20 May 2010

The Final Review

Architecture reviews start notoriously late, but Roland gave the studio strict instructions to be ready at ten o’clock in the morning because we have a tight schedule and an impatient jury.  It is 9:40, and Dwight and I can’t get in touch with So.  When I left the studio four hours earlier, we agreed to meet at 9:00 am to pinup our drawings and set up the model.    I ask a friend to track So down while I drag our hundred-pound wood model down to the room where we are presenting.  Dwight is still upstairs finalizing the digital presentation.  Ten minutes later, Dwight has finished exporting the presentation and we are pinning up our two boards.  I get a text from So—“Sorry, In a cab, will be there in five.”   But before So shows up, Roland asks us to start because the group that was suppose to go first isn’t ready.

       As Roland is introducing the jury, So rushes in visibly upset and apologetic.  We settle him down enough to run through the presentation and discuss our speaking order before Roland announces “With that I will turn it over to the first group.”   We introduce ourselves and I start. Unlike the mid-review, this time we have the presentation in the right order with the process before the result.  We get to the first video, and the student changing the slides for us plays the video while I discuss the movement of the dots.   I ask him to play the video again but instead he flips to the next slide.  When we ask him to go back he misunderstands and advances another slide forward.  The jury looks annoyed as So runs back to the projector.  We move on hoping to get the jury’s attention.  Dwight explains the sticks and their aggregation and alignment to physically define the spaces.  As we show some renderings of the interior and exterior spaces, So uses the wood model to explain how we intend to physically connect the sticks together and eventually make them into a building.  Satisfied with our presentation we await the jury’s reaction. 
      Perhaps a little overconfident with our work, (Cecil and Roland have been consistently pleased with our project and progress,) I am surprised by the first comment from one of my previous professors Jenny Sabin:

     “Would you clarify some of the conditions that take place with this construction system?  How do you distinguish structure, partition or floors and windows?”

       Tom Wiscombe of Emergent Architecture says that he likes the effect of the building, the order of the interior compared to the fluffiness of the outside, but do we really think this system is organizing space in a way that creates a functional school of design.  I reply that the while the spaces may not be organized in a traditional fashion, they are accurately sized to the numbers of people who would be using them, and the variation in spaces in the building would accommodate all of the programmatic needs of a school of design.  He seems unconvinced and continues. He says that our design appears much more like a pavilion than a true building.  “Do you really have any structure or enclosure?”   
      Balmond steps in to redirect the conversation in a more theoretical direction.  He dismisses the structural concerns citing the wood model and the redundancy of the system, and then suggests that because of the redundancy, the users could actually move the sticks around and change the interior spaces as needed.  Balmond’s ability to think realistically and conceptually at the same time, I believe, is the secret to his success as an engineer and designer.  As the review wraps up, the conclusion of the jury is that our stick organization is successful, provocative, and beautiful, but most of the members still seem skeptical that the dots will really form spaces in the building.   
       I listen to the other reviews with some interest, but mostly I am just relieved to be done.  As the jurors depart, Cecil approaches Jim and me, and in his typically blunt fashion says “I think there were two interesting projects this semester…well done.” 

19 May 2010

Stickin' to It

Although the members of our team fundamentally disagree about how to write the algorithm and the desired result, after some heated discussion we resolve to continue to work together in the interest of finishing the project.  One intention that we all agree on is to be the first project in Balmond’s studio to move from a theoretical idea to an actual construction system.  With a large scale wood wall-section model, we will show how our building can actually be built.  
       Otherwise, we compromise, keeping the building messier on the exterior, with more random unaligned sticks, while on the interior they will align more closely into parallel rows and functional interior partitions.  Once constructed, In order to create flat floors for the interior spaces, the densely packed sticks will be cut to the same height like freshly mowed grass.  Windows in our building will be made of translucent sticks incorporated with the wood ones of the same size.  Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Headquarters, our building won’t have views out of the building, but will still allow natural light into the interior.

       With a compromise reached, but just five days left, we have a lot of work to do before the final review.  Dwight works on the plans and sections in studio, while So and I haul the 6 30-pound boards for the model upstairs to the fabrication lab and start planing, joining, and cutting them into sticks. 

05 May 2010

Towards a Final Review

After the trip to London and a brief stop in Barcelona we are back in Philadelphia and Balmond meets with us to see what progress we have made since the review. "At some point pragmatics kick in and you have to go with it" he tells us. He advises us that the script can't design everything and we need to take the results and find practical ways of meeting the real world requirements of a building.

Balmond's advice is something that deep-down we know, but we hate to hear. Up to this point we have been optimistic about the non-linear process and we believe that through scripting we can design every part of the building. Having Balmond tell us that we can't script the whole process is like the moment as a child when you realize that your parents aren't superheroes. While So and I do want to have a building generated from the project by the end of the semester, we want to push the scripting absolutely as far as possible before we switch to traditional design methods.

We are focused on how we can get the script into a full building form with floors and windows by the final review. The sticks are now aligning into a beautiful and credible building form on the site; the exterior looks something like hair spiraling around the crown of a head. We have even worked out a construction system for the thousands of 4 by 4 inch by six-foot boards required to build it. But fitting glass between the sticks requires something far less standardized than an off-the-shelf glazing system and we can't get the script to form flat floors.

Dwight has been pushing So and I toward the pragmatic for weeks now and we have fervently resisted. We haven't reached the point of divorce, but there is definitely some tension in the group. For So and I, Balmond's advice is a difficult pill to swallow.