No Places and Other Spaces

A Look at Time Travel, the Fourth Dimension, and Peripatopian Architecture

 

14.04.09 Study Model 4

INTRODUCTION

One concept in the early 20th Century stood out as a topic of fascination across many disciplines. Math, physics, art, literature, and architecture all fell privy to the wonderment of the fourth dimension. Described as the passing of time across a direction within the third dimension, the fourth dimension represented liberation from tradition for the great thinkers of the time. It also bridged the sphere of science with that of art through the writing of the Manifeste Dimensioniste, which encouraged artists to break free of immobile forms. This interest in Dimensionism continued into the later 20th Century in the form of imagined spaces, as explained by Michel Foucault in Of Other Spaces. Thinking of space as a layering of dimensions, Foucault coined the term ‘heterotopia’ to describe the unreal spaces that exist in real society. Considering both the objectives of Dimensionism and the principles of heterotopias, architecture can also break free from traditional static solidity. Instead, peripatopian design explores how architecture can change dimensions in order to move from place to place. The space-breaking conceptions of these 20th Century thinkers have paved the way for 21st Century notions of placeless, purposeless, and peripatetic architecture.

HISTORY

‘You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. They taught you that? Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions.’

‘That is all right,’ said the Psychologist.

‘Nor having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence.’

– H.G. Wells The Time Machine[1]

In the same era H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895, Isaac Newton’s view of reality was being questioned. Austrian physicist and mathematician Georg Riemann stumbled upon a completely different understanding of physical reality by suggesting the existence of higher dimensions and non-Euclidean geometries. Essentially, an “unseen fourth dimension” exists as a result of the third-dimension being curved.[2] Riemann postulated that, in the same way Newton had based his understanding of three-dimensional space off of the assumption that it is absolute, Euclid had based his geometry off of the assumption that it was situated in a flat planar surface.[3] These challenges towards historically sanctified norms would bring about new conceptions of space in both science and the arts. One such conception is described in Edwin A. Abbot’s Flatland, a scientific romance describing math, physics, and society all before the work of H.G. Wells.[4] Building off of Riemann’s theories and the popularity of an alleged fourth dimension, the 1916 General Theory of Relativity by a young Albert Einstein surpassed Newton’s understanding even further; which assumed space is absolute and uniform, and that time passes through it as an independent entity.[5] Instead, Einstein proposed spacetime as a unifying force between the terms. This theory became accepted in circles beyond the purely scientific, igniting interest in the art and literature of 20th Century pop culture, just as Flatland had done the century before.[6] It seemed as though no major art movement of the first three decades was spared; Cubists, Futurists, Surrealists, Dadaists, Suprematists, and Constructivists all participated.[7] Some movements found the fourth dimension to be a justifiable means of experimenting in new kinds of art, literature, language, and music.[8] Surrealist Salvador Dali, for example, found both the scientific and mystical sides of the fourth dimension attractive.[9] Constructivist Kazimir Malevich thought it representative of a higher enlightened power.[10] Because interpretations spread across so many disciplines the line between science and mysticism blurred. Trained mathematician, but mystic by vocation, Charles Howard Hinton published The Fourth Dimension as an endeavor “to present the subject of the higher dimensionality of space in a clear manner, devoid of mathematical subtleties and technicalities.”[11] To do so, Hinton utilized the tesseract, or hypercube, to visually represent a four dimensional object in a three dimensional world.[12] Still, through the publication of The Fourth Dimension and his other writings, Hinton was only able to represent his conceptions of space on a two dimensional page. Thus the objective of the artists became even more determined.

TIME

‘Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?’

Filby became pensive. ‘Clearly,’ the Time Traveller proceeded, ‘any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and – Duration.’

– H.G. Wells The Time Machine[13]

Wells’ character of the Time Traveller states that besides the three planes of space, the fourth is simply another way of looking at time.[14] Though Hinton’s representations of the fourth dimension include time, the terms are not interchangeable; it is the passing of time within the third dimension that reveals the tesseract.[15] An example of the passing of time in the third dimension is an object in motion. Motion studies became the most direct method that abstract artists could use in achieving the fourth dimension. Marcel Duchamp, aware of Hinton’s writings, worked to compress time on canvas in Nudes Descending a Staircase.[16] For Duchamp, the studies became ways to go beyond traditional painting techniques and investigate the interrelationship of dimensions.[17] Though the painter realized that merely representing motion on a canvas is not fourth dimensional itself, Duchamp acknowledged that the concepts of form-through-time lead abstract art into geometry and mathematics.[18] Fellow painters of the era, Kandinsky and Delauney, too, found the fourth dimension as a means of redefining aesthetic space and traditional forms. According to Delauney, “The dynamics of space are created here by a latent movement of masses, not by objects frozen in postures of movement.”[19] To the Constructivists, kinetic sculpture became the method of articulating the fourth dimension in art because it conveyed abstract motion.[20] Similarly, the cubist/surrealist sculptor Oscar Dominguez found the life of objects in time fascinating, coining the term lithochronic surface to describe the path of such objects.[21] What these artists were unaware of was how such experimentation would play a progressive role in the future of avant-garde work.

