Architecture Design Option Studio — Konsult (Goulthorpe)

4.145 or 4.153
Required of: 
MArch students

NOMADIC ONTOLOGY (Ute Tipi to Robotic TP

The studio continues in the vein of recent MArch cross-studios, where a variety of different voices are brought to bear on a (complex) common problem: in this case a (temporary) camp to permit short-term access to isolated wasteland and wilderness sites, here in the arid high-altitude plateau of Utah/Nevada.  

We will get historical input from Prof Mark Jarzombec, who has a keen interest both in the architecture and ontology of early human settlements, mapped out in his recent book, Architecture of First Societies. This surveys ancient civilizations in a manner that credits their sophistication in successfully inhabiting all global regions for many tens or hundreds of thousands of years prior to industrialization. Of particular interest will be the lightweight architectures of such ancient peoples, which generally have been overlooked in preference for the more durable heavyweight built legacy.  

In regards to lightweight materials/fabrication, we will have contemporary input from Bill Pearson, who is the production manager of the pioneering manufacturing group in Nevada, North Sails, which produces racing yacht sails, but which now seeks to diversify into general applications such as architecture. North Sails uses variable-geometry molds and robotic composite fiber-laying robots. 

We will also hear from Massimiliano Moruzzi, a research scientist at AutoDesk, who has pioneered robotic fiber placement for Lamborghini, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and who now seeks sentient composite structures using the multi-functional attributes of graphene. He will showcase DreamCatcher design software as a vision for an emerging digital material paradigm.)

CONTEXT — Dancing with Wolves + The Smoking Pit of Death

We will take a very broad view of emerging ontology: a hyperbolic late-industrial production/ consumption logic, augmented by a now-ubiquitous digital conditioning of desire. We will consider the sheer scale of global building activity up through the mid-late 21st century, against a backdrop of mounting environmental concern, and consider what material-processing options are (really) available to global societies. 

And we will also take a very long view of the history of human habitation, especially in areas of aridity and scarcity that offer historical lessons in successful and unsuccessful modes of settlement, exacerbated by prior (and current) climate change. For instance, in the abandoned Anastazi constructions in the Four Corners area; but equally the nomadic Ute or Shoshone habitation of the upper plateau of Utah: each indigenous culture offering salient lessons for long-term sustainability. 

We will visit sites of extreme pollution (ancient and modern), where earth-surface exploitation leaves extreme toxicity or aridity, often eerily beautiful in the sublime alteration of the natural environment. We will look at environmental strategies that typically aim not so much at restoration as remediation, rendering wastelands non-fatal, sometimes attaining new forms of wilderness. The teams that carry out remediation are often non-profit organizations that are operated by intelligent and principled teams of engineers and technicians, most often requiring a temporary presence in isolated and quite toxic locations. 

The studio will seek appropriate forms of quasi-nomadic habitation that offer ontological dignity to these remediation teams, looking to lower their own footprint to zero whilst attaining autonomous high-quality living. As such, the extreme condition is an allegorical prompt to invent new forms of architecture, both material and social.


The studio will attempt re-visioning of lightweight or temporary living. The pedagogical framing prompts inventive new architectures that offer a counterpoint to extant contemporary materials/methods, most especially in their relentless commitment to eradicating their own “footprint”. The focus will be on the vanished sophistication of aboriginal nomadism (Ute, Shoshone, etc), likely overlooked until profound disquiet as to current modes of habitation settles upon us. Mark Jarzombec’s interest in the architecture of “First Peoples” will give voice to this new respect for ancient ontologies — not to repeat them, but to learn from them, deploy them in new ways. Indeed, we will witness ancient civilizational collapse, conjectured as resulting from environmental degradation (the Anastazi). 

Each student will devise a material-processing logic that offers dignity-of-dwelling to a diverse community within stringent conditions: a way of minimal deployment of material/energy that allows for a sophisticated shrouding of lifestyle. This might be for remediation teams for the Superfund sites, or accommodation for the various mining/extraction companies such as Rio Tinto near Salt Lake, or even as prototype new towns that mime anticipated needs elsewhere (the brief will be devised by each student as a sort of proto-thesis).  

As with the Atacama Nomadic mining camps developed in last year’s Option Studio in Chile, we aim to tease out a variety of “possibilities of (an) architecture”, but stimulated by paying close attention to some of the most sophisticated contemporary lightweight manufacturing materials/methods: North Sails, Hall Spars, Graphenano, etc. These groups will allow us insight into emerging material-processing paradigms, which already attain remarkable elegance: additive ultra-lightweight fabrication. Yet the challenge is to devise “light living” as a holistic social/material/spatial vision, rather than just to focus on new building techniques applied to a current ontology.