Page 1





Statement of Inquiry:


Grappling with Modernity:


Investigative Portmanteau:

A sensory experience born from indigenous cultures of our past, re-contextualized in the modern era as a critique of current architectural processes and practices.

To critique a thing one must first understand the object of their criticism. 2.1 The Farnsworth House: Plano, Illinois Mies Van Der Rohe. 1951 2.2 Villa Savoye Poissy, France Le Corbusier. 1928-1929

A series of first passes at the possibility of contextualizing notions of primal, sensation, and perception on modern icons. 3.1 Sensodernation: The Farnsworth and human sensation 3.2 Primodernal: The Farnsworth and materiality 3.3 Phenomodern: The Farnsworth and human perception 3.4 Discardernized: The outcome of modern processes and its effects on human habitation. 3.5 Modecay: The inherent beauty of natural decay.


Perceptual Lessons:


Augmenting Process:


Relevant Assembleges:

The Great Lakes Native American Indians methods of connection and use of materials in line with natural processes. 4.1 The Wigwam: A native american house form and assemblages “House, Form, and Culture”. Amos Rapoport 4.2 The Longhouse: A native american place of broader connection

7.0 Affected Bibliography:

A selection of works digested that directly or indirectly affected my thesis proposal.

Can designers use imagery of an experience or place in conjunction with architectural conception to facilitate the design process? 5.1 Poetry and Imagery as design generator “The Poetics of Space”. Gaston Bachelard.

An analysis of three built works which incorporate some or all of the elements of interest in their style, material, or execution. 6.1 Perception of Space: Chapel of St. Ignatius Seattle University, Seattle, Washington 1994 - 1997 6.2 Tactile Experience: Thermal Baths Vals, Switzerland 1996 6.3 Connection to Place: Glacier Museum Jostedal Glacier, Fjaerland, Norway 1989 - 1991

Further Rescources:





THE RAW: I am first and foremost interested in human experience in architecture. For me, human experience is manifested through the combination of sensation and perception. I believe perception is not the product of any single sensation. It is instead an amalgamation and hybridization of multiple sensations converging to create a complete experience. Therefore, we cannot attribute any single sensation to a particular experience. Instead, we can only hope to understand how and in what combinations sensations accrete to create memorable or powerful perceptions of space. Our physical bodies experience haptic sensations that when processed through the mind combine to create a perception of a particular circumstance. You could think of this human perception as the ability to describe the convergence of these sensations and reflections to oneself or another. While it is difficult to affect the ways in which a particular individual perceives or reflects on their sensation, the sensation itself is more easily augmented. If this is the case, how can we heighten sensations the denizens of our buildings experience? Are there examples of cultures in particular regions whose buildings were highly sensory? When imagining a condition that ema-


nates human sensation of place, I am struck by images of primal man’s condition. I picture the first tribal members inhabiting structures created from materials growing in their particular milieu. These structures were not only of the land themselves, but allowed the sensations associated with their particular place to permeate their dwellings. What is it about the soft glow of fire light cast across the shell of a wigwam on the landscape? I imagine sitting inside a teepee nested on the North American prairie with the subtle smells of burning wood filling my nostrils and sitting beneath a woven interior of birch bark softly catching the light of an internal flame. If we agree that these spaces are highly experiential then the question one asks is, what makes the imagery associated with these types of places, that is, places created by indigenous cultures, so agreeable? It is my contention that indigenous structures were most experiential, first and foremost, through their implementation of natural or what I am defining as “raw” materials. I hope to investigate the ways in which indigenous cultures used the raw; to dissect them as a scientist might, in the hopes of guiding the key components or ingredients of these places to recreate the powerful experiences associated with those places.

Problematically, such experiential places have somehow resisted true implementation in the modern context. While my interests in human perception and experience entice me to investigate the indigenous, that notion seems somehow out of place in the 21st century. Why does the gap between the indigenous approach to building and our modern notions seem so disparate? Furthermore, if I think about our modern condition, I am not only struck by a glaring lack of any connection between experiences associated with raw spaces, but also a lack of variety. The international style of high modernism took an opposing approach to space. Their goal was to manifest pristine or perfect architecture divorced from the natural processes of decay associated with living processes. The Farnsworth House designed by Mies Van De Rohe serves as a perfect example of aspirations for the pristine. Mies’ architecture reduced everything to its most rational assemblage, creating space that we can think about and find beauty in, but that cannot be directly experienced. Our perception of the beauty associated with the Farnsworth is a beauty we discover through our reflection of the architecture not through our sensations of that place. From our earlier discus-

sion, I would argue that this architecture is 50% deficient because instead of attempting to beautifully combine sensations together to create new human perception it focuses simply on reflection or rationalization. The question then is would a child experiencing this place find the same value in Mies’ work that a fully developed rational mind might? I would argue a child’s perception of this place would be somehow deficient. Would a child be able to rationalize the relationship of part to whole or the dimensional relationships between the components of the building and be pleased with the outcome? My critique of the international style lies in this quest for perfection. Our building materials are naturally imperfect and it is in this imperfection, in this rawness, that beauty dwells. I would like to take a moment to clarify the position I am not taking. It is not my contention that the architecture we create should be wholly bombarded or filled with sensations from as many sources as possible. I am not interested in creating a cacophony of varied sensations believing it would manifest a better human experience. More sensations do not equal better or heightened experience. I am instead arguing that the material choices of our modern buildings are somehow,

like Mies’ Farnsworth House, homogenized or reduced to a dubbed down version of their potential character and in this homogenization everything is lost. The cultures of the indigenous lived successful existences in their primal structures with the added benefit of places that titillated the senses, while our modern structures feel the need to cover, seal, and encase their materials. For example, when using wood products in our modern buildings, if we even use real wood, we feel it necessary to seal them with varnish. The varnishing process, while providing the material a smooth sheen and protecting it from damage, also seals off the natural inherent qualities of that material itself. The surface of the particular piece of wood becomes homogenized. For if we were to varnish a piece of fur and a piece of oak, we have now covered the particular smells and textures associated with these types of woods, the characteristics that originally made them different to begin with. While some of their natural character remains, like their color and grain, we have now somehow reduced the combination of sensations that need to come together to create an authentic sensation and understanding of that material. Christian Norberg-Schulz in his book “Genius Loci

“Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture” agrees stating, “The unsanitary old ghetto is much more real to us than our new, hygienic surroundings. We walk about as in a dream, and are ourselves only a ghost of past times.” I believe our attempts to refine or create pristine perfect and permanent materials makes our material understanding of spaces strange. What does it mean to experience the smell and color of your favorite blanket, but not feel the softness of the worn material on your skin when pulling it over your body? If we make these subtle refinements to our materials and slightly “awkwardize” each of the components that make up our architecture, what does this mean for the final product and its authenticity? I am going to investigate, in an attempt to understand, the uses and applications of indigenous raw materials to reveal the opportunities for their implementation in our modern buildings. Where is the resistance to this kind of tectonic? Why has this way of building not, in any way, penetrated our modern assemblages? In this process, it is my contention that, if done successfully, our buildings may become more sensory, more experiential, more sustainable, more raw, and more appropriate to the modern condition.


GRAPPLING WITH MODERNITY One of the goals of my thesis is to critique the modern condition or, more specifically, the materiality and permanence with which we produce our buildings in the 21st century. What follows is an in depth dissection of two icons of the modern era; the Farnsworth House and Villa Savoye. In this first portion of the book, I simply want to prove a proficiency and understanding of the buildings I intend to critique. Therefore, each building is taken apart, analyzed, and reconstituted in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of the forces that made that particular piece of architecture the way it stands today.




My thesis is an examination of experiences and sensations and the human perceptions associated with place. While these notions tend to align themselves with the unmeasurable or unquantifiable aspects of the architectural profession, there is also a way to design buildings which is highly measured, numerically rigorous, or rationally durbale. The Farnsworth House was produced through the masterly execution of a methodology associated with the latter. Essentially, the Farnsworth Hosue follows a simple module measuring 2.75’ in the X direction and 2’ in the Y direction. This module is then aggregated to create an architecture with resounding relationships and connections between physically quantifiable spaces. While this approach to design is indeed a successful way to produce architecture, I believe it cannot be entirely successful without embodying notions of human perception. The following pages examine this type of architecture in the hopes of discovering opportunities for informed intervention. By this, I mean, where are the opportunities to foster an architecture that is both measured and rational while engaging human experience at its deepest levels. We will see some of these “what if” scenarios later in the Investigative Portmanteau section of the book. For now lets attempt to understand what makes the Farnsworth House tick.

RAW 10

Farnsworth Module



The lower deck of the Farnsworth House is 20 modules in the x direction and 11 modules in the y direction creating an overall dimension of 55’ x 22’. The stair tread length is 12 feet leaving a 6” overlap outside the module grids spacing.

The upper decks interior dimensions are 20 by 14 modules making an interior volume of 56’ x 28’ excluding the covered porch area whose width in the x direction is equal to the lower decks depth in the y direction.

RAW 11

Farnsworth Dimensional Correlations:

Farnsworth Column Dimensions:

The dimension of the upper decks exterior porch in the x direction is equal to that of the y dimensino of the lower deck. Also, if you were to take the lower deck and place it on the upper porch area rotating it 90 degrees and cutting it in half you would get the exact dimensions of the porch of the upper deck.

The column dimensions are set 22’ apart consistently around the building. This repetative grid is then inset at the furthest edge of each floor plate by two modules or 5.5’. The dimensions of the column grid coorelates to the width of the lower plate and of the porch space above.

RAW 12

Farnsworth Mullions, L - Angles, and Stairs:

Farnsworth Concluded:

If you divide the previously described column module in half you get an 11’ spacing. This spacing is equal to four 2.75’ modules in the x direction and is also the distance of the spacing between columns and L angles. While the columns support the roof the L - angles and mullions support the enclosure of the Farnsworth.

The Farnsworth House, while a monumental example of rigor in architecture falls surprizingly short when measured against an experiential or sensory experience. The Farnsworth House is, to put it simply, a bland and homogenous box that feels more like a machined part to be inserted into an industrial product than a place that mimics the vast range and beauty of human life. While I do think Mies has included the basics for good architecture in the Farnsworth House, I believe he has only created the foundation of how architecture can manifest itself to titillate human senses and experiences.

RAW 13

V I L L A S AV O Y E Le Corbusier. Poissy, France. 1928 - 1929

Villa Savoye follows along similar lines as the Farnsworth House, but begins to free itself from the rigidity found in Meis’ work; while remaining a product of the International Style. Here, I examine this modern paradigm again while moving away, slightly, from a hyper rationalized language to one of austere expression. While Mies’ followed a rigid adherence to the implicit rules of the material confining him to orthagonal space, Le Corbusier in his earlier projects was rational in his compositions, but allowed the spaces he manifest to begin a subtle play with volume and form. Villa Savoye is essentially composed of three horizontal masses of different types stacked on top of each other. These comprise what Lance Levine calls the ground, earth, and sky levels. His understanding of Corbusier’s intent was that the ground floor remained in shadow sinking the walls back from the physical boundary of building and sky to create a place engulfed in shadow. Above this was the level of the horizon where your well to do, or more englightened person would dwell. This was the domain of the horizon where one would look out into the landscape from this protected level. Finally, the sky level was the domain of connection between individual and the sky. Similarly to the methodology of understanding and acting upon the Farnsworth House, I will learn as much about the architecture and then suggest ways the building could be acted upon based upon notions of the raw.