DIMENSIONISM

‘That Space, as our mathematicians have it, is spoken of as having three dimensions, which one may call Length, Breadth, and Thickness, and is always definable by reference to three planes, each at right angles to the others. But some philosophical people have been asking why three dimensions particularly – why not another direction at right angles to the other three? – and have even tried to construct a Four-Dimension geometry.’

– H.G. Wells The Time Machine[22]

With such widespread interest in how to represent the fourth dimension, it is almost surprising that it would take until the late 1930s for this conglomeration of “philosophical people” to discuss as a whole. In 1936, avant-gardes ranging from Duchamp to Kandinsky to Moholy-Nagy met in Paris to sign what painter Charles Tamkó Sirató penned as the Manifeste Dimensioniste. By then, the proclamations of these Dimensionists were simply reiterations of earlier beliefs. None the matter, Sirató credited Einstein’s theory as the driving force of “Dimensionisme.”[23] “It is, on the one hand, the modern spirit’s completely new conception of space and time…and on the other, the technical givens of our age, that have called Dimensionism to life.”[24] Essentially, the Manifeste provided a common law for art of the avant-garde: N + 1, meaning all modern art should strive for the next dimension.[25]  Broken into four succinct but vague statements equipped with examples, the Manifeste Dimensioniste declared that I.) Literature should leave the line and enter the plane, 2.) Painting should leave the plane and occupy space, 3.) Sculpture should abandon closed, immobile form, and 4.) The creation of an absolutely new art: cosmic art, or, “the artistic conquest of four-dimensional space” will develop.[26] The art world was already accomplishing the first three proclamations; novels were becoming films, paintings were becoming sculpture and even architecture, and sculpture was becoming kinetic, as exemplified by Rodchenko’s spatial constructions and Calder’s mobiles. Despite these advancements, the manifesto never gained the sort of public attention it deserved. Success, instead, was found in its ability to bring the great avant-gardes of the century together and discuss the combining of modern art with modern science.[27]

(UN)REALITY

‘In some of these visions of Utopias and coming times which I have read, there is a vast amount of detail about building, and social arrangements, and so forth. But while such details are easy enough to obtain when the whole world is contained in one’s imagination, they are altogether inaccessible to a real traveller amid such realities as I found here.’

– H.G. Wells The Time Machine[28]

At the heart of the relationship between modern art and modern science was a desire to break tradition. Just as Einstein had challenged Newton, and Riemann had challenged Euclid, artists of the avant-garde challenged reality. Learning from the advancements of n-dimensional and non-Euclidean geometries, the fourth dimension became a symbol of liberation for artists, departing from visual reality.[29] Until the 20th Century, artists were hindered by traditions such as the musical scale, solid sculpture material, and three-point perspective painting.[30] Instead, the fourth dimension provided a place for the sort of utopian convictions of a higher reality.[31] The way in which Michel Foucault described utopia in Of Other Spaces seems closely related to the convictions of these artists when he says utopias present “society turned upside down.”[32] However, Foucault’s establishment of heterotopias is perhaps more representative of the fourth dimension. Foucault defined heterotopias as the unreal places located in real society.[33] He uses the mirror as an example, because the mirror is a physical object within space that contains a placeless place, providing a “sort of mixed, joint experience.”[34] Interestingly, early theorists like Hinton also saw the mirror as virtual, but this time as a representation of the fourth dimension, because “the surface of the mirror” is “the plane about which movement takes place.” [35] In other words, it is the only moment in three-dimensional space in which the right changes to the left. Hinton went so far as to believe the mirroring of the two sides of the human body was “proof of a fourth dimension spilling out into the world through a central seam.”[36] This overlapping of dimensions becomes prevalent in Foucault’s breaking down of heterotopian principles, the third stating, “the heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.”[37] For example, the cinema projects a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional screen. In the fourth principle, Foucault again seems to write in the spirit of dimensionism and lithochronic surfaces, describing heterochronies, or “slices in time” in which “men arrive at a sort of absolute break with their traditional time.”[38] Lastly, the sixth principle states that the role of heterotopias is either to create a space of illusion, or to create a space that is other.[39] Foucault’s example of “terrestrial space” speaks vaguely about heterotopias in the same way Sirató’s interest in cosmic space speaks vaguely about the fourth dimension. Whether they are called utopias, heterotopias, four dimensions, or unreal spaces, all terms serve to provoke a questioning of truth and tradition.

PERIPATOPIA

‘I have been at work upon this geometry of Four Dimensions for some time. Some of my results are curious.’

