Architectural Design Workshop — Woods Hole: Fuller / Folly / Future

Permission of Instructor
Limited to 8
Preference Given to: 
Upper level MArch, SMArchS: bt, design, computation

Update — the room for this class is now 5-216 (as of 9/12/19)

In August of 1953, a group of young people assembled in Woods Hole, Massachusetts to build a modest structure on a wooded knoll. They came from diverse backgrounds and from across the country, and they each came inspired by, and dedicated to, the vision of the project’s creative progenitor, R. Buckminster Fuller. That modest structure would become known locally as "The Dome," and it is the world’s oldest surviving geodesic structure credited to Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller, although not without controversy, dedicated his career to pushing boundaries and limits, whether it be about structure, holistic environmental thinking, or with materials and technologies. Fuller was committed to two things which the profession of architecture needs more of today — 1) a deep commitment to innovation through interdisciplinarity, and 2), an even deeper commitment to the application of one's design skills to the imagining and building of a better world and a healthier planet. Today, when practice is largely in the service of economic and social forces beyond its control, Fuller serves as a model for a cross-disciplinary and values-based practice.

Just as Fuller’s work defied typical modes of practice, his remnant structures today challenge the contemporary practice of historic preservation. The Woods Hole Dome presents the opportunity to engage with the very compelling subject of how a building from the modern period, especially one as deliberately experimental as Fuller’s, confronts the standards of, and practice of, historic preservation in the United States.

The dome’s builders were led by graduating students from MIT’s Department of Architecture. Today, although a rehabilitation effort is beginning, the Woods Hole dome sits abandoned and in disrepair. This workshop would offer the students in today’s department the opportunity to contribute to the next chapter of the Dome’s story.

Our focus in the workshop will be the dome’s cladding, which is where the dome’s various design, engineering, and historic elements converge. The workshop will aim for a high level of inter-disciplinarity, and necessarily so since the structure’s cladding must address everything from structural issues (and the limited capacity of wooden members), to lighting concerns, thermal and environmental questions, and all of the important regulatory concerns of code-compliance and historic preservation guidelines.

The deliverable for the workshop will be the construction of full-size mockups and cladding prototypes.