RAW 14

Villa Savoye Cave Realm Organization: The entrance floor to the Villa Savoye is comprised mainly of servants quarters, a garage space for automobiles, and a sinuous ramp that brings the observer from the ground level to the level of human habitation. Pilotis spaced at 16’ on center create a perimeter around the ground floor with a double row of columns violating this perfect grid to signify the entry into the building. Here, it is important to take note of the column spacing. The perimeter columns create five columns lining each edge placing a column at the center of the composition that would normally signify entry. While the perimeter line of columns by not signifying entry protects the core the columns that create the core of the grid split at this central column to provide the main entry into Villa Savoye.

RAW 15

Villa Savoye Earth Realm Organization: A sinuous movement up the ramp from below brings the observer onto the main floor of the house. Or as Lance Levine labels it, “the earth realm.� This is the place for human habitation that exists between the earth below and the sky level above. Here, the building opens itself up creating a central exterior courtyard which the surrounding volumes enclose. All of the apertures in the exterior facade of the building are a slight variation on the ribbon window; a signature of the International Style. These apertures are meant to bring ones attention to the vast horizon that serves as the threshold between the earth realm and the sky realm. It is here that one contemplates their existence and place in this relationship.

RAW 16

Villa Savoye Sky Realm Organization: The third and final piece to Corbusier’s masterpiece is the Sky Realm. This was a place where man was to experience the sky and to draw connection between man and beyond. The sinuous and flowing walls at this level are approximately 9’ tall and have only a single aperture in them. This is because this was a space for contemplating the unknown and to further that aspiration the walls serve to frame a view of the sky from any vantage point at this level. While Villa Savoye is a masterful piece of modern archtiecture, it begins to break free from Mies’ rigid expression of materials and begins to loosen itself from the modularity of the hard grid. What Villa Savoye lacks is a well thought out application of materials. Similarly to the Farnsworth Villa Savoye creates a strong beat, but lacks melody. RAW 17

INVESTIGATIVE PORTMANTEAU In an attempt to break from the boundaries of simple observation and data collection, I chose to begin to propose possibilities for the conditions I was interested in an intervening those ideas on existing modern icons. Specifically, the Farnsworth House by Mies Van Der Rohe and Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier were analyzed in the pages above and are now going to be, essentially, played with. Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis in their book “Opportunistic Architecture” discuss the role of posing what if scenarios that can begin to free the designer from a more stringent way of thinking and perceiving architecture. The excerpt I read from this text inspired me to start to ask “what if...” questions about my convictions of architecture. These questions will always seem or start out as far fetched or unrealistic notions that are eventually given credibility by beginning to reign in ones understanding of their original departure. Here, is a series of five investigations of this nature.

RAW 18

RAW 19


raw experience of sensations in architecture Juhani Pallasmaa in “Questions of Perception” argues that architectural experience has been reduced to one all powerful sense, the sense of sight. “A real architectural experience is not simply a series of retinal images; a building is encoutered - it is approached, confronted, related to one’s body, moved about, utilized as a condition for other things, etc.” Sensodernation investigates these notions. The vague outlines of a stagnant structure shimmer and bend in the reflection of the water beneath your oar. As your canoe draws closer to this isolated and estranged building you find yourself intrigued and curious about its unusual perdicament. Stepping out onto the patio, a warm humid breeze engulfs your awareness as water impacting the side of your canoe splashes and cools your legs. Stepping onto the patio you can’t help but feel like someone is watching you, but examining your environment produces no answer to this intuition. Immediately, you notice the accuity of your vision failing while somehow heightening your awareness of the

other senses. Moving up the stairs your sight diminishes further leaving only your now more refined sense of sound, smell, and touch to navigate this built island. Placing your hand on what you thought was the door handle strangely does not reveal the same glass and concrete box you saw shimmering from beneath your paddle. Instead, a fiberous interwoven and stranded material fills your palm and you hear the subtle sounds of the fibers swaying and jostling together as reeds of a tall prarie grass. Pushing through these hanging tendrils you enter the enclosure of the building with a feeling of safety from the hair-like material running over your chest and shoulders as the hair on your neck stands on end causing your body to shiver. The interior of this place is markedly different from the stranded exterior. Your sight has now completely faded as you smell suble nuances of salty ocean water permeating the interior. Vaguely, you make out diffuse variations in light slippng between the voids

of the reed-like exterior. At the center of the structure a large opening in the floor transmits the sounds and smells of the rocking ocean below into consciousness. The smell of the salty ocean water below invades your nostrils filling your mind with associated imagery from your life. Just as you find solace in this memory an identifiable and sharp splash at the surface of water below immediately brings your sight back into focus and all at once your other senses once heightened now seem to be dulled or normal once again. The feeling of being watched evaporates from your mind and as you gaze around the room dissapointedly to realize all the sensations associated with this place were curiously wrong. Strangely the architecture has returned to exuding only the qualities and character it did when perceived from your canoe. Simple austere slabs of concrete above and below are joined by sterile glass panels disconnecting you from the tangible experience that so recently manifested itself in your consciousness.

“Questions of Perception”. Steven Holl, Juhani Pallasmaa, Alberto Perez-Gomez. William Stout Publishers, San Francisco. 1994. pg. 35 RAW 20

Sensodernation_farnsworth & sensation

RAW 21

RAW 22

PRIMODERNAL primal experiences in the modern context

Direct light from the sun becomes diffuse and disappears as it washes and combines with the warm orange glow resonating from an unusual primal fire. The crack of embers popping and floating upward draws your attention to a large opening in the concrete ceiling above head where the warm colors of the fire dance across a woven interior shell of living oak growth. The thick wooden relief of the form above head and the smoke of the fire remind you of a connection with the world you haven’t felt for a long time. A resounding echo of a distant drum brings comfort through its repetition, but you can’t distinguish if the sound is real or happening only to you. You feel safe and connected in this place but, can’t articulate its power as you peer away from the fire and notice hundreds of wood ants marching across a pristine white concrete ceiling. Stepping away from the warmth of the fire the air inside cools a little and smells of earth, so you pull your jacket tight to the back of

your neck and shake a bit, while taking in the profound character and richness of this place. Away from the fleshy woven interior above the fire, you notice large living oak trees that stand in place of some of the steel columns, which still remained intact closer to the fire. Around each column the massive trunks create a sharp halo of light surrounding the space between the damaged concrete slab and the growing trunk illuminating them just slightly to contrast with the dark underside of the slab above head. While the steel I-beams are gone the growing trees seem to more steadily support the hovering one foot thick concrete slab, even though the slab no longer sits perfectly horizontal to the earth. You feel somehow connected in this place as the sound of fallen leaves float across the floor from a cool breeze coming in through a section of broken glass. You hear the sound of a distant car horn and turn to look in that direction, crushing one of the dried leaves beneath your feet as you do.

