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WA/SA [waldrip architects/ s.a.] [architecture- los angeles]

Alberti, Sandro Saved by the Thesis; 11 January, 2004 [text37]

Working 9-5, at...

‘WA/SA’, ‘Aloha8’, and ‘Working 9 to 5, at...’

Definitely easier, to venture into the belly of the beast than to find fortunate design linkages (‘in bocca al lupo’). ‘Yesterday’, how to connect automotive and architectural design. ‘Today’, how to transcribe design from academia to world. This weekend, SCI-Arc presented student theses, so I traveled there with Erin Sharp (www.esharp.org), The structure of a well-known era. and began at the northern end of the school terminal, assisted by cups of Bitches Brew from the local ‘neighborhood’ café. ‘Keep Off the Grass!’: At the school gallery, Griffin Enright Architects (www.grifinenrightarchitects.com) present a wood + tensile-cable + sod construction, which I continue to define as uncomfortable (insofar as this is a continuation of a popular city-wide presentation fluid ‘environments’ at 1:1 scale). Don’t ‘get’ me wrong. It is worth visiting, this. It works structurally (“…exploring the tectonic nature of this plane by emphasizing its tissue-like thinness, flexibility, and texture...”). And it works artistically-politically (“…the suspension of over 1000 square feet of sod… commenting on its negative impacts on our larger environment…”). Stepping back, I mean, I had not seen this particular exhibit before, but, as I squeezed through that standardized southern doorway, in the midst of the powerful flow and hovering tension and materiality, something was missing, and it was that same thing ‘missed’ in another life-size representation, at MoCA’s lobby (a small fragment of Frank Gehry’s symphony), and even here again (SCI-Arc gallery), before, at/in a spatial configuration of copper tubing (Xefirotarch). In writing I am discerning this ‘thing’, so please allow me a few lines. Maybe it’s not so much an issue of enormity as much as spatial balance, point of view, and/or completeness. First, I remember and mention that there is another, similar, archi-sculpture that does seems to work (the exemplary comparison). Next door to the small gallery, at an entry space to the school, there hangs the similar, but oddly ‘improved’, presentation. As I recall, this is a remnant, part of a project to actively enhance that northern end of the building, at a time when there was some thought about an incorporated café. This ended up being a call for entries that would effectively affect old-vs-new, SCI-Arc-vs-café, fluid-vs-orthogonal (many interesting flows to be enjoyed). Now, months later, one [grouping] of these remains, hanging at the top of the

are fictions of fen-om: [www.fen-om.com]

Underlying production.

Underlying structure.

The ‘grass’.


ample double-story space: 5-6 tubular bundles, one flowing into the next, defining a fluid superior boundary to the space: 1. These suspended sculptures are well balanced in their space. This is the issue of positive-negative space many of us learned in 2d art and graphic design. To obtain legibility, one leaves breathing space, and the shape and quantity of that space becomes sufficient when sculpted in unison with the positive form(s) it holds. Here there is goodlyplenty space left below, around, and between. ‘Here’ is one of the vast entry spaces to the building, opening up both vertically and diagonally (through the transparency of the hanging catwalks above, and the vast windows, and the perpendicular-rotational access to the axial corridors). At the school, gallery, on the other hand, encased by 4 tall windowless walls, little freedom is allowed, especially if ‘filled to the rim’ as it has been in the past (this is also the case at MoCAs entry space, although less so, as in the next ‘point’). 2. At MoCA, the observer arrives some 10 feet away from the archi-sculptural piece, not far enough to perceive it as form. One understands that this in fact privileges the experience of architecture, as opposed to its objectification, of course. And this is ‘good’, these days (diagram versus icon; minor versus major…). However, it is uncomfortable because I am still used to being presented with coherent objects, first, before delving into their mechanisms (the very same ‘correct order’ that I so easily avoid in the structure of my texts, in my nationalities, in the structuring of my professional practice[s],…). The feeling is exacerbated at the SCI-Arc gallery, where the approach is through 3’-by-6’8” doorways and suddenly you are inside ‘it’ (both gallery and enormous work). At the next-door-entry-space, on the other hand, one is far below the work, and can shift viewpoint laterally even within the vast entryways. 3. A 3rd issue has something of the ‘Gestalt’ in it, but maybe more about ‘potential’ (or may be it is about the ‘sublime’, in eternal continuity). One looks at these pieces and they seem to be fragments of a larger whole. In the Gehry exhibit, it is a wall from the greater Disney Hall; at SCI-Arc, the undulating grass slopes refer to a park that would be much more vast and open. Less so in the metal-tubing installations, partly because they are more abstract, and also because their forms are self-contained (whereas these are formed by bending and bundling, imbued with self-referent ‘roundedness’ throughout, the Griffin-Enright forms flows only in 2 of 3 directional planes: XZ and YZ, but not XY, as it were, related to the similar issue of the ‘sliced edge’, more emphasized at MoCA, where a compound curve is truncated: simultaneously the unexpected corner point in a smooth curve and the revelation of thickness below skin). And all this is just by way of introduction to the range of student theses at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Already I can tell why the coffee didn’t seem to last. Anyway, fortunately, we were already at one terminus of the mile-long building, quite ready for a start. One student project was there, in that lonely northern lobby, something about the Santa Monica pier reinvented as theater/ auditorium. It seemed to be a topic that belonged to another era (no, not its very own referential period of the ‘carnival at the pier’, but something outdated nonetheless, something from before the techno-materiality of skins). This would have been my original comment regarding this project, to be taken as this, before meeting Benjamin Bratton, who teaches there and reminded us of the uselessness of ‘pre’ and ‘post’ (in regard to modernity). And indeed, in this case, it seems more coherent to continue the discussion of the structural interstice together with those regarding

