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digital hedonism

front cover illustration: changy_shifty_liney, by kenton brown

Published in the United States of America by the Internet. All rights reserved. Except all the parts that you like, because any content contained herewithin is pretty much worthless and I don’t care what you do with it. To even call it ‘intellectual property’ would be a farce of the highest order. Other actual intellectual property is attributed in the ‘notes’ section.

studio: disanto kenton brown 2010 California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo

portrait of the author as a younger man . aoyama . tokyo, japan

digital hedonism



virtual space


physical space


what has been done


aqua fe. real 46

out of context








a surplus of...


hedonism hedonism bot courtesy of futurama

but what is digital hedonism? “Hedonism” is defined as the pursuit of pleasure as a matter of ethical principle1. In essence, people who lead a pleasure-based lifestyle do so on principle rather than a result of a particular logical decision or an emotional response. “Digital hedonism”, then, would be the pursuit of pleasure in the virtual world as a matter of ethical principle. The term ‘virtual world’, in this context, are virtual spaces within video games, and virtual spaces on the Internet. With the advent of microchips and the Internet, people have the ability to immerse themselves in a digital world populated by experiences that mirror and often enhance those found in the real world. And now, decades after these objects were first invented, they have found their way into the everyday fabric of our lives. With this amount of exposure to virtual worlds, it is not surprising that some people often lose perspective on the amount of time they spend in them. This has led to the addictive use of virtual environments. Scientifically, addiction to a behavior is not so severe as chemical addiction, but can often have the same affects on a person’s social life and well-being2. However, it is not merely the addiction to the digital lifestyle that ‘Digital Hedonism’ covers, but the purposeful principle of living that way. As a consequence of being a digital hedonist, one loses the ability to phenomenologically sense the world around him. In short, because of the highly visual and auditory nature of digital medias, people have forgotten how to smell, how to taste, and how to feel. It is the last sense that I focused on rehabilitating in this thesis; essentially a remedial tactility center.

“And meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.” -Barack Obama

virtual space

a collection of essays on the architectural ramifications of virtual space

The architecture of Tetris: construction of the negative We are all familiar with the game, Tetris. Created in red Moscow in 1984, the game has infiltrated our culture as a basic building block (pun?) of gaming experience and parlance. Now, in 2010, Tetris has entered the field of nostalgic games, along with Pong (1972), Asteroids (1979), and Pac-man (1980). The game’s success is based on its simple game play combined with near infinite playability. While there are no goals, just points, the player is pushed to an increasing state of deconstruction. Much like Asteroids, Tetris presents us with one screen, one spatial frame, and introduces foreign elements into the space. If that space were to ever fill up completely, the game would be over. So, the goal of Tetris, is to prevent the construction of structure, by over rationalizing ‘random’ structural blocks. Then, what is left on screen is not a product of positive construction, but deconstruction, and the player is left with what he has failed to do. This whole train of thought started from a small essay on Tetris by Katie Salen in Space, Time, Play. She offers the unique observation that, “[r]ather than the well-ordered grid Tetris players desperately seek, they face instead a highly original architecture composed solely of misstep and mistake3.” Salen seems to embrace this unique architecture that is created from a person’s mistakes in the game, while admitting the paradox it poses: people enjoy seeing an actual product of their labor. Personally, I find the ‘architecture’ I create while playing Tetris is very frustrating and unproductive. However, it is not wholly unlike the studio process. How much of a project is left on the cutting room floor, literally? How many analog and digital models does it take to create a space which embodies the qualities of ‘the idea’? What is architecture in the first place: the building or the space in it? Too often, it seems as if most architectural projects are conceived in such a Tetris way. Original or not, space created by misstep and mistake, unrectified, is either illegible or unusable. Every once in a while, a successful architecture is created from the leftovers, but this is due to strategy rather than mistake. Like in Tetris, space is usually reserved for specific

pieces, such as the long, straight one. If left merely to chance, a game of Tetris wouldn’t last very long. Only through the careful placement of pieces, can a gamer be successful. Misstep and mistake in Tetris is the domain of the unskilled an inexperienced. Is it the same way in architecture? It would seem so.

fig.1 How would a Tetris space be perceived? Would it be the stacking of programmatic elements in a haphazard way? Would the site be extruded vertically, inducing a skyscraper type dialogue? There are many buildings which come to mind that remind me of a Tetris game screen. Steven Holl’s Simmon’s Hall at MIT takes on a very digitized appearance, reminiscent of early dot matrix screens. However, the actual organization of the building has little to do with this discourse. Aires Mateus’s House in Azeitao (fig.1) in Portugal uses some of the ideas of constructing the negative, while retaining the usefulness of actual programmatic boxes. Instead of hiding these elements behind walls, the architect decided to use them and the space they create to shape the main living space, which becomes the negative of those positive elements. The main room is then reserved for the experience of filling a negative space, the experience of being that long, straight block, strategically reserved for when it’s needed.

Shigeru Ban’s Naked House (fig.2) takes on some of these same qualities while being far less prescriptive. The whole house shell acts as a large scale, three dimensional Tetris game board, ready to be filled up with those annoying blocks. In the case of the Naked House, however, the user seems to be very successful at the game and minimal ‘constructed architecture’ is built, reserving the empty space for living and interaction.

fig.2 So, what is the moral of the story? If rooms line up they should be deleted? Probably not, probably no. I think the issue of negative space vs. positive construction needs to be addressed in school and in the profession. With the advent of Deconstructivism in the 1980s, and it’s subsequent influence on early architecture students, I feel we have lost the ability to create good architecture if we have not first started with something to destroy. This is not a rally cry against Deconstructivism; I have nothing against it. But while I believe the strategic destabilization of an existing space is a worthwhile exercise, we also have to look at the good Tetris player, who is given the fundamentals, but can manipulate them to his advantage, whether that is the creation of a unique ‘mistake’ or nothing at all.


