Published by The American Institute of Architects
The Architecture and Design Journal of the National Associates Committee
FORWARD MISSION To be the architectural journal of young, aspiring architects and designers of the built environment specifically targeting design issues. Fall 2009 - Ornament. Volume 2, 2009. Published biannually by the AIA. THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS 1735 New York Ave., NW Washington, DC 20006-5292 P: 800-AIA-3837 or 202-626-7300 F: 202-626-7547 www.aia.org/nac AIA STAFF Jaclyn S. Toole, Assoc. AIA, Director, Member Communities Zach Porter, Manager, Member Communities NATIONAL ASSOCIATES COMMITTEE (NAC) OFFICERS Meggan Lux, AIA - Associate Director Jonathan M. Taylor, AIA - Chair Katie Harms, AIA - Advocacy Director Mark Schwamel, AIA - Community & Communications Director Jack Baumann, AIA - Knowledge Director NAC COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE Christina A. Noble, AIA, LEED AP - Forward Director Chris Grossnicklaus, Assoc. AIA - AssociateNews Editor-in-Chief Joanna Beres, Assoc. AIA - AssociateNews News Editor Jeanne S. Mam-Luft, Assoc. AIA - Past Forward Director (2008) Copyright and Reprinting: (C) 2009 AIA. All Rights Reserved. SUBMISSIONS Forward welcomes the submission of essays, projects and responses to articles. Submitted materials are subject to editorial review. All Forward issues are themed, so articles and projects are selected relative to the issueâ€™s specific subject. Please contact the Forward Director, Christina Noble, at Christina.Noble@gmail.com if you are interested in contributing. SPRING FORWARD 110 Architecture & The Body
The Architecture and Design Journal of the National Associates Committee
NATIONAL ASSOCIATES COMMITTEE MISSION The National Associates Committee is dedicated to representing and advocating for Associates, both mainstream and alternative, in the national, regional, state, and local components of the AIA.
FORWARD DIRECTOR Christina A. Noble, AIA, LEED AP
VEILING by Matthias Kohler
MOCKUPS by Nick Gelpi
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE by Tom Wiscombe
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE by L. William Zahner
INSIDE IRAN photography by Mark Edward Harris
SULLIVAN’S BANKS by Stacey Zwettler Keller
REVOLUTIONS OF CHOICE by Frank Barkow
COMPUTATIONAL DETAIL by Stephen Lynch
EVERYDAY INSPIRATION by Eduardo Cadaval
DEEP SURFACE by Brock DeSmit and David Cheung
The Architecture and Design Journal of the National Associates Committee
ORNAMENT by Christina A. Noble
TOPICS ORNAMENT by Christina A. Noble
Architects are increasingly faced with shrinking influence, often only designing the building skin or an individual tenant improvement, but not necessarily both and not at the same time. As a result, modernist desires for a direct connection between interior space and the exterior envelope can no longer be controlled by a single architect and the concept of a unified architectural project no longer has primary relevance to contemporary construction processes. This has led many architects to focus on architecture as a manipulation of surfaces as a relevant means for design and construction today. What is interesting to me is how a reduction of scope – studying a single surface – has revealed new possibilities for design exploration. The exterior building skin need no longer be limited to a line separating inside from outside. Instead a surface can be analyzed as thickened, layered planes with depth and complexity that expands and contracts as necessary to include one or multiple (and perhaps even contradictory) systems. For example, Belzberg Architects’ Conga Room, as discussed in the article Deep Surface, could be perceived upon first inspection as simply a decorative element enlivening the dance floor. However, this dynamic shape encases complexity beneath its flowered form – it incorporates layers for lighting, fire safety and acoustics. Each layer has its specific job to perform and is allowed to serve its function independently and to the best of its ability. Similarly, an exterior wall will incorporate multiple systems to create an outward appearance – a steel structure, waterproofing membrane, and the exterior finish, among other layers, combine to create a single wall construction. Only the outermost layer is what most of us have the opportunity to directly see and touch. This layer, in addition to enclosing the wall and serving as the first weatherproofing barrier, is devoted to aesthetics. How architects begin to wrestle with the appearance of this outermost layer can become a compelling story of its own. On what basis do we design this layer? How can we rationalize the aesthetics for this last layer and ultimately, the building? What many of the architects in this issue reveal is that ornament need not be a dirty word. Ornament need not
be considered superficial and superfluous. Instead, this outermost layer, representing ornament in architecture, as Farshid Moussavi would say can “function.”1 Forward 209 reveals approaches by contemporary (and a few historic) architects as they grapple with the question of ornament. Matthias Kohler and Frank Barkow work through an iterative process of internally defined goals and assumptions that are programmed parametrically and analyzed to produce specific technical and visual affects. Like sketching, computers allow designers to visualize what is being created so that they can adjust, modify or amplify their approach. Nick Gelpi stresses the importance of physical modeling and a 1:1 mockup as part of the design process and material investigation. For Gelpi, mockups’ value “comes from the test’s capacity to produce new insight into the consequences of what’s been speculated.” Only by designing, building, and testing real objects and materials can we gain insight into interesting and new ways to use them. Eduardo Cadaval and Clara Sola-Morales take a hands-on approach as well. Their highlighted project, translucent, paper display walls for the Susana Solano art exhibit created from the interior structure of doors, reveals Cadaval and Sola-Morales’s exploration of found objects’ surprising material properties. And, last but not least, Forward 209 also includes a historical perspective featuring an article about Louis Sullivan’s banks as well as a photo essay illustrating the intricate detailing of Iranian architecture paired with images of Iranian life.
NOTES: 1 Moussavi, Farshid and Michael Kubo, The Function of Ornament (Actar, 2006).
Christina A. Noble, AIA, LEED AP Forward Director Ms. Noble has worked as an architectural professional for eight years. She has worked on numerous high profile and large-scale projects in her career, including collegiate, mixed-use, government and private development high-rise buildings. Christina graduated from Rice University with her Bachelor of Architecture in 2002 and currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
by Matthias Kohler
Private House photography by Walter Mair
Architectural facades assume life when they are not just considered articulated surfaces, but when the material depth of the surface construction is activated. Regardless of the tools utilized, traditional or digital, we must consider how facades are made and find elegant ways to build. Digital fabrication allows us to conceive and control intricate constructions with a fine level of detail. Computer programming plays a special role, allowing us to enrich material constructions with a digital logic. The culture of logic (whose tradition began long before the advent of the computer) and the cultures of construction and craft merge. A new order of materiality, which we refer to as Digital Materiality, evolves. Design data is directly woven into material constructions: data meets material, computer programming meets construction, and architectural design meets craft in the conceptually most explicit way. At this level we are tuning inherent qualities of material processes to broaden their aesthetic and functional vocabulary. We proactively seek to invent constructive details and appreciate fabrication methods that foster surprising, sensual and meaningful expressions.
Gantenbein Vinyard Facade photography by Ralph Feiner
The Gantenbein Vineyard was already under construction when the project architects, Bearth & Deplazes, invited us to design the façade for the new grape fermentation hall. The building’s concrete frame is conceived as a basket holding oversized grapes. To design the façade, we parametrically programmed grapes to fall into a virtual basket in digitally simulated gravity until they were closely packed. We transferred the four-sided spatial image data and translated the physical rotation to individual bricks. As a result, the walls’ sensual softness dissolves into the materiality of the stonework. The façade appears as a solidified dynamic form. Robotic production methods enabled us to
Gantenbein Vinyard Facade photography by Ralph Feiner
Gantenbein Vineyard Facade
VEILING 7 Gantenbein Vinyard Robotic Construction photograpny by Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich
Gantenbein Vinyard Facade photography by Ralph Feiner
VEILING 8 precisely lay and glue each of the 20,000 bricks according to programmed parameters, at the desired angle and exact prescribed intervals. Depending on the angle on which they are set, the individual bricks each reflect light differently and thus take on varying degrees of lightness. Similarly to pixels on a computer screen, their macro-organization creates a distinctive image and communicates the identity of the vineyard. In contrast to a two-dimensional screen, however, there is a dramatic play between plasticity, depth and color, depending on position and the angle of the sun. In addition to its visual intricacy, the masonry functions as temperature buffer and filters
sunlight for the processing of grapes behind. The bricks are offset so that moderate amounts of diffuse daylight enter the hall through the gaps between the bricks. The penetrating daylight creates a mild, yet luminous atmosphere. In order to make the pattern discernible from the interior, we laid the bricks so that the gap at full deflection was nearly closed. This produced a maximum contrast between the open and closed joints and allowed the light to poetically model the interior walls. Looking towards the light, the design becomes manifest in its modulation through the open gaps. It is superimposed on the image of the landscape that glimmers through at different levels of definition according to the perceived contrast.