– H.G. Wells The Time Machine[40]

Questioning the norm is a view that should be taken in all forms of art: architecture being no exception. Therefore, why not apply the Manifeste Dimensioniste to architectural design? Revisiting the manifesto asserts that architecture has gone beyond structure to the kinetic; beyond program to the purposeless; beyond beauty to the visually ambiguous; and beyond site to the peripatetic. “It is not possible to disregard the fatal intersection of time with space,” writes Foucault.[41] This notion of architecture moving through time and space then pushes the formerly static beyond the third dimension. Let us go beyond constructing walls to create space, because such spaces are static. Let us go beyond immobile places that sit motionless accumulating time. Given the nature of life, constantly moving through time, architecture should support that by having no defined site. Society has already created such undefined spaces; if a subway passenger begins eating a sandwich on the train, that space is no longer only a train, it is a picnic space. According to Foucault, place is just a beginning point for a thing’s movement, which in a way makes every place a no place, or a utopia.[42] The idea of having no place can also be applied to a project that moves from place to place, or peripatopian architecture. “Peripatopian” derives from peri– meaning “around” +patien meaning “to walk” +topos meaning “place.” Add in the purposeless and visually ambiguous construction and, simply put, peripatopian is having an undefined place for an undefined space. The creation of this new construct of architecture could be identified as a heterotopia; simultaneously represented, constructed, and contested.[43] It serves to instill the same desires of the avant-garde, to liberate society from traditional norms, and provoke curiosity in whichever no place it lands.

CONCLUSION

 ‘A vast, green structure, different in character than any I had hitherto seen…the face of it having the lustre, as well as the pale green tint, a kind of bluish-green…This difference in aspect suggested a difference in use, and I was minded to push on and explore.’

– H.G. Wells The Time Machine[44]

Representing the fourth dimension will forever be a challenge plagued in obscurity; a challenge, however, that should continue to inspire artists, scientists, and especially architects in the forthcoming centuries. The writing of the Manifeste Dimensioniste by Sirató, the representations of Dimensionism by the avant-gardes, and the principles of ‘other’ spaces by Foucault have set the stage for continued exploration. Current research in physics is already pushing beyond General Relativity Theory to String Theory, with the uncovering of dimensions beyond the fourth. These advancements are results of exploration in both concept and action. The principles of peripatopian architecture have been written, and it is the responsibilities of the 21st Century thinkers to act on them. Like the “vast, green structure” that the oracle Wells describes: materials, scale, and tectonics are starting points for architects to experiment with. Through the act of moving architecture in a direction, over time, and across the third dimension, experiencing the fourth dimension is possible. Human life is in motion, and architecture should be too.


 

Clemons, Leigh. “Staging New Dimensions: Wassily Kandinsky, Der Blaue Reiter Almanac and the Reconfiguration of Artistic Space.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism vol. 9, no. 1 (1994): 135-142.

Fisher, Kevin. “A Conceptual Prehistory Tracing the Tesseract of the Morph.” In Meta-morphing: visual transformation and the culture of quick-change. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. 103-127.

Foucault, Michel, and Jay Miskowiec. “Of Other Spaces.” diacritics vol. 16, no. 1 (1986): 22.

Henderson, Linda Dalrymple. “Italian Futurism and “The Fourth Dimension”.” Art Journal vol. 41, no. 4 (1981): 317-323.

Henderson, Linda Dalrymple. “The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art: Conclusion.” Leonardo vol. 17, no. 3 (1984): 205-210.

Malloy, Vanja, M. Crosta, M. Gramegna, and M.l. Ruggiero. “Non-Euclidean Space, Movement and Astronomy in Modern Art: Alexander Calder’s Mobiles and Ben Nicholson’s Reliefs.” EPJ Web of Conferences vol. 58 (2013): 04004.

Wells, H. G.. The Time Machine. S.l.: Duke Classics, 2012. Print.

[1] Wells, 1.

[2] Fisher, 110.

[3] Clemons, 136.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Fisher, 109.

[6] Malloy, 2.

[7] Henderson, Italian Futurism and “The Fourth Dimension”, 317.

[8] Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, 206.

[9] Ibid, 208.

[10] Bannister.

[11] Fisher, 114. Hinton begins his preface of The Fourth Dimension by stating how he wants the reader’s interest to be engaged, with a lack of mathematical knowledge proving no disadvantage to the reader.

[12] Fisher, 106.

[13] Wells, 1-2.

[14] Ibid, 2.

[15] Fisher, 115.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, 205.

[18] Henderson, Italian Futurism and “The Fourth Dimension”, 319. The expression “form-through-time” is used by Fisher in Tracing the Tesseract, 105.

[19] Clemons, 137. Clemons quotes Delauney from “Robert Delaunay’s Methods of Composition,” an article praising his work by E. von Brusse.

[20] Bannister.

[21] Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, 208. Though Dominguez recognized time as the fourth dimension, like Wells, Henderson states that his ideas are closer to those that combine time and space, like Hinton’s.

[22] Wells, 2.

[23] Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, 206.

[24]Sirató, Manifeste Dimensioniste.

[25] Malloy, 2.

[26]Sirató, Manifest Dimensioniste.

[27] Malloy, 4.

[28] Wells, 51.

[29] Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, 205.

[30] Clemons, 137.

[31] Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, 205.

[32] Foucault, 24.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Fisher, 121.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Foucault, 25.

[38] Ibid, 26.

