Thursday, October 30, 2008

Graduate Architecture Colloquium 2008

Last week I presented my thesis project for Colloquium. Steve Fai, H. Masud Taj, and Marco Frascari were present. The discussion was really interesting and helped me consolidate some topics of interest. The biggest one is developing the idea of the game which I'll elaborate below. For now, here are my slides and summaries of my discussion for each.

My thesis is this: I believe that designing and analogically playing with fragments is crucial to our sustenance, or well-being.

Central to this thesis is how to use fragments in a cosmopoetic way. From Barbara Stafford's Visual Analogy, "Our civilization is staggering under an explosion of discontinuous happenings exhibited as if they had no historical precedents. We are overloaded with personal statements, irreducibly distinctive subjects, and contradictory opinions." This thesis is a reaction to the naturally fragmented world we live in. I want to operate within this framework by using physical fragments in an analogical way, meaning drawing connections and similarities with these fragments, rather than emphasizing differences. To do this, I've come up with five points to structure a game that attempts to connect our attitudes of similarity.

The game is made up of five "points" [I was hesitant to use the word rules, fearing its restrictive quality]. The first point is translation where pieces of a building are reused for new applications to generate a new thing. In this case, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei constructed a pavilion of 1001 windows and doors from the Ming dynasty. This project was assembled in Germany. Memory evades disposal, thanks to the artist for saving the pieces, and reconstructed to share in a new context. A relationship of similarity is set up to consider Chinese art in a German context. "How are our windows similar?"

The second point is reuse of a fragment as the same function, which is pretty much the simplest system of using fragments. It's much like recycling garbage or plainly replacing something with something better. A column capital or shaft is reused as the same function, but spatially organized to set up hierarchies based on the likeness of the objects themselves, but also how each piece came into being, or from where.

Lofting is a method of both construction and drawing in boat construction that makes use of a floor (stone or wood) to draw 1:1 scale draughts of boats. The process cuts out the trial and error events that usually occur when a boat drawing is scaled up from an AutoCAD file. The floor is reused as a wall, or repainted for more drawing. This ability to have a secondary function embedded in the functionality of a design is extremely useful and can conserve the memory of the previous functionality.

The fourth point is what I'm currently calling continual re-assembly or customization of "building blocks". The Merzbau is an example that changes constantly to suit Kurt Schwitters, while accumulating actual fragments like paintings, pencils, small memorabilia that are of value to him. As more pieces are adopted into the space, Schwitters adjusts the space accordingly. Likewise, a gabion or sandbag wall system is similar where these construction units can be adjusted to suit the inhabitant. I think its significance is largely energy-related, but I'm also thinking generally in terms of how the building is able to transform and conserve the traces of its previous states.

Recontextualization is relocating an object somewhere else. While all of the above points in some way involve a relocation (inherent to the definition of fragmentation), this is striving towards moving something like an entire building to somewhere else, where it takes on a whole new meaning and function. The House of Loreto is one such example. Also, just think of rebuilding a lighthouse in downtown Toronto. It creates a place of spectacle or discussion.

The site is Fort Beauséjour, New Brunswick. Historically, this is where events lead up to the Great Upheaval of Acadians, a precedent in fragmentation to start with.

The fort is situated on a ridge surrounded by marshland and overlooking the Bay of Fundy. My geometric sketch attempts to reveal the positioning of the fort. The 'size' of the fort is much larger when we consider what landmarks were used in drawing the pentagon and what method was used to draw the pentagon (there are about 10 different ways to draw one).

Aerial view of the site.
Panoramas to give a sense of the earthworks. You can see the beginnings of the Bay of Fundy off in the distance.
The Chignecto Ship Rail was a failed project, because of the collapse of the British economy. It was originally meant to transport full sized ships across the Chignecto Isthmus, but was only partially completed. Pieces of the brick arched bridges were reassembled in the visitor's centre (rule #1).

Which brings me to my program, a boat building and repair shop. Boat building and fort construction separately are two of the major social endeavours where communities would come together and exchange ideas and technology over the drawing. Through this process of learning, both trades eventually brought about the engineering as a discipline. Relating fragmentation to boat building is still to be refined. I really just picked the program from a hat as a challenge. Not an issue.