Gantenbein Vinyard Facade photography by Ralph Feiner
VEILING 9 Gantenbein Vinyard photography by Ralph Feiner
Gantenbein Vinyard photography by Ralph Feiner
VEILING 10 Private House photography by Walter Mair
The design for the private house reinterprets the typology of nearby gable-roof barns through its distinctive geometry, loft spaces and the materialization of its faรงade. The private house maintains the gabled form of a traditional barn set within the Swiss landscape. However, from a distance, the building does not reveal its open interior character at first glance. The deep screen of vertical pine veils all sides and creates an introverted, almost abstract appearance that blends into the surrounding context of vernacular buildings. When seen from an
angle, the slats perceptually collapse into a continuous, vertically articulated, wooden surface. The effect shifts from subtle to dramatic depending on the view towards the faรงade. The thinning of the faรงade hints at the open character of the spaces inside the house without telling the whole story. Experienced from the inside, the external wood screen provides a sense of intimacy that contrasts with the loft-like spaces. A warm light, filtered through the pine wood slats, illuminates the exposed concrete walls and ceilings. Close up, paddle-shaped slats in series create a visual impression of an
Private House, Riedikon, Switzerland
VEILING 11 FORWARD 109 Private House photography by Walter Mair
VEILING 12 Private House photography by Walter Mair
Private House photography by Walter Mair
Matthias Kohler is partner in the Zurich architecture practice Gramazio & Kohler with Fabio Gramazio. Together with Gramazio, Kohler holds the Chair for Architecture and Digital Fabrication at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Their research focuses on the exploration of highly informed architectural elements and processes and produces design strategies for full-scale automated fabrication in their robotic construction facility. Kohler is the co-editor of the book Digital Materiality in Architecture, which outlines the theoretical context for the full synthesis between data and material in architectural design and fabrication.
elliptic lens that opens to focused views in the surrounding nature preserve - a window within the window opens as one moves through the spaces. Additionally, the cross section of the slats skews up to forty-five degrees, a manipulation that provides asymmetrical views to the side of each window. The view to one side is open - the slats become fine strings towards the windowâ€™s center. The view to the other side remains protected as it closes at a tight angle. This asymmetry allows optimally balanced views, privacy and lighting on every side of the house. The wood screen becomes a poetic instrument, shifting atmospheres within the spaces through an intricate play of light and shadow during the day and night. As a delicate membrane between the inside and outside, the faĂ§ade encourages exploration of the phenomenological richness it creates.
MOCKUPS by Nick Gelpi
Studies revealed how densities of pattern produce different resolution of feathering drawings by Nick Gelpi
In 1960, while conducting a test for the United States Air Force, Joe Kittinger did something which had never been done before; he piloted a hot air balloon to a height of 102,800 feet above the earth, then he jumped. When he leaped out, to his surprise nothing happened, he found himself suspended in space.
Although an accomplished air force pilot, Joe Kittinger was here, no more than a “testdummy.” He was a 1:1 scale figure in a very large place, venturing into an unknown territory which lacked definition. In architecture we often place a graphic scale figure into a drawing to lend reference and understanding to the scale of what’s represented. Joe Kittinger was a living 1:1 scale figure lending evidence to the consequences of existing in the world at this scale.
Joe Kittinger was actually plummeting back to earth at more than 600 miles per hour, he just didn’t know it. This marks the highest jump in history. Because he was above 99% of the atmosphere’s mass, there was no wind resistance to stabilize him. With no ripple of his space suit, this jumper believed he had gone too far, beyond the reach of the Earth’s gravitational pull. He was convinced he was suspended in space unable to return to the ground. The reality of this situation was beyond the capacity of the expected representational norms to evidence.
MOCKUPS 15 FORWARD 109 Figure 1 photography by Nick Gelpi
could occur. The treacheries of hi-altitude bailout were anticipated; however the only method for determination was to send Joe there to precipitate the results, by enacting it. This is the territory of the real. Within architecture, to engage the various categories of the real at 1:1 scale requires a conventional test termed a “mockup.” While the superficiality of an image seamlessly navigates between scales through abstraction and without consequence, a mockup only works, in its thickness and depths, at the 1:1 scale.
Figure 2: How to break what’s built; How to build a break photography by Nick Gelpi
Architecture, like space exploration, makes predictions and speculations. Sometimes the reality of a scenario cannot adequately be documented or anticipated through solely representational means. There are the literal contingencies of any project which often resist representation. Why risk Joe Kittinger’s life? Because otherwise we might not know what
This is the territory of Charles and Ray Eames’ film, “Powers of Ten.” The high-stakes of scale shifting are anticipated in the subtitle, “… dealing with the relative size of things in the universe, and the effect of adding another zero.” The Eames make convincing evidence that this is a scale specific world. The consequences of our interaction with the world are fluid and become more poignant with shifts in the scalar zoom. Joe Kittinger’s jump is a mockup of the world at a new scale, demonstrating the turbulences of scaling the frame that brackets that jumper by 10. From architecture history, there are two important examples of mockups that demonstrate the apparent categories for testing scale’s discriminating tendencies at the 1:1. Stating less
Mockups occupy a vital territory which ties representational matter to the existing reality of the world. The value of any test lies not in its ability to be executed; value comes from the test’s capacity to produce new insight into the consequences of what’s been speculated. Kittinger didn’t know what would occur as a result of testing something of this magnitude. This unpredictability is a function of scale. The United States Air Force took a predictable scenario, skydiving which normally occurs at a height of 10,000 feet, and scaled it up by a power of 10, from 10,000 feet to 100,000 feet. This scale shift thrust the test, and those involved, into a new, destabilized, relational territory.
MOCKUPS 17 Figure 3: As the plywood is bent around a radius which decreases, feathering increases allowing translucency, sight, light and color photographny by Nick Gelpi
Mockups verify the vitality of an image. To “mock” means to treat with contempt or ridicule, to defy or challenge.1 What is unavoidable in a mockup is responsiveness. Mockups
demonstrate the responsiveness in what they do. They will either do what is predictable or do something unexpected, but unyielding within this concept of “doing” is the influence of scale on the behavior of the response. I recently completed a series of mockups as design studies that considered the significance of the various territories of scale occupied by architecture’s typical constructions. The mockups in this series all behave at a particular scale. More like earthquakes of various magnitudes, than an arbitrary progression of size, these projects make particular use of a consistent material diagram, the ability for plywood of incremental thicknesses to ‘feather.’ [Fig. 1] Not an image, rather a condition, the interest was to coax out the project’s potential energies, that is, the ability for it to behave in productive ways.
Scale of Matter We began by treating a material like a specimen, looking for what it would do, not what it looked like. We were interested in the material’s ability to behave in counter-intuitive ways, in this case draping as a typical centenary structure might work. The drape studies, while somewhat rote, demonstrate how the incremental diminishing of thickness (a number) delineates a different configuration within the earth’s gravitational pull. Gravity is flowing through the material in a certain way that
about the world in general and more about the relational categories for architecture’s efficacy, the histories of both projects required an execution of the designs at full scale for the purpose of reaching conclusions about the merits of each. One occurred in 1936, when Frank Lloyd Wright constructed a 1:1 mockup of his unusually shaped dendriform column for the S. C. Johnson Wax building to convince the public that, while what he had drawn may have broken all the rules of the day, it was indeed possible. A structuralmaterial hypothesis, the only method for convincing was to put the design into motion in the material world. The other occurred in 1912, when Mies van der Rohe constructed a 1:1 mockup of a house, the Kroller-Muller Villa Project, out of canvas, to convince the client of a different type of validity, the quality of its effects. A spatial-scalar test, it’s worth mentioning that only after a complete spatial mockup the client rejected the design, further evidencing the value of this test in its ability to produce failure. While the nature of evidence sought in both is different, one structural, one cunning, the motivations for each are the same. Like dress rehearsals in the tradition of the theater, they both seek to demonstrate that they work at a scale that isn’t representational.
MOCKUPS 18 Figure 5: Hovering mockup drawings drawings by Nick Telpi
Figure 4: Densities of pattern produce different resolution of feathering drawings by Nick Telpi
The standard off the shelf plywood sheet is engineered to resist the entropic deformation of gravity, but what if an entropic response could be used for something productive? Inscribed strategic cuts respond to the bending radius of the sheet as the tightened radius produces more extreme feathering increasing with it transparency and transmission of colored light. [Fig. 3]
Scales of Transparency We connected resulting conditions of transparency, boundary, aperture, and color glow to the thickness of material and its ability to bend. As the ‘feather wall’ tightens up towards its center and exceeds the maximum curvature allowable, it begins to break and fall apart. The transparency emerges from the density of pattern in the surface and its tangential correspondence to the turbulence of the wall. While typical wall construction parts exist adjacently in addition to one another, think stud framing and cladding, with little disruption to each other, the parts of this wall mix together and exhibit a nuanced, behavioral boundary, exhibiting color, translucency and shape. [Fig. 4]
Scale of Structures By migrating the feather condition from a screen to that of motivated structural idea, what operated in its impartial deflections and deformations as a light modulator became an idea about how supports could be cut out of a single sheet and differentiated to emerge and play the recognizable role of a structural system. The relationship between backup frame (structure) and skin configuration is inverted as the skin becomes the structure itself, ob-
scuring the structural role of the frame. The frame now becomes an excessive dead-load to be supported by the structural skin. The structure results from the assembled combination of parts. The implementation of various radii bends the skin and pattern tight enough that the resultant feathering lifts the entire object off the ground. The entire assembly is propped up, seemingly hovering above the ground by the lift of the plywood feathers. The frame that ordinarily would do the lifting is now lifted producing a reversal of structural roles. [Fig. 5]
Scales of Overlap Engineering the support further we developed a leaning structure. In this structural mockup a verifiable composite structural configuration occurs. The structural frame leans over and relies on its skin to prop itself up. Without the skin it would fall over. Without the frame the skin wouldn’t expand to configure for structural capacity. And, if this skin weren’t this thickness of plywood, or rather if it were paper, it wouldn’t be strong enough to act as a support at the scale of this mockup. A double layer of skin triangulates at the point where it meets the ground to form a structural depth like a monocoque system. The frame needs the skin and the skin needs the frame to configure itself for stability.
Scale Finding The largest of the mockups increases the scale of materials to construction grade plywood, which determined the size of the whole assembly, a shift from a form finding exercise to a type of scale finding procedure, which requires the capacity of the part to behave in alignment with the whole. [Fig. 6] To suggest a smaller scale version of this design requires a revision of ingredients as they will only work together at this scale without failing at the integrity of their material.
makes it take this position and subsequently produce this appearance. These configurations are earth specific and would change if sited on the moon where gravity is 1/6th that of the earth’s.