Digital versus Analog In any comparison between two contradicting terms, you have to start with definitions and context. And in this particular case, the definitions depend solely on the contexts: video game controllers and the design of architectural spaces. In each of these fields, humans manipulate a set of parameters, or programs, in order to affect a certain outcome. It is in how people manipulate these programs that we define ‘digital’ and ‘analog’. Specifically, with video game controllers, ‘digital’ refers to a simple switch, which is either in the on or off position. An ‘analog’ controller uses potentiometers to measure not only movements, but also intensity. The modern game controller has both buttons (digital) and joysticks (analog), which affords maximum control of the game environment

In creating architectural space, a ‘digital’ approach refers to a process driven by computers and parametric programs. The ‘analog’ approach, then, would be far more traditional; design through models and sketches. It would seem that, depending on the context, the two terms have drastically different meanings. In the world of video game controllers, the analog device, the joystick or mouse, is the more complex, intuitive, and future-oriented. Whereas, in architecture, analog is used more often for representation, and digital is the complex, future-oriented process. And this is true


for most things; analog is the old style and digital is the new. Why are the definitions switched for game controllers? What does this have to do with architecture? To frame this comparison in the architectural realm, I looked at a conversation between Thom Mayne of Morphosis and Hernan Diaz Alsonso of Xefirotarch4. Titled Generation (s) and the Generative, the two architects speak about their processes and personal views on digital and analog in architectural design and representation. I am interested in drawings when they are almost like images – almost like photographs – instead of the traditional sense of the sketch. My interest lies in the idea of the image as the vehicle for the production of form and architecture. When people say those are only renderings, for me they are drawings; my animations are dynamic drawings, I think of them as drawings. They are not presentation tools, they are design tools. –Diaz Alonso From this excerpt, and from previous knowledge of Diaz Alonso’s work, I have appointed him as an advocate for the digital. Mayne, being an older and more traditionally trained architect, would then be an advocate for the analog process. This split, however, is fairly new; although computers have been around and in the building process for year, they have mostly been for representation. Now there is a paradigm shift in generation, turning the computer from a tool of representation to a tool of design. There has been a radical shift in technique following this very quick transition from the conventions of plan, section, and elevation drawings to tools that can very quickly synthesize. –Thom Mayne Mayne recognizes the shift from analog generation to digital, but warns of the problems with using something but not understanding it. With video game controllers, this understanding is intuitive in the analog; up is up, down is down, etc. is etc. But with buttons, a key map must be drawn in order to understand what each button does in what situation. There is no such map for digitally generative methods in architecture. The map must be created by each designer individually, and, as Mayne puts it, “claim responsibility for the techniques that they themselves use to produce their work”. With the upsurge of parametric design and digital tools, we can only start to ask more questions about the nature of these techniques and their role in the architectural profession. And there is no doubt these questions will be much more complex than whether you prefer to use a mouse or a keyboard.


No Clipping The term ‘no clipping’ is a popular misnomer for a cheat in first person video games which disables player/environment collision detection. Put simply, the cheat allows players to fly about and around the built environment: through walls, through ceilings, through floors. The cheat is a misnomer because ‘clipping’ specifically refers to rendering, and not collision detection; however, due to the proliferation of the term, I will use ‘clipping’ to refer to the phenomenon. The cheat is useful for developers to see the entire level at once and to bypass certain areas for debugging so they don’t have to play the entire game through. What makes this particular cheat interesting is the unique view it gives the average gamer and the parallel that can be drawn between the average person and architecture in general5. What the user of a building sees is what the architect wants them to see: the interior and the exterior. However, there is so much more to a building than just those perspectives, and the key to understanding a building more than experiencing one is in drawings. One of the oldest views used to describe buildings is the section. In a section view, the building is cut at a particular line, and we can then see all the spaces in a vertical orientation, unlike the plan, which shows horizontal orientation of space. In plan, the spaces around the building are the immediate site context, which usually consists of other buildings or streets or the countryside. In a section, however, what’s above the building is sky and what’s below is solid earth, both unusable for human experience. Video games with no clipping turned on give access to these previously unusable areas, and granting unique views of the built environment.



In modern games, the built environment is all you see. Everything that the game wants you to see is on your screen. In this screenshot from Call of Duty: World at War, the no clipping cheat shows the environment as a sectional type drawing, with ambient objects visible and the floor completely gone (fig.3). It is essentially a mixed plan and section, allowing a better understanding of the level, but no experience. Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997, takes a different approach to the presentation of the game environment. Instead of the entire level filling the screen, what you get is specific renderings of different rooms. As you move from room to room, the image changes, but as you move within the room, your view stays the same. Sometimes in the environment, such as air ducts(fig.4) and small interiors, the space around the environment is rendered in black, showing that the area is inaccessible. But it not only shows that the area is inaccessible, it reveals how the section of the game world is represented in Final Fantasy, and is certainly more diagrammatic than realistic. No cheat is required to view the level in this manner, it just is presented that way.

fig.4 In video games, all it takes is a simple cheat code, and the entire environment is digital, and will remain as such. For architecture, however, all drawings have some sort of requirement to be grounded in reality. Structure, enclosure, and gravity are all realities which influence design, representation, and theory in the field. When digital models are made, in game design or architecture, the designer is given the power to design in completely three dimensions with infinite amounts of orbital views. However, as I first mentioned, the user can only experience the building or game environment in a very specific view and dimension. This fact must always be present in the minds of designers, especially with the proliferation of parametric design tools in architecture.