Like the snapping of a twig, the sound of the crushing leaf beneath your foot awakes you out of what can only have been a dream, because now standing in a similar place you notice a myriad of harder sounds that went somehow unnoticed when standing close to the orange resonance of the primal fire. The sounds of sirens now pierce and destroy your connection to nature causing you to think about the hustle and bustle of the city, the stress of deadlines, and the progress associated with modern life. You quickly turn to move closer to the glowing flame, but find that your feelings of that place are somehow fuzzy and slowly disappearing as they are finally extinguished like the flicker of a dying candle. All at once, the power you felt is gone and all that remains is a cold shell that only contains your memory of that primal, powerful, and ephemeral experience.

RAW 23

PHENOMODERN a phenomenological Farnsworth

Your head slowly sinks into the soft foam of your pillow after a long day at the office. As you lie there staring at the ceiling awating sleep you find yourself planning for your responsibilities and dealines in the upcoming days. As your eyelids grow heavier and heavier a flash of disparate images oscillate in your minds eye. The texture of the ceiling, a colorful but unrecognizable scene, the rotation of the ceiling fan, a colorful but unrecognizable scene. Standing in a field of pillows composed of vapor you vaguely make out in the distance a convergence of light types at a distant location within your field of view. Somehow as if by magic, you are instantly standing at the precise distance from the light convergence and can now make out what looks to be a building strangely grounded in this un-ungrounded place. But, this building is not embedded in the earth as most structures you have experienced in the past. What is up or down is unclear, but there is a distinct difference in the qualities of light emitted. To

RAW 24

one side is a heavy concentrated dense light. There is a purity from this light that has a clear beginning and end and the sight of it is simultaneously powerful and subtle. Looking into this light you feel powerful, pure, and at peace. On the opposing side of the house is an open light freeform light, but you have trouble pin-pointing exactly where this light comes from and where it goes. It appears to be everywhere, completely wrapping and engulfing you within this place. Looking around you and experiencing this light inspires feelings of bigness, connectedness, and expansion. The relationship between these similar yet distinct conditions resolve themselves around the house itself. At the intersection of these two profound conditions rests the house which is resolved through the play between these light qualities. From the exterior there is a small concrete patio just above the surface of the heavy light side. Above this the enclosed massing of the building is a dense box of concrete with no openings to the outside that you can see.

Upon entry, the house itself is supported on dense light beams that literally punch through the concrete of the floor and ceiling. At the moment of their penetration the light beams scatter halo’s of photons across the ceiling and walls creating a choreography of dancing light and shadow. What seems remarkable here is that the beams of light never physically touch the structure, but the sheer weight of the building is held in position as a magnetic force suspends its opposite. Moving closer to these light columns and looking out you feel submerged in warmth. Outside feathers of seagulls wings displacing air is slowly displaced by the sound of ambulance sirens. Strangely with each flap of the birds wings the sirens grow louder and louder. You reach out your arm to lean on the wall of the building and realize the texture of the building doesn’t fit the place. Looking closer you see the texture on the ceiling of your bedroom with your extended arm reaching out in front of you. You blind a few times roll over and close your eyes again.

RAW 25

RAW 26

MO DECAY a paradigm of modern change

If we imagined a course of action where the Villa Savoye never made it to become an archiectural icon and was simply another project that Corbusier undertook during the course of his prolific career. This would change many aspects of the building as we know it today. What type of expression would the building have? Without many individuals to perform the labor of upkeep and financial backing to push money into the project, Villa Savoye may not remain on the landscape today. While it is certain the loss of such a building would be detrimental to the history of architecture, it would bring a more visceral understanding of natural processes to someone experiencing it today. Our notions of perfection exist within a constant flux of time. Time is something our buildings cannot avoid, subvert, or misalign themselves with. The effects of time will leave their mark one way or another on all of our creations. The question I pose then is, to what degree of permanence should our buildings aspire to? In the 1930’s our structures were built to last as long as we could make them last because to create a building was an arduous process. Machines could do some of the heavy lifting, but there remained the remarkable need for human hands to assemble these vast compositions. Therefore, it only made sense for society to deem that buildings were the most permanent of structures and therefore should be built to

the highest degree of permanence modern society could achieve. This of course makes sense because who would want to go through the process of building a structure cheaply, only to have to do the same thing again in twenty years. Today, our paradigm on the built environment is remarkably different. We create masterfully executed and refined buildings on a scale never seen before. Yet, our outlook on their permanence is a little different. We know today that many of our buildings are statistically only going to remain on the landscape for approximately 20 years before the economy, society, or political manipulation is going to demand we destroy the structure and erect a new one in its place. Of all the buidings in the downtown area of Minneapolis, MN slightly more than 70% of those structures have been built within the last 25 years. If our buildings only have a shelf life of 20 - 25 years why are we still building our structures the way we were in the 1930’s? It would seem more appropriate that we devise a way to create buildings that will last between 15 - 25 years if we know the average is a mere 20. How would our architecture change if our paradigms of their construction and materiality changed? For guidance, we might look to Indigenous cultures of the past who used materials that would last just a few years before the necessi-

ty arose to rebuild them. If not, we may begin to rethink our material palette and devise a way to still apply some refinement techniques, like the traditional heat, beat, and treat method, but possibly less of them; leaving our materials in a more natural or unrefined state. A treatment process such as this might allow materials the ability to maintain more of their inherent qualities than when they were previously subject to more levels of processing. In effect, we may begin to reduce the amount of time our forgotten but permanent materials remain on the landscape, while increasing the sensations and experiences born from those materials. If this were the case, then buildings that went unused for a period of time would simply, like all other natural processes, begin to decay and return to it’s raw state. This simply poses the question, what if the embodied energy inherent in our processes were allowed to return itself more quickly to the biological and natural system of growth, maturation, and death? The decaying process itself would not neccesitate that the buiding remain unused. The traditional notions of adaptively reusing a building would still hold true. Therefore, if the stucture were abandoned and began to decay, it is highly likely that a new use may be found for a building whose previous incarnation had ended.

