Page 1




Introduction 5


The Individual Unit 13


A Combination of Units 21


Interaction Between Units and User 31


Interaction Between User and Building 45


Interaction Between Buildings 68



I ABSTRACT Visual porosity is the access a user has toward, into, and out of the layers of spaces. The user interacts visually at different scales. In a close proximity to elements at a smaller scale, the user is able to extend sight and access to places beyond. One of the most important characteristics of a building or development is to have a connection between the ground and the sky. Through a connection to the sky comes the possibility of natural light and air, along with the benefits of improved environment and health. The connection between ground and sky results in varying levels of visual intersections. These intersections begin to address levels of privacy, interaction, and ownership of open space. Through an examination and acknowledgement of these intersections at various scales, architecture and its elements can tailor a building’s porosity.


SQUATTER SETTLEMENTS In a domination of space, squatter settlements are often a haphazard stacking of volumes until the spaces between them are overtaken completely or are left to a bare minimum for navigation. Looking at two prominent examples of squatter settlements in Johannesburg’s Ponte City Tower and Kowloon, China, one can see a contrast of development. In Johannesburg, the tower was fully built by its owner and abandoned, resulting in occupancy of the vacant floors, while Kowloon was built gradually over time without regulation. In the tower, a central core leaves an open, but unusable space to be shared among residences. In Kowloon, there is even less open space as the gaps were completely filled in with the exception of a few small courtyards. It begs the question of the importance of a shared space where people are left to claim for themselves. Are they more important when shared by more people, or is there a greater sense of ownership when they are shared by few?


PORES IN THE MASS OF BUILDINGS Without regulation dictating standard building considerations such as ingress and egress and aspects of quality of life such as access to light and air, Kowloon became a solid mass of buildings. Buildings of a variety of programs, from apartments to casinos to candy shops, were arranged vertically without order and open space is considered available for building. This resulted in a shortage of public or shared spaces. The watercolor studies above are visualizations of a persons point of view from two of the pores in the mass of buildings that is Kowloon. In the larger area, it was intriguing to see the size of the opening between the buildings. It was not until aerial imagery revealed that it was not unoccupied. In what was previous thought to be an open courtyard, low rise buildings were situated with programs such as a youth center, old people's home, a kindergarten, and officials' homes and offices. Temples from the early development of the site also remained, though buried underneath layers of haphazard construction.


enclosed open

covered wall





ENCLOSED enclosed





OPEN open

enclosed (constant)


PHYSICAL ENCLOSURE A space can be enclosed either physically, visually, or both. An uncovered space and its transition to enclosed space is defined by the physical enclosure and the perceived visual porosity. In the study of courtyards, the opening in the mass of the building is only part of the building's exposure to the outdoors. A courtyard is not an anti-space, nor a negative in the volume of the building. It acts as a room and the function and position of the courtyard in a house influences the surrounding rooms.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Greece


Colonial Latin America

Japanese House

Western House (Anglo-American)


United States

In the example of ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, the courtyard acts as an access point to the enclosed rooms and negates the necessity of a hallway. In other examples, the court acts as an outdoor room, where physical presence of the user outside is not required or desired, though physical enclosure in visual proximity to the outdoor space serves as an extension of the interior space.

PRIVACY Privacy is a visual interpretation of space. In this respect, the surrounding covered spaces serve as not only an extension of the immediate outdoors, but also as a filter to the exterior beyond.

Rapoport, Amos. House Form and Culture. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall, 1969. Print.




IMPLIED ENCLOSURE Considerations for openness and privacy do not necessarily conflict. The different layers of visual access each create opportunities for different perceptions of space. An enclosed space can be externally connected through a shared layer of space with another without the multiple spaces being connected to each other. Implied enclosure is relative to the user's vantage point from the occupied space.

The form of a cow, inspired by the sections of previous studies, demonstrates the different in perception of space and void through different angles. From above the shape is not indicative of the shape experienced from the side.


