The exciting practice of Hansy Better Barraza and Anthony J. Piermarini, known collectively as Studio Luz, got a nod of respect from the architecture cognoscenti with the Young Architects Forum Prize from the Architectural League of New York in April, 2004. At that point, they decided to really play all their chips when they prepared for the exhibit that traditionally comes along with this honor. Inventive and risky, their adaptable armature supports a series of illuminated stereoscopic slide viewfinders and magnifiers.
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The armature itself is breakbeats for the eyes- an ingenious detail of interlocking four-legged creatures repeated throughout to assemble a dynamic neural-like system. Unlike other temporary displays that get tossed after a show, this system is durable in more ways than one. Not only are these steel pieces entirely reusable, the resulting shape can grow or shrink to fit any space, display cases can be added, or one can even imagine this system morphing into exquisite furniture in a future iteration.
However, the young creators took this as an opportunity to go beyond an inquiry of materials and assembly. With this and with some of the larger commissions they are now getting, they want to imbue their work -at all scales- with a socio-cultural investigation. They say: if architecture can establish a dialogic relationship with its users, receiving and creating meaning, then architecture can be a cultural expression affirming its relationship to the community in which it serves. With the if-then armature, Studio Luz flips viewers' standard notions about pre-determined, fixed shape and a clear profile. Starting with an examination of the detail that is closest-at-hand, they allow shape to emerge from there; to grow on its own terms. They acknowledge that GaudÃƒÂ was in mind at the conception, as well as brain-cell and protein systems.
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Additionally, the resulting object itself gives the impression of moving and performing for the viewer as he or she hovers around it, even though it obviously doesn't move at all.
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Rodolphe el-Khoury and Studio Luz held the following exchange over email:
Your recent installation at the Architectural League in New York is provocative in many ways. I'm intrigued by "transmutation", the term you use to describe the evolving nature of the structure. Transmutation suggests a passage from a given condition to another, or in other words, the possibility of identifying clearly different states in the evolutionary process of your structure. Yet what I find exciting about the installation is a certain formlessness or fluidity, a resistance to any identifiable state at any given time. Is that something that would characterize your work in general?
With the Young Architect's Forum piece, we were attracted to the notion of an adaptable armature, capable of responding to different physical and conceptual parameters. Given such an armature we were able to liberate our selves from certain formal restraints which allowed for various relationships between the viewer and the display mechanisms. The piece sponsored a range of interactions at different scales. Generally, the work of Studio Luz is evolving, in a constant process of asking questions about how architecture is an agent in producing and reproducing social relationships. The resistance to certain gestalt readings of the work comes from our attempts to shift scales and create various modes of experiences.
Also intriguing in this Architectural League installation are the emergent formal properties that I assume were not precisely programmed into its 'genetic code'. Is this something you also pursue in your architectural practice? How do you account for such unpredictable phenomena at a larger scale and when dealing in more complex programs?
Yes, in our practice, we are pursuing an Architecture which is able to transmit information as well as receive from its end-users. With larger complex projects such as the Orphanage School in Haiti, we are trying to imbed the work with multiple rhetorical strategies. This could be through ideas of "open" programs, where a foundation of structural systems are systematically placed and the end users can finish, or contribute to the production of their localized space. We make an effort to work with materials and systems that support various modes of perception and allow for people to finish their spaces through use. With sensitivity to material qualities, open construction processes, and the increasing amount of informational systems tied into buildings, architecture can engage in a dialog with its users.
Does the interactivity and open-endedness you describe necessarily entail a certain informality, a kind of structure that readily lends itself for appropriation, transformation and perhaps even misuse because of it's built in "weakness," or "formlessness"?
The apparent informality is a result of design rigor. The ranges of interactions are subject to the set of opportunities and limits provided by a design. With our work we try to define a set of infrastructural parameters to enable one to take advantage of the system. To achieve a structure that allows for misuse requires the design to be robust but also agile and adaptable.
Clearly the installation radicalizes elements that are latent or understated in your architecture. We have talked about the interactivity and open-endedness which are foregrounded as 'message' in this particular experiment; are there any other features you care to discuss that are perhaps taking your work in a new direction? Has the experiment opened up a new territory for you to explore in your architectural practice?
If anything we have been able to explore our interests in subjectivity, perception, as well as indulge ourselves in the making of things. With this kind of "insulated" project, we allowed intuition to guide the process. Over time we will learn more from this kind of investigation. Our interests and objectives constantly change; we enjoy the freedom to change our minds. It would be hard to state any singular definitive direction for our work given our fledgling state. We begin each project with a set of mutual interests; these are developed through collaboration. As far new territory, the ideas of adaptability, collective and singular experiences, and perhaps contrasts in modes of reception, are notions that have moved to the foreground.
Rodolphe el-Khoury is the Chair of Architecture at the California College of the Arts and has published widely.
Young Architect's Forum Exhibition - Studio Luz
Project designers: Hansy Better Barraza and Anthony J. Piermarini
Project leader: Michael Beaman
Production: Precision Laser of Providence, RI
Assistants: Charles Austin, Myles Bennett, Jonathan Braddock, Danny Chan, Akira Gunji, James Smith