Complexity only in XZ and YZ.

Corner point in a smooth curve.

Thick skin.


intelligent skins and the effective use of folds, but does it always have to be the Santa Monica pier? Further down, later on, we would see such an alternative, in the reference to the famous cliff-wall at Santa Monica beach (‘Microformic Landscape Surfaces’; Barbara Huang). Now this is another ‘entity’ at the same locale, that has not received the same level of attention as the pier, but certainly ‘deserves’ it (I jog weekly at the top of that cliff, the ‘linear park’). An architectural softening of the cliff, with urban furniture, fluid retaining walls, undulating pathways. It is comforting to see that this option has not died out (natural surface made architectural, ‘parent’ of the current synthetic framings that recall nature) We left behind some beautiful photographs of the LA beach, on that wall, as we headed south. Some other projects came and went, in the midst of endless hallways, access points, studio modules, and visions of Fung and Erdman and Díaz Alonso and Sherman. “Why is it that I always like the projects in here so much better?”, Erin wondered, as we arrived at the core of the building. For one might be tempted to assume that no point is privileged in this lineal architecture, but there is a width to this line, and it is only at the center where the hallway depth is replaced by the ‘wide hallway’ (presentation area) and then the ‘room’ (lecture hall).

Not the pier, at Santa Monica beach.

Worthy of note, here, many of the rest of the projects, beginning with… ‘Appropriation of Borrowed Space’ (Sri Sumantri) In a 5-block, 1-mile-long urbanscape strip between Glendale and Highway 101, Sri invades the world with modular commercial/display units (public toilets, shoe-shine, flowers, produce,…). These ‘parasitic’ elements are scattered throughout, allowing for an enriched streetscape (“anyone can use a module”). To this point, all is fine and seen before. I must admit that we had been initially been attracted by the fact that the advisor was Perry Kulper, whom we pleasantly remember from other texts on this list: ‘RED’ (12-13-2002) and ‘Kulper’ (3-31-2003). And there did end up being something here, in this thesis, but not as it was implemented… more in its potential. To begin with, the modules have the potential of being put away, but who would put them away, if they belonged to anyone? Who locks them in place, if they belong to anyone? To this, Sri adds the formalized acknowledgement of the ‘mark’ (as the units are put away, they leave remnant ‘marks’ behind (in an urban environment where graffiti and vandalism are prevalent): scratches and gaps in the ground, shapes on the walls. But she does nothing further with these. And the role of the marks as ornamentation is further formalized in consideration of other ‘marks’ that have not been addressed (such as the potential partial-shapes, as the units are only put away partially or maybe opened up ‘illegally’ at night). Comments from the jury: “How do local codes affect the development of these units?” [the thesis is committed to disrupting an established program, but does so without understanding the social framework of that program] [the same goes for an understanding of the structural/stylistic framework:] “We’re not getting into the existing architectural life of this strip.” “The graffiti that inspired these ‘marks’ remains as a part of the local reality [it is not merely a poetic inspiration]; how does this new program affect the implementation of graffiti that is still alive and well in the area.” “The fixedness of this modularity calls for increased complexity.” “How light can architecture be, within the existing local context?”

Remnant ‘marks’.

Marked details.