HOUSE FUNCTION The government has been recently implementing plans to construct social housing projects that they can provide for the families in exchange for their house. By acquiring entire haphazard neighborhoods, they are able to redevelop the area with necessary amenities, develop with higher density, and reclaim valuable land. The problem in this process is in the social housing itself. Built with efficiency and economy as the top priority, they end up being even more enclosed and devoid of light and openings, among other things, than the shantytowns they replaced. There is an opportunity to create places to live with these considerations.

squatter settlements are established

slum housing

alternate housing is built in other location

families are granted option of relocation

neighborhood becomes vacant

demolition and redevelopment takes place

mountside settlement


NEED FOR POROSITY Slum communities are the hosts of much of the rapidly growing human population. One of the largest struggles of rapid slum growth is the organization between residences and public space. Unplanned development in the mountainsides of Medellin, Colombia make little architectural consideration to light and open spaces in a similar, though less extreme, way as Kowloon.


POROSITY AND SCALE Although the lack of open space in large communities may seem like a problem only to be solved at a large scale. It can be afforded through options at various scales through considerations of material, screens and walls, individual units, buildings, and neighborhoods. The scale ranges from extra small to extra large. The extra small is the material itself and the possibility of an built element. The small scale is the repetition of these elements to make a building assembly. The medium scale hosts the assemblies and also creates spaces for users to interact with the assemblies in a variety of internal functions. The large scale is a multiplication of units and creates tailored visual interactions between them. The extra large scale is what the pores of the elements, assemblies, and units at the smaller scales either reveal or obstruct. The concept of porosity in housing is portable architecture beyond slum housing.







XS At the smallest scale, the main element of focus is material. Specific materials carry their own intrinsic properties. Clay, in buildings, is most commonly used to make masonry blocks. These blocks create a structural system through mass and solidity. Bamboo, although dense and opaque, is able to make light point-load structures. The selection of these two materials for primary elements creates a consistent parameter that allows for thought about the feasibility of construction and local availability. Through manipulation and configuration, material can be tailored to accommodate the visual requirements of a space.


ACCESS TO MATERIALS The screens can be easily made out of clay or guadua, a species of bamboo. The materials are durable and very prevalent in the region of Colombia. In addition to their availability, the materials are plentiful in possibilities. Clay can be used to create a solid block, capable of supporting a building, or it can make delicate tiles. Clay is an abundant material in Colombia and several areas of Medellin use it to make standard materials for all faces of a building in the form of structural blocks, partition walls, rain screens, flooring tiles and roof tiles.




EXPLORATION OF MATERIAL Clay is a flexible material that becomes rigid after firing. One of the possible elements to make an assembly out of clay is a semicircular "pan." This simple shape can used to tune porosity simply by adapting the length of the shape. The imbalance of the shape allows gravity to have one side fall more than the other, thus creating a more open or closed aperture. The overlapping layers also add practicality to a screen where water and other external elements are allowed to shed. Bamboo grows as a solid stalk that can be cut, among other processes, to make a malleable material. Bamboo grows in nodes, where each section is hollow and connected to the next node by a solid joint. This solid joint can be used as a structural point to hold manipulations and cuts to the internodes. The hollow internode can be split in multiple directions. The explorations divided an internode of bamboo into either eight sections, to balloon out radially, or in half to splay on one axis. configurations of sized "pans"

"pans" arranged on metal rods

bamboo node size and splay proportion

"pan" size and shape explorations

production of clay rings 19

clay rings and splayed bamboo


S At the small scale, a wall is often thought of as a predefined and prescribed part of a building. It is opaque by default. If it is desired that the wall be reflective or transparent, then the material will be selected from desired existing configurations. A prescribed wall can be combatted in order to provide various levels of opacity, privacy, and utility.









BAMBOO Bamboo offers flexibility in use as a material. The density of the bamboo allows for structural strength while a lightness allows for various configurations of different opacities. In one example (1), the bamboo is split into eights through two nodes and ballooned outward while still green. The bamboo can also be kept in tact and arranged in an array of projecting pieces (2), each oriented toward an area of desired transparency.

