University of Houston (Michael)



Sep '06 - Nov '08

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    Skin Studies

    ichweiB Nov 22 '08 29

    I know we all have heard it expressed in many different ways how the bottom-up design process works for us in school as a design student. Quite honestly, I really enjoy the concept, but it is not like I specifically think "I must design with the bottom up process to achieve desirable and interesting Architecture School results." I am experimenting...the process is vague, not well documented, and I am loving it.

    I struggle between two schools of thought...literally. For 2 years, I was shown how to make Architecture based on a functional approach or how buildings can be organized, then detailed well with materials...this apparently makes Architecture. Then, I had the opportunity to go to Vienna and hang out with the Wolf D. Prix school of thought that essentially says "fuck is the program!" We experimented and made stuff and then considered its Architectural implications and possibilities. Apparently, this too makes Architecture. Personally, I enjoy the latter much more.

    So, now I feel as though I am conflicted, but maybe more so I am applying a hybrid of these concepts to where I am now. My studio (as well as my final one) is a comprehensive design studio. We need to cover structure, MEP, where firestairs are located, and where delivery trucks can arrive. So, my approach at the beginning was basically a model sequence defining where program was located all with an underlying agenda or concept guiding me. The past semester haunted me while doing this. I can just hear past comments made there by Prix, Reiner, and anyone else asking "so, do you have anything else to talk about besides where program is located?"

    My work took a dramatic turn after the hurricane. It was basically a free for all. At coffee shops, at a borrowed kitchen table, or any other work space I could find that accommodated a macbook pro and a wireless mouse, I was there. Since then, I have been experimenting with scripts that are allowing me to formulate a strategy for how skin, light openings, and structure can all work together. Basically, it starts with a polygon surface built in maya that encloses the programmatic functional models created early on...built by hand with sytro and some museum board. The skin was highly specific in what I hoped for it to accomplish: suggest relationships between space and structure, and to provide a system to define where more or less light is allowed in...roughly based on orientation, but more so on view.

    I am also fascinated with the notion of machine meeting organism(no not orgasm). I am not sure might be because of all the late nights in Vienna looking at old school Coop Himmelb[L]au models while trying to work out 3D models for presentation that roughly look like cells, insects, etc...maybe all of this resulted in my weird fascination (or normal one depending on who you talk to). Attached is basically where I am at. I have this outer shell thing that wraps around what appears to look like some sort of animal bone you might find laying out in West Texas close to Marfa...or maybe something completely different.

    I am lucky. My profs are letting me develop my ideas despite the fact that everyone else is basically making really nice detailed boxes. Sorry guys, I don't get the box. It is irrelevant to me and holds no information anymore. I better get use to it though, I suppose my first "real job" days will quickly familiarize me with how great the box is after all...oh how safe the box is.




    • noci
      Nov 23, 08 7:58 am

      the model is beautiful, whatever it may be

      Nov 23, 08 8:54 am

      well thanks....I do feel that beauty holds just as much information in Architecture as functionality.

      Nov 23, 08 9:37 am

      just came across something that seemingly touches on stuff you mention in your post: re: beauty / function:

      "Built upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics"

      I'm curious what you consider to be "information in Architecture", as you've mentioned this twice already now?

      Nov 23, 08 11:17 am

      I think that we've been shown in Architectural history how buildings somehow suggest a current world view or infer how people look at the world. Greg Lynn suggests that form holds a multitude of information and intelligence...and not necessarily how a building is programmed. What I take from what he writes and what I have heard him say in reviews is that functionality of a building comes from how much intelligence and information space or form holds. The Vienna school literally says "Der Raum Ist Das Programm."(I probably didn't spell that entirely correct)." Simply: "Space is Program."

      So, information in Architecture, as I am defining it for myself, is directly related to how the user perceives and uses space. Spatial realities are simply enough if they are intelligent enough or hold enough information for the user to interact with the space to be able to benefit from it...if in some way it makes their life better or at least enhances their least as appropriately as Architecture is able to do so. I know that might be a little vague...I am sort of thinking it out as I type. I don't think Architecture holds every answer for us, though.

      I am not so sure that the box is relevant any longer. I don't say this because I think the box is boring or that I simply am interested in making complicated shapes and forms that also hold little value or relevance either, but more so, that space in the form of a box as a volume to be understood on an Architectural scale has everything to do with real constraints such as construction, materials, etc...that aren't so much huge obstacles any longer.