‘Physical Fact: Perceptual Illusion’ (Byoungwook Ban) As typical of any … this second project was also attractive because of some outside agent. In this case someone had pointed out that Sylvia Lavin was out in full force over in the next room, focusing on a student’s presentation methodology (instead of the ‘content’ everyone is used to looking at). I found her recommendation to be clean and honest, as usual. Basically, the point was ‘cut to the chase’. Instead of delving deeply into past (1980s) hegemony, and slowly arriving at a tiny model via confusing imagery, it would be best to describe implementation directly in a larger model. Strong particularly not is language English the of grasp whose someone for advice useful specifically. The confusion was evident in the reaction of the other critics as well: “What is the relationship between the ‘conclusion’ (model) and the ‘development’ (colorful images)?” “There is obfuscation at every level.” If anything, one could see, by evaluating the final architectural result, that there was an idea about the relationship of planes, and the issue of transparency versus solidity. But there was little underpinning any of this. On the other hand, if one was to evaluate the process images, the interest seemed to lie in materiality, color, reflectivity, and human-scale detail (none evident in the tiny model). ‘Agents of Separation: Creating an Architectural Continuum’ (Eliot Mitchell) This thesis ‘went’ as follows: In a context/reality, differentiated elements are unified by some logic (economy, circulation flows, urban regulations…). If that logic is revealed, what is the visible result (visualization)? This is exemplified in the human body, where organs are separate but connected (elements as folds in a continuum). Thus Grand Central Market is reinterpreted, from its position as conduit between 2 streets, to that of conduit between multiple adjacent programs/ spaces. All this is particularly relevant for all those architects who continue to practice in spite of theory. And, for all, the following simple definitions are offered, useful for the effective implementation of connected architecture: • Nesting: There can be zones where multiple programs lead to mutual effects. • Manifold: There can be particular points, within a complex-connected architecture, where multiple programs become apparent. • Veil: Within a complex system, certain elements can be concealed. • Self-similarity: It is useful to repeat with a slight change, in order to provide continuity and complexity (same shape at different scales, for example). • Interface: A stimulating place-space in complex program is that which mediates between programs.

Process image: texture and color.

Painterly process.

Isolated articulation.


Multi-roof; multi-house.

In between somewhere here there was a project about ‘Hacker Architecture’. Standing on their own, a series of modified suburbian homes indicated alternatives to standardized expectation. Giving these some time, some deeper spatial implications fermented, beyond what seemed to be simply decorative. A multi-gabled-dormer-windowed roof, for example, indicates pleating potential (and the roof is precisely where to engage in this type of activity, as it is already ‘diagonal’; in between floor and wall). Then there was the ‘double-house’, with open possibilities for what lives in front and what goes in back. The peek-a-boo garage, lifted off the ground in order to reveal some automotive features, is not much in itself, but refers us to the potential of revealing anything that would normally be hidden. Shifting volume shapes, while retaining the strict horizontality of standardized paneling, are more than simple appendages; they ‘speak’ of shifts and movements. Stairs leading ‘nowhere’; what could lie in between floors? And my favorite, the garage-depth entry, that brings to the foreground the seldom-discussed issue of the ‘true’ building façade (it seems to be at the front of the garage, at the garage door, but actually hides behind the garage, at the entrance to the kitchen).

Reveal... pop.

Vertical in-between; thick facade.

‘Skin Deep in the San Fernando Valley’ (Natalie Milberg) Another in-between glimpse, revealing an interest in the ‘decorative’ (the point of contention between some architecture and some interior design, brought to the exterior).

Pink... pretty?

Right in here, on the way to another review, there was the ‘Authentic Brand’, which seemed stronger in regards to fast-vs-slow space, as opposed to branding. Here architecture speeds up or slows down in reaction to street traffic (relative slow space). As traffic arrives at the intersection of the street, the building (a market) becomes deeper, more horizontal (the façade sinks into a deep portico here, and the surfaces are richly differentiated). On the other hand, away from the intersection, where traffic will be traveling faster, the building façade is more solid, closer to the street, more vertical (the typical diagonal vegetable displays are made into vertical billboards; check out the pretty lettuce, $?/head!).

Product billboard, + Erin.