+ CLAY Clay extracted from the earth and mixed with water makes a formable solid and the shape is only limited by the hands, machines, or processes that interact with it. Bricks are extruded in long members and then cut to block size while roof tiles are extruded thin planes that are cut and then draped to the shape of a mold. It is only after a firing process that the shape becomes permanent and rigid. Imbricated tiles (3) act as a rain screen using the same manufacturing principle as the roof tiles.


CLAY AND BAMBOO While bamboo grows as a solid piece to start and can be adapted, clay starts out malleable but becomes rigid. Using these properties the bamboo can be splayed and then held open by a rigid clay piece. In this example a clay ring rests between two internodes of the bamboo (5 and 6). This assembly can incorporate other materials such as clay blocks and mesh and plaster to make a lightweight, but solid wall where the rings can serve as selective openings (6).





OPACITY The same material can be taken advantage of differently for desired levels of sight lines, privacy, and depth. The contrast between the opaque and transparent demonstrates the overall porosity of the wall.


LIBRARY These sets of wall and screen types are not designed to be a limited set of options from which to choose, but provide a basis to develop a larger library of options. Future walls and screens can continue to take into consideration the material uses of local availability and construction, and their implementation can consider the aspects of view, privacy, and direction.




M The medium scale is an intermediary host for interactions between the Small and Large. By evaluating the functions of the spaces, the desired level of interaction and opacity can be explored. In the program of a home, there are naturally two zones: the common and private. The common spaces call for both inward and outward interactions within the unit. The private zone, alternatively, strives to allow a connection for people outward, but not in the other direction. This opposition necessitates a separation of zones through either the solid partitioning of a standard wall, or a tuned connection between inside and out in response to usage and function.





1. Sleep


Bed, Pillow, Coverings

2. Food 3. Clothing

Storage, Kitchen, Dining

Food, Utensils, Cookware, Plates

Closet, Washing, Drying

Closet, Laundry, Wash Basin, Line

4. Water


Water Collection Barrel, Purification

5. Relief


Toilet, Latrine, Paper

6. Hygiene


Sink, Shower, Tub

7. Light

Windows, Screen

8. Security


9. Heat


10. Gathering

Room, Porch, Yard



1 10




2 6

FUNCTION AND NECESSITY A dissection of the function of a house and the purpose of each room, their correspondence to human necessities, and their supporting items resulted in a simplification and space efficiency of a housing unit. Keeping in mind the availability of utilities and resources, spaces were arranged for a compact, yet comfortable living arrangement. With the unit developed, it is able to serve as a block for the forms of the large scale.



necessary spaces are arranged for optimal 600 square foot arrangement

footprint is simplified and apertures for exterior visual access are applied

plan is split to create central opening

plan is refined and walls and screens are applied


internal physical and visual access is explored



+ -

+ + -

+ -




+ 36

The wall and screen assemblies can be adapted, arranged, or substituted based on external factors and their desirability. Positive factors -which may be a natural landscape, a desirable shared courtyard, or a personal courtyard- warrant either a more transparent, or a specifically directional assembly. Directionality may be employed to allow transparency toward a positive factor while simultaneously blocking a negative factor- such as close proximity to a neighbor, a less desirable public space, or other infringements of privacy. In addition to the customizability of each room's wall assembly in a housing unit, the screens are also able to be incorporated in other functions that may surround. Similar to the relationship between the porosities between the private and social areas of the unit, the screens interact with the scale beyond.




Internal Visual Access - Personal Unit

INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL VISUAL ACCESS The pulling apart of the private and social parts of the house unit results in an added aspect of separation through a courtyard and the tailoring of the visual connection between the two parts. As previously explored, the assemblies can be selected and adapted based on the user inside the unit based on their view out. The external user can also be considered. Their location and visual direction can be assessed against the directionality of the wall pores and the desired level of privacy. Just above the private unit is a usable roof with shared access. The adjacency of the path to the personal courtyard adds a vertical overlap of positive and negative pulls of the building pores.