      For me, we should continually be rethinking, investigating, and inventing new ways to consider what Architecture is for us now. Viollet le Duc (sp? sorry!) was an innovator, his drawings were amazing for his time and I think were probably considered pretty crazy and absurd by some, but now, we are able to realize his vision easily. I get the impression that he might be a bit confused as to why so many are not pushing for new things and new ways and methods of construction and materiality to achieve for ourselves, what is relevant.

      This does not mean that the things of the past were not good or did not have purpose and relevance at one time, but now, they hold little information and little relevance(as I see it at least).

      Nov 23, 08 11:17 am

      There is a painting by someone, and I have no clue who it is, but I was shown it in Architectural History in undergrad. It is of a man(probably an Architect), standing on a cliff with a collage of ancient and classical Architecture behind him. The point was to suggest, what will be the Architect's inspiration for the modern age? I thought to myself, why should any of that be inspiration at all? What value does it truly hold for us? Sure, we can piddle with proportions and analyze why things from the past are beautiful or not, but how much depth does that really hold? How much value do those things really hold?

      Chris HildreyChris Hildrey
      Nov 23, 08 12:01 pm

      to carry on from ^^

      That (divorcing the present from the past) was the first principle of modernism which was then able to express a new architecture by embracing the technological and industrial age. What do we draw on to drive our desire to start affresh again? Sometimes I think we are just jealous of modernism's contextual monopoly on epoch-changing events.

      MArch n' unemployed
      Nov 23, 08 1:43 pm

      you've looked at tom wiscombe's work?

      Nov 23, 08 2:54 pm

      Yeah. You noticed. I am incredibly familiar with Emergent Architecture. Tom taught in Vienna...not when I was there, but I became more familiar with him and the Emergnet design team as I was exposed to what all was going on at die Angewandte.

      will gallowaywill galloway
      Nov 23, 08 8:36 pm

      perhaps you mean this one by thomas cole?

      i always believed the significance of the image was not in the actual architecture at all. at the time that was architecture, the sum of all to date, so what more would you want? the other things it symbolised are more interesting to me...

      ie, in Cole's image of urbanism the city is seen as a perfect human construction - divorced from the natural world, and created of whole clothe - there is no room for the kind of eclecticism that we all know real cities tend to need in real life. so it is a vision out of date for those reasons...but the actual architecture as a style thing is to me rather a 19th century argument and not one for us today. are you keen only on replacing your vision of style for the boxes you apparently believe are not valid?

      to be frank, while the imagery you have made is compelling i wonder if you have done much more than swap one certainty for used to be programmed boxes, now its form-al spaces. but the logic is rigid in both. can your idea only be valid if everyone else is wrong? it seems such an odd way to start a design - why rule out entire groups of architectural form just because you don't like boxes?

      is a box NEVER right?
      liberty bell
      Nov 23, 08 11:10 pm

      What is that form teaching a human body about itself and the world it inhabits?

      Nov 24, 08 4:35 am

      About boxes...

      Just to say (in a pretty flip tone) that the 'oh so safe box' is not relevant anymore is absolutely a worthless argument - or even a provocation - if you don't actually explain yourself with some accuracy. So... what do you mean by 'boxes'? At one point it sounds like you refer to neo-minimalist swiss-style architecture with fetishistic detailing and material concerns, but in a later instance it seems that 'boxes' for you mean the histrory of western architecture. I'm confused. I'd be happy to stop talk about boxes alltogether, there is no such thing - it's a reductive metaphor you use against pragmatically inclined architecture (or conservative western architecture as a whole).

      The arguments I also have some trouble with:

      "Sure, we can piddle with proportions and analyze why things from the past are beautiful or not, but how much depth does that really hold?"

      Here you try to flatten the worth of tradition to a question of beauty. architecture and art from the past hold an amazing amount of 'information' (another term you abuse from time to time...) - they have value as statements about the communities the built them: the currents of design, building coventions, capital, and political power, as well as historical necessity have shaped these buildings and they speak of all the forces involved. If we choose to see the lessons of previous architecture as lessons in aesthetics, then they or any other work, for that matter, hold very little depth - but the approach is ours to choose. When you study something in a stupid way, you get stupid results.

      "For me, we should continually be rethinking, investigating, and inventing new ways to consider what Architecture is for us now. "

      Yes, why not, but why would the result of that investigation be this Wiscombe-insectoid-crap? This approach is anything but a way of rethinking/investigating/inventing new ways of considering architecture. First of all, it's formally so much indebted to the newish westcoast stuff, that it's hardly inventive in a formal way (and because it does not seem to be functional in any real sense, I think the formal aspect is all there is to it).

