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2015 -16 THE


Daniel Chu Fifth Year Architecture 2015-16 Professor Thomas Di Santo Studio California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo

Thank you to all of the people in my life that have supported me so far. Thank you to my studio professor Tom Di Santo for all the guidance and patience he has given and showed me. My parents, for allowing me to pursue my interests and supporting me throughout the whole way. To all my friends who have once helped me with model making or any other task, I thank you for your support and time. Last of all, I thank the Lord for all his provisions and blessings in my life. May he be glorified through my work. With Love, Daniel Chu

WOR KS CI T ED W i g l ey, Ma r k. Wh ateve r Ha pp e n e d to Total Desi gn? The MIT Press, 2001 Bot t a , Ma r i o. The Church at Mogno-Fusio. The MIT Press, 1988. Pa l l a s m a , Ju ha n i. Eye s of th e Skin (Great Bri tai n: Jo hn Wi l ey & So ns, 2005). Zu mt ho r, Pe te r. Th in kin g Arc h ite cture. Basel : Bi rk hauser, 2010 Ho l l , St eve n . I D EA AND P HENOMENA 2002. Lars Mul l ers Publ i shers Copyright Š 2016 by Daniel Chu All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. Printed in the United States of America














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ll architecture exists in a natural world where plants, organisms, and ecosystems are present. No matter the place or time, every building and structure is part of the context of nature. From the microscopic detail of a moth’s wing to the water cycle of an ecosystem, nature has always been able to adapt to its surroundings and replenish its own resources. While architecture should do the same, it is simply not enough for only a handful of highly ranked “sustainable” buildings to contribute to its environment.


We already have the most tested and reliable resource found in nature to design responsibly and beautifully. Designs in nature have proved to stand the test of time and also evoke a sense of awe that we don’t experience anywhere else. For the ever growing cities to become resilient to climatic changes, they need to start acting as their surrounding ecosystems do. Following after these ecosystems, cities should provide the same natural services. From the grand view of the mountainous landscapes in New Zealand to the microscopic artistry of the intricate geometries in a shark’s skin, we are surrounded by beauty in nature. The basis of all we conceive as beauty stems from what we first observed as humans. Not only will designs based off of nature be contributing to our environments but also will be aesthetically pleasing to the human eye.



hat biomimicry in our cities entails is creating new infrastructure that are inspired and function from and like nature. To make a substantial neutral or positive impact to our environment, it’ll have to start with large infrastructure systems such as transportation, water resources, energy resources, etc. Radical changes would need to be made to become much more efficient and resourceful. It will have to be done in stages throughout many years. In this case, total design will start from explosive into implosive. While people may live environmentally sensitive lifestyles, it isn’t able to perform at its highest strength without the infrastructure to support it. The influence doesn’t come from its citizens but the vision of city planners and architects that are performed with the government’s resources and capability. With the combination of current technology and nature guided design, we will create a model for existing and future cities to become resilient. Nature in itself for the most part is stable with only a few instances where unpredictable weather conditions or natural disasters occur. However, even these seemingly irregular events have patterns and can be predicted with modern technology. Cities can complement the changing of the seasons and collect ample resources to resist natural forces. Architects, city planners, and the government will have to work together to be the forefront of what it means to become a resilient city. Starting at a large scale, citizens will become more aware of the environmental issues they face and be guided in how to find solutions to them. Naturally, people will start to understand their individual duty in living out an environmentally positive lifestyle. In result, cities will start to become synonymous to the natural ecosystems around them. They will become environmentally responsible and work as a harmonizing system to nature.




iomimicry in our cities will not only help our cities become sustainable now but will help them adapt for future changes in nature. It takes time-proven solutions from nature to help guide design cities that will last for many generations to come. As it becomes more prominent in how people interact with their cities, an environmentally responsible lifestyle will develop. Therefore, a support for more nature complementing infrastructure will be cultivated. This approach to city planning will prove to accomplish an attitude of being cooperative with nature.



