[Gauguin, Paul “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” 1897]

I’ve been riding a bicycle as my sole means of transportation since mid-summer 2005. Last month I heard that my brother totalled the old family car, eliminating any chance I had of getting it back. No matter. This past year I’ve been riding more often and further than ever before. I’ve been reaping the benefits of a car-free lifestyle, benefits I never anticipated.

With my return to academia, I feel my philosophic leanings coming back to the fore, and I realize that my true interests lie not in a well-designed cog or floor plan, or efficiency of code, but in the subtle, supple, connections between disciplines, the abstract diagrams, flowcharts, mappings of influence. I’m interested in the rhizomatic, prickly Venn-diagrams, cell membranes, the dermis, blurred bifurcations, the grey, fuzzy zone between seemingly discrete elements. In short, the connections in the theory of everything. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Is it too absurd to throw [Kafka, Delueze, Adbusters, Situationists, DeLanda, bike messengers, anarchists, cultural theory, progressive politics, the Green party, cellular automata, emergent properties, open-source software, socialism, neuropsychology, architecture, …] into the same tag-cloud? Intellectually, I feel I’m approaching a point of convergence. All my academic interests seem to be migrating to a certain point. I’m interested to see where it leads.

Time is malleable.
In a car, there is no effort to a journey. It costs money and takes time, but there is no physical exertion, and thus the sojourn is decommodified, it becomes a free resource. When the cost of travel is negligible, a shopping spree, or a Taco Bell run suddenly falls within the realm of immediate possibility, and that instant gratification shifts slowly but steadily from a privilege, to a right, to a necessity. On a bicycle, the act of travel is rehumanized. Distance is psychologically reconnected to time and effort. When any change in location requires physical effort, the time spent in any given place aquires new value. Priorities shift. The concept of wasted time is eliminated. Recovery is as important as effort, but that ratio can be massaged to achieve desired effects.

Money is fluid.
When every journey attains a purpose, the opportunity for rampant spending is eliminated, and purchases must meet certain criteria to be justifiable. On a tight grad-school budget, the importance of financial planning, no matter how small the scale, becomes paramount. Without a weekly paycheck, and no trips to the gas station, budgeting gets stretched to a longer time frame. I no longer think week to week, but plan my finances months in advance. Drawn out to this scale, individual credits and debits are no longer discrete objects, they are flows in and out. The act of budgeting become one of tweaking and aligning these flows.

You are the environment.
There is no distinction. Without a hermetic steel shell, the weather becomes much more important. You appreciate the slight variation of degrees, and your clothes reflect this. You prepare for subtle microvariation of climate. When it rains, you get wet. Comfort depends on how you mediate the environment, not how you react against it.

You are what you eat.
On a bike, you become acutely aware of the effect different foods and drinks have on your physical being. Choices have more weight.

Once you begin to value and manage your time, money, environment, and food more highly, you start seeing personal benefits (better health, more “free” time, more money). It is no big leap to imagine a migration of these benefits to the scale of a society. One can begin to see the rough outlines of a philosophy that draws on enlightenment ideals, Marxist materialism, contemporary emergence theory, anti-consumerism, sustainability… in short, a new Utopian vision. Naturally, this is unrealizable, but an ideal must be proposed before any substantial progress can be made.

I’m beginning to believe that cultural theory may be my ultimate field of study. I hope my exit review at KSA can pull together these various threads: a unified vision of how architecture can truly participate in the cultural discourse. How architects can save the world.

Can real progress occur without unrealistic goals?


Though I’m not entirely sure how this will relate to my studio project, I’ve finally made my first Rhino Script. I’ve been fascinated by the pollibility of using a halftone gradient as a generative image, and I’ve created a process to do just that. Take any image (random Photoshop “Clouds” for instance) and transform it with a color halftone filter (all angles set to zero to assure black and white dots). Then, take it to Illustrator, perform a live trace to vectorize the image, export it to a dwg file, and import it in rhino.

In rhino, join all the curves and make surfaces from planar curves. Then comes the script. The script takes a selection of surfaces, and extrudes them each to a height related to the inverse of the square root of the surface area. What this means is from any halftone image, areas of high density will become low, flat areas for inhabitation, while diffuse areas will become either completely open, or populated by tall, slender columns.

