuous change and possess surface curvatures that defy orthographic projection. The formal articulation of a body results from the pushing and pulling of plastic mass to express architectural operations, such as  AGGREGATION.  Reciprocal degrees of concavity and convexity allow bodies to nest and snuggle as thinly bent appendages gently interlocking. Similar to Siamese twins, bodies are both discrete entities and fused forms. As they group together in a series of loose fits, bodies evoke the morphology of animals rather than buildings. 37



4.1 Ellie Abrons’ Inside Things is comprised of sculptural podiums and objects. In each grouping, a unique biomorphic language allows objects to cluster and define space through interlocking appendages. Photos: Joshua White

5.1–5.3 The LADG’s 48 Characters are cast objects in which liquid, plaster-filled balloons were poked, pulled, and tied-off with custom tools to create dimples, protrusions, and creases. While curing, the balloons were pressed together in groupings to form nested surface curvatures.



6.1 Bittertang’s Pig Pile consists of fetal-like forms with appendages of various shapes and sizes that group to create a “pile.” The forms appear both as four distinct bodies and as a single fused entity.




Bodies define space as ‘something that surrounds monolithic parts’ to suggest a residual or  LEFTOVER SPACE.  Bodies are massive and often without interiors—they fill up rather than contain space. When aggregated, the space between bodies squeezes and creates an exaggerated mass-tospace ratio. Similarly articulated as corporeal topologies, the grounds on which bodies sit are expressed with folds, mounds, and valleys.

4.2 6.2 Pig Pile creates partial enclosures where the bodies touch the ground, like standing under a giant animal.



With bodies,  RESEMBLANCE  is a matter of near figuration, or a visual likeness of known things rendered slightly obscure. A protrusion might resemble a leg, arm, or elbow, yet it remains disproportionate in relation to conventional anatomy. Akin to character or posture, the accumulation of detailed features and surface qualities produces a totalizing affect and brings to mind common emotional or physical states, such as “that one looks sad” or “that one is sleeping.” Details often double as performative devices and aid connections to adjacent parts, evoking bodily growths and cavities. Certain anatomical features are avoided altogether; faces and heads are merely suggested. Material qualities further deepen visual references either ambiguously, as synthetically colored fuzz or unnaturally smooth skin tones, or explicitly, as realistic fur or fatty stuffing.

7.1 4.2–4.3 Inside Things further defines an interior not simply as the inside of an outer shell, but rather as space crudely carved from the mass of its main bodies. Photos: Joshua White

7.1–7.2 The LADG’s Pillow Babies is a morphological study explored through custom-sewn pillows coated in mammalian fur or stuffed with materials resembling fatty tissue.





8.2 8.1–8.2 Bittertang’s Animate Sensate: A Plush Toy Collection investigates the boundaries of zoological visual references with “toys” that are uncannily realistic in terms of form and materiality.


4 Inside Things is an installation by Ellie Abrons, collaboratively sponsored by the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and SCI-Arc, and displayed at SCI-Arc in 2016. 5 48 Characters is a series of objects and custom pedestals by The LADG exhibited at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning in 2013. 6 Pig Pile is a speculative building by The Bittertang Farm in 2007. 7 Pillow Babies is a series of objects designed by The LADG in 2014. 8 Animate Sensate is a series of plush toys designed by The Bittertang Farm 2009.


BIOGRAPHIES EDITORS Kelly Bair is Partner of BairBalliet, Principal of Central Standard Office of Design, and Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. Kristy Balliet is Partner of BairBalliet, Principal of Balliet Studio, Faculty at SCI-Arc, and Associate Professor at The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture. Adam Fure is Principal of T+E+A+M and Assistant Professor at University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Kyle Miller is Architecture Program Director at Syracuse University in Florence and Assistant Professor at Syracuse University School of Architecture.

CONTRIBUTORS Ellie Abrons is Principal of T+E+A+M and Assistant Professor at University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Andrew Atwood is Co-Founder of First Office and Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture at UC Berkeley.

