Architecture Design Option Studio: On the Strategic Deployment, Structure, Form, Inscription and Subversive Potentials of Mud — Lamere

Mandatory lottery process
Open only to: 
MArch students
Required of: 
MArch students

As an inquiry into architecture's agency in fraught contexts, this studio centers on a deep exploration of the wall, as both materially-constituted object and barrier between agents of many kinds.

We will hold aloft two simultaneous interests throughout the semester. The first: architecture's agency, in particular its capacity to produce refuge space, in repressive (political, economic, and systemic) regimes. Second: new formal, structural, environmental and spatial outcomes made possible by revisiting and updating traditional construction systems. These parallel agendas are not in conflict; they converge at a singular architectural device that addresses both, namely the wall. Each the purview of architectural design, as material entity, and in enacting division, the wall is a potent proxy for investigating our broader agendas.

The Abdul Rahman Al Sudairy Cultural Center (ACC) is a progressive institute in Saudi Arabia with both public and academic missions. Among other important contributions to the cultural landscape, the ACC opened the first public library in Saudi to admit women: the Dar Al Uloom Library in the northern region of Al Jouf. This spring, the ACC will launch an international competition to redesign this library, with the aim of engaging a broad range of thinkers and designers. For the purposes of this studio, the competition will serve as an alibi providing two important contexts that will help frame our more abstract ambitions: the ACC’s programs within the Saudi regime; Saudi vernacular building practices, and in particular, mud. Students will travel once to Saudi for the purposes of encountering this context first-hand.

In the wall we can find common cause between the two strands running through the studio — the role of architecture in producing kinds of refuge, and the promise of old materials considered anew. The capacity of the wall to anchor such a broad range of conversations centers on how richly its constitutive elements can be labeled, re-labeled and mis-labeled. Different readings are produced in every case. A pure material reading of the wall — as made of plaster, stone and mud — offers the wall as a neutral physical artifact. More complex readings substitute materials with disciplinary, cultural and political components, lending the wall very different kinds of agency. This wall produces culturally-significant forms, protects books, enforces gender apartheid, or safeguards the inequities of capitalism. So we will start here, at the wall, which enacts both physical and social structures; it is mud and has power. The studio will embrace this dual nature, with exercises that include physical mock-ups of mud structures, representations of circulatory forms, and designing for the agents that exist on either side.