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Subterranean Symmetry

Experiential Mapping

Emerging Forms

Green Ornament

Analytical Modeling

Subterranean Symmetry A partner and I were tasked with designing a series of underground spaces consisting of at least three “large” and three “small” rooms. Because we were exploring subterranean environments, we decided to play around with the inherent sense of comfort and balance associated with symmetry and how that changes in underground spaces. Taking inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” we utilized long, narrow corridors and light as a false guide.

We further incorporated symmetry to disorient the user, fostering feelings of déjà vu and uncertainty as one passes through strangely familiar spaces. This culminated in an exploration of the perceptual qualities of symmetry as they are utilized in a counterintuitive manner.

Experiential Mapping Extremely dense urban places like Rome are filled with endless streets and places situated along them. Attempting to map a city like this can be a challenge because of the multitude of layers reaching back thousands of years. Traditional mapping seeks to condense this high volume and present a highly ordered and organized set of information which represents the entirety of the city. My partner and I aimed, instead, to produce more intuitive and creative ways in which to portray the life and vibrancy of the city; a way that was personal and unconventional.

Immediately, memory and personal experience seemed like two concepts worth conveying in our drawings. Our focus then became one of documenting our personal experience and highlighting the passage of time and its exposed faces in the Eternal City. This project not only taught me a different way to map and document a designated area but also showed me ways in which a city functions and how drastically it can change over time.

Piazza del Popolo

Emerging Forms By beginning with a simple knot and analyzing how it ties and unravels one can start to realize how space is resolved within the framework of a piece of string. Through a four-step process I translated an angler’s loop into a wireframe composed of ninety degree angles which then was given mass to become a set of solids that fit within a 5”H x 4”L x 3”W box. These solids and their dimensions were then doubled in size and transformed into a final set of voids around which a block was placed and then cut. My loop’s final iteration represented a dense nucleus from which a loop and two other elements sprang. Therefore, I intended to bend the wireframe so that three distinct components emerged from a complex center.

Wireframe - Worm’s Eye View

Section - Discovery of Light

As my design developed, I realized the iterative nature of this work. The final wireframe form, for instance, was not completed until many ideas had been considered by playing around with copper wire. SketchUp was also utilized to create the volumetric form; the flexibility of the push/pull tool allowed me full control over the process. This marked the first design project in which I took a seemingly unrelated object, abstracted it, and converted it into a piece of architecture.

Perspectives - Scale of Space and Potential Use

Green Ornament Inspired by the ideals of Victorian art critic John Ruskin and contemporary Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma, I sought to create a form that was derived from the natural world while utilizing an elegant application of material. After seeing Kuma’s Naturescape in Milan, utilizing topography seemed like an ideal fit. It is a shape composed of seemingly random curves, forming the landscape of our planet and the movement of our individual footsteps. Thus, my final scheme constituted a series of varying modules composed from imagined topography lines. Ideally, the design would be constructed from concrete thereby acting as a manmade cover through which plant life can grow. The resulting effect is interplay between the natural and manmade in which Nature slowly takes over Her host, a concrete mass, as it reclaims what was once Hers.

Tesselating Hills Versus Depressions

Analytical Modeling Physical models can act as one of the most important communicators for a designer because they allow an idea to be represented in a tactile and tangible manner. The process of this project was different as it began with research of an architect and his or her building yet then proceeded to replicating the final result of that idea through material experimentation and detachable parts. In fact, the final step involved creating diagrams in physical model form through which organizational aspects of the building like materiality, movement, and orientation were represented.

Within this framework, my group conducted research on Joan Soranno from HGA and modeled her team’s Garden Mausoleum located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We discovered that her dedication to preservation and respect for the history of the site meant that her design was outward-looking and connected with the older mausoleum, Byzantine chapel and landscape as well.

Crypt Circulation

Chapel Orientation

Initial Studies

Cardboard was the only material utilized in the replica model as it represented the connection between the Garden Mausoleum and the rest of the site. Our intent was to use it in three distinct manners in order to demonstrate the different approaches each piece of funerary architecture sought regarding the afterlife.


Wood and plaster begin a hierarchy of spaces within the Mausoleum. The temporal and soft quality of these materials means less weight is placed upon these spaces.

Juxtaposition of Marble and Granite


Timeless and serene, marble reflects more earthy and permanent qualities, indicating the transition into underground space.


Granite completes this hierarchy as it connects visitors to the outside world, defying notions of traditional mausoleums.

Transition from Temporal to Permanent

James Wohlers, B.D.A. University of Minnesota 612-325-2014 Thank you!

Architecture Portfolio  
Architecture Portfolio  

Undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota's B.D.A. program