      Nov 24, 08 4:36 am

      I'm not at all amazed that your profs let you tinker away with your ideas: they don't (I assume) have experience of the environment that has given birth to this aesthetic (game/movie/animation-design - available small-scale computer aided fabrication) - how could they comment on something that is totally foreign to them?

      You are not lucky, and they should not let you just get away with formal experiments - it's their job to challenge you with their expertise on what architecture means and how it can be developed. (It might be that they are too happy about their 'boxes' and are a bit afraid of the challenge your non-orthogonal organic stuff presents - but they should try at least...)

      and finally:
      "...So, information in Architecture, as I am defining it for myself, is directly related to how the user perceives and uses space. Spatial realities are simply enough if they are intelligent enough or hold enough information for the user to interact with the space to be able to benefit from it..."

      Well yes - but how does this relate to your way of forming space? The information inherent is space is often related to tradition in one way or another - the way we perceive is not formed everyday anew. The best analysis that I know of on how rich the different effects and powers of space can be is B.Colominas text on Adolf Loos (don't remember about which of his houses...) - where she goes through the power relations played out by using spatial mean and controlling light. That's amazing stuff. And the architecture she is talking about is very much essentially stacked boxes.

      Architecture as a whole has still more 'information' than the space it forms: the meaning of materials, ways of construction, connections to regional/international trends (in the broadest sense of the word), ... All that is information in architecture and while there is nothing wrong in searching for new paths - there should always be some thought given to the connection to tradition - if not the tradition of architecture, then the tradition of 'being human in this world'.

      Nov 24, 08 6:44 am

      tom wiscombe... there was a pretty heated discussion we all had on his work a while back -

      I fully agree on the "what is a box, anyways?" caveat put forward by Helsinki.

      Also, your argument, Michael, that we do no longer face significant contraints in constructing elaborate shapes (which "aren't so much huge obstacles any longer") wholly depends on which part of the industry you look at - i.e. I'm currently planning an industrial building that's not very "elaborate" by western couture-arch. standards but pushes the limits of what it can achieve within its native context. So I'm permanently thinking about how all of the constraints (i.e. building the thing..) you readily push aside inform the shapes I design. Somestimes I thought, "hell, this thing'd be better if it simply were a box", and perhaps it'd be even better for the occupants and builder? who knows - time will tell.
      You go really easy on yourself if you declare many things not to be a "problem" anymore - you'd be surprised...

      Steven WardSteven Ward
      Nov 24, 08 7:57 am

      if given so few constraints (function, scale, recognizable associations, gravity, construction industry) how does one decide? is it just a series of internally referential sculptural decisions?

      actually, i shouldn't indicate that recognizable associations aren't a constraint. users of architecture will ALWAYS make associations when faced with architecture, whether those associations are your intention or not. if it's not a familiar typological form, box or otherwise, it will be something else. is it more valid to you that those faced with your architecture will relate it to the milennium falcon or a sea sponge than any architecture they've experienced in the past?

      Nov 24, 08 8:10 am

      i can't see that mjh00c is dismissing pragmatic design or "conservative western architecture" in the references to "boxes". rather it seems a clear strategy to investigate non-orthogonal volumes/spaces. boxes - whether neo-classic or modernist both operate with very little critical distance to issues of wall to floor, ceiling to wall, and convoluted or involuted surfaces. seems a reasonable premise for starting work.

      i can't see that a rejection or decision to move away from the intrinsic attributes of "boxes" is a "flattening of the worth of tradition to a question of beauty", when he speaks about wanting to investigate different spatial realities and their effects. this seems logical and less a denial of any history or tradition and more a attempt to add to an existing body of knowledge (and spatial realities).

      why wouldn't an architecture such as that being provisionally proposed also engender the same (but different) consequences as the architecture and art of the past, in regards to: "value as statements about the communities the built them: the currents of design, building conventions, capital, and political power, as well as historical necessity have shaped these buildings and they speak of all the forces involved..." surely all of these criteria of review can just as easily be applied to this new work as they can to preceding works.

      as for the "tradition of being human in the world..." it seems that that is exactly what is at stake in the work; i.e. a speculation on what does it mean to be human when this is the proposed world - not the one that has existed prior or under previous conditions.

      the forms shown may well be derivative, but it would seem that the value of the work is not in a judgment on the forms, but rather in a serious critique of their consequential nature - their consequence as spatial constructs. do they allow new organisational possibilities of space? or is it just more of the production of curious stuff? rather than concentrating on dismissing the work as "Wiscombe-insectoid-crap", lb's question about effect and consequence seems quite apropos.