Figure 6: Scale finding mockup, 1/8 inch birch plywood photography by Nick Gelpi
Between Scales Architecture often looks to references from outside the discipline to gain new rules and direction for its production. This series of mockups defers to cues from within the way things already exist in the world. Utilizing a universal diagram or condition, the various objects may all look similar, however they all specify a response to a unique world. They are all different in their particular responses to the categorical scales that architecture proffers. As evident in Joe Kittinger’s jump, the nature of the world changes in relation to the scale figure, it behaves differently. The universality of the pattern is delineated into categories as particularities of these projects demonstrate the shifting scales between them. Scale doesn’t look like anything, it is invisible, yet it permeates the arena for architecture. As the traditional categories of architecture’s catalogue of scalar implementation, windows/ screens, structure/envelope, have become redundant, what increasingly looks the same, requires an invisible efficacy in its ability to do work. Perhaps architecture’s focus for innovation can find new fodder adjacent to pragmatic and formal ingenuity by discovering the in-between zones of scale, where the world behaves differently, and provides untapped potential energies for architecture’s wandering future.
is a visiting Lecturer at the MIT School of Architecture + Planning, and principal in the design office PALEO. Prior to teaching at MIT, he was the Howard E. LeFevre Emerging Practitioner Fellow at The Ohio State University, and has previously taught design studios at Columbia University. In 2007 he received ARCHITECT Magazine’s first annual R&D award. Gelpi holds a professional degree in architecture from Tulane University. In 2003 he graduated from Columbia University in New York with a Masters of Science in Advance Architecture Design. He has worked in the New York offices of nArchitects, G-tects, and most recently Steven Holl Architects from 20042008.
1 “mock.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009.
by Tom Wiscombe
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE 21
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE
Have you ever heard of the Bowerbird? This bird, known to animal cognition experts but not so much to architects, is intriguing because it appears to exist at the edge of consciousness, driven by both bottom-up instinct as well as what appears to be taste. In order to attract female mates, male birds build an audacious ‘mating-stage’, characterized by ornate thatch-work, berry-juice paint, and colorful collections of organic and synthetic objects. This is not a nest, but a girl-magnet, and while it is evidence of the male’s prowess and ability to procure resources, its primary expression is of the male’s aesthetic sensibility in construction. Females are highly discerning-- they look for formal coherency, color composition, and construction innovation in these stages. According to James and Carol Gould, authors of The Animal Architect, the male’s “constant fussing to try new variants… implies an element of something like personal style,” noting that the birds “must receive some kind of pleasure from the sight of such things.”1 What is so interesting about the Bowerbird is that they have such a highly-refined sensibility for excess, something we usually only attribute to the human animal. How we love to short-change non-human animals! But then, there is the Bowerbird, seemingly operating based on motor programs, environmental cues, and necessity, but also (gasp!) its appreciation for architectural affect! Architecture has been obsessed with science for the past 20 years, in terms of the digital simulations and formfinding, generative design, and seductive discoveries in the natural sciences relating to complexity and systems theory. This obsession also reflects a
Taipei Performing Arts Center drawing by Emergent
The Problem with ‘Swarm Architecture‘ Consider the explosion of new rationale for design all around us, including parametric design, swarm architecture, parametric urbanism, and so on, all of which appear to be apologies or justifications for design. The fact that these are often used interchangeably is telling, since we are in fact dealing with contradictory terms. ‘Parametric design‘, for instance, is as top-down as puppetry, but it is often promoted as a bottom-up process. In parametrics, the outputs always resemble the inputs, which is impossible in generative systems. While parametric techniques are undoubtedly good for rationalizing geometry and maintaining associations between components, they always reaffirm zero-sum logic rather than excess. ‘Swarm architecture‘ is a contradiction in itself, insofar as architecture in the world does
The problem is that scientific rationale in design-- related to process and thinking-- has begun to overpower the actual effects of the built thing in the world, in particular its affect and contribution to culture. Processes have often become the end in themselves rather than a means to an end. And if the architect is not interested in producing particular effects through architecture then they are interlopers.
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE 22
not arise spontaneously based on simple rules, but instead emerges as a complex political, economic, material, technological, and cultural activity. People have been working for nearly two decades on swarm logics as they might pertain to architecture. They have succeeded in producing the most beautiful particle tracery and agent-based animations a la Craig Reynolds‘s flocking algorithms from 1986, but these appear to exist somewhere between pseudo-science and visual art, not architecture. A virtual agent is not the same as a brick. And when you force the relation, you end up with something anemic and weak, without any of the traits of a complex adaptive system like, for instance, a swarm.
Into the Jungle In our office we are bolting out of the laboratory and into the jungle, Jurrasic Park style. In the lab, we would have to be doing ‘research‘ which of course becomes problemmatic when you compare scientific research with architectural research. For research to be research, it requires two things, one, that it be reproduceable, and two, that it be productive even in failure.4 Architectural research cannot hold up to that. Also, if we were in the lab, we would be invested in a quest for absolute truth rather than resonance (relevance mixed with affect), which architecture should probably not be doing. In the jungle, we can instead concentrate on the production of vivid features and behaviors, color gradients, variability, wild ornament, and atmospherics. When you’re in the jungle,
conscious effort of the neo avante-guarde to move beyond the critical project of the 1970’s and 80‘s towards a materialist paradigm. In 2009, it appears that many practitioners, especially in academia, have lost interest in, or sight of, disciplinary issues specific to architecture. As Jeff Kipnis has said, in order for something to be a discipline, it must have its own, independent form of knowledge, otherwise it ceases to be a discipline at all.2 Architecture loves to borrow from other disciplines; it is a kind of tradition since the schizm of design and construction during the Rennaisance. The danger is, when we begin to promote the wholesale transfer of scientific knowledge and values into architecture, we begin to lose the richness and true complexity architecture can have. I am myself a scienceminded architect, and I am beginning to feel uneasy with what I can best describe as the tendency to promote process over effects, or in another way, thinking over feeling. The best architecture is robust enough to operate in multiple ontological realms.3
it is affect first, process second. This is not to say that issues of utility or evolution can be excised from the discussion, but that it’s simply a relief to admit that architecture is not a science, and that architectural effects can be created in myriad, messy ways rather than according to scientific method. Our design process is messy. It leaves loose ends. It allows for some things to be slightly out of control (generative) and others to be unapologetically authored. The use of computation becomes sporadic and strategic rather than all-encompassing. Scripting turns out to be very valuable for this kind of guerilla approach. Although it is certainly a subset of algorithmic design, it does not have the same implications of having scientific validity or magical properties. Scripting assumes no scale or end-use, nor does it confuse architecture with natural phenomena. It is a tool in need of an author to direct its use. Scripting, as my wise colleague Peter Testa likes to say, “is like sketching”.5 But sketching with a computational sensibility, and sketching in populations of versions, rather than laboring away at a single expression. Scripting simply automates, iterates, and delivers sets of geometry which, depending on available features, can become structural patterns, metabolic networks, enclosure systems, or ornament. Scripting does not imply value in
Working this way with scripting produces a multiplicity of ‘found’ objects with openended potentials; nature, not coincidentally, always works from found objects as well. There is no such thing as a tabula rasa in the natural world. There are no beginnings and no ends, just sets of features and behaviors which are incrementally evolved, sometimes in baby steps through optimization, and other times in massive leaps through mutation. This process leaves a messy trail of excess, redundancy, obfuscated function, and non-optimal features. In any case, the complexity and distinctiveness of a species cannot be fully understood only by examining its evolutionary history, but rather by engaging it in its vital state, in all of its visual and behavioral beauty. What matters in buildings, in the same way, is not the sum of their history of production, but rather the real-time effects they generate.
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE 23
Dragonfly Parametric Plan drawing by Emergent
Our office has found scripting to be most productive when used in early project phases in an abstract way, with no pre-determination of scale or target applications, but framed within a known architectural territory such as structure, mechanical systems, apertures, or surface character. Iteratively, features begin to appear which appeal to either performative or aesthetic sensibilities, and eventually, both. These features never arise fully-formed, rather only by teasing them out, and by constantly feeding specific principles and desires back into the mix. Eventually, proto-architectural species emerge. These species have begun to accumulate in our collection of geometry we refer to as ‘The Menagerie’. Buildings are designed either by using several species in various hierarchies or scales, or a single species across its full behaviorial range. Nevertheless, features never appear all the time, from massing, to organization, to detail. You would never find that kind of relentless consistency in the jungle.
itself; it is a means to an end. A script can never create real complexity on its own.
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE 24 Dragonfly photography by Emergent
Dragonfly, done in collaboration with Buro Happold Engineers, was an experiment in hybrid pattern-formation and structural feedback loops in a canopy structure. The game was set up in order to elicit a variety of heterogeneous behaviors in response to its asymmetrical shaping environment and extreme cantilever. The name Dragonfly is not a metaphor, but it does imply biomimicry. Borrowing from studies on dragonfly wing morphology, we were interested in how wing performance was related to several discreet structural features. The most prominent is the hybrid cellular pattern which shifts from linear chains of four-sided cells, which operate well in bending, to honeycomb patterns which are flexible and operate as membranes. The veins are deep and also pleated for additional stiffness, while the membranes are thin and slightly curved. We call this a ‘beam-brane’. The process of design was messy-- it involved a number of algorithms, populationengineering routines, and an overarching design sensibility of achieving heterogeneous
patterning which could deal with extreme conditions without breaking its beam-brane syntax. Several boundary conditions were set up in ANSYS (a generative engineering tool) to be applied to the relatively uncharacterized starting condition of a Voronoi pattern (again, not a tabula rasa). Each boundary condition-- from cell morphology and density, to member depth and width, to local shape-was used to generate populations of solutions. Rather than attempting to find the ‘best of all possible’ structures, our team used these studies to generate simultaneously improved performance and aesthetic coherence and complexity. There is a temptation to understand the story of Dragonfly as if engineering algorithms ‘generated’ the project, but the reality is that the process was driven as much by the desire for particular architectural effects- coherency, smooth gradients, and radical shifts in depth and densities. Identifying moments in the structure which were ‘designed’ versus those which ‘appeared’ is an irrelevant distinction, as neither is more or less legitimate.