Daniel Chu_Abstract Show_Tom Di Santo Studio_Fall 2015





’ve always had a hard time letting go of the reins and allowing someone else guide the design when I was the one that started it. A few years ago, I started a publication for my club called The Messenger. Although there was a general template that I had designed, I had trouble passing it on to someone else to layout. What if they didn’t use the font weight? What if they didn’t leave enough space between different articles? What if they left too much space? I was obsessed. It didn’t stop there, I wanted to design a new logo, banners, t-shirts, and more. I wanted to create an entire experience that started from the banner we would hang for everyone to see to the small typographical details in the publication. This is exactly what Total Design was to me. In that case, Total Design started off as implosive where I paid special attention to the details of the print. It led to the careful control of what images where shown and how the entire publication was laid out. It was truly focused effort to take the different elements and make it into a unified reading experience. Recently, I discovered Scott Hansen, a musician that goes by the name Tycho. He composes and performs ambient music using electronic synthesizers as well as live instrumentation. Before his album Dive, he performed alone but it wasn’t until recently that he has three other musicians play with him during his live performances. Being more entranced by the soundscapes he would create in his latest album Awake, I sought out to find more about him immediately. To my delight, he was much more than just a musician but a designer that practiced Total Design as well. In his interview with KEXP radio, he shares about how he designed the artwork for all his singles and albums, programs all the sounds he uses, and uses graphic design elements to create the visual projections that play during his performances. He stressed the importance of having an immersive experience during his concerts with the audio and visual components. Now, millions of music listeners have listened to his albums and his influence in terms of design and music expands. 14


n nature, everything is designed to work together. From the bees that pollinate plants to the different cycles of an ecosystem. It’s a grand system that replenishes itself and adapts to the changes in its environment. Aesthetically, there may be a few surprises every now and then from the millions of creatures in the world but they never seem to not have a place in their location. Nothing is left unplanned or uncontrolled by the laws of nature. Mark Wigley brings up a point in his article Whatever Happened to Total Design which I adore. He states, “Design is either design or it is not, the way pregnancy used to be. There is no such thing as a non-totalizing design. All design is total design.” Nature in itself is the most well working example of Total Design. Therefore, we should analyze and look into what nature does and reciprocate that with our architecture. In our natural world, an over-arching vision has already been provided for us and we need to follow its example. With our current technology, we are able to investigate nature’s processes and structures in more detail that ever. Biomimicry is more possible then ever before to replicate timetested sustainable patterns and strategies. Total Design has already been present before we even got here, we just need to subscribe and adhere to it in our design endeavors. “Total design is everywhere, yet seductively elusive” states Wigley in the last line of his article. Total design works at its peak when it is seemingly hidden from our view and understanding. If something goes wrong, we will definitely know and be exposed to the flaw in its design. Nature works in the background at all times without us knowing what beneficial processes are being performed. As I look out into the backyard of my home, there aren’t any arrows that show the flow of oxygen through the leaves of the trees filtering out carbon dioxide. There is a trust that all these processes are happening because it is part of the grand design of things.






eter Zumthor’s work in architecture has a profound sensual aura to them. Until you step into Therme Vals or the Brother Klaus Field Chapel, you won’t fully understand Zumthor’s attention to materiality and details. Each and every one of his projects has a concise and well directed focus. Every little detail in his simplistic forms add up to become the single vision Zumthor has for the architecture. In experience, all users are able to feel and sense what he wanted to accomplish in its design. Therme Vals not only takes its context in mind but blends right in with the environment among the Switzerland’s mountains. Zumthor’s projects are a result of his focus on the user’s experience of his architecture, his discernment and analysis of the materials, and his emphasis in timeless architecture.


here was a time when I experience architecture without thinking about it,” says Peter Zumthor in his article A Way of Looking at Things. I remember the first time I walked under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France and was just in complete awe. At the age of six, there was no concern to figure out or make sense of how this elegant tall structure stood. I was just in complete adoration as me and my family walked around the top floor of the Eiffel tower, letting all the breathtaking views of Paris in. Those are the architecture experiences that I will never let go and strive to achieve in my own work. Zumthor states, “They are the reservoirs of the architectural atmospheres and images which I explore in my work as an architect.” Nostalgia flows over me as I read his detailed recollections of his old home. In a way, I miss the way that I experienced architecture with pure wonderment and awe without questioning how the parts all come together. However, the prospect of the opportunity to provide that same feeling I had as a child to the next generation is far more exciting.


