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    Lecture - Mark Lee

    By RMartz
    Dec 27, '13 4:37 PM EST


    Welcome back everyone. On Oct 30th we were joined by Mark Lee. USC and GSD graduate, Mark is the principle and founder of Johnston Marklee, an architecture practice operating out of Los Angeles. With a staff of designers coming from academic and professional backgrounds their practice has a strong conceptual approach which, in the words of Kristy Balliet, keeps “one foot in California and one somewhere else”, with their projects taking place all over the globe. The last time Mark was here at OSU was for a small talk given 10 years ago, using slides. A point he made to our young audience. Due to the nature of their small specific projects a lecture, such as this, was chance for self-reflection, a chance to ask, “as a discipline do we have a shared project?...Is there a cohesion?”, which he made the point with the Kim Dingle painting United Shapes of America, in which LA teenagers were asked to draw the United States. All are different, none are quite right, but all share a common theme and goal. Let’s see what we discern from their own works.

    The first set of projects is of a small scale, which has been a majority of their work. Their first project ever, which lasted only 2 weeks, I think gives a good sense of their conceptual approach, which tends to prioritize views, precision, and simple geometric moves, though the resulting geometries aren’t necessarily simple. Their first project, addressing a horizontal creek to one side and a vertical view to a valley on the other, became defined by the connecting surfaces, concave and convex. For a home in Argentina, they used a series of 4 cuts to a primitive, 2 planar and 2 spherical, to create the form, which came from a concern to preserve views in anticipation of future development in the area. The heavy exterior somewhere between “the love-child of Mario Botta and a septic tank”(a comment they received), is contrasted with the lightness of the interior. A unique use of simple forms was in their Beach house in Oxnard, CA. Their goal was to move away from the typical nature of the shotgun beach house, in which the living and master are nearest to the beach, with the rest of the house dark and viewless. The solution was a shotgun of barrel vaulted spaces with a courtyard in the middle/entry. The barrels act as an aperture, which with the program organization, allows views 2/3 of the way back into the house. The last one I want to touch on is their hillside house in the Pacific Palisades. Being on a steep grade, they built out to the maximum allowable surface, similar to the Hugh Ferris drawings of New York, with the interior thus becoming the exterior patio as well (windows can be open 75% of the year there). Also, in looking at their projects take a peak at their Hawaii house. It’s very domestic and geometrically simple, but makes for a really nice and tall interior.

    Looking at their work as they move up in scale, an audience member asked a question wondering how they manage the change in scale from residential to institutional, while still retaining the intimacy of the homes. His honest answer “I don’t know”. Their natural instinct for the first projects has been a doubling or tripling, but at a point this becomes ineffective and so they have find other means to organize, an example being a roof place which organizes the disparate elements underneath. We see this initial approach in the 100 Ai Wei Wei project, where they consider the megaron as the first primitive house, then the next generation would becomes the double megaron. They capture the form in the point of change and then break apart the façade into a series of apertures united by a light courtyard. Moving up in size they were a part of a project for a series of housing buildings near Lake Geneva in a master-planned, all pedestrian site. Their strategy of doubling or multiplying you could say, is manifested through voided courtyards throughout the building that connect to each other allow for passing through the building. Inversely in their project for an art foundation and art park in Grottaferrata, Italy, they create multiple buildings, for different programmatic purposes, each being an aggregation/multiplication of a basic volume module, some in a chain while others are stacked.

    At this point we began to see their approach shift to an assembly of spaces organized and united by overarching elements, in this case a roof. In their project for the UCLA Graduate Arts program, they were given an existing bowstring truss building to work with. Demoing and expanding the building to its site limits, the interior is organized as a series of urban spaces, which then become united under the expanded roof, much of which is Polycarbonate, allowing it to have a relationship to the interior more like a sky.

    The reflection over the course of their work was insightful and interesting. One great question asked how they think about materiality in their projects, particularly because of the white box, studio model-like appearance to them. For them it was a matter of both confidence, in being new they weren’t as confident in their skills, and secondly budget. Their projects were quite tight on budget and so in picking their battles they preferred to focus on aperture and form. It was great having Mark come and speak and to see his firms approach to projects, different than any of our other lectures this semester. As always you can find video of the lectures as they become available at the schools event website at

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This blog will be a feeder for recent news, events and student work occurring at the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Posts will typically center around updates from the school's lecture series, exciting projects from recent student reviews and updates from other school events.

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