Kutan Ayata is Co-Founder of Young & Ayata, Lecturer at University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute School of Architecture. Jennifer Bonner is Director of MALL and Assistant Professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Laurel Consuelo Broughton is Founder of WELCOMEPROJECTS and Adjunct Assistant Professor at USC School of Architecture. Brennan Buck is Co-Founder of FreelandBuck and Critic at Yale University School of Architecture. and Lecturer at University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Brandon Clifford is a co-founder of Matter Design and Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Architecture. McLain Clutter is Founder of Master of None and Associate Professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Angela Co is Assistant Teaching Professor and Director of the NYC Program at Syracuse University School of Architecture, and Founder and Principal of Studio Co.

Greg Corso is CoCaptain of SPORTS and Assistant Professor at Syracuse University School of Architecture. Justin Diles is Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture. Dora Epstein Jones is a theorist of architecture, former Executive Director of the A+D Museum in Los Angeles, and current Coordinator of History and Theory for Academy of Art University. David Freeland is Co-Founder of FreelandBuck and a faculty member at SCI-Arc. Claus Benjamin Freyinger is Co-Founder of The Los Angeles Design Group (The LADG). Joanna Grant is Partner at Bureau Spectacular and Lecturer at USC School of Architecture. Stewart Hicks is a Co-Founder of Design With Company and Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. Andrew Holder is Co-Founder of The Los Angeles Design Group (The LADG) and Assistant Professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Molly Hunker is Co-Captain of SPORTS and Assistant Professor at Syracuse University School of Architecture.


Thomas Kelley is a Partner of Norman Kelley and Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. Andrew Kovacs is Founder of O.K. and Archive of Affinities, and Lecturer at UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design. Jimenez Lai is Founder of Bureau Spectacular and Lecturer at UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design. Michael Loverich is Co-Founder of The Bittertang Farm and Lecturer at University of Pennsylvania School of Design. ​ lex Maymind is a PhD A candidate at UCLA and a faculty member at SCI-Arc. Wes McGee is a co-founder of Matter Design and Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. John McMorrough is Associate Professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and a principal architect in studioAPT (Architecture Project Theory). Jeff Mikolajewski is a Co-Founder of is-office and Lecturer at USC School of Architecture.

Meredith Miller is Principal of T+E+A+M and Assistant Professor at University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Kyle Reynolds is a Co-Founder of is-office and Assistant Professor of Architecture at University of WisconsinMilwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Whitney Moon is Assistant Professor at University of WisconsinMilwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Bryony Roberts is Principal of Bryony Roberts Studio and teaches architecture at Columbia GSAPP and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

Thom Moran is Principal of T+E+A+M and Assistant Professor at University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Anna Neimark is Co-Founder of First Office and a faculty member at SCI-Arc. Allison Newmeyer is a Co-Founder of Design With Company and Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. Carrie Norman is a Partner of Norman Kelley and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and Barnard College. William O’Brien Jr. is Principal of WOJR Organization for Architecture, Co-Founder of Collective-LOK, and Associate Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Architecture.

Michael Szivos is Founder of SOFTlab, Critic at Yale University School of Architecture, and Adjunct Professor at Pratt Institute School of Architecture.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR Courtney Coffman is Manager of Lectures & Publications at Princeton University School of Architecture.

GRAPHIC DESIGNER Sean Yendrys is an independent graphic designer, working between Montreal, Berlin, and New York.

James Michael Tate is Founder of T8 Projects and Adjunct Professor of Architecture at California College of the Arts and Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at UC Berkeley. Clark Thenhaus is Founder of Endemic Architecture and Assistant Professor of Architecture at California College of the Arts. Antonio Torres is Co-Founder of The Bittertang Farm and Clinical Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. Michael Young is Co-Founder of Young & Ayata and Assistant Professor at Cooper Union School of Architecture.


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