RAW 27



an o u tcom e of our m oder n par adi gm


LAND What critique can be offered not only of the way in which modern society creates it’s architecture, but more importantly how we build in general? It is, I believe, the general consensus on how we build and create our products, tools, and space that affects an architects thinking about what materials should be used in their designs. The modern condition is one of perceived permanence. That is to say that we use materials and create products, be they buildings or otherwise, that have a permanent stake or position on this earth even after their useable life cycle has run its course. This paradigm flows in opposition to the way in which natural cycles of growth, maturation, and decay happen. It is only natural for everything born of this earth to go through three distinct phases of development. All materials must eventually do this, but many of our materials today pervert that RAW 28

natural systems of development leaving our man-made products to remain in their prescribed state for hundreds of years. When we exmamine this type of permanence in relation to materials and products created by nature, three hundred years stands in stark contrast to say, the life of a flower, or the life cycle of an oak tree. In this way of creating, all things return to the earth to be recycled and used again. Our current paradigm produces objects that remain in a state of uselessness for much longer than their utility demands. For example, here imagery of an abandoned junkyard will illustrate my point. The image of the wigwam above represents human habitation or our connection with the earth. Traditionally we were closely tied to the land, but we have now become separated from this relationship

through our short sighted view of material use and implementation. The junkyard (right) creates a kind of new industrial landscape the we are forced to address. But, at what cost? What does it mean for our human physiology to be divorced from the land in such a way? How can we build in a way that attempts to mititage this inherent problem in modern production while also increasing the sensory and experiential phenomenon associated with space? What if we were to create our technological buildings with their large spans, expansive interiors, and fantastic views, but in a way that allowed the structure to be more readily assimilated back into the land should the project be unsuccessful. How might this begin to change the modern landscape?

RAW 29

RAW 30

PERCEPTUAL LESSONS Indigenous cultures did not live on the land they lived with it. It is my contention that this paradigm of the natural environment spawned construction techniques that gave rise to the most experiential and sensory structures. But what is it about these material assembleges and connections that produces experiences most closely tied to the landscape? How can we build in a way that draws a clear connection with the place and time in which an assemblege is created? The following investigation attempts to understand the Great Plains Indians use of materials, methods of construction, and the unidentiďŹ able combinations of perception that make such powerful places.

RAW 31

The Wigwam

the Great Lakes Native American Indians

Type A

The Wigwam was a structure built by the Great Lakes Native Americans out of natural materials found in their immediate milieau. These structures were maintained on a continuous basis or they would inevitably decay and return to the land. I have chosen to investigate the Great Lakes Native Americans because I believe their dwellings were both responsible in terms of their treatment of the land while creating spaces that were sensory, tactile, and phenomenological. Interestingly, the Native Americans did this with the most limited of resources and the most natural of materials.

Type B

The Wigwam served as an indian home for a small group of people. These structures could be created with a small workforce and would house anywhere from 3 - 6 people comfortably depending on age and size. What follows is an attempt to understand how and with what materials these structures were created in the hopes that it may aid in my ability to break away from traditional building methods.

Nabakov, Peter and Robert Easton. Native American Architecture. Oxford University Press 1989. pg.61 RAW 32



1.1_BOW Structural Assembly


The construction of a wigwam begins by burying young tree trunks approximately 4 - 8” in diameter two feet into the earth. This process happens most commonly in two types. Type A buries the tree trunks vertically into the earth, while Type B buries them at an angle away from the space to be enclosed. In both of these variations the trunks are then bowed in towards a central meeting point where they are lashed together walnut bark or strips of white oak. The trunks are then wrapped with a secondary system of “purlins” which are lashed to the exterior of the trunks creating a sturdy sub-surface for the skin.




Primary Timber

RAW 33

Seasonal Skins Upon erecting the primary and secondary structure of the Wigwam the skin is ready to be applied. This was customarily done by the women of the tribe who would sew together strands of varying materials depending on the season. During the dry summer months reed grass or bulrush mats were customarily used for skinning the wigwam not only for their ability to shed water but more importantly for mitigating heat. Apakwas were a similar system of coverings used during the harsher winter months. In this assemblage large chunks of Birchbark were stripped from a living tree early in the spring when they were soft and then allowed to dry over the summer creating a hard external membrane. In many cases the lighter mats were used on the inside of the Wigwam to create a thermal pocket between the exterior and interior of the structure effectively increasing its ability to retain heat.


Type A

Type B

How might an architect or designer today begin to implement strategies such as these to create a building more in touch with the proceesses of the natural world? Is it written in stone that our current approach to creating our cities is the only or best way of building?


