University of Illinois Chicago (Matthew)

The Shape of Cool

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    Repetition Repetition Repetion

    Matthew Messner
    Sep 14, '12 12:22 PM EST

    Finishing up week three here at UIC.

    I would be happy to say that I am in the home stretch of my Three Year Masters, but in reality it looks like I am going to stick around for one more year to get my Masters of Art and Design Criticism on top of my M.Arch.  This is already starting to shape which classes I am taking.  So far the shift into Criticism has been (technically this is a duel degree running concurrently) has been amazing.

    So my class line up.

    ARCH565 Topic Studio- Repetition- Sam Jacob and Jimenez Lai

    ARCH566 Research Seminar-  Architecture considered in relation to art, customs, and legislation; in which several and diverse extraordinary methods of the architect are examined as to their novel effects on society throughout history, their mastery by students, and their application in a project of pressing concern (that is really the title)- Andrew Zago and Sarah Blankenbaker (and sometimes Robert Somol)

    ARCH587 Criticism- No Good- Robert Somol

    ARCH520 Design and Criticism- Designing Criticism- Sam Jacob

    So there you have it 20 credits somehow. This is going to be interesting.


    I thought I would take a moment to talk a little about studio and explain a little of what has been happening there.

    From the brief...

    "This year's studio will take aon the repetitive mode. Sick of novelty, dizzy from invention, we propose an alternative mode of operation. A mode that, we would argue, deals with the fundamental principles of architecture embedded its economy, technology, and culture: Repetition. Repetition of components, repetition of units, repetition of typologies. Architecture repeats itself across its scales from detail to masterplan.

    Ironically, repetition is the way that architecture manufactures difference. The way that it repeats creates variety, creates highs and lows. Through mistakes or intention, the act of repetition is a way of inventing a different kind of originality. Repetitions can both ingrain ideas into us, and it can make things become nonsense. Jokes are repetitive and so is litany. It is both the tradition of craft and of mass production. Repetition raises issues of surreality, of aggregation, of transmission. Its apparent narrowness opens up into a wide spectrum of possibilities."

    This studio will be looking at housing as a typology, eventually looking at both high and low density.

    The first few weeks have been focused on collecting, repeating, repeating, and.. well.

    As Sam has his responsibilities in London he will be joining us about every other week with Jimenez at the helm keeping the boat on course.  This week was the first week Sam was with us.  Here is some of my work.  Ill try and get some others' work up. Can we do gifs on here?


    My Found Plan Mash-Ups (kind of a dead end)

    What I will most likely be focusing on this semester.  The power of animation over other design methods.

    The Animate Grid
    Houses of Camazotz


    • culture vulture

      None of this makes any of you employable, in fact quite the opposite.

      Sep 14, 12 9:00 pm  · 


      Thanks for sharing. I am currently taking this studio with Matthew and have been using mirroring as a form of repetition. I will definitely be copying/ repeating/ stealing from these.

      Sep 14, 12 9:28 pm  · 

      Those are beautiful, quondam.

      Sep 16, 12 4:36 pm  · 

      Pattern. Pattern. Pattern.

      Sep 16, 12 6:43 pm  · 


      Very cool stuff.  I don't mean the mash-ups have no future I just mean I don't think I am going to pursue them in this project.  Some others are though, to some interesting ends.

      Warhol is kind of always in the discussion and drewjmcnamara Pattern seems to come up well... over and over and over.

      Thanks for the tip VC.

      Sep 17, 12 3:27 am  · 

      Matt, what does the shift entail. More theory and writing classes? Does the track include a focus on critical practice? Given the fact that you are taking a studio and criticism class from Sam Jacob, i would guess so...

      Sep 17, 12 11:12 pm  · 


      Yes the shift is to theory and writing, and in my case an exploration critical practice.  The program also includes some that are solely interested in criticism as a field in unto itself. check out the write up on it here.     The program is so small that one can somewhat tailor it to their own sensibilities.  

      Sep 17, 12 11:41 pm  · 


      I am also very interested in writing.  Though I do not "write" a great deal here on Archinect, my activity on here is related to that interest.

