CALL TO ARMS

Monday, October 22, 2007


It has come to my attention that this blog is seriously falling behind its original intent. If you were to LOOK | AT | OTHER | EXAMPLES of thesis blogs on the internets, it appears as if we are generating no exchange of ideas, no critique and no advancement in our respective dialogues as we attempt to generate the holiest of holies, our blessed GSD theses. All praises, all praises.

To this end, I am posting MY LATEST PROPOSAL with some notes, questions, thoughts, etc. Hopefully this will jump-start some activity in the right direction and start a more steady exchange of information, ideas, comments, critiques, and all around dialogue.

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THE SLIPPERY SURFACE

My intention in pursuing this area of research on the issues of digital surfaces with regards to the intersection of built-form with land-form is to directly confront the emerging trend in dgital design to sub-div the shit out of everything. If you look at student-work from the various RAHIM STUDIOS, SCI-ARC, the AA, and elsewhere, suddenly the vast majority of academic output assumes the tectonic viability of strange things that blend into the earth or each other like a bizarre breed of organic softees. And I must come completely clean on my rationale, for much of my motivation stems from my being confounded at the time Ali showed me the work of one of Hina's students at Pratt, who designed a tower that "melded" into the earth. It seemed utterly pointless for him to show that to me (after which he let out his best Brat-like "niiiiice") and irrelevant to the work I was doing. In my project for Ali, I decidedly designed the tower to "sit" on the ground, for I felt that there was nothing in particular meld-ish about our site (Sheikh Zayhed Road in Dubai). The tower had more of a JOHN JOHANSEN-on-acid condition, an evolving spiny monster on the landscape, rather than a symbolic SWAMPTHING emerging from the land. But this is enough self-confession, so let's get back to the serious thinking.

Moving on from the desire to avoid a slavish devotion to the sub-div foxtrot, I started noticing certain origins of this trend. And remember, I am speaking mainly in formal terms. The theory will come later, and it is equally important. If we look at projects like Yokohama, the West-Side Highway competition entries by R/U and Eisenman, and certainly anything by KOL/MAC, NMDA, GLForm, we see the emergence of projects that formally peel the surface of the ground into something inflected and inhabitable. I use the term "inflected" after reading Bernard Cache's Earth Moves, in which he describes a contemporary sensibility for the non-datum site. He draws is ideas of inflection from Deleuze (and I realize I am on shaky ground mentioning that name), but to the best of my ability to comprehend Cache or Deleuze, I believe the inflection is the shift from concavity to convexity, which has enormous potential to shift physical and conceptual flows through a terrain. It is this shifting that characterizes the contemporary surface and its freedom to assume changing degrees of curvature that were once limited to the natural topographies of the earth's surface. Getting back to the examples above, architects at the end of the 20th century realized the computational possibility of designing such surfaces and incorporated them freely into their body of work. Alejandro Zaera-Polo even curated an entire issue of Quaderns (220) on the topic of "Operative Topographies," explaining how he and Farshid were heavily invested in researching the potentials of inhabitable surfaces. Then if we look forward to Greg Lynn and XEFIROTARCH's inclusion of software programs like Maya, we begin to see projects such as the Art Hotel, the U2 Tower, and Lexington Park Plaza, where ground and building are impossible to distinguish.

The technique of combining landscape and architecture into a cohesive element is interesting. Everyone has pitched a tent in their design pants at some point looking at a project that does this. But let's face it, even where Yokohama tries, things end up s.t. rugglin. God forbid Kol/Mac ever build heir Reybould House Extension. It would make any pants-tent fall in no time. The reason for this is because of a graphic mistake we make in using the computer interface and the convincing appearance of the computational surface, which seems in its capacity for inflection to have the ability to be one-and-the-same with its context. This conundrum is precisely what I am interested in, and I feel it can be addressed in a few ways. The first is to study the mathematic construction of computational surfaces. Sub-divs and NURBS especially have an equasional structure to them that might be very interesting to reveal. Would the structure-revealed contaminate the surface in some way, or could it be considered a parametric limit, just as any design material has its limit? The second is to think of possibilities for moving the discourse long in some fashion so that it recognizes the failed viability of the computational surface as seen through the graphic interface. Should the surfaces of our buildings assume the characteristics of the earth if they are created with an entirely different set of forces? Should the surfaces be the product of an animation if they are only to be frozen in their built-form? Hmm...

So yeah. Now I guess need your help.

What I'm looking for are suggestions for case studies. I'm most interested in examples that exist prior to the Deleuzian/Cache influence, such as examples from the International Style, non-western examples, new-new projects, and more.

And if you care to bitch me out for my feelings about surfaces, put up your dukes and let's have at it. I can take a digital right-hook and the subsequent binary-eye like the best of them.

Noel, Chris, the ball is in your blog.

2 Comments:

Blogger chris shusta said...

good good.

my project seems to be grounded in the folly of nurbs surfaces as well... but for very different reasons.

god forbid i qualify that statement. hopefully, ill get something up on here soon.

October 22, 2007 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger Noel Murphy said...

I'll post some introductory thoughts later tonight about what I am working on. A few thoughts on your topic Josh - I haven't read your proposal, but coming from the notes in your blog entry, here are a few thoughts:

My research has been looking at the architectural plinth (podium, socle)as a staging device and I have been considering the problem of building/ground, but from a different direction - no nurbz surfaces for me, or subdivs (at least in my research). I see two approaches to surface - semantic and operational. Surely all of those working with surface strive for some measure of operational logic/rigor, but in many cases the semantic (regardless of theoretical intent) wins out. I mention this because it may be possible to research two or more corollary or parallel histories of continuous surface. For instance there is the Eisenman-inspired/Greg Lynn theorized 'Animate Form' software generated work of Greg Lynn which bleeds to Ali, Sci-Arc, the AA; then there is the programmaticlly-driven work of Koolhaas, who I think is underestimated in terms of his contribution to surface (but I don't want to give away too much); additionally the archaeologically inclined work of Emilio Abasz and Zumthor. There is alot more outside of those lineages - the instinctive 'tabula rasa' mechanism of modernism, superstudio, archizoom, landscape urbanism, field conditions (mat buildings). How these function operationally vs semantically is certainly not clear cut in all cases, but these parallel threads could provide a research framework. Its a bit of ramble, but hopefully there was something beneficial in there.

As long as you don't do a Kolaton/Mac chimera... God those hurt to look at. One of their proposals was actually situated in Charlottesville (or so it said)... next week London!

October 23, 2007 at 1:17 PM  

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