A component of Peter Zumthor’s work is his choice and use of materials. He takes

material into consideration from the very beginning, not as an afterthought. He states, “It seems anchored in an ancient, elemental knowledge about man’s use of materials, and at the same time to expose the very essence of these materials which Is beyond all culturally conveyed meaning.” Zumthor’s choice of material doesn’t come from a set list of materials he prefers. Otherwise, he takes the site and context of his project into consideration as to what local materials he can use. Consequently, his projects fit into it’s natural landscape and surroundings without disturbance to the physical environment. Choosing materials such as timber and rammed earth to achieve the Brother Klaus Field Chapel establishes a connection with nature that steel and concrete can’t. It respects the environment around it enough to fit into the natural context that is already provided. Experiencing one Peter Zumthor’s works is in a way, a different way to connect with nature. The projects are so grounded with its materiality and relation to its surroundings that it brings the peace between a manmade building and nature to the user.




n many of our metropolitan cities, materials are chosen for their ease of construction and reliability. When building a new skyscraper, architects don’t give a second thought to what local materials are available and viable to use. We break the natural limitations to what we can build by using imported and synthetic materials. The resources we use to create such materials adds to the carbon emissions to our environment. Instead, we should use natural local materials to mimic nature’s ecosystem qualities. This would provide an easier way for our existing ecosystems to cope with the dense concentration of our urban cities. It brings up one step closer to allowing our buildings to replicate what their surrounding biome services provide. We need to achieve this type of architecture that is naturally made. Not one of elaborate materiality that serves to shock and amaze us without building a real connection to the user and its environment. A material that is full of spirit and encompasses the experience of the architecture it intended.





s architects, we have the opportunity and means to affect the environment. Whether that has an impact on people or the natural surroundings, architects have a moral responsibility to design what is best intended for the community and ecosystem. However, some architects may have the desire to build for man. To build architecture that focuses on a home for people and not our home planet.



t’s so easy to remember the needs of our client but forget the needs of our earth. The client is the reason why we have the project and so we attempt to satisfy and fulfill his requests. In Mario Botta’s article The Church at Mogno-Fusio, he stresses the importance of the architect’s knowledge of the site. Before we even make the first sketches of the project, we must have a complete understanding of the location. This suggests that how the site informs our design trumps the ideas and needs of the client. Botta mentions that “the program, per se, remains something abstract, something ideological. It does not truly exist.” In contrast, the site is physical, already present, and it will always be so even when the architecture has been abandoned and left in ruins. The site is constant, and our constructed intervention can either be parasitic or symbiotic with it. To be truly informed by the site, architecture should be an emulation of its environment. Mimicking the processes and functions of what that ecosystem provides. The need for sustainability and “green” features in a building should be inherent, not an added obligation. Botta speaks of site feedback while speaking of the form of his Church at Mognio-Fusio. Aside from the form, it barely relates back to its site in terms of its design intent and properties. It was guided more by the “need” of the people rather than its necessity. Not taking in consideration whether the addition of the church would improve the community or environment. Rather than building the church in the path of a possible avalanche with the intention of resisting it, would it not be more strategic to build it in a location that serves the people of the community? Though I understand the symbolism and significance that architecture may represent in a people’s values and beliefs, as architects, we have the power to reject a project’s conception if it has no ethical or moral value from a more global standpoint.