The Internets Summaries and data feeds Movies, tv, books Maps of Bradford, Wakefield, Leeds Recipes for cooks All info at my fingertips Look up any story No need for more boring trips To the book depository ‘Antisocial’ one contends I’m online every day till dawn Joining groups and collecting friends A lot like Pokemon And if you want your privacy To feel all warm and cuddly Too bad, but you’ve got to see Its only stalking if you’re ugly So hop on to the Internet Where nothing is a chore Laptop, desktop, Iphone, you’re set! Thank you, Mr. Gore

that was terrible.


Absence of an Apocalypse The story begins with a fairly smart individual who decided to build a time machine. Remarkably, as intelligent as Charles Mason was, he decided to use it. When Charles first entertained the idea to himself and his friends, he was fortunate enough not to have any friends, and merely went ahead with the project. After years of research in quantum mechanics and astrophysics, Charles quit it all and started to study city and regional planning. One day while contemplating the extraordinary lengths people go to in order to disrupt the perfectly uninteresting lives of city council members, he was struck with the key to time travel. Unfortunately, he never explained that to me, so I still have no idea how he did it. Regardless, I know for a fact that on the morning of the day he left for the past, he bought several cans of coconut milk and batteries. Refer to Appendix A for notes on the uses of coconut milk in time travel. I think the batteries were for his camera. At any rate, he told me that morning that he was off on his whirlwind adventure into the past. I told him that he should give me access to his brain when he died so I could download his experiences, then write about them at a later date. He said, “No�, and went on his way. I followed him back to his apartment (fig.1) where he had been constructing the time machine. It was a standard boxy affair; several windows allowed one to view the standard boxy affair next to it. As he opened the door, I snuck into his living room and watched as he fiddled with the machine. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but thought I distinctly heard the sound of splashing coconut milk (see Appendix A).



As he finished, he stepped onto the platform, for it was a platform type of time machine; none of this fancy sitting garbage. He punched in several buttons on the frame and the machine began emitting a slow purring sound. It was at this time that I snuck up onto the platform with me. It would be advantageous to the reader to know that I had developed an invisibility shield and was currently employing it. The shield drew its power from the massive convenience it lent to the narration of this story. Very fortunate. As the purring grew to a soft mewing, arcs of light began streaking across the apartment. As someone who knows nothing about physics, I would have to say the show was less than impressive but slightly more than average. C- for Affect. Just then, the machine kicked it up a notch, jolting slightly more than suddenly, and rising several inches off the floor. And then we were sitting in the middle of a field‌well, not really sitting, we were standing on the platform, as was the custom of the type of time machine. In direct disobedience of customs, Charles sat down and began to rejoice in the dim glow of his success; it seemed to be dawn. Almost immediately, Charles shot up and took off for the nearest town, which was several kilometers off to the northeast. I followed closely behind, careful not to make loud noises that would alert Charles to my presence. The vastness of the land resembled the great desserts of Africa, such as the tiramisus of Chad or Libyan chocolate cream pie. Both delicious and deadly. An hour later we had reached the crust of the pie and caught our first glimpse of the city and its inhabitants. Apparently, Charles had set his machine to transport himself and a handsome stranger 100 years into the past! I think‌ This past seemed much lousier than any other past I had been to. Not only was nobody wearing a smile, but they were all giving off a very negative vibe. Something was off, though. I knew that we had come back about one hundred years, yet this looked nothing like the tri-city area of the 1920s. Where were the old timey cars? Where were the rambunctious flappers? The city looked much bleaker, as if the Industrial Revolution had been merely a passing fancy. I could see the people were in handmade clothes and were selling cheap wares from carts. It looked more like Python/Brooks movie than anything else, something that I found secretly exciting. Charles noticed much the same as I did (I think, maybe not the movie thing) and kept his distance from the people as he reached the first building. He ran his hand along the poorly made brick structure, wondering at its banality, its


datedness. As he turned the corner to spy on the population, I felt the wall and discovered the brick to be of much less quality than I had thought. It almost crumbled beneath my touch, of course, I couldn’t be sure of the exact texture due to my invisibility shield (whose power source was in no way diminishing).

“Watcha lookin’ at, sonny?”

Charles and I whipped around at the same time to a strict looking law enforcement agent twirling a nightstick. I then realized how mundane stereotypes were and waived the absence of flappers.

“Well, good afternoon officer”, Charles replied.

