Architecture Design Option Studio — Megalithic Robotics (B. Clifford/M. Jarzombek)

4.145 or 4.153
Required of: 

Anthropologist Carl Lipo recently discovered that (some of) the Rapa Nui[1] Moai were not rolled from the quarry to the podium on their backs, but rather transported standing upright.[2] In a similar manner to how one might shimmy a refrigerator into place, the Moai were pulled back and forth by ropes, employing momentum to transport these unwieldy megaliths. This (re)discovery brings new meaning to the folklore that the statues ‘walked themselves’. Simultaneously a retired carpenter named Wally Wallington is spending his retirement moving heavy things, by himself.[3] He is successfully constructing a stonehenge in his backyard with his most useful tool—gravity. There is a great deal of speculation surrounding the artifacts created by our megalithic era ancestors. Much of this is a result of marvel, wonder, intrigue, and most importantly ignorance. When one entertains that these civilizations held a focused knowledge surrounding weight, mass, and volume (topics we have since lost) these marvels transform from curious speculations into potentials for productive knowledge.

[1] Commonly known as Easter Island.
[2] Carl P. Lipo, Terry L. Hunt, Sergio Rapu Haoa, “The ‘Walking’ Megalithic Statues (Moai) of Easter Island”, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2012.
[3] www.theforgottentechnology.com


Learning objectives and/or Pedagogical objectives (including basic course structure)

The research methods are intended to extract knowledge from the megalithic era and experiment with this knowledge in the form of scaled heavy construction (concrete) with light-weight robotics in order to productively roll this translation into a contribution. How does one build heavy things, with little energy? This method is not strictly future-thinking, or past-thinking, but contingent on both in order to succeed. We are interested in materializing this ancient knowledge into proposals for contemporary work. 

This studio serves as a cross-disciplinary collaboration, employing Mark Jarzombek’s approach to engaging history and pre-histories, as well as Brandon Clifford’s dedication to developing reciprocity between design motivations and construction protocols. Both collaborators share an interest in stone and are excited to guide the studio in order to develop a research platform that mines lost knowledge of the past in order to better inform the potentials of stone construction in the future. 

Completion Requirements: Via a series of translation exercises, students will analyze methods of the megalithic era and reconstruct these methods with scaled experiments--employing gravity, mass, velocity, and geometry. These experiments will build into proposals for new methods of making in the digital era that will bring into question the potentials of a neo-megalithic era.

This studio will travel to Cusco Peru to analyze, experience, and learn about the megalithic constructions of the Inca. Depending on enrollment numbers, the studio might travel to Easter Island instead.


Reading Assignments/Biblio References Carolyn Dean, 'A Culture of Stone: Inka Perspectives on Rock' Duke University Press: London, 2010

Carl P. Lipo, Terry L. Hunt, Sergio Rapu Haoa, “The ‘Walking’ Megalithic Statues (Moai) of Easter Island”, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2012.


Bernard Cache, 'Projec-tiles' Architectural Association: London, 2011

Projects in 4.154

by Brandon Clifford, Mark Jarzombek, Sam Ghantous, Kaining Peng, Ana Hiller, Karen Kitayama, Patrick Little, Hui Li, Dan Li, Tengjia Liu, Alexis Sablone, Luisel Zayas
Spring 2015