      Steven WardSteven Ward
      Nov 24, 08 8:25 am

      maybe it's that critique that we're missing, dlb. in your one post you've speculated more on the potential meaning and value behind these explorations than the original post. this is what would make this discussion more compelling, rather than the simple dismissal of 'boxes'.

      Nov 24, 08 9:51 am

      There is a large number or comments I should respond to. My time is short as I have to turn in my thesis proposal tomorrow at 11 am.

      I think my initial question has been "what does it mean to be human in this world?" If I take seriously the fact that Architecture has definitely been a representation of what it does mean to be human in this world, then why would it be so absurd to question whether or not what we make is relevant any longer?

      I started with the box. The box was a volume made of foam, that proportionally was consistent with the programmatic requirements of our project. These volumes were arranged on my site with an overarching idea that i wanted to explore with the project. I made about 5 of these models. Each one varied and each one was intended to teach me a bit more each time about scale and the volume's relationship to site, and to the resulting relationships that would be made within the building. Of course, I had an agenda for how I arranged program. It was not based on adjacency but on an idea that I had/have.For my own interest due to what I was interested in exploring and investigating, I decided to weave these volumes together (through my own ways of modeling and using various 3d programs), to articulate by 3d printing the model what I was interested in suggesting spatially.

      Nov 24, 08 9:51 am

      So now, yes, for me the challenge is what are the implications for what this means in terms of how it could or could not be built? How would you actually go about building it. As dlb suggested, I now am confronted with whether or not this really does offer anything new to Architecture, or if it simply another meaningless formal investigation.

      It was not my intent to simply dismiss the box because I am not personally interested in it. I believe I even said that in my initial post. If that were the case, I am not so sure my functional models would have even been a part of the process. I am also not so convinced that Wiscombe's work as well as Coop Himmelblau's is completely a formal all. At least at Coop Himmelblau, and I would assume this process was there when Wiscombe was designing for them, the design process starts with a critical analysis of functional relationships in terms of program and their volumetric properties and implications. I know the project in Lyon, their new museum, has a line of functional models-probably 15-20 or so...exploring variations in relationships and what they would mean. This is also true for BMW Welt in which Wiscombe was a lead designer.

      Nov 24, 08 9:57 am

      space as program, sure, but what you have there is form as program

      "skin, openings and structure work..."

      nothing novel here

      Nov 24, 08 10:07 am

      Well, actually, I would have to disagree. The the result of my process that led to the model shown in the final image is actually programmed with appropriate sizes for the functions specified in the building program outline.

      Nov 24, 08 11:19 am

      and so we have come full circle

      Nov 24, 08 11:33 am

      haha. Gosh. I you want an idea of what I mean about rethinking/reconsidering, read Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis.

      Nov 24, 08 11:34 am

      I'll look at that one! :]

      Nov 24, 08 11:56 am

      be careful. it is on religion. just to warn you.

      Nov 24, 08 12:00 pm

      oh, I can cope with that. I think... but then, one never knows beforehand.. eww

      Nov 25, 08 6:11 am

      to dlb:

      "this [the rejection of boxes and what they stand for] seems logical and less a denial of any history or tradition and more a attempt to add to an existing body of knowledge (and spatial realities)."

      These experiments certainly add to our library of forms, but I see adding to our body of knowledge and sense of spatial realities just as a verbal smokescreen:

      If these forms were made today (at great cost - new technology has not erased the economy of traditional construction - to claim therwise is just like channeling bucky fuller at his most deluded.) How would the spaces be used? What would result from their use? These are valid questions, but they don't have any answers or people ready to bother to produce them, because they are secondary questions - the primary concern being satisfying a will to churn out forms that follow a certain aesthetic.

      "boxes - whether neo-classic or modernist both operate with very little critical distance to issues of wall to floor, ceiling to wall, and convoluted or involuted surfaces."

      Well, the orientation of surfaces as well as their connections are all issues to be considered - and just making a box is certaily erring on the safe side by following conventional ways of constructing and perceiving space. Any decision, whatever the result, box or insectoid, should be thought through.

      On the other hand, does not the lack of critical distance of formal experimentation of the kind presented in the original post to aspects of formal trends and functionality (what is needed for working and living, for example) bother you? Self-indulgent form making can't be just defended by calling it exploring new ways of using and perceiving space, when the idea is not followed through -> that is, there are no conclusions or assumptions that would follow from these experiments.

