Order and the Environment | Option Studio

Option Studio: Order and the Environment
Instructors: Florian Idenburg, Sam Ghantous
Term: Fall 2017

I have been thinking about themes of control and contingency, the role and effects of time in architecture, and how a project can establish a set of parameters (form, detail, material, organization, etc.) that anticipate and register environmental change while also supporting the emergence of novel environmental conditions.

I built a 3.5m x 3.5m physical model of the project at 1:100 as a platform for experiments relating to these themes. I then made 5 videos that documented the experiments, which can be viewed here: The experiments do not depict desired outcomes, but instead explore possibilities over time, with the understanding that this sort of authorship of emergent conditions is guesswork at best.

The model shows some of the parts of the project (a floppy membrane, chimneys, tubes, dirt, rocks, animals, wind, water, etc.) while ignoring others (heat, scents, microbes, government policy, etc.). It is an admittedly incomplete but necessary counterpart to the abstractions inherent in the images and drawings that I have made.

The project might be in dialogue with Black Rock City and Michael Heizer’s “City”, generic industrial building systems and prospector towns, Pierre Huyghe and Donna Haraway.


Studio Description

This old-school design studio considers the relationship between container and contained. How can architecture anticipate the objects and actions it is to house or hold?  In accelerated times, design justified through program is born dead. Programs are not stable, and typically, despite most well-meaning intentions, misalign with people’s behaviors. Monofunctional organizations foreclose possibility. How, then, might we order architectural space in times of flux?

To this end Umberto Eco’s Opera Aperta (1962) describes a beautifully useful approach captured in his conjecture of openness, which characterizes an author’s cultural production as a “decision to leave arrangements of some constituents of a work to the public or to chance.” In architecture, we can imagine this idea as the construction of a spatially open framework or loose order and situate it in opposition to programmatic, and typological, plan-making approaches. Such is an attitude that puts forth semiautonomous spatial organizations that accommodate, or even merely tolerate, evolving configurations of activities and things. These open orders can have an underlying structural or material logic, but are just as well allusive, compositional, figurative, or arbitrary. Here the architect exceeds the role of translator, a converter of needs and wants into plans, or rearranger, fitting preexisting spatial archetypes within a site, and instead becomes an author. It is where all alibis vanish and we are left to our own devices. A clear, open system is elemental. But in opposition to order through repetition, our times allow for, or even demand, a certain looseness or indifference—“well, kind of, you know, whatever!” Spatial arrangements that generate variety prevail, as activities, objects, and things fluctuate in scale and occurrence. An open structure is anticipatory. It opens up a space of future possibilities. It is intentionally to be determined. It triggers spontaneous participation and focuses on the choreography of situations. There is no start or end, no entry or exit. It does not dictate how to move.

As in the forest, one has to find one’s own path. All hierarchies are eliminated. The framework is pliable yet acknowledges specific conditions. These can be existing site conditions or internal moments of the project. The confrontation with these conditions generates idiosyncrasies that act as points of gravity, providing orientation and specificity. These loci evoke tension between the systematic and the particular. For larger sites, multiple orders can overlap and interfere. The colliding logics create friction and specificity. Eco’s notion of the open work through the lens of architecture, we can start to see the plan beyond an operational manual as something less determined and more catalytic. The plan becomes an enabler—a device that calibrates relationships, a tool for the production of spatial events.