After describing the five rules, it was brought up that I've made five different games and that I should reduce the five points to one game. Also, there is an issue of scale that I need to address. I addressed the minute pieces of the building but also the entire building as a fragment (House of Loreto). I have to intensify which part I want to deal with. Another great criticism was "does this game have rules?" For some reason I was quite reluctant to use the word rule because of its restrictive connotation, in favour of points. But, without rules, there's no game. I should look at games which imply a real life metaphor, like in Monopoly which is a game of capitalism, and Risk which is a game of aggressive world domination. So, what is it that my game talks about? After a lengthy discussion of the game, another point that I should consider the game as having unspoken rules. I'm quite interested in this aspect, where the rules have to be discovered. In Peter Zumthor's baths in Switzerland, five rooms contain experiences for the five senses, but at no point does it say on a sign or manual that this is the case. The way the space is designed, you figure out the game -- talking at a certain level makes your voice carry, or the design of a railing encourages you to reach out to a fountain of hot/cold water. Recommended I imply my rules through drawing or model.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

CCA Design Charette

I will be participating in a Design Charrette from Thursday October 30th to Monday, Nov 3rd with fellow grad classmates in Montréal. Last year, our class was well represented and got honourable mention for their design. A description of the project as copied from the CCA website:

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), in collaboration with the École de Design de l'Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Montréal, McGill University, Université Laval, Carleton University and Ryerson University is organizing a design charrette related to the ongoing housing crisis in Nunavik. Participants will be invited to propose design solutions at a variety of scales encompassing urbanism, architecture and industrial design.

The university charrette will run from Thursday October 30th to Monday, Nov 3rd 2008. All projects submitted will be exhibited at UQAM’s Coeur des Science (175, avenue du Président-Kennedy) from November 3-5th 2008. This is the 14th edition of the university charrette. It is now an annual forum for young creators in the fields of design and planning, bringing together the full range of design-related disciplines: architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, industrial design, interior design, and graphic design. In addition to university students, the charrette welcomes young designers (recent graduates) participating in internships with professional associations in Quebec.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Flying House of Loreto

From tradition, the house of the Virgin Mary is thought to have been transported by angels from Nazareth to Croatia, then again to Recanti, Italy; and finally a third time to its present location in Loreto. This practice of dis-assembly is a fundamental aspect in a game of fragments, where a building is never static, but able to move and be modified.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Governor General "Art Matters Forum"

[Image from the Governor General's website]

Yesterday, the Pit was transformed to host the Governor General Michelle Jean and panelists David Hughes, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada, Jean-Claude Marsan, architect and urban planner (U of Montréal), and Sheryl Boyle, assistant professor from Azrieli School of Architecture (Carleton), for a discussion of sustainability: "How do we sustain buildings? How do buildings sustain us?". I encourage you to read the framework for last night's discussion on the Rideau Hall blog. You can also watch the entire podcast of the event from the website.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thesis Frontispiece and Abstract - First Draft

A first draft of my frontispiece and abstract for my Thesis:

Amnesia and Fragmentation: Five Points Towards an Appropriation of Fragments

“Man, in a word, has no nature; what he has is…history. Expressed differently: what nature is to things, history, res gestae, is to man [1].” Amnesia is a condition that is currently affecting the architectural profession. In large part, this can be attributed to a relatively recent trend in the demolition of buildings. Paradoxically, historical preservation – the uncompromising retention of buildings in their former state is the polemic condition to a discussion of memory in architecture. Our attitudes and architecture, in a state of amnesia or memory stagnation.

This thesis seeks to explore through five points a game of using fragments as a solution to the problem of memory in architecture – a game which has rules, but is not serious so as to encourage an attitude of play with pieces, rather than a disregard or fear of altering meaningful parts of a building. This game of fragments includes translating the parts and materials of a historic building into new and unexpected applications. It also designs the parts of the building for dis-assembly, to encourage future reuse that accumulate greater meaning over time.

The play of fragments will respond to the more serious condition of amnesia and emerging issues of sustainability and energy shortages. The context of this thesis is the preserved ruin and national historic site, Fort Beauséjour in New Brunswick. A boat building workshop will be the proof of a theory of appropriating fragments. The architectural intervention will ground the aforementioned issues through the theoretical writings on fragmentation in Colin Rowe's "Collage City", Maria Fabricus Hanson’s “The Eloquence of Appropriation”, and Barbara Maria Stafford's "Visual Analogy".

1. Colin Rowe. Collage City, p. 118, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984)