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE 25 Dragonfly engineering drawings by Emergent
Dragonfly engineering drawings by Emergent
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE 26 Novosibirsk Pavillion drawing by Emergent
Gridshell structures, prevalent in the 1960s, are part of a lineage of experimentation into material intelligence and analogue shape computation leading all the way back to the Gothic era. The character of these structures is a function of their form-found curvature as well as their patterned relief which reduces weight while increasing stiffness. These solutions, while efficient and elegant, were often limited by their inability to respond to local forces and multiple objectives. Our contemporary re-examination of the gridshell accepts the material sensibility of this earlier work while questioning its monotonous pattern geometry and tendency toward universal forms. This design is based on the simultaneous response of pattern to surface curvature and structural force pathways, generating a highly varied and informed shell. Variability in pattern morphology, density, and depth allow for a localized structural
tuning which would be impossible with invariant pattern logic. Ultimately, limitations of traditional form-finding, where structures tend toward funicular forms, are lifted, and more heterogeneous shell shapes begin to be possible. The pattern logic of the stiffening veins was critical for the spatial sensibility of this project and it was painstakingly developed as a hybrid of several shape grammars and computational techniques. A base subdivision of the surfaces was achieved based on curvature where pinched or twisted regions of the surfaces were broken down into smaller and smaller quadrilateral cells. A routine for transforming this subdivision into a branching logic was developed in order to generate a more complex and robust network of structural pathways, one which could be easily re-adjusted based on engineering information and an evolving sensibility for the whole.
Flower Street Bioreactor Our point of departure for this project was to engage the nascent cultural paradigm shift from thinking about energy as something which comes magically from distant sources to something which can be generated locally in a variety of ways. Our goal was not, however, to undertake an engineering experiment, or to simply express material processes, although this is certainly one
A solar array, used to collect energy during the day, winds up into the branches of an adjacent tree, jungle-style. This energy will be stored in a battery and used during the night to run the various systems.
Flower Street Bioreactor drawing by Emergent
Flower Street Bioreactor drawing by Emergent
The project is an aquarium-like bioreactor inserted into the facade of a building, which contains green algae colonies that produce oil through photosynthesis. The aquarium is made of thick transparent acrylic, molded to create the intricate relief on the front. This relief tracks along with and supports an internal lighting armature which is based on the Bio-feedback Algae Controller, invented by OriginOil in Los Angeles. Tuned LED lights that vary in color and intensity support algae growth at different stages of development, maximizing output. According to OriginOil, “this is a true bio-feedback system… the algae lets the LED controller know what it needs as it needs it, creating a self-adjusting growth system.” At night, when this system intensifies, it generates a simultaneously urban and jungle affects: glittery reflections on acrylic combine with an eerie élan vital of glowing algae.
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE 27
dimension of the project. Our primary goal was to create a sense of delight and exotic beauty around new technologies by decontextualizing them and amplifying their potential atmospheric and ornamental effects.
OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE JUNGLE 28 Taipei Performing Arts Center drawing by Emergent
Taipei Performing Arts Center The aim for this design for the Taipei Performing Arts Center is to create deep, varied, colorful Urban Cavities between and around the three given theater masses. These Cavities allow the city to penetrate the exclusive territory of the performing arts center type, creating a dynamic, 24-hour commercial and cultural zone.
NOTES: 1. Gould, James and Carol, Animal Architects, Basic Books, New York (2007) p. 246 2. Kipnis, Jeff, AADRL Documents 2: A Design Research Compendium, â€˜Jeff Kipnis in Conversationâ€™, Architectural Association Press, London (2009) P. 51-52 3. Kipnis, Jeff, *@#*!#!!, SCI-Arc Lecture, January, 2008. 4. Kipnis, Jeff, ibid. 5. Testa, Peter. From informal discussions in our SCI-Arc Digital Design Studio,
Tom Wiscombe founded Emergent, a platform for researching contemporary models of biology, engineering, and computation to produce an architecture characterized by formal variability, high performance, and atmospherics. Emergent has developed an international profile via an oeuvre of competition entries and installations, including the MoMA/ P.S.1. The work of Emergent is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.Wiscombe was Chief Designer at Coop Himmelb(l)au for over 10 years and teaches at SCI_Arc.
The morphology of the project is based on patterns of armatures and pleats which form an intricate ornamental network. Armatures are woven together to create circulation and structure, allowing views from the plaza into the building as well as from the building down into the Plaza and out into the city. Micropleats track along the armatures but also spread out along surfaces, spatially drawing visitors inward. The sensations produced by this fluid geometry are heightened by a gradient of color which is most intense on the interior but fades out to the exterior of the building.
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE by L. William Zahner
Architectural metals are the family of materials that encompass aluminum alloys, copper and copper alloys, brasses and bronzes, iron and steel alloys including stainless steels, lead, tin, titanium, and zinc. Each of these metals has a vast array of finishes and textures that add color and interface with light like no other substances on earth. Many of these metals can be coated with other metals to enhance their performance or aesthetic appeal. For example, zinc in the process of galvanizing provides tremendous benefit via galvanic protection to steel. Aluminum and steel are often painted to provide a particular color while adding a barrier to prevent the ambient conditions from affecting the base materialsâ€™ performance. In these cases, metals act simply as an affordable ductile form. Stainless steel, titanium and to a lesser degree aluminum, are known for their unchanging surface chemistry. They react with the surrounding environment, for the most part, at a very slow rate. Their oxides develop rapidly and resist additional surface attack. Other metals, such as copper and copper alloys, zinc, and the weathering steel alloys, are left exposed to react with the surrounding environment. These metals combine with substances in the air and develop very tenacious surface oxides. These oxides Previous page: The de Young Museum by Herzog & de Meuron photography by A. Zahner Company
These inorganic surface coatings, commonly known as patinas, develop as the metal is exposed to external pollutants such as carbon dioxide, chlorine and sulfur. When you think about it, a copper roof is removing carbon dioxide and sulfur from the atmosphere and trapping it in inert mineral compounds formed on the metal surface. The metals used in architecture will not end up in some future waste heap1 because of the inherent value they possess. The metal recycling business worldwide is a robust industry employing many thousands of people. No other materials used in building construction are so thoroughly recaptured and recycled for use over and over again than metals. Environmental issues surrounding the mining and concentration of metals are valid but often are taken out of context. Efforts are being made within the industry to address long term affects of metal mining and processing. Recycling of metals reduces the need for mining and reprocessing recycled materials uses significantly less energy.2 Aluminum recycling, for example, has become a substantial secondary business. Reducing the ravages on the environment caused by mining, recycling bypasses the large ore refining costs. Aluminum refinement requires tremendous amounts of electricity, some 20,000 kilowatt hours per ton of aluminum refined. Most small towns use less electricity per year than aluminum refinement uses per day. The aluminum scrap recycling industry claims that recycled aluminum saves up to 80 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. The same can be said for other metals. Over 80% of the copper used to create the beautiful faĂ§ade on the deYoung Museum of Art in San
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE 30
enhance the appearance of the metal and provide extremely impervious barriers. The barriers are very close to inert mineral forms that are found in nature.
When defining a logic to use a particular surface material, various aesthetic qualities such as color, texture, patterns and boundaries are often considered. In our pursuit to arrive at materials that perform over a lifetime and do not possess hidden cost to our childrenâ€™s future, considerations of manufacture and eventual recovery and recycling of the material must also play a part. Architectural metals achieve these design requirements. They are durable and lightweight. They can be formed, shaped, pierced, cut and machined in ways only plastics can attempt to copy.
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE 31 FORWARD 109 The de Young Museum by Herzog & de Meuron photography by A. Zahner Company
Aluminum alloys Copper alloys Iron Lead Monel Tin Titanium Zinc
Common Alloys Used in Architecture A3003, A3004, A3105, A5005, A5052, A5086, A6061, A6063 C110 commercial pure copper Various Brasses: C220, C230, C270, C280, C385 Carbon Steel Weathering Steel Stainless steel alloys 304, 316 Commercial Pure (very limited use today) Alloy of Nickel and Copper Typically as a coating on Copper or alloyed with Zinc and coated on stainless Commercial Pure Physical Vapor coating on Stainless Commercial Pure Hot dipped coating on steel (Galvanizing)
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE 32
Copper has an infinite recycled life. It can be used over and over again. In the event the deYoung is ever dismantled, one can be certain the surface will be recycled and used on the next great museum faรงade. Can you say this of other building materials?3 There are no significant recycling efforts underway for stone, concrete, glass, fiberglass or rubber membranes. Wood and brick have levels of secondary recycling potential but not anything remotely comparable to the infinite recycling ability of aluminum, copper, steel, titanium and zinc. Metals are available in many forms designed
to take advantage of the inherent character only metals possess. Metals can be rolled into extremely thin sheets, even foils, which have directional attributes such as grain, tensile strength and ductility. Even in these thin forms, corrosion resistance is not compromised. When correctly assembled, thin skins of metal can distribute the stresses that develop from changes in the ambient conditions without affecting long-term behavior. Creating thin surfaces of metal allows for optimizing the material usage while achieving very flexible, yet durable, lightweight enclosures. This attribute of metal is the reason why aircraft and automobiles are shrouded in metal skins. For intricate building surfaces, metals offer similar advantages over other materials. Metal roofing has long been a lightweight surfacing material that provides protection from the environment. At the same time, metal can be
Francisco was derived from recycled scrap metal that was recast and turned into sheet copper. Every single perforation and sheared edge left over from the process of creating the elaborate panels was collected and recycled at the fabrication facility.