      I Agree with you that,

      "do they allow new organisational possibilities of space?"

      is a good question, and because they (the examples presented) have very little meaningfull relevance to how space is used (in the present, with our bodies and senses) I would answer "No". These forms (in addition to being very object-like, in their presentation, instead of focusing on spatial relations) derive mostly from a certain publication-induced aesthetic (the Wiscombe-insectoid-crap-style) that does not refer to space, but a certain way of giving form to surfaces and structures.

      Nov 26, 08 12:07 pm

      Helsinki. I will agree with you. The images I posted were object oriented. They did not refer to Architectural scale at all. For me, the purpose of the images was to show a "skin study." I could have done this by producing an image that would have demonstrated the skin from a human perspective: what the skin would look like in the space rather than from a view that would only be seen by a blimp hovering in the air for NFL or College Football games; however, I did not. It is possible this is the point for you: "Why wouldn't he not represent it as Architecture if he says he is making Architecture?"

      If you don't feel like work like mine or like anyone else that is experimenting is actually interested in making Architecture, then you definitely have the freedom to think that; however, I would have to strongly disagree with you.

      Nov 26, 08 12:07 pm

      I'd be interested to know if you have ever spent time with those you are so strongly in opposition to? Have you heard Tom speak about Architecture? Have you heard those who have influenced him such as Wolf Prix talk about Architecture either? Or Hernan Diaz Alonso, or Lynn, Hadid, Roche, etc...?

      For myself, the past year was spent considering new possibilities in various aspects of what is typically considered Architecture. The school in Vienna allowed for the freedom to experiment and to suggest new ways of looking at things, but all with the understanding that it should be looked at critically for what it offers to people that would use it; as you say:

      " what is needed for working and living, for example."

      However, for you to say that people who make the "forms" think of these issues as secondary concerns is simply untrue:

      "How would the spaces be used? What would result from their use? These are valid questions, but they don't have any answers or people ready to bother to produce them, because they are secondary questions - the primary concern being satisfying a will to churn out forms that follow a certain aesthetic."

      I spent a year in a school that definitely allowed for experimentation, but it also joined, with this experimentation, an extreme criticism as to it usefulness.

      You claim that my arguments are invalid. In in the same way, I consider yours to be just as misguided. The work I have done this past semester and through my past 3 years of Architectural education has had everything to do with how people would use and be effected by the spaces I suggest. Yes, I am experimenting with things. I also feel that not everything has been useful or has offered things that would be useful for life. I have tried to be as critical with myself about these things as anyone else would because I find it incredibly important.

      Nov 27, 08 3:43 am

      to mjh00c:

      thank you for a very thoughtful and passionate answer, and I wish you all the luck and hope you achieve your goals. I have the disability of having a pretty material/pragmatic schooling and that obviously limits my views. We are what we have eaten in school, I guess.

      still... I'm sticking to my guns. I know bashing the west-coast aesthetic as a whole and claiming it has nothing to give architecture - when architecture is understood as making space for people and the things they do - is a bit heavy-handed and in some cases even insulting. The path of this type of formal experimentation certainly has a rich history and culture of it's own, and many of the practitioners bring to the ongoing discussion fascinating personal views and stories.

      My view (now in a nutshell) is just that these developments (the type of formal experiments and related processes we have talked about) are flowers bred in the hothouses of the entertainment industry and academia. Interesting, exotic and too rare to survive on the outside. And I don't think the "outside" of architectural production and function is cruel to these flowers just because it's crass and insensitive, but because these plants don't use the way the world works to their advantage (the worlds they are attuned to are the aforementioned academia and entertainment universes). I'm interested in architecture in the flesh, so I don't see much value in other kinds. This is my shortcoming and loss, I'm sure. But it's also my opinion.

      as a postscript,
      I don't doubt Tom, Greg, Wolf, ... etc are wonderful speakers on all things concerning architecture (in fact I think that is their big contribution and strenght) - last time I went to a lecture, I went to hear Denari and Lynn - and was totally charmed. All the work they presented (or almost all) seemed to me clumsy, illogical and obsessed with aesthetic concerns they did not, surprisingly enough, talk about at all - BUT the presentations and discussions were wonderful (Denari being amazingly good in presenting an argument in a few clear and convincing steps. And Lynn just being infectiously excited and fun. It was a really pleasant lecture - despite the architecture shown during it.)

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