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.” [officeda.com]

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.

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