“I don’t want to hear about it. What are you doing round back here?” the policeman queried. “The…good afternoon, of course”, Charles replied. “A funny man, eh? Well, we have a place for funny men like you.” The policeman twirled the nightstick a bit faster. I grew tired of this quick exchange even quicker, and punched the officer square in the side of the head. After tripping sideways over his shoes, he smacked headfirst into the brick wall, definitely crumbling it beneath his touch. Needless to say (although I will say it), Charles was shocked. Imagine, if you will (and I do hope you will), a brick wall so weak that a 175 lb. man falling into it would break it. I would be shocked, and in fact, I was. It was curious then, when Charles was examining the unconscious (at least) officer, and not the fairly large hole in the cheap brick wall. Maybe we just have different priorities. I could see from the back of Charles’s head that he was frantic. Distinct hair swirling patterns and subtle follicle shifts (see Appendix B) alerted me to the fact that Charles was, in fact, panicking. However, with a slight flick of follicle section D-5 (Appendix B), I saw him make the decision to quickly stuff the body into the brick building. The sun was right above me in the sky, amplifying the noon-ness of the place. I was hungry. Chapter 2 (Final chapter) Charles set off down the street at a strut best described as what a man who lived in 2020s America who traveled back in time to 1920s America, yet with a distinct deviations in cultural and social evolution, and raided a poorly constructed haber-


dashery which he gained entrance to through a hole in the back wall, which was created by a policeman’s head, after an invisible entity forced it there, then attempting to fit in with the people living there. At least, that’s how it would be best described. I would describe it as a rolling canter. I ambled along behind. During much of the time in the past (about 3 hours), I wondered what Charles was going to do in the past. The financial aspects of time travel mostly involve stealing or gambling. As far as I knew, Charles had not seen Back to the Future II, and was not in possession of a 1920s sports almanac. While the two are not necessarily mutually inclusive, its always nice to have inspiration. I knew for a fact that he had kept his camera with him, but I had no idea what he would take pictures of. He continued his journey down the boulevard, and I continued my survey of the odd surroundings I found myself in. The streets were dirt and no cars were in sight. It looked more like 1820s old west than the 1920s. I suspected our little jaunt into the past may have had a larger impact than I would have thought. It was foolish of me to assume that Charles had installed an anti-paradox mechanism ($4.99 at Walmart) in his machine. The fool! Of course, all of this speculation was moot unless there was the possibility of tracing the discontinuity in the timeline and correcting it. Which, as everyone knows, there isn’t. I had stolen a loaf of bread (with no financial gain scheme in mind) to stave off my hunger; Charles seemed to have the same idea and turned into the first obvious restaurant. That turned out to be a barber, but the next obvious place served some kind of dead animal. What Charles had not thought of was that the time machine might actually work and the consequences of a modern man being in the past. Thus, he had nothing to pay with. A resourceful man might’ve had conjured some barter scheme, but neither of us were that particular man. “Excuse me, good sir, might I trouble you for a meal?”, asked Charles. The man replied, “You must be new around here, because here, you pay first.” “And, if I were to pay, what would I be paying with, exactly?”, asked Charles. “What are you getting at?”, asked the man, “What’s your business around here?”.


And then Charles foolishly ran out the door. With a heavy sigh and heavier spirits, I followed after him. However, the man Charles was talking to, grew enormously suspicious of my time traveling friend’s (I use the term loosely) motives. He motioned to several places in the restaurant and followed after Charles. From the direction and speed that Charles was running in and at, respectively, I could tell he was looking for the machine. Of course, being rather unfamiliar with the layout of the city, he had little idea where he was going. At the very least, this afforded me with a running tour of the town. There was one main street leading into and out of town. Several cross streets led out to the countryside, presumably where our ride home was, but with 360 degrees of countryside (read: wasteland) to search in, we still had a while to go. The chase was going well, with Charles losing ground steadily and often backtracking out of dead ends. It would have been very comical if I had known how to operate the time machine without him. As it was, however, I could not possibly get back to my shows unless Charles himself stood on that ridiculous platform and punched those ridiculous buttons. I seemed to remember a particular brick structure that we had first encountered, and left the chase to search for the building, with no plan on leading Charles in the correct direction. The haberdashery was not hard to spot; the garish top hat on the sign giving it away. I quickly headed for the building, passing by passers-by who were growing increasingly interested in the spectacle I had just left. Everyone seemed to be getting in on the action, but were wary at the same time, maintaining observer status. This suited me just fine, as the dust from my feet hitting the ground would probably have been noticed otherwise. Which is another thing that I had not thought of; that an invisible body, while not reflecting light, would still have all the effects of a visible body on its environment. While I was thinking all of this, I had covered the short distance I had meant to run, and turned the corner to see if I could pick out the machine on the horizon. Fortunately, for the sake of time, the machine had moved itself many kilometers (metric, how fancy) towards town, and was now conveniently parked 15 feet (America!) away. Also, conveniently, I could hear the crowd (chasing Charles) towards this very building; perhaps he had the same idea I did. When I went out onto the street, I could see the crowd (chasing Charles) and I dashed back towards the machine, intent on starting it up and leaving Charles far behind.


Fortunately for Charles, and surprisingly comforting to me, as he ran past the alley the machine was in, he happened to spot it, and made a very quick turn towards it. By the time he reached it, I had already powered it up (and trust me, the power was certainly waning by this point in the story), and we were ready to travel into the future! But what future were we going to? I’ve no clue, I guess you’ll have to read on to find out. Here we go. Zapp! We ended up in a dark room. I could tell it was a room because of the dust lingering in the air, and the light being trapped by it, coming in through the windows. Charles yelped besides me and asked who I was and what I was doing there. I thought that this was very odd because I still had my invisibility field on, and decided to ignore him. He then also must have decided to ignore me and whipped out his mobile phone.

“Thank heavens, it works!” he exclaimed.

As he stood there fiddling with the device, I stepped off the platform and walked to the only door I could see. The ground was covered with a soft squishy material, and from the smell, I determined it was some kind of moss. The air was heavy with moisture and all the metal I could see was heavily rusted. I didn’t want to open the door, because I knew that this wasn’t where we came from, and only bad things (like angry mobs) could greet me on the other side. And it was now painfully apparent that I was no longer an invisible spectator.