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE 33 FORWARD 109 Contemporary Jewish Museum by Studio Daniel Libeskind photography by Studio Daniel Libeskind
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE 34 National Museum of the American Indian by Romona Sakiestewa photography by A. Zahner Company
Technological advances in fabrication processes have taken thin flexible sheets of metal and created stunningly intricate wall surfaces for buildings. Perforating, pressing and forming of metal provides the designer a visual and tactile interface to offer his client and the public to experience. Incorporating shape and texture is no longer a significant ‘artistic’ premium. Thin, inexpensive surfaces of metal can enclose a building geometry and offer a lifetime of performance with little
Various Forms of Metal Sheet, coil and plate Casting Extrusion Wire Powder Coatings – Physical Vapor or molten coating maintenance. A common means of achieving a metal surface is to assemble smaller elements known by various terms as skins, cassettes, or shingles. These thin, flexible elements allow for intricate surfaces to be enclosed without compromising the longterm performance of the metal. Each shingle
a significant design element used to define the building geometry and establish the aesthetic image.
To make the thin surfaces work efficiently, close attention to the edges are necessary. The edges are what the eye captures and most inconsistencies will manifest themselves at the boundaries. They can destroy the appearance, allow moisture to enter behind the metal surface, and add unnecessary clutter to the overall appearance. When skillfully executed, the edges define the surface geometry and allow for the control and distribution of stresses and moisture.
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE 35
acts like a scale on a fish, overlapping and engaging into the adjoining shingle. Stresses do not pass over to the next panel but are released at each edge.
The tendency is to apply covers to overlap the edges of large sealant joints. It is cheaper, quicker and for the most part, it will deter moisture, but it will affect the aesthetic. It will require adjustment and reseal at some point and often can be less affective in performing the function of keeping air and water from entering behind the wall surface. It can be like having patches on a fine suit. One spends the money on the cloth but hires a less skillful tailor to assemble the suit.
Top and Bottom this page: Taubman Museum of Art by Randall Stout Architects photography by Timothy Dalton Photography
Metal in expert hands can deliver the artfully crafted surface that will stand the test of time and deliver unsurpassed performance. Metals used today will be recycled tomorrow and used over and over again. Metals speak to a logic that has a long-term purpose both in the designs that can be achieved when correctly executed and in the inherent nature of the material.
THE SEMANTIC METAL SURFACE 36
L. William Zahner President and CEO of Zahner Company and Zahner Architectural Metal Consultants, has worked with many of the worldâ€™s leading architects, including Frank Gehry, Antoine Predock, Herzog and de Meuron and Tadao Ando. He has contributed to a number of high profile projects using metal as a major building material, including the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Experience Music Project in Seattle and the de young Museum in San Francisco.
Taubman Museum of Art by Randall Stout Architects photography by Timothy Dalton Photography
NOTES: 1 Composite materials that combine metal with plastic cores are not currently recycled. Thus, when their useful life expires, they are sent to the landfill - a true waste of metal. 2 Recycled aluminum uses less than 4% of the energy needed in the aluminum refining process. It is predicted by the year 2020 over 30 million tons of aluminum will be from recycled scrap. This is equivelent to 18 years of primary production. Source: Recycle Scrap Industry. 3 Excluding copper wire which often is created from refined copper ore, over 75% of the copper used in castings, sheet material, brass and bronze work is
recycled copper. Source: Copper.org
Photography by Mark Edward Harris
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SULLIVAN'S BANKS 43
SULLIVAN'S BANKS by Stacey Zwettler Keller
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, Of all things physical and metaphysical, Of all things human and all things super-human, Of all true manifestations of the head, Of the heart, of the soul, That the life is recognizable in its expression, That form ever follows function. This is the law. A Tall Office Building Artistically Considered by Louis Sullivan
At the turn of the century, following the Panic of 1893, the banking industry had lost the public’s confidence. There was a need to reevaluate the industry relative to an uprising “atmosphere of progressivism.” In this new era of social change, a new bank could improve the surrounding town, as it expressed economic vitality 1. Sullivan first strove to eliminate the neoclassical temple form typically
Sullivan coined the phrase “Form ever follows function,” providing a model for a new typology, the tall office building. Although modernists later used Sullivan’s statement to eliminate ornament and decoration from architecture – even to the extent that ornament was a crime – Sullivan’s buildings did not turn away from aesthetics or ornamentation. While his buildings could have a simple massing, he also incorporated highly intricate designs to highlight and complement the building massing. Dominating Sullivan’s later work were his banks. Those most notable are the National Farmer’s Bank, his first, in Owatonna, Minnesota, the Merchants National Bank, in Grinnell, Iowa, and his last, the Farmers and Merchants’ Union Bank in Columbus, Wisconsin. These banks provided new challenges of image, massing, scale, and proportion. In these projects, Sullivan provided a selection of materials and ornament, considering patterns, reliefs, and colors, fitting to a new challenge, elevating the bank within the public conscious. With the charge of a new typology, “Form follows function” stands as the continuous thread through the entirety of his work.
SULLIVAN'S BANKS 44 Grinnell Bank Terra Cotta Shop Drawing by Louis Sullivan image from The Northwest Architectural Archives - University of Minnesota Libraries
The development of his plan organization provided simple, open-scheme layouts directly accessed from the sidewalk. He “set the stage for the ‘ceremonial procession’ into and through the banks by arranging and alternating sequences of low, dark areas with high, brightly lit areas.” 4 The banking room was the ultimate open, tall, and elegantly
lit space. Even the vault door acted as an ornament to the room, symbolically placed on axis with the main entrance, calling attention to its “elaborate mechanism, reassuring symbols for patrons of both the availability and safety of their hard-earned assets.” Often a lounge or “farmers exchange” room was provided for the bankers to establish relationships with the community5. The surrounding buildings influenced many of the banks’ elevations and details, to highlight their integration into their communities. The elevations combined and continued the dimensions, rhythms and patterns of windows, arches, and horizontal bandings 6. Sullivan’s sense of scale also took into account “the distance at which it was viewed” and “the materials in which it was to be executed.” In
used in this era. He eliminated the podium and stairs as an exterior image to pursue a “Democratization of the form”2 by freeing the building faces of historic references and creating a new iconography. Additionally, in the interior he provided purposeful plan layouts and cast light within the typical dark, compartmentalized interiors, releasing the “shrouded financial transactions in darkness, imposing pagan rituals.”3
Grinnell Bank 4th Avenue Elevation by Louis Sullivan image from The Bentley Historical Library - University of Michigan
SULLIVAN'S BANKS 45
The banks’ simple extruded mass provided the basis for design, with highlights of the significant “entrance,” main banking room, and structure through ornament. These forms are initially created with “simple arithmetic proportions to integrate visually the solids and voids and the ornamental enframements of the parts with the whole.”8 The recurrent forms of simple geometries of circles, halfcircles, and rectangles within the elevations express the architectural masses and structural
components. The overall composition at Owatonna expresses a single semi-circular arch inscribed in a square. Within the broad semi-circles, he enframes the deep-set stained glass windows. This same fundamental mechanism can be seen in the preliminary sketches and shop drawings of the Grinnell Bank’s main elevation. The dominating circular window is enframed by rotating diamonds and squares to signify the main entrance, within the dominating square brick façade. Also at the Columbus bank, Sullivan used arithmetic proportions and geometric figures to resolve the asymmetry of the entrance to appear symmetrical. The entry itself is recessed under the separating terra cotta and marble plane, so the semicircular arched window banded with layers of brick and terra cotta can display its
his buildings, the upper parts were construed in ornament of a larger scale, higher in relief and courser in detail than at the base. He also varied fine to course detail depending on the material; the finer in material, the finer the detail, as in metal, and the “greater breadth and depth” as in terra cotta7.
prominence. These primary forms, in turn, “generate the intricate ornamental surface patterns of abstract and foliate motifs rendered in color arranged according to sequence, combination, and repetition.”9 Sullivan referenced many Gothic precedents in the design of his buildings. With that said, this was not a copying of styles and recreating religious architecture, but instead provided a language to integrate nature with structural clarity and movement. It was this “essence” of Gothic, that Sullivan considered an “American architecture” devoid of historic connotations. He would compare his tall buildings to the vegetal origins of the Gothic cathedrals as “tree groves with vaults of branches interlacing high above ground.”10 As these Gothic references translate to the banks, we see the use of tracery as he enframes the structure and windows. Medieval, battered wall buttress are positioned on the side exterior elevation of the Columbus bank.