‘ENIGM;ARCH’ (Kevin Sperry) Kudos for the careful (accidental?) placement of the projects, best represented by the most visually stimulating ‘provocateur’, hidden away behind a blank wall. Three subway environments are depicted in full video-motion, ‘proving’that topological architecture can direct and inspire its inhabitants. Just sit back and watch, if you find it too much to comment on. ‘Virtual Reality and the Architectural Effect’ (Rachel Menozzi) Proving once again, that anything can be defended, as poetic passion transforms into monolithic… monolith. The author did not see it this way, but “the size is diametrically opposed to the position of the project.” Multi-level parking fills out the vast back-yard shared by some 8 large public buildings and city hall at LAs downtown. On top a vast viewing field that enlarges the already generous terrace at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, some 20-fold. From the new ‘zocalo’, huddled masses could enjoy multiple video projections on the facades of the surrounding buildings (or not). A proposal that was generously described as a “cartoon massing of an idea,” and might not be out-of-scale in comparison to the entire urban grid (as Rachel pointed out), but certainly does not seem to be articulated for the scale of that smaller unit: the human being.

It directs and inspires.

‘Deformative Architecture’ (Asako Hiraoka) Best for last (although the most discussed presentation follows). This was one of the ones I had to read on their own, as the presentation period had expired, and I am glad I took the time-effort to delve in. ‘Entering’ this text was like diving into an oncoming wave; for already at the surface level it was impacting enough to leave one justified. Asako provides us with a grammar for presenting pleats in folded space, a most pressing issue in our time of com-plex/com-plicated architecture. If we will begin to build (beginning with those intelligent skins) in formative surfaces, then we are delving into a smooth space where the articulation of every undulation is what will determine our very sense of space. Any shaping, every folding, transforms floor to wall to ceiling (or their nameless future-selves), and will also define possible occupancy and point of interest. Understanding this, Asako shows us a basic language consisting of ‘publicity’, ‘interaction’, and ‘occupancy’. The universe is made of these, in 12 forms: #01, The singularity: both publicized and interactive. Not able to be occupied. Huddling for dear life atop the monolith.

#02, The 2d-attractor: just publicized. Not able to be occupied.

Negative to positive; positive to negative.


#03, The absorber: just interactive. Not able to be occupied.

#04, The virtual image: neither publicized nor interactive. Not able to be occupied.

#05, The focal point: both publicized and interactive. Medium occupancy.

#06, The series: just publicized. Medium occupancy.

#07, The move+stop: just interactive. Medium occupancy.

#08, The concentration: neither publicized nor interactive. Medium occupancy.


#09, The connection: both publicized and interactive. Highly occupied.

Deformative architecture.

#10, The stop: just publicized. Highly occupied.

#11, The hide+show: just interactive. Highly occupied.

Virtual image as partial Klein Bottle.

#12, The solitude: neither publicized nor interactive. Highly occupied.

Hide and show.

In ‘folded space’ these are further translated:


Other good points in the use of plasticity were provided by ‘Plastik Logix’ (Kelly van Oteghem), although here it was more ‘pretty’ (plastic) than ‘substance’ (plastic). We are urged to consider the memory of materials (thermosets versus thermoplastics), additive use of plastics, the transformation of detail in plastic impressions, and the enhancement of intermediate space (specially when inflatable plastic flops around). ‘Figuration of Absolutes’ (Travis Lucy) When we first saw this, in the beginning, Erin and I had the same reaction, in our own ways, for this moves against any post-modernism, and that is interesting. There’s also the issue that Travis is trying to represent ‘absolute truth’. How can one even address this, considering anything we now ‘know’? A truly absolute project would entail no discussion (or visiting jurors, for that matter). Of course, it would not be a thesis; it would be a matter of fact. And so, well, the very fact that we were all there,… But, as was pointed out in the review, “the very impossibility of the absolute shows the possibility of representing it as an effect.” And of course, this all began with the representation of a synagogue (since anything absolute is also ‘godly’), a building that materialized to such a rigorous extreme (the absolute is absolutely detailed) that it became its own undoing: “the project primarily reflects the highly-reflective chrome railings”; “What is that? A radiator?” If we learned, or remembered, anything here, it was the trick of the effect. As opposed to the issues addressed in attempting to create something absolute (“that doesn’t belong there!”), the effect has to retain a necessary level of ambiguity at the seams, in order to hold everything together (“what is that?”). Already we had seen, in the very beginning, that the odd floor plan, framed by crossing sectional lines to appear as a viewfinder, was much better suited for representing the evasive absolute than the final 3d renderings in uncontrolled vistas. And in the end we move to share ever more about less and less.

Uncontrolled reality.

The way out is through.

Saved by the Thesis  

In-depth review of various SCI-Arc thesis projects, + gallery installation. Including: Borrowed Space, Perceptual Illusion, Agents of Separa...

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