“This is terrible!” I heard Charles yell behind me.

I asked Charles, “Well, what’s terrible now?”

“All I can get is AT&T!”

What a horrible world indeed.

O, and there aren’t any actual appendices. So don’t bother looking.


physical space

the translation of thesis to the built environment

Typology: Digital rehabilitation The Internet has changed the way that we function as a society. If something is unknown, one just needs to ‘Google’ it. If one needs to leave a complex message for someone else, email or Facebook is a finger click away. Large media files can be sent around the world in seconds. Anyone can become a musical phenomenon and 15 minutes of fame barely last 5. The social networks that teem in the Internet allow people to be their cruelest and their most altruistic. As with any phenomenon which produces such extremes in people, there is a risk for addiction. The same applies to both video games and texting on cell phones. The expectation of constant communication with those in a social network provides the perfect opportunity for psychological addiction. Video game addiction works on a different level than social interaction, but is just as serious a problem. The results of these addictions can vary depending on the level of involvement and what a person is addicted to. All of these addictions, internet, gaming, and texting, fall under the umbrella of ‘behavioral addictions’. Although the validity of behavioral addictions as true addictions is debated amongst experts, many agree that the consequences and treatment are relatively the same. A behavior begins as something beneficial or pleasurable, but dependence on the behavior for psychological comfort, etc. is when the behavior becomes an addiction. ReStart is a internet/gaming/texting addiction recovery program in Fall City, Washington. The campus is a retrofitted house where all the residential elements have been reprogrammed to serve the clinic. The program is built around the assumption that people who were digitally addicted had lost key emotional connections to actual people in their lives. Hilarie Cash, one of the counselors at reStart, notes that people “…seek emotional satisfaction through texting or the Internet.”. Rehabilitation, in this case, then takes the form of reconnecting someone to actual emotional experiences that normal human beings have with each other. To quote from the article, “[Addicts] need to be shown not just the emotional rewards of


physical activities but the basic lessons of human interaction.” The actual program consists of six separate elements that are cycled throughout the day and week. The first is a daily discovery program in which participants discuss what they want out of life, and what options they have, both in personal and group settings. In the afternoon, life skills coaching classes instruct participants about succeeding in life on a very basic level. Things that are taught include good nutrition, sleep habits, and taking care of animals. Every so often, vocational experts come to the retreat to share their trade and expose the participants to opportunities for jobs and skilled work. Evening group reflections meet several times a week. Participants also meet oneon-one with therapists. Finally, internet addiction groups meet three times a week to discuss their addiction and their progress. Overall, the differences between internet rehabilitation and drug or alcohol rehabilitation is very minimal.

For my program, things are a little different. Instead of a typical rehabilitation program, it is structured around the rehabilitating forces of haptic reinforcement. The next few pages cover this in more detail, but here are some quotes from Juhani Pallasmaa’s book, The Eyes of the Skin, and his views on the importance of tactility6. “The skin reads the texture, weight, density and termperature of matter. The surface of an old object, polished to perfection by the tool of the craftsman and assiduous hands of its users, seduces the stroking of the hand. It is pleasurable to press a door handle shining from the thousands of hands that have entered the door before us...the door handle is the handshake of the building. The tactile sense connects us with time and tradition.” “The essential knowledge and skill of the...mason and stone cutter, was an imitation of an embodied tradition of the trade, stored in the muscular and tactile senses. Skill was learned through incorporating the sequence of movements refined by tradition, not through words or theory.”


Program: Aqua Fe. Real In determining the programmatic functions of this particular project, I followed the general rehabilitation program, with multipurpose rooms, dining area, kitchen, residences, etc7. However, I believe that the subject of digital addiction and the subsequent haptic rehabilitation requires other sets of programmatic elements that contribute to the original program. After spending many hours in the shop, working on my vellum project, form analogs, and site analogs, I realized that one activity I find very relaxing and tactile is working in a shop. I work almost exclusively in steel and so will these rehab patients. A metal shop added to the clinical portion of the project allowed the project to have a life of its own, rather than being a copy of any other clinic. The shop also gives me the opportunity to explore spatial aspects of the work environment apart from economic production. Everything made in the shop is far less important than the act of making it. However, a certain pride must be taken in the products that are made in the shop. The administration gallery gives guests the ability to view and purchase the artifacts. There’s nothing I love more than working in the shop! And I can’t wait till I get to take a bath!

Architecturally, the shop is rooted in place by the large steel volume in which stock lengths of steel are delivered and stored. This provides a central core around which all of the other shop activities occur. The cor-ten cladding on the volume also makes its function especially tactile and obvious. The shop also supports multipurpose areas that can be cordoned off for specific instruction in either fabrication techniques or basic skills training. Many of the people admitted into the program have lost their ability to interact with other humans, and these training sessions give counselors the opportunity to reconnect them.