[39] Ibid, 27.

[40] Wells, 3.

[41] Foucault, 26.

[42] Ibid, 23.

[43] Ibid, 24.

[44] Wells, 66.

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PART III: Designing from the Inside Out

Transforming Space: Encouraging the User to Interact

The following paragraph was submitted as a response to the Individual Case Study in which transformable architecture was the chosen topic:

A multi-interpretive and multi-dimensional art, architecture transforms space, and should therefore transform itself to create space. To illustrate this idea, the accompanying visual describes two characters that are able to manipulate architecture. The depicted narrative of these characters blurs which transfigured space is inside and which is outside. Character Blue, situated outside, manipulates his surroundings to unfold a piece of architecture. As the architecture unfolds, it has the potential to divide space or be inhabited. Fully expanded, character Blue then uses the architecture to enhance his experience of the exterior. Concurrently, character Orange transforms an exterior object into an interior piece of architecture by inserting it into character Blue’s structure. By directly interacting with the making of the architecture, each character’s perception of space is altered. The result is a human-scaled space that celebrates a “both/and” condition, enjoyed from both the interior and the exterior.

Visual from Individual Case Study of transforming architecture

Visual from Individual Case Study of transforming architecture

Obviously, architecture transforms all of the time: doors open into rooms or close off hallways, windows decide the fate of the wind and curtains curtail the sun’s exposure. These moves are required as practical functions in building, but why stop at practical? The design cliché, “Form Follows Function,” has run its course. In its place are phrases that describe form as function, form and function, or form as intrinsic to an organism’s function, as is the case with biomimetic architecture. Ultimately, the function should form the form, and the form should transform the function. This is to say that the user should interact with the architecture to transform it in a way that best suits the event at hand. OMA’s Prada Transformer is an example of this new mantra at a mega scale. With the help of a crane, the four-sided shape of the Prada Transformer can be reoriented to accommodate the program. At a small scale, Nervous System, a Cambridge, Massachusetts based design firm, is taking cues from both transformative architecture and bio-mimicry. By studying natural patterns, Nervous System creates rigid structures with moving tectonics. The result is a patterned mesh that can be pushed or pulled while retaining a form. If scaled up, it is exciting to imagine such a mesh as an architectural façade where the user can push or pull to alter the boundaries of a space.

The idea of a transformative building façade seems like the perfect solution for an architecture that engages both the inside and the outside.  It is at the outermost layer of a building that the interior and exterior meet in tension, pushing against one another with the hope of breaking through to the other side. The moment of rupture results, perhaps, in a threshold that lingers between inside and out, or a pocket of space that configures for both outside and in.  Ilaria Mazzoleni equates the building envelope to the skin of an animal in her book, Architecture Follows Nature: Biomimetic Principles for Innovative Design. “Skin is understood as an interface, transcending its surface, giving the appearance of something that separates, but instead acts as a threshold or boundary, allowing for interaction with the elements in multiple directions, scales, and timeframes,” she writes. The idea of direction for a skin is important, and combined with Mazzoleni’s use of “timeframes” begins to encourage said skin to cross dimensions. The mirrored glass facade of Fabio’s Restaurant by BEHF Architekten transforms physically and spatially by folding from a two-dimensional plane of glass into a three-dimensional form. When flat, the façade reflects the exterior space around it, giving the illusion that the space is larger. When folded, the façade creates an interior-like space on the city street.  Similarly, Giselbrecht + Partner Architects provide a skin that can be pushed aside by the user in their lab at the Technical University in Graz. In conjunction with a second skin behind the operable one, pockets of interior/exterior space are formed within the façade.

These ideas of transformative architecture center around the user.  Architecture exists for people, and therefore it should be easily adaptable to the many changes people need to make throughout their day.  There are many facades that operate on a digital system, such as louvers that adjust to the angle of the sun. The user is merely a by-product of the workings of these systems, however, rather than a direct catalyst to changing the space. The Rietveld Schröder house is an early example of the impact moving partitions can have on changing space. The design encourages interaction between house and owner, with walls so easily pushed the children of the house can create an open play space in the day, and a closed sleep space at night. The flexibility of the plan allows the owner to operate in many rooms at once, one continuous space, or a hybrid of spaces depending on what is partitioned. More recently, Bureau Spectacular is an architecture firm that also encourages interaction within their transformative designs. Bordering on performance art, the Hefner/Beuys House is an installation scaled project consisting of entire segments that can be reoriented. By flipping these segments, also known as “super furniture,” the user can play with conceptions of public or private space, inside or outside space, and even actual space or furniture within a larger space.

Whether it be the grand gesture of pushing aside a façade, the physical effort of rotating a piece of super furniture, or the simple move of opening a door, the act of transforming architecture allows the user to participate in making space.  As exemplified by Nervous System’s moving tectonics, Giselbrecht + Partner’s sliding facades, and Bureau Spectacular’s reconfigurable sculptures, the idea of transformation can be implemented at any scale. By designing with this concept in mind, architecture is not limited to either an interior room or an exterior room, but both. Rather than beginning with a form, architects may begin first by imagining experiences, and then imagining the interactive method users can employ to bridge these experiences. The result is a multi-dimensional, multi-spatial, and multi-friendly set of spaces.