Here’s the result of running the script on the image above:

And here’s the script:

Option Explicit'Extrude multiple surfaces to a height depending on surface area'Script written by Evan Chakroff

Public intCount

Call Main()Sub Main()

'Define the height-area ratio   Dim ratio   'ratio = Rhino.GetString("Select height to area ratio", , , True)   ratio = .00005 'smaller number = bigger range of heights

   'need new method for height calculation

   If IsNull(ratio) Then Exit Sub   Rhino.Print "Ratio: " & ratio

'Select surface objects and print area   Dim arrObjects, strObject, arrArea, area, height, strSurface, strCurve    arrObjects = Rhino.GetObjects("Select surface objects", , , True)

   If IsArray(arrObjects) Then      For Each strObject In arrObjects         arrArea = Rhino.SurfaceArea(strObject)         area = CStr(arrArea(0))         height = (100/(area^0.5))         Rhino.Print "Object identifier: " & strObject         Rhino.Print "The surface area is: " & area              Rhino.Print "The height to extrude is: " & heightif height > 100 then height = 100if height < 1 then height = 1         strCurve = Rhino.AddLine(Array(0,0,0), Array(0,0,height))         Rhino.ExtrudeSurface strObject, strCurve         Rhino.DeleteObject (strCurve)

      Next   End If

End Sub

Any scripters out there? Comments are welcome.

a question of material integrity

(the following is the text from the a presentation my group and I gave today in our Computer Graphics class. This is part of a quarter-long case study.)

Case Study: Office da’s Zahedi House

In Office da’s architecture, traditional materials play a key role, though that role is rarely traditional. The inherited roles of materials are sometimes reversed, sometimes reinvented. To paraphrase their official literature, a dominant strategy in their work is the defamiliarization of materials and expansion of the experiential and semantic effects of architecture. This is evident in their use of the corrugated galvanized steel as a secondary skin in the Zahedi house. A typically industrial material is allowed to find a flowing, organic form, calling the traditions into question.

“The proposal combining a wood frame construction system with corrugated galvanized steel facing, seeks to confront the technology of corrugation as a vehicle for architectural investigation and invention: radicalizing the spatial, perceptual, and formal possibilities of corrugation in order to overcome its raw and industrial qualities. The manipulation of the metal is the agency by which a ‘domestic’ transformation may be brought onto a generally tough material. The corrugation is perceived as a taut skin, holding a very constrained program within. The distortions in the skin reflect the shifts in wrapping that occur with the misalignment of programmatic elements and the need for openings. While the corrugation is wrapped around the house as a thin drape, it is also called on as a catalyst to re-formulate the idea, the perception and the space of the house.” []

In Office da’s theory, they attempt to reconcile two dominant threads of architectural discourse. We can begin to understand their work as a synthesis of the “tectonic” and the “phenomenological.” We hope that by modeling the Zahedi house, we can begin to draw some conclusions about not only the nature of the struggle between the tecton and the phenomenon, but about the tension between representation and actualization: how the choice of material (both in models and at full-scale) affects the structure, form, and physiological effect of a work of architecture.

Our first model is to be constructed of templated chipboard. Though often chosen for the neutrality of the material, we expect to find that the heavy striation that is the result of this method introduces an aesthetic effect not found in Office Da’s model or, one assumes, in the real building (had it been built).

In the Zahedi House, a true tectonic-phenomenological synthesis could not be achieved: the existing building’s structure was maintained; the architects were limited to the application of a skin. In our second model, we will investigate the possibility of a more fully developed synthesis, in which the skin and structure merge to become a structural surface. Is it possible to achieve Office da’s apparent goal of an architecture that is traditional, structurally rational, performative, and phenomenologically stimulating simultaneously?

This model will be more experimental than the first, as we forego a literal translation in favor of an investigation of the effect of a radically different material choice on the project. The original project’s analogy of a ‘thin drape’ wrapped around a box is discarded in favor of a ‘folded glass’ analogy, where a thin material folds in on itself to derive structural stability. Though we may be able to test the performative capabilities of our ‘experimental model,’ the question of finding an analogous material in the real world remains unanswered.

The act of representation, in the virtual or the real, remains an act of translation.

The real effects of the model remain approximate.