External Visual Access - Public



L At the large scale, multiple units become subjects of interaction. Through different levels of participation and physical access, the user gains various vantage points. Through the porosity of the building can a user on the ground visually cut through to the spaces above and to the sky. The openings of the smaller scales dictate not only their own interaction out, but also involve several other viewing angles and objectives.


ELEVATING GROUND Commonly, building form places the density of volume at the bottom and either maintains or decreases the volume towards the top. A study of changing densities at equal intervals through increasing and decreasing the volumes reveals a connection between a user at each level and the sky in varying and intersecting rays. In addition, the staggering of void creates physical connection to a controlled portion of the volume.


1 volume with void is rotated and stacked to create alternating openings

2 inverted hierarchy of volume elevates the mass from the ground









3 separated quarter-circular voids are connected to create intermediate level of enclosure

4 main volumes are square and left connected

5 inverted masses are separated and oriented outward to create central void

6 masses are oriented inward while maintaining central void

7 central void is covered

8 inverted masses are staggered in height to selectively reopen central void


DYNAMIC POROSITY Upward ground views examine both the visual connections and the visual obstacles between a person at ground level and the sky. The layers of imaginary space host an intersection of visual interactions at various angles between the ground, sky, and volumes between. The elevated forms serve to simplify these interactions in initial studies.


Downward View

Combined Lines

Upward View


ONE LEVEL ENTRY In a study of an "upside down" complex, ideas of the overlap and separation of visual and physical access are explored. With a single ground story and an elevated mass, the ground floor has the greatest transparency while the higher floors become increasingly opaque. The average user at the ground has limited physical access to the space above. The form has minimal interaction with the ground at the support columns and has one larger "foot" to provide selective access to the space above. The user at the ground level and imagined looking upward. Through a subtractive process, apertures are created in a direction allowing a person below to have visual access to the sky, while having a limited or obstructed view of a large portion of the upper mass. Similarly, a user on an upper level has direct sight lines both downward, upward and across. Desired levels of privacy are inherently addressed in this interaction. The ground level has a transparency both inward and outward while the mass above has a transparency outward, but an opacity inward.

+ UPPER LEVEL ENTRY A second level of entry affords the opportunity for a user without physical access to be on the same plane as someone with access, such as a resident, within the complex. In a single level entry scenario, a guest with limited physical access does not have the opportunity to interact with someone inside the complex. The introduction of this interaction creates a visual and social overlap. In addition to new configurations of explorations of the single level entry, the upper entry is physically separated from the main mass of the building.


+ LOWER LEVEL COURTYARD Similar to an upper level entry, a lower level courtyard creates a physical separation while allowing a visual connection. The main level is staggered across three levels, with two entrances opening below elevated volumes. Across the four entry levels of the entire complex, the separation between physical and visual access is amplified. Pores in the volume occur selectively and away from the main entrances. The lower courtyard, adjacent to a five story tower, opens to the sky and becomes the tallest space. The opening on the third floor, contrarily, is a short and narrow reveal to the sky. The volumes interact with each other and the ground through angled faces, where they can serve as an opaque visual barrier, a face for a window, or an access point between levels.

SECTIONS Two section are taken from the multi-level volume to investigate the interior potential of this exteriordriven form. The main entry levels (a and b) serve as starting points for visual vantage points. Through this drawing, it is clear to see the closed spaces, but the transition between the open sky and the enclosed entry falls on a gradient.


b a


House Unit

Volume Pores

Unit Configuration with Courtyards 50

Unit 1

Unit 2

Individual Units in Section


PHYSICAL- The ability to personally interact with elements

NON-TACTILESensory connection without physical access Levels of Access


NONE- Inaccessible


PHYSICAL ACCESS In the setting of an unplanned urban community, rising densities result in an overtaking of accessible or shared spaces to make private dwellings. This density has a negative impact on the health, security, and on the overall dignity of a person. A greater level of external connectivity allows for interaction with people, sunlight, transportation, and furthermore, knowledge, education, and opportunities.