 

PART II: Designing from the Inside Out

Simultaneity, Both/And, In-Between-ness in Architecture

“By embracing contradiction as well as complexity, I am for vitality as well as validity,” writes Robert Venturi in Complexity and Contradiction. However, Venturi’s use of the word “contradiction” seems an antonym for his ultimate goal: simultaneity. For example, instead of an opposition of the interior towards the exterior, why is it not encouraged for both spaces to engage the user simultaneously? If by using the term “contradiction” Venturi is intending to contradict himself, then he is successful. “I like elements which are hybrid rather then ‘pure’…distorted rather than ‘straightforward,’ ambiguous rather than ‘articulated,’…” he writes, mistaking a hybrid as a composition of two contradicting elements, rather than a composition of two combining elements. Perhaps Complexity and Combination would have been a more convincing title, especially for an architect who prefers “both-and” to “either-or.” Semantic criticisms aside, a spatial condition that celebrates such simultaneity and both-and relationships is worth discussing.

Siegfried Geidion discusses Cubism as one method of achieving such a relationship. “The presentation of objects from several points of view introduces a principle which is intimately bound up with modern life – simultaneity” (Geidion 436). Imagine a space. Now imagine three spaces. Now imagine being present in those three spaces at the same time. How would that feel? Would there be an obvious distinction between these spaces, or an ambiguous overlap? These questions are important to consider when designing because they are descriptive of how we experience the world, which is in constant motion between in and out, and even above and below. Thermal Baths by Peter Zumthor is a successful example of an architectural work that is rich in these both-and relationships. Set within the earth, the Baths engage through a sectional relationship of interiority and exteriority.

View of above outdoor space of Thermal Baths showing glass slits. Below, baths look out onto the Swiss mountainside.

View of above outdoor space of Thermal Baths showing glass slits. Below, baths look out onto the Swiss mountainside.

At one point, the only hint of the baths below is the glass slits within the ground of the above space. The organization of the baths within keeps the user in constant consideration of inside and outside, locating baths in fully enclosed spaces, in completely open spaces with constant views of the adjacent mountainside, or in in-between spaces as one moves from bath to bath. Zumthor also uses stone from the neighboring quarry as the main material of Thermal Baths, which continues the dialogue between natural space and constructed space.

The simultaneity of Thermal Baths is a characteristic I would like to engage in my own design work, especially in my Charles River boathouse project. Along the Charles, rowing is rhythmic. Crew teams are dedicated to their craft and require space to train and store the equipment they need. Like the structural body of a rowing shell, this boathouse looks to enclose such program in the same structural manner. Located on Magazine Beach along the Cambridge side of the Charles River, this project employs a unique system of assembly in order to house rowing shells up to 60 feet long. This system is articulated through the concept of shift. Composed of rows of bent steel tubes, shift occurs when each tube varies its bends. By slightly varying the location in which the bend occurs laterally, the steel members assemble in a wave-like form overall longitudinally. This horizontality of form then follows that of the river.

The rowers retain a constant connection to the Charles River and experience the in-between as they move from one main space to the next.

The rowers retain a constant connection to the Charles River and experience the in-between as they move from one main space to the next.

Analyzing the project now, the form takes on the persona of the exterior context in order to bring it into the interior. Like the shaping of Ronchamp, there is a constant reminder of “the interconnection between inner and outer space that Le Corbusier calls ‘acoustic space’” (Geidion 49). In the same way bathers look upon the mountainside at Thermal Baths, rowers look upon the river as they practice, because the orientation of the boathouse directs rowers toward the Charles, consciously connecting them back to the exterior. There are many opportunities to emphasize the in-between for this boathouse that are inherent in the original design, but falling short in execution. The spacing between roof members could break apart a little more in order to expose the enclosure to the elements above, providing an unconditioned space that is simultaneously inside and out. Given that the boathouse consists of three separated spaces connected by a circulation spine, the physical in-betweens of these spaces could be integrated into the use of the building more and enjoyed by the rowers, rather than as divisions of the main spaces.

Acknowledging these past opportunities and successful examples of in-between-ness can enhance my current thesis work. This thesis asserts that architecture has gone beyond structure to the kinetic, beyond program to the purposeless, beyond beauty to the visually ambiguous, and beyond site to the peripatetic. Exploring transformative architecture through models that explode and collapse, this thesis aims to stimulate curiosity and provoke imagination. Interests in visual ambiguity come from initial research in avant-garde art of the twentieth century. Geidion states it well in Space, Time, and Architecture, when he writes, “a new sort of geometry was created, one which differed from that of Euclid in employing more than three dimensions…with figures and dimensions that cannot be grasped by the imagination” (Geidion 435). Currently, I am working to develop forms that fit

Study model showing how a kinetic form can reconfigure space to include in-between-ness.