The integration of nature into Sullivan’s banks can be seen in the many sculptural, polychromatic, foliate motifs. Sullivan’s vines, leaves, tendrils, and pods are obsessed with the notion of growth and germination. However their forms are not “an Art Nouveau vision of sensuous uninhibited nature. These forms are imprisoned in rigid geometrical spaces – writhing under confinement.”12 The patterns follow the basic geometric massings and enframements, or as rudimentarily set within the grid of the stained glass windows. Additionally, they all express notions of designing with an axis, although not always linear. “Any line, straight or curved, may be considered an axis, and therefore a container of energy and a directrix of power.”13 His recurrent, axial Y-scheme, “Seed pod” is provided once again at the Owatonna bank in the many stencils and great spans within the bank, starting at the “next to lowest band with a roundish design, runs through curling symmetrical leaves, through large petals to a floriated form.”14 With Sullivan’s new challenge, the threads of his training, theoretical revelations, and elements of initial buildings prevail in the development of his banks. He reestablished the role of the banking industry within the community with a new image, typology, and iconography. His building compositions provided variations, utilizing his creative
Detail view of the Grinnell Bank by Louis Sullivan photography by Stacey Zwettler Keller
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They serve a modern re-use by supporting the structural steel I-beams that span the ceiling, and frame the recessed arcades of stained glass windows (Weingarden, The Banks). Another Gothic reference is the rose window at the Grinnell bank. It represents the “symbolic key to the banking industry,” and is used as a recurrent dominant theme throughout the building. Also emulating Gothic statuary, Sullivan included griffins on the Grinnell bank, providing a progressivist symbol, signifying the bank’s function of “guarding valuable possessions.”11
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process of spontaneity, intuition, and rational solutions to practical problems. As left with us from J.R. Wheeler, the president of the Columbus bank, “You know, he never referred to this building as a bank. He always called it his jewel box.”15 NOTES: 1. de Wit, Wim, “The Banks and the Image of Progressive Banking.” Louis Sullivan: The Function of Ornament, Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1986. p. 159-197. 2. Rebori, A.N. “An Architecture of Democracy.” The Architectural Record, May 1916, p. 436-465. 3. Weingarden, Lauren S., Louis H. Sullivan: The Banks, Cambridge: The MIT
Detail view of the Otwanna Bank by Louis Sullivan photography by Stacey Zwettler Keller
Press, 1987. 4. See note 3 above. 5. Twombley, Robert, “Louis Sullivan’s First National Bank Building (19191922), Manistique, Michigan.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, June 2001. p. 200-207. 6. Seen note 3 above. 7. Sprague, Paul, The Architectural Ornament of Louis Sullivan and His Chief Draftsman, New Jersey: Princeton University, 1969 8. See note 3 above. 9. Weingarden, Lauren S., “The Colors of Nature: Louis Sullivan’s Architecture Polychromy and Nineteenth Century Color Theory.” Winterthur Portfolio Winter 1985, pp. 243-260. 10. Menocal, Narcisco. “Sullivan’s Banks: A Reappraisal.” The Midwest in American Architecture: Essays in Honor of Walter L. Creese, Chicago: University of Illinois, 1991. p. 99-108. 11. See note 1 above.
Primary facade of the Otwanna Bank by Louis Sullivan photography by Stacey Zwettler Keller
12. Westerbeck, Colin, “Louis Sullivan’s Clay Gardens.” Art Forum, 1987, p. 90-93. 13. Huxtable, Ada, L., Note, Together with Drawings for the Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank of Coulumbus, WI. A System of Architectural Ornament: According with a Philosophy of Man’s Powers by Louis H. Sullivan. New York: The Eakins Press, 1967. 14. Turak, Theodore, “French and English sources of Sullivan’s Ornament and Doctrine.” Prairie School Review Fourth Quarter 1974. 15. Szarkowski, John, The Idea of Louis Sullivan, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956.
REFERENCES: 1. Hope, Henry, “Louis Sullivan’s Architectural Ornament.” Magazine of Art, March 1947, p. 110-117. 2. Severns, Kenneth, “Louis Sullivan Builds a Small-Town Bank.” AIA Journal, May 1976. 3. Van Zanten, David, Sullivan’s City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.
Stacey Zwettler Keller, Assoc. AIA is a Preservation Architectural Intern at Treanor Architects, P.A., in Topeka, KS, working on the renovation and restoration of the Kansas Capitol Building. She attained a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies in 2000, and a Masters of Architecture in 2006 from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. She was a major proponent of the AIA 150 Topeka Riverfront program, and is now serving as one of the AIA Kansas Emerging Professionals Committee Chair and the AIA Central States Region’s Associate Director.
by Frank Barkow
REVOLUTIONS OF CHOICE 48
REVOLUTIONS OF CHOICE
Formation (Re)Formation: A Nomadic Garden, 11th Architecture Exhibition Venice 2008
We discovered as a Berlin-based practice that the European competition system, while very rigorous and competent, is not always the best site for experimentation. As a result, in recent years we established an area of work within the practice that supports experimental research as an autonomous but beneficial discipline for the practice. In addition, we are less hierarchical than 15 years ago. It is now more likely that a student-intern will bring in new software know-how as more experienced staff. We also find ourselves working intensively with fabricators, or structural engineers, or energy engineers from the outset of a project. The fabrication research evolves, grows, and is available to on-
Architectural practice has transformed. As Architects are becoming research-based, our academic interests, practice, and internal research weave together to shape the identity of our work. It is a revolution of choice. In our office, rather than rely on the standard building catalogue as a source for construction systems, we construct our own expertise in fabrication techniques and technologies that support our building projects. The establishment of an “atlas of fabrication” forms an archive led by student-interns who inventory, study, and learn the capabilities of emerging technologies – the tools, machines, and techniques – then apply them to materials in order to produce architectural prototypes independent from specific on-going building projects.
REVOLUTIONS OF CHOICE 49 FORWARD 109 An Atlas of Fabrication, AA School of Architecture, London photography by Sue Barr
The aspect of ornament or the decorative in our work is an outcome rather than an a-priori goal in recent work. Machines enable. Design follows technology. Despite Adolf Loos’s famous credo of “ornament as crime”, representative of an ethical/ philosophical dilemma, ornament disappeared in 20th century architecture as a result of economic barriers and the disappearance of a viable culture of hand craftsmanship. We now have available emerging technologies that can reassume a finer level of detail not
We now can make digitally shaped formwork for pouring concrete or plaster. We work inclusively: digital tooling is equally legitimate as working with “low-tech” handcrafted systems where available. More important is how an action can transform a material. We work around the idea of “action-verbs” where the formal outcome results in how materials are transformed by tools. This is a fundamentally different approach than using software to produce forms and render it materially.
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seen since the 30’s in America and Europe. Emerging technologies include two and three dimensional laser cutting of sheet metal and tube sections. We can also weld and inflate sheet metal or bend it into a multitude of forms digitally. We cut sustainable glu-lam engineered timber parametrically where each joint and each piece can be unique and contribute to complex structural forms. Digital machining is indifferent/ modulation is over.
We “search for an idea of an architectural prototype that emerges from the control of a technical system“ prefaced our unit work at the Architectural Association in the late 90’s. What has changed significantly is that we are newly empowered as architects. We are better positioned than ever in selecting the materials we use and finding new ways to configure and locate them in our architecture. We embed smart ways of working into our buildings that “trickle-down“ into everyday building. It is a resourceful way of working where we can react to a problem and evolve.
Ornamental Structure/ Ornamental Surface Three recently completed buildings: the gatehouse and cantina for the German machine-tool company Trumpf in Stuttgart and the AIA National Award winning Trutec in Seoul Korea are examples of our research work crossing over and driving building
going building projects. It has also been supported and given direction by architectural exhibitions. Exhibitions have transformed from gallery shows of architectural representations including drawings and models to installation scale exhibitions or demonstrations of our architectural prototypes. Here the architectural exhibition is not referring to an architecture outside of the gallery so much as actually producing an architectural event of its own. It represents nothing other than its own material, spatial, and experiential effect. The one-to-one scale architectural prototype has become the single most important instrument in our work for gauging or determining an architecture’s success aesthetically and performatively. A prototype that is wind and rain tested is also tested for its visual effect and economic viability. This is a way for us to close the historical gap between representation and a building. The prototype does not represent an architectural condition so much as it precisely duplicates and forecasts its material, tectonic characteristics, and performance. Recent exhibitions such as our project “Nomadic Garden” for the 2008 Venice Biennale, Beyond Building, Arsenal show, Re-visiting Ornament, Swiss Architectural Museum, Basel, “Atlas of Fabrication” Architectural Association, London, or The Pavilion, German Architecture Museum, Frankfurt, provide forums for our material research to be presented in a more speculative and provocative manner.
REVOLUTIONS OF CHOICE 51 FORWARD 109
Gatehouse, Ditzingen, Germany photography by David Franck
Gatehouse, Ditzingen, Germany photography by David Franck
Trutec Building photography by Corinne Rose
fabrication. Our materials research allows us to scale up or down, from a recent pavilion project (in collaboration with Werner Sobek) for the German Architectural Museum to a customized a “light structure” for the Hans Peter Jochum gallery in Berlin. Our projects utilize scripting software to resolve geometrical problems and digital fabrication for structural and cladding systems.
Trumph Gatehouse and Cantina The two Stuttgart projects employ structural roof patterns that appear ornamental. The cantilevering gatehouse roof consists of triangulated webbing that changes geometry and density in response to loading requirements. An organic logic is legible as a parametrically variable gradation from the column points to the extent of the cantilever. A decorative infill of gradated Plexiglas tubes forms a sunscreen within a 20cm double façade entirely constructed of glass. The steel and glu-lam timber roof of the cantina is organized as a honeycomb cell-structure whose depth responds to structural loading. The individual cells are designated for
The faceted, mirrored façade of the Korean Trutec building acts as a liminal kaleidoscope mediating between the private office and showroom spaces of the interior and the public exterior. Within the unpredictable emerging master plan of the Seoul’s Digital Media City the phenomenal effect of the façade was a way for us to situate our building in a context that was unknowable in its entirety from the onset of the design process. These surfaces are transformed by moving pedestrians, cars, weather, and the adjacent LED advertising in the night sky. It reflects, refracts, and assimilates itself into an animated urban context. These techniques and capabilities are all means for us to expand our knowledge where we mediate imagination with the reality of technology as it becomes available to us. We feel this empowers us as architects where we situate ourselves precisely at the point where we have the best chance to predict and control the buildings we make. It is an incredibly fascinating and challenging time to be an architect where the trajectories of emerging technologies, materiality, stainability, and imagination intersect. Frank Barkow studied architecture at Montana State and Harvard. He has been visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the University of Wisconsin, Milwauke. In 1993 Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger founded their office in Berlin. Their focus on industrial architecture includes masterplanning and building representational and functional buildings for production, logistical and office spaces.
