Sep '04 - Aug '08
Stepping into these first days of August I finally find myself with some free time. I spent the entirety of my last year at the GSD completely enmeshed in my thesis work which was the design of a new US Capitol Building. I expected my life to get a lot more simple as soon as my thesis crit was over, but of course that didn't happen. First there were post-thesis parties, then there were portfolios to be made, graduation (oh yeah, that), and a family wedding to attend.
For the first half of the summer I was a studio instructor in the Career Discovery program here at the GSD. Exciting and exhausting and a great way to end my time at the GSD. The students are super excited about having their first taste of architecture and it gave me some time to work on my portfolio and start to sort out my job search.
As a last post to my school blog I figured it was fitting to share a bit of my thesis project (This conversation on thesis projects in general is also interesting).
A note about process
I found it incredibly useful to keep a blog about my project while I was compiling the research. Having a group of thesis-mates who were also keeping blogs gave me a bit of a nagging incentive to post regularly but it was also the medium that I used to communicate with my advisor. All entries I thought he should read were tagged for him. When I started working on the design project I switched to tumblr since its formatting and interface are better suited for a quick and dirty progress blog. The way archives are displayed is particularly nice.
Advisor: Timothy Hyde
Final Jury: Diana Agrest, Henry Cobb, P. Scott Cohen, Joe MacDonald, Detlef Martin, John McMorrough, Michael Meredith, Robert Somol, Sarah Whiting.
Program: US Capitol
"At 10am, the delegates walked to the Carpentersï¿½ Hall, where they took a view of the Room... The general cry was that this was a good Room and the question was put, whether we were satisfied with this Room."- John Adams recounting the first meeting of the Continental Congress on September 5, 1774
What happens when the symbolic life of a building outweighs its functional life? Since its initial construction the US Capitol has become a key symbol of democracy that now threatens the very process for which it serves as an icon: the inner workings of the Congress are actively hobbled by a prohibition against making visible modifications to the Capitol building.
Starting with intense research into the history of the Capitol Building and the Congress, this thesis proposes a new US Capitol Building that uses the fabric of Washington, DC and the structure of the American political system to align the needs of representative democracy and architectural representation.
Our New Capitol reacts differently to each of the cityï¿½s main axes, an initial asymmetry that satisfies the urban-scale problem of monumentality while allowing for freedom at the scale of the building to organize the different groups of inhabitants in a productive manner. A group of towers form the main image of the building from typical viewing distances in the city. Forming the monumental element of the building, these towers are still generic enough to allow the building to weather the vicissitudes of time.
As a scheme that is expansive in both plan and section, the Congressional population is split into primary members (Senators/Representatives), committee experts, and public visitors, distributed such that they all converge on the meeting chambers now located at the very heart of the building.
Circulation within the building is focused around a large interior plaza that acts as an extension of the National Mall and a programmatic connector for the Capitol. Hovering in the center of this plaza is a rock containing all of the meeting chambers for both Congressional bodies and all of their committees. As a foamy mix of spaces, the rock contains a variety of rooms from short to tall, big to small, and orthogonal to oblique that become an ad-hoc territory of decision making. Preceding politics there is always architecture.
Notes on Representation
I presented the project as a set of conventional architectural drawings in black ink on white paper (even printed them on the OCE) accompanied by a series of ephemera: four plates, a cross stitch, a pair of ash trays, and a sheet of new $50 bills. Given the program of the project these forms of representation are an essential test for the project. That is to say, rather than entertaining add-ons, all of the trinkets, photographs, and other ephemera of a building such as the Capitol are equally important as the life of it as an inhabited structure. Indeed, shortsighted thinking about the symbolic potential of the building is what put the building into the problem spot it's in now. Nevertheless, these alternate forms of representation did not seem to be taken well by the majority of the jury who seemed to assume I was being ironic and refused to believe me when I answered that I was absolutely serious. I mean, come on, I designed individual borders for each plate.
Finally, a video
Our New Capitol from bryan b on Vimeo.
And in closing: Goodbye, school blog
We were young, we learned new words, we shared our vices, we collected cups, we learned rhino, and now we're done. It was great; thanks for reading.
Since the "what now" question always follows the "I graduated" comment, I am spending the month of August in Berlin at the PROGRAM Gallery, a fantastic institution run by the inimitable Carson Chan and Fotini Lazaridou Hatzigoga.