Study model showing how a kinetic form can reconfigure space to include in-between-ness.

these assertions, particularly ones that encompass an interior space and then explode to engage the exterior surroundings, no matter the site. I am realizing now that within the transformative process are in-between spaces, like those shown in the model photo above. This ambiguity or indefinable space is the sort of stimulus needed to provoke new ideas about space.

Reconsidering the both-and relationship of interior and exterior space creates a hybrid space present in both realms. Venturi speaks of architects utilizing existing conditions, rather than reinventing techniques in Complexity and Contradiction. He is right in the sense that architects already have the tools necessary to combine spaces, to create simultaneity. “By a twist of context…they can make us see the same things in a different way.” I look forward to implementing such contextual twists in the production of my thesis work, in order to celebrate simultaneity.


 

Geidion, Sigfried. Space, Time and Architecture: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (1969), 5th Edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2009.

Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1966.

PART I: Designing from the Inside Out

IMG_9814b

My view within the Pantheon, experiencing the interplay between both light and dark spaces.

Interplay and Interpretation: a response to the in-between

Interplay, interaction, interpretation: all words that etymologically imply a coming together, or an in-between. The class Architecture from the Inside Out has already begun to heighten my awareness of the importance of an interior/exterior relationship in architectural design. From readings by authors like Henri Lefebvre, Siegfried Geidion, and Bruno Zevi to name a few, and Workshop I, I am interested in furthering this awareness. It is easy to look at these inside/outside spaces as two separate entities, perhaps different environmentally or volumetrically. But easy is boring. Instead, consider the excitement of the intermediate space, the experience of being in two spaces at once, and the interplay of one space communicating with another.

Architecture is such interplay between forces. To Le Corbusier, it was a confrontation between geometric and organic forms (Geideon 54). To Giacometti, the sculptor, it was the play between primitive forms and space (47). Interplay is not merely the way in which these forces have an effect on each other, but the result of such an interaction. Le Corbusier did not choose either form, but found non-hierarchical reconciliation between the rational and the organic, as exhibited in La Tourette (55). The same can be applied to our perception of inside and outside, combatting an either/or relationship with a question of the in-between.

Interplay in architecture can be described in many ways. “The whole history of life has been characterized by an incessant diversification and intensification of the interaction between inside and outside,” according to The Production of Space (Lefebvre 176). The idea that the interior and the exterior are both spaces that should be in constant communication with each other is important, because it seems humans are unable to spend as much time outside as we do inside. The result of interplay here, suggests a transition, spatial or objective. A window is one such instance, “as a transitional object, it has two senses, two orientations: from inside to outside, and from outside to inside” (209). The oculus of the Pantheon is a strong example of the transitional object, as a space is found within the light of the oculus and the dark of the dome that is neither in nor out. The Modern Language of Architecture explains the concept of interplay as, “the idea of continuous flow between inner and outer space,” made concrete in the Gothic Cathedrals (Zevi 49). In Space, Time and Architecture, Siegfried Geidion describes the interplay between volumes and space as the first stage of architectural development (Geidion 55). Interpreting these philosophies as my own, I find architectural development should consider “spatial volumes” and “volumetric spaces”. For example, in Workshop I, my design centered around the concept of a spatial shelf, which not only used volume to divide the service program from the public program, but also provided spaces within the volume for seating.

Architecture is also interpretive. These interpretations of interplay provide architecture with diverse methods of design. Having a blurred understanding of inside and outside allows for unexpected experiences by the user. My interest in interpretation developed through my initial thesis research, which looked into artworks that are devoid of scale and context. Suprematism is a multi-interpretive art and wavers between image and object. This wavering creates interplay between dimensions, where an object sometimes appears two-dimensionally and an image other times three-dimensionally. By providing multi-interpretive designs, interplay is stimulating to the imagination. My thesis currently takes interest in stimulating the imagination; therefore using interplay to create blurred space is a technique I can venture this semester.

Using these concepts of interplay and interpretation in my future processes of design can influence unexpected results. Designing from the inside out is important because it provides the user with the most functional interior environment to fit his/her needs. Conversely, designing from the outside in is important also, because it provides the user with a form, one that houses the necessary program or solves external issues like solar orientation. Unlike Louis Sullivan’s commandment that form ever follows function, architectural design should use the interplay between form and function to generate an architecture that is both practical and beautiful, or imaginative and pragmatic.


 

Geidion, Sigfried. Space, Time and Architecture: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (1969), 5th Edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2009.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space (1974), translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith,Basil Blackwell Inc., Cambridge, MA, 1991.

Zevi, Bruno. The Modern Language of Architecture, University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA, 1978.

BOOK REVIEW ANALYSIS: Rhetorical Précis

Main Source

            Neil Leach’s book, Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe (1999) asserts that the consequences of political revolution bring about a social change in both the built environment and the culture that contends with the previous regime’s socialist realism.  Through writings from prominent architects, political and cultural theorists, critics, professors, and philosophers, Leach provides examples of how architecture has influenced social behavior from the October Revolution of 1917 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Leach’s purpose is to examine the cities that have experienced social and political unrest, such as Moscow, Bucharest, and Berlin, in order to discover how building architecture can act as a means of re-building the identity of these cities. By including writings and discussions from architects and members of these cities in transition, Leach is speaking to the generation that survives ‘Beyond the Wall,’ essentially those who are willing to pick up the pieces of a broken city and forge a new identity.