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natural day lighting, artificial lighting through deflectors, or as acoustical panels combining performative characteristics with ornamental effect.
COMPUTATIONAL DETAIL 53
COMPUTATIONAL DETAIL by Stephen Lynch and Jonathan Taylor
The following projects are each discrete components of larger buildings: a faรงade, a wall sculpture, and a stair. Like many projects by Caliper Studio, they illustrate an interest in exploring a set of fabrication techniques for functional and expressive potential.
As architects continue to experiment with computational design tools and simultaneously become more familiar with the technical limitations of specific fabrication methods, the pace of changes in the field is impressive. These new tools foster the ability to manage greater levels of complexity in form, pattern, and part making. In addition, designers can now better explore multiple options, evaluating aesthetic and performance based criteria earlier in the design process while significant layout decisions are still being made. On a detail level, new technology allows for a level of craft characterized by an intricacy in joinery and part articulation that overcomes the limitations set by the high costs of skilled labor, resulting in new developments in the language of detail as ornament.
Reflective Tiled Sculpture photography by Caliper Studio
COMPUTATIONAL DETAIL 54 Metropolitan Cinema and Apartments photography by Caliper Studio
Because we conceive of our projects as a system of similar parts, we analyze both micro and macro scales at the same time. We balance the overall programmatic and aesthetic goals of the project simultaneously with the development of the components and joining methods. Each of these projects utilized scripting tools for 3D modeling software to establish parametric relationships and enable the ability to loop through and evaluate multiple solutions, configurations, and patterns. In more complex applications the use of search algorithms and performance analysis were employed to achieve even greater control and precision in the design process.
Cassandra Cinema and Apartments For the public face of a new independent cinema in Brooklyn we developed a custom zinc panel and glass lens faรงade that wraps three new stories added to a former industrial building. The faรงade design was driven by the programmatic need to visually identify the building as a cultural institution coupled with the practical consideration that the building also houses 9 residential apartments. Rather than adding a traditional marquee, the solution was to develop a patterned feature on the faรงade itself using cast glass lenses and low voltage LED lights. The rain screen panel system allowed the LED lights and wiring to run outside the membrane weather seal, yet behind the metal skin ensuring that no light from the faรงade was visible from inside the apartments. The pattern of circular lenses on the faรงade had its origin in the dot templates used by Roy Lichtenstein (the clients had a close relationship with the artist and were
With a controlled set of design criteria each project allowed for a rigorous focus on the development of an interconnected system of parts that relate to each other and the whole through a strict set of rules. As a result of these relationships, a pliant overall geometry was developed that dynamically responded to the goals of the project.
This project originated as a sculpture commission for an unused brick niche in the rear yard of a SoHo loft. The wall, a remnant from the building’s previous industrial use, was a suitable location for an outdoor sculpture that satisfied the client’s desire for a distinctive art piece that incorporated water and light. The conceptual core of the project was to capture the expressive power of water’s rippling surface in folded metal. Using this as inspiration, we began to explore the disturbances created by manipulating the corner points of a standard panel grid in both plan and section. To define the system we developed a set of rules based on fabrication constraints that resulted in a limited number of irregular
immediately attracted to the idea of using dots as the organizational design element.) The objective of the design was to present an irregular pattern with an underlying visual logic. This led to a process of working with an undulating surface, cutting contour lines, projecting those lines to the façade surface and laying out circles along the lines. Using Rhinoscript we designed a series of automated operations to help us loop through multiple alternatives, each one testing for certain characteristics including: a greater density over the theater entrance, a natural tendency to flow around the windows, and a rationalization of the wire lengths required for each panel. The panel layout was also designed using a custom script with parametric relationships that allowed us to proceed with fabrication drawing prior to having final field dimensions. Our office generated detail drawings for each panel, which were laser cut and bent by an outside vendor and sent back to our shop for final assembly and installation. Reflective Tiled Sculpture photography by Caliper Studio
Metropolitan Cinema and Apartments photography by Caliper Studio
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Reflective Tiled sculpture
The subtle torque created by the varying corner heights presented a number of challenges both computationally and materially. Mockups were necessary to evaluate panel thickness and a CNC laser cut backer panel was designed to provide anchoring, hidden panel connections and resist the resultant “spring” of the torqued panels. Mirrored stainless steel, chosen for its natural resistance to the elements, created a strong contrast to the weathered brick wall.
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shaped brake-formed panels. We developed a search algorithm that packs these panels into a predetermined grid spacing – 6 x 6 in this instance – within the boundary of the niche opening.
The rule based system led to unexpected patterns and symmetries which amplified the dynamic visual properties of the mirrored torqued surface, creating an unmistakable allusion to water.
The Genetic Stair became the impetus for testing the use of a genetic algorithm during the design phase to evaluate and improve the structural performance of a Manhattan apartment’s feature stair. Conceived as a freestanding truss with four straight runs and three landings, the stair winds 270 degrees supported only at its top and bottom. The material palette includes a stainless steel frame with translucent Corian treads and a glass guardrail. The system of fabrication chosen for the project involved laser cutting holes in the tube truss chords and plug welding the truss rods into the laser cut holes thus providing a perfectly clean joint. The precise hole layouts in the laser cut tube served as self jigging elements, enabling triangulated rods to line up with the appropriate holes only when the tubes were correctly positioned. Reflective Tile Sculpture drawing by Nicholas Desbiens
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Genetic Stair drawing by Nicholas Desbiens
COMPUTATIONAL DETAIL 58 Genetic Stair photography by Ty Cole
Stephen Lynch, LEED AP and Jonathan Taylor founded the multi-disciplinary design and fabrication business Caliper Studio in 2003. Caliper Studio has grown to include a 7,000sf shop with six full time employees. Projects incorporate a diverse range of scope, scale and complexity including custom rainscreen facades, panelized cladding components, atria, stairs, sculpture and furniture. With a hands-on design sensibility, the firm has developed a particular expertise in detailing building components with the level of sophistication increasing on each project.
While the structural performance of the stair was a primary requirement, the placement of the rods within the supporting truss became an opportunity to express more directly the multiple force directions passing through the stair. As a result, the rod layout became the focus of the genetic algorithm. The GA set up a loop which generated rod configurations, exported them to a finite element analysis tool for frequency and deflection testing, compared the results to other configurations, then combined better performers and added a randomness factor before starting the loop again. The result was a random appearing configuration of rods which satisfied the structural requirements of the design by selecting rod locations in direct correlation with the force patterns. In practice, the learning curve in establishing such a tool in-house was substantial but proved to be invaluable in demonstrating the potential of iterative performance based testing during the design process.
Susana Solano Exhibition photograph by Adrià Goula
by Eduardo Cadaval
EVERYDAY INSPIRATION 60 Susana Solano Exhibition at the ICO Foundation, Madrid, Spain photograph by Adrià Goula
Ornament need not be limited to mere decoration. When taken to its full potential, ornament can abandon its embellishment attributes, become architecture, and define space. In the Susana Solano exhibit we analyzed the ability of a material to change viewers’ spatial experiences depending on their approach and interaction with a wall. The Susana Solano exhibit aims to create intimate experiences within a larger, more expansive exhibition room. A system of
delicate, translucent, white walls frame and highlight the heavy, sturdy objects it holds - a fragile envelope acts as a sacramental body that receives and counterbalances the sturdy display pieces. In addition to a dialogue between the exhibit walls and the display pieces, we desired a cross dialog within pieces. The viewer could understand throughout the exhibit that each art piece is the result of a long process that may conclude in several creations and that some ideas or forms are referenced throughout the
Susana Solano Exhibition photograph by Adrià Goula
EVERYDAY INSPIRATION 61 FORWARD 109 Susana Solano Exhibition Construction Process drawings and photographs by Cadaval & Sola-Morales
As with many of our projects, we appropriated references from popular culture and everyday utensils rather than allude to extravagant, high-tech objects. In this instance the paper lamps from fairs and parades made of fragile honeycomb paper inspired the design. Like the lamps, the exhibition walls have a volume built from air and inventiveness. We searched the paper industry for an existing material that would not only meet our aesthetic goals of mimicking the qualities exhibited by paper lanterns, but was also ecologically friendly and economical. We searched for a determinate texture made from existing machinery that could be produced industrially. Our research led to a materiality discussion involving those in the door and paper industry, researching paper thickness, weight and transparency. We also considered elements of efficiency such as standard
Eduardo Cadaval, RA and Clara Sola-Morales, RA Eduardo holds a BA from the National University of Mexico and a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Harvard University. Currently he is an associate professor of urbanism at Barcelona’s School of Architecture ETSAB, UPC. Clara has a degree in Architecture from the Escola Tecnica Superior d’Arquitectura de Barcelona, ETSAB, and holds a Master in Architecture from Harvard University. She is currently an associate professor of architecture at Tarragona’s School of Architecture ETSAT, UPC. Eduardo and Clara’s shared practice, Cadaval & Sola-Morales, was founded in New York City in 2003 and moved to Barcelona & Mexico City in 2005. The studio operates like a laboratory in which research and development are important elements of the design process. The mandate of the firm is to create intelligent design solutions at many different scales, from large scale projects to small buildings, from objects to city fractions.