Our responsibility as an architect is to be as Botta puts it, “a citizen of the world”. Our creations and designs become a significant part of the world though we are many times negligent of their effects. To design for man is to design for the world. Ignoring the harmful effects of our buildings and structures will in turn hurt the earth in which man lives in. We are not only asked to be ethical to man but to the world.







topping to take a photo of a leaf floating in a puddle or stare at the flickering of a broken traffic light, these are moments in life where we take notice of the consciousness of objects around us. Not only do we see the visual qualities of such objects, we understand them with all our senses, within our own consciousness. Comparing an experience of listening to music on headphones with a live concert is unfair and indisputable. The connection that is made with the human body and mind while in that environment and instant is incomparable.

Perhaps, the source of this sense of phenomenology comes from nature itself. It becomes much more apparent in the natural environment than it comes in the urban context. Certainly, urban environments provide a stimulation to our senses but nothing near the soulfulness and presence of the objects of nature. There is a definite universal connection to nature that all human beings share. Stemming from such connection, our phenomenal experiences are based on our understanding and discoveries in nature. It takes form after the essence and patterns of what we observe in natural objects.




eter Zumthor’s work thrives on translating the phenomena found in nature into his architecture. Take the Saint Benedict Chapel in Sumvitg, Switzerland for example, he expresses the essence of the natural materials that were chosen. From the outside, he uses the same wood shingles found on the houses in the neighborhood. It gives the shimmering effect of scales on a fish in the sunlight. Upon entering the chapel, you notice the wood columns and beams that reach towards and support the organically shaped roof. Glass panels and wood columns line the top ring of the walls allowing natural light to diffuse down into the space. Resembling the sunlight peering through the tops of trees in a forest, it provides perfect ambiance for the chapel. Natural materials withhold the most soul in its materiality. When used in their simplest forms, the essence of such materials can take the spotlight and be expressed. Although we aren’t completely control of what is in these natural materials, we use them to construct buildings and structures. They contain a liveliness in them that we can’t achieve in man made materials. Although man made materials lack such simplicity, they still contain the essence of all the raw materials used. Perhaps it is the way they are used to relate back to natural phenomena that users can then experience in architecture.


To create such architecture, our viewpoint of design must be prioritized in the story of encounters. Lester Embree states that one of the seven widely accepted features of the phenomenological approach is the “eidetic” description. Embree says, “prior to explanations by causes, purposes, or grounds”, the approach shall be described in visual stimulating terms. Eidetic memory allows those who possess it to be able to be able to call upon sounds, images, or objects with the utmost accuracy and detail. It has only been found in children and is then lost with age. Just as we describe our encounters in nature, we don’t share the purpose or reason of the natural object, we try to communicate what we saw and felt with all our senses. Perhaps the reason why eidetic memory is lost in childhood is because the world informs us to think and see the world from a functional viewpoint. Though the functional mind is of utmost importance in the creation of architecture, let us not remove the naïve exploration of space, light, and materiality involved in it. May we reciprocate the phenomena that nature has provided to us and invite others as architects to such experiences.


taring at a computer all day, drawing up renderings and diagrams. Reviewing schematic drawings and examining plans. These were some of the tasks that were being carried out while I observed my coworkers as an intern at an architecture firm. Was this the full potential of what my coworkers could do? Certainly not. However, the world calls for architecture to be delivered and presented to them in a certain way. Resulting in large amounts of time devoted in work that would be considered “busy” work. Work that was technically required in order for the project to be completed but not work that enhanced the project greatly. Our approach of architectural work in the modern world conflicts with what architecture becomes. Architecture is a built environment that is experienced with all the

senses and the being itself. However, the professional workplace does not incorporate all these senses in the development of the design. If it were not for the intern, we wouldn’t even have made physical models to gain an understanding of the space three dimensionally. In The Eyes of the Skin, Juhani Pallasma argues, “Every touching experience of architecture is multi-sensory; qualities of space, matter and scale are measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton and muscle. Architecture strengthens the existential experience, one’s sense of being in the world, and this is essentially a strengthened experience of self.” Hence, how is it logical to design with a process that for the majority barely uses more than our one sense of sight? Our approach should incorporate more of the senses, inspire the use of our 30