Nabakov, Peter and Robert Easton. Native American Architecture. Oxford University Press 1989. background pg.57, lowerright pg.73 RAW 34





Reed Grass




RAW 35

The L o n ghouse the Great Lakes Native American Indians

While the Wigwam served to provide shelter for only a few inhabitants at a time and served as a more temporary structure, the longhouse was built in areas that had access to water, trees for building, and good views to ensure enough warning of incoming invading tribes. The longhouse was essentially the native americans type of indoor neighborhood. The constructin techniques between the Wigwam and the Longhouse are remarkably similar, but vary in a few key ways. First, while the Wigwam would incorporate different types of light skins depending on the season the Longhouse was traditionally clad in cedar or elm bark no matter what the season. Second, if the need to expand either of these structures arose their tactics to do this were surprisingly different. The Wigwam would grow simply by increasing the diameter of the circle to be enclosed, although this growth was limited by the length of ironwood, elmwood, or basswood saplings that could be found nearby. The Longhouse expanded much differently. Simlarly, restricted in overall span by sapling size the width of most Longhouses varied between 16’ and 23’ wide, but could enclose an interior length of up to 334’. The native americans solved their internal spanning problem by growing only in one direction while keeping the other within the limits of their structural system.

while the longhouse would hold entire lineages of descendents and offspring. This meant that while the Wigwam could remain a more “permanent” assemblege the Longhouse needed to be able to expand to incorporate the changes in family dynamics and relationships. Therefore, it was customary in developing a village of Longhouses to always keep one end of the axis free of another Longhouse to ensure the structure could change to accomodate the villages needs. I find the ability of the native americans to design a structure that is easily augmented to fit their needs quite interesting. How can the ar-

chitecture of today begin to reduce its permanence on the landscape while increasing it’s flexibility. In the modern era our cityscapes demand a similar flexibility found in the native american longhouse. A store owner moves into a location and after six months the fledgling business fails. What is to become of the existing strcuture built for the previous owners needs? How does the facility quickly manipulate its form to benefit the next, and possibly quite different, owner? If permanent materials create permanent conditions then maybe our architecture should learn when to create permanent conditions and when to create spaces that are more flexible or ephemeral.

Longhouse Expansion

Third, the Longhouse differed from the Wigwam in its use. The Wigwam would traditionally house a single native american family, Nabakov, Peter and Robert Easton. Native American Architecture. Oxford University Press 1989. background pg.68, lowerright pg.80 RAW 36


Longhouse Roof Skin

The roof of the Great Lakes Native American Indians used sheets of cedar or elmwood bark that was stripped from local trees in the spring. These strippings were then placed under rocks and other objects to hold them flat during the summer months. By fall the strippings were hard enough to be used as the main protective element of the Longhouse roof. Openings were punched in the roof form to allow natural light into the predominately dark structure and also for ventilation for fire exhaust.

Skins of bark were used in a similar way as the roof skinning. Here, the strippings of bark were laid horizontally each piece roughly 1’ by 6’ and were stacked to reach the appropriate height. The Native Americans would begin at the bottom and work their way up allowing the proper lap for the bark skins to shed the necessary water. There were no intentional openings in these surfaces except to enter and exit the Longhouse.

While the structure of the Longhouse is similar to the Wigwam its method of construction is actually somewhat different. The Longhouse still uses samplings and buries them 1 - 2’ into the earth. But, instead of remaining limited by the saplings length the structure was assembled in a manner more akin to the western style of architecture of post and lintel construction. The bending of the timber was not lost in the Longhouse as that was still the preferred method of roof framing.

Longhouse Wall Skin

Longhouse Structure

RAW 37

ORGANIZATION & ASSEMBLY 6 - 8” saplings were lashed together at the ridgeline of the structure creating a gentle arch. While there are examples of Longhouses that incorporated a pointed gable although this was not the most common method.

Smaller divisions provide spaces for individual family groups. A dimension of 6’ from the outside perimeter to the internal structure allows comfortable sleeping sizes for individual family members.

10’ spacing of 8 - 10” diameter ironwood saplings serve as main supports and divide the longhouse into three axial spaces.

A single fire sits at the intersection of each of the smaller individual family quarters. This fire was shared by a minimum of two families allowing them to perform cooking, cleaning, and other necessities.

RAW 38

2’ spacing of 6 - 8” diameter ironwood saplings


Birchbark Longhouse built by the Passamaquoddy Indians from Main, Newell. This structure also serves as an indicator of how the two-fire Iroquois elm-bark ganosote house may have looked.


Longhouse image showing a twelve foot vestibule traditionally adorned with a flat roof located at both entries of the Longhouse.



Nabakov, Peter and Robert Easton. Native American Architecture. Oxford University Press 1989. top right pg.83, lower right pg.83 RAW 39

AUGMENTING PROCESS Upon reading Gaston Bachelard’s book “The Poetics of Space” a couple times, I became increasingly aware of a way of thinking about architectural drivers not taught within the academy. Bachelard speaks of creating a specific image of a condition, or a series of images, that describe a place to truly understand the feelings, textures, and sounds of a particular spatial condition. Once understood these notions are balanced against our architectural process and used as one might more traiditionally use an architectural concept or parti. What follows is a few excerpts from “The Poetics of Space” that I found interesting and my thoughts on what I believe Bachelard is trying to convey or how that particular quote might be used to facilitate design.

RAW 40

RAW 41

Pgs. 12 - 13: “All I ought to say about my childhood home is just barely enough to place me, myself, in an oneiric situation, to set me on the threshold of a daydream in which I shall find repose in the past. Then I may hope that my page will possess a sonority that will ring true--a voice so remote within me, that it will e the voice we all hear when we listen as far back as memory reaches, on the very limits of memory, beyond memory perhaps, in the field of the immemorial. All we communicate to others is an orientation towads what is secret without ever being able to tell the secret objectively. What is secret never has total objectivity. In this respect, we orient oneirism but we do not accomplish it.”

Thoughts: Bachelard speaks of a memory he has as a child and one, which he owns so correctly that he cannot do it any jperceived justice in attempting to describe it to others. It is as though this memory is so personal and specific to his own reflections and sensations at that precise moment that words or explanation is somehow deficient to convey its subjective meaning to another. What does this say about our intentions in the design of spaces? Or about our preconceptions of how a specific client might use our buildings? I think Bachelard’s notion supports my idea about the relationship between sensations and perception. That we cannot control how or in what way a user of our buildings will feel or experience the space. We can only place suggestions of our own subjective notions within a project in the hopes that it will be understood, sensed, or reflected on in a similar way.