After a hard day working in the metal shop, I find myself in the need for a nice shower. In a rather bold move, I will assume that everyone else does too. Ergo, the second part of the rehabilitation center is the bathhouse. In the diagram (fig.1), patients move from the shop at the end of the day, to the bathhouse in order clean up and relax before retiring to the living area. In addition to the practical application of cleaning metal shavings off the body, a shower and bath provides a hyper-tactile experience in direct opposition to the digitally hedonistic lifestyle. Specifically, the bathhouse proper is broken up into three distinct phases with several points of rest. The first phase is a shower room where the patients disrobe and take a quick cleanse to get rid of most of the grime and metal particulates. Key to this experience is the awareness of water pumped up through pipes and down through skylights in the ceiling, mixing falling water with the soft light of the setting sun. The second phase is the circulation baths, where patients make their way

zzzz...*rehabilitated* fig.1 up the hill through a series of terraced baths, each exhibiting a separate tactile experience due to temperature, light quality, and interior form. The third phase is the drying and dressing area, and is of little importance. The resting pools are placed at intermittent areas throughout the bathhouse and can be used for more than bathing, such as lounging and general horseplay. The living units are at the top of the hill and at the beginning and end of the patients’ days. All units are shared, forcing patients to interact with others as a normal part of rehabilitation life. Multipurpose rooms, kitchen services, and bathrooms are also located in the living quarters. All of these programmatic elements reinforce the tactile experience meant to rehabilitate the patients admitted to the clinic.










The program layout on the site


Sectional Qualities Very early in the process of the thesis, the idea of the sectional quality of space manifested itself in much of my work. Even before there was a building, or a plan, or even a site, the section was very clear. These sketches on the page were drawn before many of the programmatic elements were decided upon. So, what then was the connection between the section, the virtual, and the tactile qualities of the architecture? In reference to the essay ‘No Clipping’, the section was built on the unique quality of certain video game environments to be built in vacuous space, with no reference point outside of the specific interior playing field. The space within the section was then carved out of a large block of concrete, which served as the void in which a normal video game level would be created. These spaces would then touch in certain areas and create a vertical datum which could be traced through the procession of the bathhouse. Often times, in video games, the player has a reference point within the level where he or she can see places that they have been or are going to be. These spatial connection points serve much the same purpose in the bathhouse. The section was also fundamental in determining the tactile qualities of the spaces. In order to create such a brutal section, the space would need to feel like it was carved from the ground itself. This burrowing action would not only cradle the bathwater, but would funnel the users through the space in a very visceral, yet earthy manner. The section model (next page) would try to capture some of the material and practical qualities of the idea. The model incorporates some needs like maintenance access and pipes for water. Although not part of the user experience, these practical needs still play into the sectional qualities of the project.





Note the pipes under the maintenance hallway on the left image. Also note that the fishy in the waterway is just for show. There will be no actual fishes. And lastly, note the intricate boardform texture on the right image which had absolutely nothing to do with the project, in the end.



what been


has done thanks Pete. precedents and case studies


therme vals

peter zumthor - bath - vals, switzerland

The thermal baths at Vals represents an ephemeral branch of architecture rarely afforded the opportunity of being built. The simplicity of the program belies Zumthor’s investigations into the phenomenological. However, it is this simplicity that allows his research to become present in the architecture in a way that many other built works do not allow. In an explanation of architectural memories8, there is no mention of whether or not the house was designed by a particularly well-known architect, or if the house any any specific ‘architectural merit’. His memories and experiences of the house were based solely on function, phenomenology, and materials. Of course, children are particularly susceptible to memory imprinting in a familiar or comfortable environment. The efficacy of architecture cannot merely be boiled down to function, the senses, and materials…or can it? Zumthor states that there is no prescribed experience, but depends on the program, the building, the site, its function, its purpose, etc. I believe that the purposeful combination of materials (building) that Zumthor advocates, has the ability to exceed any architectural fad that may occur every decade or so. Zumthor refers to these styles as statements without depth or usefulness. Architecture that cannot be understood in one experience seems to be what he is talking about. However, not every building needs to function as an atmospheric space. Not every building can be a thermal bath. Where Zumthor had succeeded in a small church, in a museum, there are many other typologies where his efforts have not been exerted. I hope to use many of Zumthor’s strategies in my thesis project. The importance of the analog, the physical sensation, is critical in broadening a person’s experience outside of the digital realm. In crafting a purposeful architecture, with the human senses in mind, change can be affected.




tadao ando - complex - naoshima, japan

The naoshima complex is buried into the ground, practically taking over the entire island hill. Exterior views of the building, then, are meaningless and the architecture becomes what is experienced from the interior. Views from the building are also carefully chosen to frame very specific things which contribute to the experience.


sutra baths

tracey coffin - baths, etc. - san francisco, california

A new bathhouse on the site of the old sutra baths in San Francisco uses scent as phenomenological triggers and architectural maps. Combining several different progrommatic elements with baths allows for the proliferation and combination of specific and general scents. These scents then inform the users of the spatial qualities of a sense often ignored. Rather than scent, the tactile experience seeks to do much the same thing; accessing a new architecture and the memory or creation of things much more visceral than the common human experience.


ju dou

fengliang yang - film - 1991

The film’s title design reveals much of what the film is about. The bright red color and font/character style set the viewer up for the ensuing story. Cinema has always been about the combination of characters and story with compelling visuals. Ju Dou uses the setting as both a visual element and as a character in the story. The layout and spatial effect of the dye factory play important roles in the movie. One of the more striking things about Ju Dou is it’s use of color to tell the story. Many Chinese films use this technique, ‘Hero’ probably being the most obvious one. However, whereas Hero uses the color coding of story elements in a very overt way, with different versions of the story having different color schemes (red for passion, blue for logical, white for the truth) Ju Dou uses color in a much subtler way. For instance, the use of yellow around Ju Dou in the first act is a way to soften her as a character and paint her as a victim very early on. However, this color scheme is soon abandoned when Ju Dou evolves into something other than what yellow alone can convey. Reds are then added into her scenes as her world becomes more and more convoluted. For Tianqing, his scenes are about atmosphere, especially in the beginning act. Every time he hears his uncle and Ju Dou in their bedroom, he sneaks to the foot of the stairs to hear what is going on. During these midnight ventures, which seems to happen every night, the dye factory is a dead character, something that is being inhabited but displays none of the life it does in the rest of the movie. The moonlight casts a heavy blue, washing out all visual contrast, and all we are left with is the audio, and the subtle movements from Tianqing. These scenes end when Tianqing’s emotions boil over and he hacks at the stairs with a knife, breaking the cycle of merely listening. The spatial layout of the dye factory also plays an important role in the story. The various architectural oddities are used to further enhance the plot and engages both the characters in the movie and the people watching it. A good example is the general layout of the space and the relationship between where everyone lives and where they work. The uncle’s living quarters are above the factory floor, but there is still a visual and auditory connection between the two by means of a split-level