Book Review

             Mark Dorrian’s book review of Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe (2001) agrees that the architecture of Socialist Realism is a central component to the writings included in Leach’s book. Dorrian makes this claim by providing a list of issues that exemplify the disjointedness of culture and legislature from an architectural and social perspective. Dorrian’s purpose is to question the separation between the actions of a leader and the people he/she oversees in order to establish a stronger self-understanding of the people by both parties. The writing is directed more towards the politically and culturally philosophical readers, rather than those with an architectural background. 

 

Works Cited

Dorrian, Mark. 2000. “Architecture and Revolution (Book Review).” Architectural Heritage no. 11:91. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 28, 2013).

Leach, Neil. Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

 

RESEARCH IN ARCHITECTURE: Compare and Contrast Essay 2

Architecture as a Series of Design Phases

It is human nature to categorize. Food, restaurants, books, movies…even people. Architecture is no exception. History has categorized architecture into styles, each representing a frame of time throughout civilization. Though many structures have physically remained since their erection, most have dwindled in terms of cultural relativity and popularity, while other ideas were even shorter lived. The megastructures craze of the 1960s, described in Reyner Banham’s book Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past, is one example. These ever changing architectural phases also question the definition of monuments within a culture, as explained in Alois Riegl’s The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin. Using these previously mentioned works; this paper aims to assess architecture as a series of design phases defined by time, culture, and history.

To define an architectural phase, time must first be considered. Design phases are ephemeral: what is important in one decade is not always important in the next. The introduction of Megastructures describes this ephemeral phase quite bluntly, “In 1961, [architects saw] the massive support structures, as proper and natural. By the end of the sixties…the support structures were unthinkable,” while a new phase in spontaneous housing grew instead (Banham 10). What seemed like a solution to urban problems in the 1960s, like traffic or environmentally safe transportation, left the decade as merely a conventional idea (41-43). Much of the interest in a design phase thrives on the culture it serves. Culture is the second consideration of defining an architectural phase. Not everyone is an architect, but everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and simple minds tend to admire the “aesthetically pleasing.” To put it simply, “a megastructure was also a building which looked like a megastructure,” so those not in favor of obvious massive structure or condensed cityscapes were not afraid to turn the other cheek (13). The 60s were a time of industrial prosperity, and megastructures grew out of the plans for ships, space travel, undersea technology, and ocean fortifications. Like Futurism before it, this decade held a compelling interest in the design of machines. Even the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” added to this cultural trend (25). These trends are now exactly that, interests of the past contained in our history. The last consideration of defining an architectural phase is recognition of history. “Hardly a…structure was offered in the sixties without being justified by the citation of some historical antecedent,” megastructures included. References include Ponte Vecchio, Old London Bridge, and Königsbau in Stuttgart, a “multifunctional urban structure” (13-15). This recognition of history helps categorize the passage of one design phase to the next.

Again, to define an architectural phase, the effects of the ephemeral must be considered. Monuments are representative of a moment, having both historical value and artistic value. This art-value of a monument, however, is merely a subjective one invented by and entirely dependent on the changing preferences of the modern viewer (Riegl 622). A direct relationship by one to a monument may be lost by the next generation, now indirectly related to the same monument.  “The monuments of antiquity themselves had only a relative and therefore historically contingent value, and not an eternal one” (628). In this argument, the validity of a monument is dependent upon its phase in history, and after that phase it depreciates. Culture, again, is an instigator of depreciation of monuments, where societal opinion reins free. Significance of monuments is “not restricted to the educated… but also touches the masses independent of their education,” notes Riegl in regards to age-value, writing further to say that just because a monument is historical, does not mean that the modern cult must care about it (624). Sometimes, unintentional monuments become part of society even more than historical ones (629). Though the modern cult has freedom to disregard a monument, it cannot ignore the history that has taken place. Like the references to medieval architecture in Megastructures, Riegl also looks to medieval precedents as historical monuments (626). “Every historical event is irreplaceable,” he writes, “every work of art is at once and without exception a historical monument because it represents a specific stage of the development of visual arts” (622). The time, culture, and history of monuments are used to mark the passage of design phases.

There will always be design, and human nature dictates that there will always be a need to categorize it. Design will never advance linearly, but instead will morph, inevitably subjected to the scrutiny of the modern cult. It will define our current generation and represent us in cultures to come. Most importantly, these cultures will recognize both the failures and achievements that architecture has taught, providing historical precedent for infinite phases of design. Like the “dinosaurs of the modern movement,” next phase designs will act as monuments. How culture will define these monuments in the future is up to human nature.

 

Works Cited

Banham, Reyner. Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent past. New York: Harper and Row, 1976. Print.