RAW 42

Pgs. 28 - 31: “But simplicity, which at times is too rationally vaunted, is not a source of highpowered oneirism. We must therefore experience the primitiveness of refuge and, beyond situations that have been experienced, discover situations that have been dreamed: beyond positive recollections that are the material for a positive psychology, return to the field of the primitive images that had perhaps been centers of fixation for recollections left in our memory.”

Pgs. 42 - 44: “There is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space. Sounds lend color to space, and confer a sort of sound body upon it. But absence of sound leaves it quite pure and, in the silence, we are seized with the sensation of something vast and deep and boundless. It took complete hold of me and, for several moments, I was overwhelmed by the grandeur of this shadowy peace. It asserted itself like a person. This peace had a body. It was caught up in the night, made of night. A real, a motionless body.”

Thoughts: Bachelard seems to be arguing for a type of deep imagination akin to dreaming where one may begin to imagine expereiences that cannot be experienced or have not been experienced before. A kiind of experience that previously could only be imagined. Could designers begin to use this type of remembering to manifest spaces that truly embody their notions of the dreamt? How would a designer begin to translate these ephemeral memories of experiences unhad and start to create spaces that align themselves with these memories.

Thoughts: How can designers attune themselves to these kinds of sensibilities of space. Is it even possible for us to be aware of the types of sounds our spaces create before they are constructed. While this feels like something that is specific to a type of place, I think Bachelard provides us insight into thinking about our perceptions of space as obtaining the ability to become personified in some way. If Bachelard, or anyone else for that matter could feel sound as though it was a person then every space one visited would have its own manifestation of an existent body born of silence. These kinds of notions begin to scratch the surface of an abyss of fuel that, I believe, most designers don’t address.

This is not to say that a creation of these spaces would manifest similar memories for the denizens of our buildings, but they it may begin to free a designer fromt he shackles of having to glean inspiration from existent sources.

Pgs. 91: “The well-being I feel, seated in front of my fire, while bad weather rages out-ofdoors, is entirely animal. A rat in its hole, a rabbit in its burrow, cows in the stable, must all feel the same contentment that I feel.” Thus, well-being takes us back to the primitiveness of the refuge. Physically, the creature endowed with a sense of refuge, huddles up to itself, takes to cover, hides away, lies snug, concealed. If we were to look among the wealth of our vocabulary for verbs that express the dynamics of retreat, we should find images based on animal movements of withdrawl, movements that are engraved in our muscles. How psychology would deepen if we could know the psychology of each muscle! And what a quantity of animal beings there are in the being of a man! But our research does not go that far. It would already be a good deal if we were able to enhance the value of these images of refuge by showing that by understanding them, in a way, we live them. Thoughts: What does our true primitive nature look like. If there is a common ground from which we can communicate with all beings no matter ethnicity, race, or economic status it is our primal sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Problematically, it would seem that all buildings perform this essential task. No matter the skill or technique involved in creating space fundamentally any structure, if built true and maintained, should provide the shelter Bachelard speaks of. What I think Bachelard is getting at is not the pure notion of shelter itself, but instead as he says, “look among the wealth of our vocabulary for verbs that express the dynamics of retreat...” So, it would seem, Bachelard argues that these types of retreating verbs could indeed become the drivers behind imagery of place. RAW 43

RAW 44

R E L E VA N T A S S E M B L E G E S Section 6 intends to convey the general direction of my thesis and the aspects of phenomenology I intend to deal with. Here, three examples: Steven Holl’s St. Ignatius, Peter Zumthor’s Thermal Baths in Vals, Switzerland, and Sverre Fehns Norwegian Glacier Museum are quickly represented through eyes of specific interest. St. Ignatius was chosen for its phenomenological augmentation of natural light, while Zumthor was chosen for both the tactility of the baths and also for a hunch about how he creates architecture. Finally, Sverren Fehns museum was chosen because it is a structure built using modern methodologies and materials, but that has a profound connection with the natural landscape within which it rests.

RAW 45


Steven Holl. Chapel of St. Ignatius. 1994 - 1997 Steven Holl is one of the masters of modern phenomenology in architecture and understands human perception and sensation more clearly than most architects of the 21st century. More specifically, his Chapel of St. Ignatius addresses a notion of human experience that is more loosesly defined than the two case studies to follow. I am interested in St. Ignatius for the ways in which it directs, contains, embraces, and celebrates light. I believe all architects must understand the ways in which light operates and manifests itself if we are truly to own our craft.

Steven Holl conceived of the chapel as seven bottles of light inhabiting a stone box. While his earliest drawings were literally of seven color bottles inside a box this definition would later loosen itself becoming voids or surfaces where a certain color of light would reveal itself. I believe we can break down this process into three definite categories that in some way address light. First, the building creates interesting projections from the roof that formally serve to embrace the light in specific ways. Second, that light is then augmented through the use of

Holl, Steven. “Steven Holl�. Thames & Hudson High Holborn, London 2003 pgs. 120 - 129 RAW 46

colored glass apertures and then cast in differing ways based on the embracing form. Finally, the input and augmented light is revealed for the denizens of the chapel. This is achieved through casting the embraced light onto stucco textured surfaces providing a relief on which the light is allowed to dance. Steven Holl’s understanding and command of light is important for me to understand when attempting a thesis about phenomenology and human perception. It is St. Ignatius chapel that will serve as my control throughout the design process.



