Knowlton School of Architecture (Marc Syp)



Aug '05 - Jan '11

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    The Art Museum the Detritus of Commerce

    By mpsyp
    Jan 9, '08 1:41 PM EST

    Last quarter we engaged the topics of dynamic systems and architectural effects in a studio with Kivi Sotamaa. Kivi was a fantastic studio professor; he has an uncanny ability to hone in on what is successful in your project and encourage development accordingly. We were all battling a steep learning curve (learning Maya and Realflow for the first time) but in the end I think there were some great projects in the studio.

    The project was a museum for two permanent collections (Chillida and Bacon) in Valparaiso, Chile. Valparaiso is an intriguing seaport that served as a primary stopping point for shipping vessels traversing the Straits of Magellan; it became a diverse collection of culture, architectural style, and tradition, with seafaring guests leaving a piece of their heritage during brief sojourns from long voyages.


    Dedicated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003, Valpo is famous for its villas stacked on steep hillsides and the numerous staircases and funiculars that connect them to sea level, where the bustle of the port hums through day and night.



    After the opening of the Panama Canal, Valpo saw a drastic drop in shipping traffic, and its vitality began to crumble. No longer able to afford the maintenance of its properties, the city saw its buildings collapse during earthquakes or out of sheer neglect.

    With the recent declaration of UNESCO status, there has been a reinvestment in restoring and preserving the old city and its diverse cultural assets, including an eclectic mix of architectural styles, an open-air museum for graffiti and street art, and numerous cultural festivals.





    We began the design portion of the studio by exploring dynamic systems and their potential for abstract generative diagrams. We were interested in how motion can be expressed in static forms. I studied fluids and elastics in Realflow and Maya while others explored particle systems, hair, etc. The forms of our projects were created entirely from the data generated from our studies in an attempt to retain the qualities and effects of the dynamic systems. Design, then, was in the manipulation of these systems and the selective use of data for design decisions, not in an approximation of the effects.

    Emphasis was on the final result, not in the process, and we were encouraged to avoid talking about process altogether in reviews. This avoided the problem that Kipnis is describing as the self-justifying process, and as a result the architectural effects were allowed to take center stage.



    My project is an exploration of the negotiation between skin effects and formal effects. The skin is composed of titanium tiles that are rotated in three dimensional space according to their force and normal vectors, which creates a continuously variable matrix of transparency and opacity. As one moves around the building, views are constantly shifting according to the angle of incidence.


    The skin operates at a number of scales; from a distance it is a veil that suggests a body beneath it but mostly occludes the forms within. At a closer distance, the effects begin to multiply. It conveys movement, as the skin has a sort of inexplicable propensity to breathe as one moves around it. The reflectivity of the tiles, combined with their rotation, begins to gather image and color from both interior and exterior, in effect collapsing the "interior/exterior" into a single surface. It also acts as a screen, modulating the body beneath or the city and sky beyond, like the streaks of a Francis Bacon painting.


    Finally, the skin is a political act. It is not a weather enclosure but it defines some of the principle programmatic elements of the project, including an outdoor Chillida sculpture court and a temporary exhibitions space. Its situation among the shipping containers is both an extension of the open-air museum and a democratization of the art contained within (or without).


    The building is sited amidst the shipping containers by the edge of the port, and indeed it could be a shipping container itself, a nod to the commercialism of fine art. It sits directly on the concrete parking pad, unmediated, as if it is a relic of the city like any other.

    The forms have their own multiplicitous effects. They are reminiscent of a fish carcass, an alien body, or a Henry Moore sculpture, without being figural. It is tied down like Gulliver in Lilliput, braced on its sides as if it could overturn at any moment. It has a spirit of impermanence to it. The color gradient achieves the singularity of parts at close distance and a continuity of form at a distance.


    Larger scale images available at my Flickr.

    From the final boards:

    "It is a lumpy and disheveled thing, a playful thing, a beautiful thing. It is alien and familiar. It is tied to the old shipping dock in Valparaiso, Chile, caught between the steep staircases of the villas on the west, and the teeming sea to the east. It is both a container for art caught in the throes of commercialism and a vigorous liberator from the tyranny of the white box. It veil occludes, reveals, reflects, and modulates, gather the sky and itself together in a continuously twisting play of light. It is a place for public performance and private contemplation. It is permanent and fleeting.

    -Marc Syp, Fall 2007
    Studio Sotamaa"

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