Riegl, Alois. The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT, 1982. Web.

 

RESEARCH IN ARCHITECTURE: Compare and Contrast Essay 1

Encouraging Social Methods of Design Research

When we envision the design process, we imagine a creative individual, an architect for example, confined to his/her desk, waiting for inspiration to strike. Solutions to design problems are not quantitative; they are not found in the back of textbooks. Like waiting for a fog to lift, this creative architect can never be certain as to when a solution will manifest itself. However, there are methods one can take in order to encourage this manifestation. This paper aims to encourage the method of pursuing design solutions socially, by comparing techniques from Architectural Research Methods, by Linda Groat and David Wang, to “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research,” by Philip Plowright, James Stevens, and Dr. Anirban Adhya. Both texts discuss research methods for architectural design, the former describing design as a method of research and the latter as an iterative process. Despite the difference in techniques, both papers encourage social methods for design research.

To work socially is to collaborate. “Architecture often emerges as a result of team effort,” states Groat and Wang, “In today’s post industrial economy, in which projects are increasingly large and complex, the design process often calls for expertise in a wide variety of disciplines” (Groat and Wang 115). Complex building forms result in complex building systems, which may be beyond the capabilities of the architect alone. The collaborative research method encourages the inclusion of experts who can help. While Architectural Research Methods questions how this collaboration works, “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” gives an answer. This paper suggests a research method of catch-and-release, where the architect in this case would advertise for the experts’ help and the experts, through the use of “connections and context, personal broadcasting, and collective intelligence,” would offer solutions. The architect then holds the “role as curator” and either catches relevant information, or releases the irrelevant (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). In the process of catch-and-release, the architect is combining the work of his/her collaborators. Groat and Wang describe a similar situation, titling the role “architect-as-cultivator”. The architect is cultivating the relationship between design and the needs of the client. Whether it is the advice of the experts, or these needs of the client, the architect’s design research is influenced by the collaborative method.

In starting anything new, we tend to draw upon these influences or our past experiences naturally as reference for the task at hand. “Designers commonly rely not so much on precise theories as they do on ‘experience and rules-of-thumb’” according to Groat and Wang (115). To look back on an experience is to draw from another source. Architectural Research Methods begins with Austin Dickey’s struggle to design a wedding facility. It takes a sketch inspired by a magazine to generate Austin’s design spark. In this case, another source (the magazine) was used as Austin’s design research (99). In the previous paragraph, one way the experts may offer solutions to the architect is through broadcasting. Broadcasting can take the form of blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, instant messaging, and social networks (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). With the advent of the Internet, sources like these and like Austin’s magazine are readily available for reference. In fact, Austin could have employed the method of catch-and-release by posting his design problem on Facebook, waiting for his peers to comment, and using the applicable comments made. Instead, Austin drew upon references from his past, his readings, his instructors, and his sketches inherently; sifting through the concepts that his brain unconsciously held already (Groat and Wang 102). In this case, whether it is the recollection of previous conversations, or the result of new ones through social media, the architect draws from other sources in his/her design method.

Besides using the computer for social media, both papers find similarities between the creative individual and information processors. The design problem enters the architect’s mind through the input, is processed through a design method, and produces an output. Architectural Research Methods mentions Howard Gardner’s evaluation of the “robustness of [creative individuals] output” and describes his model of idiographic research and nomothetic research.  “In idiographic work, the focus falls sharply on the individual case study…In nomothetic work, the focus falls instead on a search for general laws; such work…overlooks individual idiosyncrasies,” states Gardner, essentially breaking down the research between work done by the individual and work done by the majority (Groat and Wang 108). Though Gardner does not favor one over the other in this text, his study challenges the methods of working alone with the methods of working socially. Another comparison to the computer is made in “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” by stating that, “there are strong parallels between software development and architectural design processes.” Both use a process of synthesizing design variables into a cohesive whole, like the input and output of information. This method is called Open Source Software philosophy and does away with formal organization. This way “team members contribute as they wish in any number of ways” (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). Teams process the ideas given to solve the design problem at hand and are able to reach an output without the bias of the individual.

Though the answers are still lost from the back of textbooks, the architect is equipped with many resources for design research. Collaborating with experts, recalling informative sources to share, and using a group dynamic to process ideas are all methods in which the architect can employ. Resources like Architectural Research Methods and “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” are good sources to begin the discussion of individual versus social design methods. We are not computers, however our ability to use them is helping us take advantage of the resources they hold. To all of the creative individuals who are waiting for inspiration to strike, consider a social method of design research instead.

Works Cited

Groat, Linda N., and David Wang. “Design in Relation to Research.” Architectural Research Methods. New York: J. Wiley, 2002. 99-31. Print.

(available here)

Plowright, Phillip, James Stevens, and Dr. Anirban Adhya. “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, Cloud Intelligence and Applied    Research.” The Place of Research / The Research of Place. 2010 International Conference on Architectural Research, June 2010. Web. 05 Sept. 2013. <http://info.aia.org/arcc/program/program.html&gt;.

(available here)