Don’t worry ’bout the atmosphere…


In studio, we’re analyzing several of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses in depth. In particular, we are examining the main living spaces of these houses, and considering them as “event-spaces” – the term picked specifically to encourage comparison with contemporary work (such as that of Bernard Tschumi, or Rem Koolhaas). While this seems to be our primary focus, we are also looking at the construction details and materials, and attempting to derive an argument for continuity of surface – to explain the walls and ceilings as a folding of a continuous plane. (I’m not exactly sure where we’re going with this – it seems to be simply a formal exercise and a chance to see the power of our 3D software. We have had some readings that reference Deleuze and Leibniz, but as far as I can tell the fold is a philosophical metaphor, borrowed from physical space to explain a higher concept. To take that metaphor back to the physical realm, well, seems a bit too high concept for me. Perhaps there’s something to be gained from further examination of the texts.)

While these strictly formal aspects of the Usonian house are certainly intriguing, what interests me most about our ongoing analysis is the consideration of the house as “atmospheric.” By extending roof lines and floorplates, pulling walls back into the main volume of the house, and by opening large expanses of walls with operable doors and windows, the architect has, to a certain extent, blurred the boundary of the building. By encouraging natural ventilation, the building envelope dissolves. By using non-treated wood, the houses were arguably designed to erode, return to the site, and thus participate in the natural cycles of the land. Through these strategies, the house begins to participate in the ecology of the site. I don’t quite buy “atmospheric” as an appropriate word for this type of environmentally responsible design. Perhaps “ecological architecture” would be more appropriate.

It’s interesting to note a possible confluence – by examining a site’s ecological flows, a gradient field could be established based on real physical phenomena. This field data could be fed into 3D modeling software, and could be used not for arbitrary formal manipulation, but to design environmental systems, structural systems, and areas of enclosure around extant environmental conditions. Using the power of the computer, complex geometries could actually serve a purpose – to direct airflow, or to reflect natural light – rather than remaining eye-candy, barely explained by literary or philosophical arguments.

While “datascapes” and information-architecture certainly have their place in the cultural discourse, an ecological architecture based on the modification of natural flows via computer analysis may yield a result that is visually stunning, environmentally sensitive, easily fabricated, and easily comprehended (no posturing – the strategies for formal generation are based on real physical conditions).

(Post title cribbed from Andrew Bird -“Tables and Chairs”)

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