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dimensions, strength of the glue to hold the honeycomb together, and the paper weight and strength necessary to create a sandwich panel made of layered honeycomb paper. Initial tests were done with single layers of paper, to test its internal structural and material qualities over time. Afterwards, fullscale sandwich panels were executed to study the interaction between layers and to test how this solution would facilitate and optimize construction. Ultimately our research led to the creation of an exhibit that considers ornament beyond decoration – through the consideration of intimacy, scale, transparency and materiality we derived a solution that evolves industrially produced objects beyond efficiency and constructability into the poetics of space.
artist’s development. As a result, the walls’ materiality was crucial. It had to provide a double reading: a powerful envelope that also provides a subtle transparency and allows multiple readings of the exhibit. Intimacy and scale were important features for the envelope construction. The delicate walls are created from the layering of a standard prefab honeycomb paper used to structure standard doors; all the layers are embedded within two of those same standard doors (top and bottom). The doors behave as the main structure – one is attached to the ceiling and the second rests on the floor. The paper’s ornamental nature was intrinsic to our material studies. We were interested in a material that allowed for a number of readings beyond a simple envelope. We created a thick wall comprised of several layers of recycled standard honeycomb paper. When viewed perpendicular to the wall, the layers create a moiré effect that offered transparency to the spaces within. A more tangential view would reveal a solid texture that defined the limits of a constructed space and framed the solid art pieces.
photography by Bennie Chan
by Brock DeSmit and David Cheung
DEEP SURFACE 64 Although Belzberg Architects regularly employs software and similar modeling techniques from project to project, it is difficult to study each projectís formal output in sequential order to uncover a logical evolution. The firm does not engage in a singular academic pursuit, we simply understand space to be defined by surfaces which posess the potential for significance beyond spatial confinement and material selection. F.O.A. conveys in Phylogenesis that the character of a surfaceís physical construct can be expressed in a multitude of ways.1 What Belzberg Architects often confronts with built work is the relationship between a surfaceís intrinsic qualities and a host of extrinsic factors including the clientís perception. While it is the firm’s
desire to innovate, communicating the affective qualities of unfamiliar surface ornamentation remains difficult as clients frequently struggle to comprehend the purpose of the unconventional visuals presented to them. In an effort to connect to the concepts, clients and occupants often delve into their own cultural backgrounds to extract symbolism or metaphor which may alleviate their anxiety. Jeff Kipnis writes, “Social, cultural or intellectual ambitions, if any, are the prerogative of the client.”2 For the three projects described herein, there exists a meaningful, yet ambiguous, reciprocity between culture (of use, location and occupants) and the artistic pursuit of surface ornament.
Ahmanson Founders Room photography by Benny Chan
DEEP SURFACE 65 The Ahmanson Founders Room is an exclusive lounge space for supporters of the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles. We desired to instill a feeling of opulence through the use of surface ornament and exploit the richness of material. Additionally, we had to develop a strategy to design the bounding surfaces without the benefit of natural light. This encouraged us to integrate a lighting strategy within the 3-dimensional textures of the walls and ceiling. The wall panels were perforated with holes of varying diameters and back-lit. This allowed the sinuous pattern of the ceiling to be extended to the vertical wall surface. The back-lit panels also provide illumination of the ceiling panels and allow for a variegated, visual experience as the light and texture interplay; the surfaces portray physical and visual depth. Numerous meetings with the Founders revealed their trepidation to dive into a
contemporary design. To allay their fears without sacrificing the design concept, the presentation of the computer-driven design for the ceiling and walls focused on the sensations and warmth of the space rather than the technical aspects of generating the design. While we envisioned the smooth undulations carved into the surfaces as promotion of a unique brand to the space and hoped the Founders would connect with the design on that level, many relied on familiar metaphors likening the textures to drapes and sound waves. It was at this moment, when our work masqueraded as a figural representation, that we were confronted with the difficult task of mediating our own rigorous research with our clientâ€™s desire to relate the design to a tangible reference. Interestingly, four years earlier the same metaphore arose. During our intial foray into surface ornamentation at the Patina Restaurant at Walt Disney Concert Hall we presented
Drapes & Waves
Ceiling rendering for the Ahmanson Founders Room drawing by Belzberg Architects
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our design for CNC-routed wood panels as “curtains” which were absent within the concert hall’s unique theater-in-the-round design. At that time, the firm was eager to employ digital fabrication techniques and the use of metaphor was envisioned as the selling point to enable us to do so. Having had the opportunity to build several more challenging and unique surfaces since then, our sentiment toward metaphor has changed substantially. The surface ornament at Patina Restaurant and the Ahmanson Founders Room is powerful not because of the back story, but because it opens a new way of seeing and using material to the occupants.
“There’s something about the texture of elephant skin…”
Entrance lobby for The Laboratory of Art + Ideas (The Lab)
instance, the translation of research into a product of personal significance from the client’s perspective occurred fluidly for one principle reason—the mission statement of The Lab, “to embrace difference and foster curiosity” was identical to the intent of the design. It may be happenstance alone that the director of The Lab saw something fascinating about greeting patrons with the texture of “elephant skin” on their walls, however, it was the culture of the institution that promoted the open-ended interpretation. In this project, a bizarre and seemingly out of place object required nothing more than to be just so. With the Ahmanson Founders Room, a figural representation was associated with the surface ornament that never seemed to escape the process. Minor changes occurred throughout design development and construction, yet there were limitations on those changes once
The Laboratory of Art + Ideas at Belmar (The Lab) is an institution established within a development on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. The streets are lined with commercial properties including an overwhelming majority of retail spaces displaying their brands, logos and products. It is a hyper-visual environment which desensitizes passersby and weakens the effectiveness of individual graphic campaigns. C+ (Above Average) Products, the internal marketing group established to compliment the attitude of The Lab, was charged with the the task of providing witty graphics and humorous advertising ploys. The architecture needed to reinforce this identity without drowning in the pictorial deluge from its neighbors. We generated a rendering of a simple, curvaceous surface which saturated the lobby with an unusual display of light and shadows. To contrast the glaring graphic texture of neighboring retailers, the fiberglass wall integrates a physical aggregation of ripples and bumps to incite the curiosity of passersby and invites patrons to touch and engage. These textures were the product of research into the integration of varying scales of ornament within a single surface. In this
Articulated ceiling in the Conga Room at L.A. Live photography by Bennie Chan
the notion of drapes and sound waves were established by the client. The Lab, conversely, was free of such constraints and the design was able to work outside the confines of a realist interpretation. This facilitated and ensured a consistency from design intent through client interpretation.
Dance Steps & Flower Petals For over a decade, the Conga room has been a Los Angeles cultural landmark as LA’s center for Salsa and Rumba. The original location closed in 2006 with the goal of opening a new venue in an existing building within the new L.A. Live complex in Downtown, Los Angeles. The new home would contain a live music and dance space comprising a multitude of programs each requiring that it be separate from the others. As a result, the risk was ever present that the final design could lack
The Conga Room, as a case study for this article, diverges from the previous examples, as the ornamentation of surfaces was mandated by the client to be a direct interpretation of Latin dance culture. In this scenario, a fine line existed between integrating ornament and stereotyping a culture. We had originally envisioned the ceiling as a tessellated surface constructed as an assemblage of triangular panels. The agility of a tessellated assembly was desirable because of the varying and complex infrastructure it would span throughout the space. Additionally, the presentation of a diagram of the classic Cuban Rumba dance step—a coupled triangle progression, “dancing throughout the space”—fulfilled the client’s need for a cultural signifier. However, as the design developed further, the purpose of the metaphor dissolved. Each panel became known as a Petal while groupings of six Petals constituted a Flower. The Flowers, once aggregated, defined an undulating surface that waned and blossomed, delineating each of the unique environments within the club. As an event attractor, the ceiling panels converged into a 20-foot tall, glowing Tornado that penetrated the dance floor, inviting and guiding patrons up to the activities in the club. Ultimately, the language used to refer to the design became superfluous. Ornament, as a device for communication, was rendered ineffective when diluted with comparative references. Space is defined by surfaces, and ornamenting those surfaces adds sensorial depth to the experience of the space it defines. This implies that ornament is a means of
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cohesiveness. The only consistent element was the ceiling plane, which necessitated mitigation of existing building infrastructure and the complex infrastructure associated with a live music venue (ie. multiple lighting/ audio-visual systems, acoustical, mechanical, and fire/life safety systems).
DEEP SURFACE 68 Club entrance with Tornado in background in the Conga Room at L.A. Live photography by Bennie Chan
Tornado seen from the ground floor in the Conga Room at L.A. Live photography by Bennie Chan
DEEP SURFACE 69 Reflected ceiling plan for the Conga Room at L.A. Live drawings by Belzberg Architects
Fabrication diagrams for the Conga Room at L.A. Live drawings by Belzberg Architects
Brock DeSmit and David Cheung Belzberg Architects is a group of young designers guided by the experience and curiosity of Hagy Belzberg. The staff is energetic with an eclectic background of combined design experiences. The firm believes that their diverse educational backgrounds and apprehension toward defining a routine working methodology contributes to the uniqueness of each project and the firm’s ability to handle the demands of any given project typology. Brock DeSmit and David Cheung have both worked on numerous projects with Hagy Belzberg for over five years following their studies at SCI-Arc and the University of Pennsylvania respectively.
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communicating affect provided by deep surfaces and should be differentiated from the more common tendency to attempt to understand ornament on its own. Introducing unfamiliar visual detail and texture can cause a rift in the traditional means of evaluating space. For instance, a wall is drawn as a line, or series of lines, in plan view with the innermost line representing the extremity of a space. When we ornament a surface, it requires a deeper understanding to explain its visual and spatial impact. This invites interpretation and provokes wonderment— the ideal scenario for the architect as artist. On the other hand, for the architect as commissioned service professional, presenting architecture as an indefinite experience can often be inadequate and is difficult to justify through mere verbiage. Impositions of figural reference on ornament while often unintentionally cursory associations, are unavoidable. While we do not choose to actively participate in the figurative reference of our work, we have taken the attitude that those supplementary readings are fed back into the deepening of the surface and ultimately consider them part of its success. NOTES: 1 Foreign Office Architects, “Phylogenesis: foa’s ark,” (Actar, 2004) 2 Jeff Kipnis. “About Communication,”What we got need is – failure to
communicate!!—Quaderns Issue 245 (April 2005), 99