      Sep 17, 12 11:44 pm  · 

      My thesis was focused on pattern, but since pattern is a part of so, so much, the thesis really ended up being focused on nothing. Which is why I'm excited to read more as your studio progresses. This focus on repetition is straight-forward and clean. Its funny that a simple process, which can simultaneously generate 'boring' and 'novel' results, exists. But as they say, "an inch wide and a mile deep". Best of luck and have a blast!

      Sep 18, 12 1:29 am  · 


      Can your thesis be found anywhere on the interwebs?  would love to see it.  In a class about repetition it is totally ok for us to steal other's work.  Thought I might do some mining!

      Sep 19, 12 3:38 am  · 

      You can find it at, clicking the 'Work' tab, and clicking 'Download' next to 'Thesis'.

      Hopefully some of my references will inspire, inform, or repulse you. Any reaction is OK by me!

      Sep 19, 12 8:25 pm  · 

      Interesting topic - repetition is something that only exists imperfectly in nature through adaptation, mutation and over time. Nothing is truly "perfect" in nature - and therefore truly mirrored in nature and for good reason. These mutations are what fosters identity and uniqueness in context. Still, one can't technically exist without the other. Repetition must exist at the right scale and not just in 3D... It is designed also in 4D (time).
      Architecture is not purely repetition - its innovation. It's arguably impossible to design something you've never seen before. What we design is made up of a library of stored memories - and it's up to us to innovate, make new connections and "mutations" of other things we've seen.
      An example of the right kind of scaled repetition is the human body. From 2000 ft away, symmetrical forms of people look alike, but up close we are all very much different - still made up of similar molecular structures. Similar, but not mirrored for sure. Otherwise, identity is lost.
      Another example is this new island design by Dror. It vaguely reminds me of high density low income housing projects from the mid 20th century - which have failed. Rather than repetition of the units on the island (looking like "the projects") there should be variety of scale and mixed use over separated functional nodes. This will foster smart growth/aging of the community that occupies over time - and the design mutates as its users evolve. Limited, controlled repetition allows for this to happen. Plan view shows 5 equal nodes, but should conceptually be represented by five leaves of a plant in plan view - each different and prepared for evolution and adaptation.
      So I'm not sold on repetition at the scale of entire houses one by one - or mirrored floor plans. Look to a different scaled component for repetition perhaps, such as structural.

      Sep 30, 12 11:30 pm  · 

      As in bottom-up repetition? The underlying repetition, recursiveness, or pattern that drives the experience, or the actual built product? In that way, pattern can breed pattern...or not. Aka Feedback Loops, etc.

      Sep 30, 12 11:41 pm  · 

      not really. I just suggested structure in that last example because I knew they had a standard structural component that drove the repetition as such. So they should revisit - otherwise the design is not flexible/sustainable over time. I'm more for pulling away from repetition In architectural design (at least at your implied level) and certainly against someone proposing a computational, finite process for it. Respectively of course - again, interesting topic.
      Otherwise you lose opportunity for innovation/improvement. And aging of building goes out the door. Design reaction breeds mutation - open to adaptation to condition and context - which breeds identity. Grossly repeating elements without specific reason/function can adversely affect identity, reason and sense of place. Guess I'm also saying these underlying components should be imperfect in themselves -
      Look at how a plant that has 5 equal stems with five equal leaves. Made up of cells (the microscopic repetitive component), over time, one or more stems will become taller and/or longer in order to catch more sunlight and rain. Some of the cells may mutate and get larger to promote faster growth. The plant re-designs itself to the maximum form for its little footprint in the environment. And that cannot be achieved with any "standard" approach to feedback loops. It's all about the variables that do not yet exist over time. That's the best part about a building's lifespan

      Oct 1, 12 8:26 pm  · 

      I've often wondered what/how/why with pattern and adaptation and resilience and mutation and the endless list of related terms, in regards to architecture and design. I appreciated your suggestions. Actually your Plant reference reminds me of D'arcy Thompson and "On Growth and Form". Or am I still off? In which case that's OK. I still love the conversation.

      Oct 1, 12 9:51 pm  · 

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