type section. Although elevated, the hallway in the living area is open to the factory floor and anyone below could look up through the space and see into it. This open space also allowed the sound of Ju Dou’s screams to lure Tianqing into his investigations. For me, the film represents a place where manual labor was and is very much a part of the people’s lives. That labor consumes and envelops their way of life and their personal narratives. The tactile and visual sense of the place can overwhelm someone not used to it. The auditory tracks in the movie add to the richness and depth of the sensual experience. It is this sensual experience that I wish to impart in my architecture, in order to expose people who have become detached from that anthropomorphic state of being. I believe that many people engrossed in the digital world become too focused on the visual or auditory senses only, with no phenomenological perception whatsoever.


sand studios

larissa sand - fabrication - san francisco, california

sand studios operates a steel shop just below their design studio. they fabricate much of their own architectural details, just like me!


final fantasy 7 squaresoft - video game-1997

I first played Final Fantasy 7 in 8th grade and have played it through completely 4 times since, and incompletely many more times. To say that this game has not influenced me would be a complete lie. Not only is the story and gameplay compelling, but the spatial and architectural implications of the environment are so different than convention. More about these implications can be found in ‘No Clipping’.


aqua Dmitri Mendeleev is generally credited with the creation of the periodic table, but it has been greatly modified and expanded since then.


real Fe is the elemental symbol for iron, the primary ingredient in modern steel.


aqua fe. real The building program has already been described, but so much of this project has been something other than a building. I first started making objects in the rose float lab my first year of architecture school. Ever since then, I have tried to incorporate any fabrication skills I have learned into a project. Some of the objects have been very practical, some very artistic, some very bad, and some weren’t so bad. The thesis studio has been structured around the idea of ‘total design’, which played well into this ‘making’ scheme. Not only did this ‘making’ process help me decide what my building would be, it gave me an idea for the title of the project. Aqua Fe Real is an amalgamation of several different ideas and the attempt to cram as much information into as little space as possible. I also wanted to make the title catchy and memorable, sort of. ‘Aqua’ obviously refers to the presence of water in the project, something that provided programmatic grounding and an architectural problem with more possibilities than just a metal shop. ‘Fe’ is the symbol for iron and references the steel used in the building and by the inhabitants. It also could be a shortening of ‘for’, which would make the title ‘Aqua for real’, and that has other meanings, all of which apply to the project, I’m pretty sure. The ‘real’ refers to the rehabilitation aspect, turning people from the digital to the real, a theme that is very ‘The Matrix’ in concept.



out of context

the object, taken out of its natural habitat, forced into a cage for your pleasure

Nexus When we were to design a piece of furniture for the 2009 Vellum furniture competition, I only had a very vague idea of what my thesis was. I had a few key words: tactile, responsive, grounded, and steel, just because I like steel. The Nexus chair was designed to make the user very aware of the stress and strain that he or she put on the seat, without actually compromising the integrity of the material. This tactile response (two key words already!) was combined with an exquisite materiality that was embedded in the entire ‘out of context’ series of objects. Of course, this chair being the first object designed, it set the precedent for the all the others, and much of the program of the building.






The Spoon Holder It can’t get much simpler than this: I need something to hold my spoons, it holds twelve spoons.



i would crawl across the desert for them


Form analogs In order to awaken latent hedonistic tendencies, I decided to design a series of handles (doors or otherwise). These handles all make the user more aware of the tactility in opening a door or drawer or cabinet. The idea of the door is deeply rooted in humanity since civilization began. Doors were a way to separate peoples and spaces. When people began to collect items, doors were used to store things away; keeping personal possessions from others. Doors have been used for defensive measures and as portals for accessibility. Doors have been used to divide space and to combine space.

With the significance of the door in mind, I sought to explore how a person’s interaction with that door can change their perception of the space around the door and of the door itself. There are several different types of typical door handles. Knobs are convenient for their compact form and small rotational wrist motion necessary to operate them. Lever handles offer a larger visual and tactile impact. Operating a lever involves much more than the wrist, but also the forearm and elbow, sometimes the shoulder. Stationary handles merely act as a handhold to open or close an unlatched door, yet can be just as tactile and sensual as a latching handle. While there are numerous other types of handles, such as thumb levers and digital, I think a rather specialized and narrow exploration is necessary for the project.