ACCESS PER PERSON For a dwelling unit and in other programs, it is desired that the physical and visual access be different for the people inside than it is for the people outside. A screen system can tailor the levels of light, sight, and physical access. In the examples of an enclosed community or gondola station, it is not necessary to create heavy walls to separate inside and out. A screen can provide both transparency and enclosure.

ACCESS WITHIN THE COMMUNITY To avoid the stacking of housing units and the blocking of light, air, and interaction that is often seen in slum neighborhoods, the sun, site topography, and arrangement of units are considered. Clear areas of circulation and shared spaces accommodate the density of the area more efficiently and comfortably.



Units interact directly with each other across a shared courtyard. Visual planes overlap and vary across each floor.



slope perpendicular to courtyard


SLOPE The vertical relationship between units is explored in each orientation of a sloped site. The steepness of the site minimizes interaction between the unit and the ground and focuses visual direction toward a horizontal vector. Two different orientations are explored using the same unit stack. When the courtyard opening of the unit is lateral to the slope, this gives the possibility of units facing each other. In this case, the screens, walls, and overall visual porosity of the unit changes in dynamic with a bidirectional overlap of views. This is not the case with the courtyard perpendicular to the sloped face. Although the configuration may accommodate a few facing units, the building steps with the site and thus most of the visual sight lines are unobstructed into the scale beyond. The decreased urgency for privacy gives opportunity for greater porosity of the building and more transparent wall constructions can be selected.

slope parallel to courtyard


CIRCULATION In considering the slope of the site, the navigability of the terrain causes difficulty, though also gives opportunity for incorporation of circulation on the roofs of the apartment units. The considerations in the internal and external visual access of privacy results from the introduction of an adjacent nonprivate space. Through an added stair form, a stack of apartment units share a stair core along with visual apertures. On the volume, an aperture opens in correlation to the main circulation and another smaller upper opening hints the presence of the front door in a transition to the private housing unit.




XL The largest scale applies the culmination of the previous scales and extends them beyond their physical boundaries. Factors such as geography, the natural environment, and the built environment influence the smaller scales in terms of visual access and a variety of other factors.


2006 - informal settlements

2012 - metrocable and station constructed

2015 - major highway constructed


SITE FACTORS Beyond the immediate physical enclosure created by buildings, the neighborhood and natural features of the city create a greater boundary of enclosure. The mountainous sites and the consistently mild climate of Medellin, Colombia make for a large scale in which to study porosity in architecture. In an eastern commune, the mountain settlement experiences a segregation from the city through an intersection of a highway, and a gondola perpendicular above. The mountainside community is limited to only visual connection to the landscape and cityscape beyond.




VISUAL POROSITY AND SCALE A person is not bound to a single scale of interaction of architecture. Sight is the most far reaching of the human senses. Its obstruction or permeability influences the interaction a user has between layers of spaces. By studying various degrees of opacities, privacy, and direction of architectural apertures, it is possible to tune a building to react to factors beyond. A building does not need to be a prescribed object, because if it is it cannot react properly and will be unfitting in its surroundings. The porosity of a building allows selective and specific interaction between the interior, exterior, and other interior spaces. The space can be fit to its surroundings without being fulling involved.



The exploration at various scales allows the spaces to fit to, yet not necessarily be fully involved with, the context of its site. The smallest scale uses the properties of material to create openings at the most basic level. The combination of these elements allow for a configurable assembly that allows user interaction beyond the immediate architecture where prescribed and predefined walls did not previously allow.






Visual Porosity and Scale: Architecture Thesis  

Undergraduate Architecture Thesis

Visual Porosity and Scale: Architecture Thesis  

Undergraduate Architecture Thesis