senses, inspire the use of our imagination and creativity. We shouldn’t only see architecture as an image on a screen but interact with it and see ourselves within it. Pallasma adds, “Computer imaging tends to flatten our magnificent, multi-sensory, simultaneous and synchronic capacities of imagination by turning the design process into a passive visual manipulation, a retinal journey”. Although there are new innovations in using old virtual reality technology that allows the user to be under the illusion of a true three-dimensional space, it does not compare to being out in the real world. Our minds must be engaged in all its ways, and to do that is to bring the body back to basics. Removing them from the closed off office building to the natural open environment. Allowing the senses to work at their peak performance and be engaged with its surroundings. In the Andy Goldsworthy film Rivers and Tides, he provides a good example of understanding the basic qualities and essence of the natural materials he uses. Whether that is wood sticks, round stones, or icicles, he creates sculptures (which are sometimes structural) and comprehend their abilities and limitations as materials. It results in a deeper understanding of the elements and how he can treat them properly. Goldsworthy also accepts that his sculptures will not last forever and embraces the change that nature will apply on them. Similarly, our approach of architecture should be similar. Rather than designing architecture that is a testament of man’s triumph over nature, buildings should take nature with much more consideration. Rather than


designing architecture that is a testament of man’s triumph over nature, buildings should take nature with much more consideration. Rather than overpowering what is in nature, Goldsworthy accentuates the existing with either a complementing movement or a symbolic derivative. Ultimately, there is no man-made structure that can resist the forces of nature. However, buildings can be designed to become more resilient and adaptable to what nature brings. The acceptance that everything everything in nature is temporary is how architecture should be treated as well.

Therefore, when we direct our vision towards what is on our computer screens, may we remember to make sure that we take advantage of our full vision. Not to neglect our peripheral vision and other senses. The tool of architecture allows us to focus our ideas and thoughts within a space we have derived from this endless space around us. As Pallasmaa expresses, “Architecture domesticates limitless space and enables us to inhabit it, but it should likewise domesticate endless time and enable us to inhabit the continuum of time.� 32


he following section is these ideas put into practice. A representation of how these ideas would be manifested in the world. Drawing from three main processes and concepts in nature, I’ve applied these biological examples into my design.






he canal lock provides safety to the city by keeping the looming sea level rise from flooding coastal areas. The project forms two new land masses to protect Hong Kong’s core whilst providing more land for new real estate opportunities. A system of canal locks inspired by habitats created by nature’s organisms and plants provide new living opportunites. Hydroeletric power will be generated from the movement of water in the canal locks while also interacting with the public through the rise and fall of ponds in the adjacent gardens. The Canal Lock system also allows cargo ships to continue to reach the Hong Kong Harbour. They also provide new ways for the public to interact with the environment with fluctuating ponds in the adjacent gardens. It also begins taking steps to creating a city that provides its own ecosystem services. It introduces a new way of coexisting with nature that can be applied in many other coastal cities and educating the public about the natural environment around them.





ith the use of a CNC router, a block of pinewood, and video projection, I produced a video that showed the reality of rising sea levels projected onto the topography of Hong Kong’s landscape. The projected animation introduced the city of Hong Kong, giving the audience an understanding of the culture and life that would be in danger if Hong Kong ended up underwater.

SCAN THIS & WATCH IT HERE! tiny.cc/dc_thesisvid 47

The animation also depicted and visualized the project’s proposal for two new land masses. These two new land masses located at opposite ends of the city would surround and protect the heart of the city whilst creating new real estate opportunities. These new developments would pave way for more sustainable and responsible man-made ecosystems. They would introduce concepts and processes that exemplify a self-sustaining community coexisting with the nature surrounding it. 48

Copyright © 2016 by Daniel Chu

Profile for Daniel Chu

The Urban Biocity  

Daniel Chu's Fifth Year Architectural Thesis Book

The Urban Biocity  

Daniel Chu's Fifth Year Architectural Thesis Book


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