While I have specifically used only two different materials for the form analogs, I made sure that both would have a significant tactile impact while maintaining a similar aesthetic and manufacturing technique. This allowed me to focus on the human interaction with the handles. Each handle, while not specifically designed for any particular door, was made with a different tactile feel in mind. Some of the differences are obvious, and some are not, even to me. One thing that I did not want to do was waste too much time in over-designing any single handle. As an analog study, the key was to produce as many objects as possible, thus widening the scope of the study and broadening the opportunities for tactile response. The Japanese idea of wabi-sabi was instrumental in this process. Among the basic tenants of wabi-sabi is the notion of transience or the beauty of the incomplete. Even after I make the last of the handles for this series, I certainly won’t consider the exercise complete, and I hope that I never do. The process of designing a series in the style of wabi-sabi allows the continual renewal of the simple and modest, as opposed to the jarringly confusing (at least to me) iterations of parametric digital objects, many of which are lost the second they lose value to the creator. In creating a physical object, I was forced to consider all the failures as well.


This process also helped in deciding the program of my building. Before I had decided on using a metal shop as a rehabilitation tool, the program was fairly generic and uninteresting. When I realized that the process of making was therapeutic for me, it was easy to see that the same process of making could be therapeutic for others.

what better way to open a door than with a handle. unfortunately, there’s no door to open. o well, time and money, my friends.



Site analogs I walked onto my site for the first time with the intention of taking something. My site is located on Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo, California. The site offers a rather unique edge condition between suburban and rural. The dialog between the natural and the man-made can be used to stimulate the sensual experience of architecture. One of the first things I found on my site was a rock. I wanted to showcase the rock, but did not want the proverbial ‘frame’ to be lost in the background. I also did not want the display mechanism to overshadow the intricacy and patterning found on and around the rock. The edge condition found on the rock was very organic and reminiscent of the site features. In order to highlight this, I encased the rock in a orthogonal steel frame and suspended the rock with four set screws. This connection allowed light to seep around the edges of the rock, throwing them into sharp contrast while backlit, and stressed the importance of a balance between the natural and man-made. While there are several tactile qualities in the pieces, I designed this analog to serve as a visual piece. However, after several critiques, I realized that it could in fact be used tactilely, as a door handle.





Landscape interventions Montana de Oro provided the rocks. Sean Graff, Taylor Gilmore, and I provided the intervention.



Details As part of the rehabilitation program, residents must be able to fabricate objects for art and for use around the facility. This one detail and two practical objects are examples of what patients can make. The objects can plug into special connections points cast directly into the walls of the building.

don’t drop the soap





a toilet paper rack? well...there are bathrooms, right?



A room A single room with two doors and a bunch of windows. No exterior cladding has been added, no furniture accounted for; only a shower. Definitely out of context.

this was originally a model of a residence unit, but it did not fit well within the existing model I had made, so now it’s just a box. on the next two pages are some surface models using keyboard keys.







Tokyo, Japan in december of 2009, reid nystrom, alessandro ortiz, and I took a trip to Tokyo, Japan. although my project did not specifically reference anything that we did there, I feel as if there are connections that can be made; but of course, in the out of context section, its up to you to make those connections.




these are a few sketchbook pages from my trip. on the next spread is an image of the yokohama ferry terminal by FOA.





foothill boulevard, san luis obispo, california

The site is located on Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo right as the suburban landscape ends, and the rural begins. As mentioned in the site analogs section, this edge condition represents the boundaries present in our switchover from an analog to a digital society. Other than that, it was a couple hundred feet from my house and allowed easy access to relevant information, such as weather and sun angles. In the end, I spent about 9 months at my site; I’d say that’s pretty thorough.






or at least the approximation of one

Process in order to get a better idea of how any building should sit on the site, I cast several (4) plaster blocks of the site. then I was able to carve into them and lay out the program in a way that made sense. at any rate, the ‘final’ scheme is on the following spread.





this page is all about diagrams, so you can pretty much skip it. that orange one over there is the formal progression i used to create the interior forms. the one down here is just another program explanation.










just some shots of a study model, that really ended up being my final model. and yes, that view in the corner is photoshopped, it’ll make an appearance later in the book, in digital form.





these were some early renditions of the building. as you can see in the bottom section, originally there was no boxy form on the outside. however, with a simple dashed line, I have changed everything completely, and really just made more work for myself



and here’s the same interior inside of a box, pretty self explanatory...I hope.


here’s some of the process that was used to merge the interior form with the exterior form. the orange blob is actually a carefully constructed extrusion from the interior, and subtracted from the exterior box.














1st Floor

2nd Floor


3rd Floor


4th Floor


5th Floor

all of this is very exciting


above are renderings of the steel shop, below are pictures of the ‘model’. just think of them as abstract representations, I did.



on my left is the shower, on my right is the bathhouse, and on the spreads to come are more renderings of the bathhouse






some renderings and models of the living area. you can probably just give these a quick glance...but notice the cut.glue.table, classy.







and other various unmentionables

1. 2. ioral-addiction-faq.html

3. Salen, Katie ‘Tetris: Puzzling Architecture’ Space, Time, Play Birkhauser, Boston: 2007 images from

4. Davidson, Cynthia ‘Generation(s) and the Generative’ Log Anyone Corporation, New York City: 2009

5. Kucklich, Julian ‘Wallhacks and Aimbots’ Space, Time, Play Birkhauser, Boston: 2007

6. Pallasmaa, Juhani The Eyes of the Skin Wiley-Academ Chichester: 2005

7. program/retreat-center-rehab.html

8. Zumthor, Peter Thinking Architecture Birkhauser, Boston: 1996




Digital Hedonism  

Architectural thesis on the ramifications of digital proliferation and the separation between the tactile human experience and the virtual o...

Digital Hedonism  

Architectural thesis on the ramifications of digital proliferation and the separation between the tactile human experience and the virtual o...