i recently entered a competition for a gallery show, progressed to the second phase of competition, and then failed to win. here is the text of my “phase 2” entry:
The essence of shelter is the mediation of the environment. The individual, if one desires a humane existence, must be somehow protected from the vicissitudes of climate. Gottried Semper’s “Caribbean Hut” provides a clear diagram: a natural site (the earthwork, and hearth) has been rationalized though intentional human construction (the framework and enclosure). Semper’s hut exists on a tabula rasa which awaits the transformative power of human touch. This intellectual and material intervention represents the birth of architecture. This diagram provides us with a clear distinction between interior and exterior. The envelope delineates the limits of the rational world.
A physical division between chaos and order is not a sufficient foundation for civilization. A collective is defined not by the nature of its constituent parts, but by the relationships between them. Civilization can not defined by the relative civility of any given individual, but rather by the nature of the networks that link the individual actors into a cohesive whole.
As an introduction to modern methods of construction, the Semperian diagram still retains value, but if the building envelope is depicted as a membrane separating rational man from chaotic wilderness, the diagram is woefully outdated. While the climate may remain a wildcard, the majority of the natural has, in fact, been designed. The area immediately surrounding the primitive hut is occupied by other primitive huts….
Semper’s diagram lacks multiplicity: If multiplied, these huts form a community, and while the interior of each hut remains private, the emergence of a collective exterior territory necessitates infrastructural networks to ensure the sustained operation of the community. The natural ground faces extinction at the hand of the designed, “metropolitan” ground. The man/nature opposition is a vestige of an antiquated worldview, and must be replaced by a new understanding of man’s role, not as a rational actor in a chaotic milieu, but as an equal participant in the complex dynamic systems that govern both apparently-chaotic natural processes and apparently-rational artificial ones.
Traditionally, natural forces and material flows have been manageable through design on a local scale. Material cycles in nature have been unaffected by humans. However, with our numbers now growing exponentially, natural cycles are affected on an unprecedented scale, and processes thought immutable have been found to be affected by human activity.
For designers to stay relevant in an increasingly urbanized world, the theater of design must shift from the manipulation of physical structures to the manipulation of processes and flows. In this exhibit, visitors participate in the design of such a process.. Visitors are encouraged to take marbles from the gallery to the upper floors of Knowlton Hall, and drop them in the gutters.
Though the aural and visual aspects of the project can operate independently of the conceptual framework, they will be augmented by it. The interactive nature of the work and the expansion of the exhibit into the surrounding area will encourage visitors to reevaluate the sectional complexity of Knowlton Hall. Downspouts can easily be run through interstitial spaces, and gutters can be run along sight lines that normally go unnoticed. The cacophony that results from a large number of participants dropping marbles will give the exhibit a sense of chaotic cohesion: the standardized downspouts will resonate at the same frequency, stabilizing the aural field, but the random timing of collisions between glass and aluminum will give the piece a nervous anxiety. Depending on ambient conditions in Knowlton Hall, and the number of participating gallery visitors, the installation should produce a wide variety of acoustic effects. The emergence of a identifiable sound from the random impacts of individual marbles is analogous to to the emergence of cohesive social bodies from the actions of individuals.