c. R E V E A L





natural light



RAW 47

TACTILE EXPERIENCE Peter Zumthor. Thermal Baths. Vals, Switzerland

Peter Zumthor’s Thermal Baths in Vals, Switzerland is an excellent example of a tangible and tactile experience using architectural materials that resonates with our human physiology. While I am interested in Zumthors project specifically I am also highly intrigued with his process of design. Why does his architecture manifest itself in such powerful ways? What is he doing that is so markedly different from his peers? In this spread I will analyze briefly the Thermal Baths and then discuss how Zumthors techniques for designing may align themselves with Bachelard’s notions from above. The Thermal Baths create a tangible and tactile experience through the successful translation from water eroding and carving voids known as caves to baths for safe and powerful human purpose. The correlation between Zumthor’s baths and a cave, I believe, can be seen in three key aspects. The first is the way in which Zumthor brings light into the baths. Narrow slits between the walls and roof line open up to reveal narrow openings for small slits of light to permeate the baths. This type of light is highly characteristic of experiencing caves. While caves remain primarily dark spaces there are mystical moments while walking through a cave when small bands of light are essentially allowed to become light bulbs for the entire space. Second, the baths use stone laid in narrow vertical courses to draw associations with the layering of sediment on the interior of cave walls. The baths achieves this by keeping the walls of the building vertical while allowing the material, texture, and sound of the space to draw connection with the natural condition. RAW 48

Finally, the Thermal baths are fundamentally a place for bathing and relaxation. Many caves across the globe have water not only running through them but held within them. I would argue that this association is the most easily maintained of the three. While the Thermal Baths are a great example of the inherent beauty of tacility in archtiecture, I believe Zumthor may be so successful with his archtiecture becfause his process follows more closely to notions of Bachelard in “The Poetics of Space”. I will address this briefly. Bachelard writes extensivelly about the connection between imagery of a place and the manifestation of space. His examples are

those of the shell or the nest and the ways in which our mental projections of what it might be like to inhabit a place such as this can become drivers for design. If we take the Thermal Baths as an example I would say it is quite clear that Zumthor is also using this kind of imagery, more specifically that associated with the textures and sounds of inhabiting a cave, to serve as the concept or driver of his archtiecture. I believe this to be true and aspire to follow the writings of Bachelard in conjunction with the example of Zumthor to truly hash this out for myself.






RAW 49


Sverre Fehn. Glacier Museum, Finland. 1989 - 1991

Sverre Fehns Norwegian Glacier Museum in Finland was constructed between 1989 1991. I include this project for its ability to draw true connection with its surrounding in a way similar to the Native Americans in terms of true connection, yet here done by implementing modern constructs. Sverre Fehn is a kind of diamond in the rough architect; going through the vast portion of his career without really being noticed by the architectural community. Although, notoriety does not necessarily elucidate quality; and in Sverre Fehn’s case this is resoundingly true, most of the projects Fehn participated in actually were competition entries that went unbuilt. Late in Fehn’s career he was finally recognized by the architectural community as a master of an archtiecture of place. All of Fehn’s work has a fundamental and intimate connection to the characteristics of the Finnish landscape. How is true connection with a place achieved? Here, I attempt a quick analysis at understanding both the material and the form of the Norwegian Glacier Museum to understand the ways in which the true masters of an archtiecture of place practice their craft.

Fehn, Sverre. “Sverre Fehn Works, Projects, Writings, 1949 - 1996. The Monacelli Press, Inc. 1997. RAW 50


SK sky


SN snow

TR growth

MT_FORM: The value given to the surrounding mountains can be seen in the main entry canoy to the museum. Fehn takes the translation of the landscape moving from the horizontal to the vertical to suggest a formal strategy for the canopy itself. This formal strategy is not only found in the entry canopy, but can also be seen on the southeastern side of the museum. Abstractions of the mountain in the form of triangles serve as museum entry on this side of the building. Finally, the heaviness of the concrete resembling hard immovable surfaces furthers the museums connection to place by appearing heavy and immovable. TR_MATERIAL: The building ties in the local tree growth mainly through the use of wood structural elements that support both the entry canopy to the west and the abstracted triangular vestibules to the southeast.



SN & SK_MATERIAL: The building uses a local cast-in-place concrete whose texture and finsih reflects the colors of the environment seen in the image below. While the inherent color of the concrete is a more common gray the building picks up subtle shades of color from the surrounding mountains and sky.

RAW 51


RAW 52

STEVEN HOLL Holl, Steven. “Steven Holl”. Thames & Hudson High Holborn, London

2003 pgs. 120 - 129 Holl, Steven. “Intertwining”. Princeton Architectural Press New York, New York. 1996 pgs. 9 - 16 Holl, Steven. “Anchoring”. Princeton Architectural Press New York, New York. 1991. Holl, Steven. “Questions of Perception”. Holl, Steven. “Parallax”. Princeton Architectural Press New York, New York. 2000 SVERRE FEHN Fehn, Sverre. “Sverre Fehn Works, Projects, Writings, 1949 - 1996. The Monacelli Press, Inc. 1997. Fehn, Sverre. “Sverre Fehn The Thought of Construction”. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1983 JUHANNI PALLASMAA Pallasmaa, Juhanni. “The Eyes of the Skin”. Pallasmaa, Juhanni. “The Thinking Hand (Architectural Design Primer)”. GASTON BACHELARD Bachelard, Gaston. “Poetics of Space”. MICHAEL BENEDIKT Benedikt, Michael. “An Archtiecture of Reality”

PETER NABAKOV AND ROBERT EASTON Nabakov, Peter and Robert Easton. “Native American Architecture”. EDWARD HALL Hall, Edward. “The Hidden Dimension”. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York. BERNARD TSCHUMI Tschumi, Bernard. “Architecture and Disjunction”. The MIT Press London, England 1996. pgs. 62 - 64 CHRISTIAN NORBERG-SHULZ Norberg-Schulz, Christian. “Genius Loci Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture”. Rizzoli International Publications, INC. New York, N.J. 1980. PETER ZUMTHOR Zumthor, Peter. “Thinking Architecture”. LANCE LAVINE Lavine, Lance. “Constructing IDEAS”. Kendall/ Hunt Publishing Company. Dubuque, Iowa. 2004. pgs. 97 - 106 STEEN EILER RASMUSSEN Rasmussen, Steen Eiler. “Experiencing Architecture”. MIT Press 1964.

AMOS RAPPAPORT Rappaport, Amos. “House, Form, and Culture”. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

RAW 53

The Raw - Pre-Thesis Publication  

Developing a topic and strategy of investigation for an Architectural Thesis.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you