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What is Architecture Telling You to Do?
by Katy Purviance on 09/22/08 @ 09:19:31 pm
Categories: Grad School, I love this building | 437 words | 1457 views

In studio, we’re looking at the Odd Fellows Hall here in Cambridge, MA. The assignment is to “intervene” with an elevator.

(Which sounds like balsphemy once you’re inside the 1884 Romanesque building and you run your hands along the twin S-shaped stairwells. Ohhh, shudder.)

One thing we almost-architects like to do is diagram plans in order to deconstruct the logic of a place. There are plenty of ways to do this, and it’s interesting to see that everyone has a different method for approaching the problem.

What I started doing was I copied the building’s outer shell onto graph paper. I then cut out all of the rooms and re-arranged them according to global and local symmetry so that I could make room for the elevator. My professor said, nice, but back up a step. He wanted me to introduce a logic that determined these areas of symmetry rather than relying on what “looked right.”

So I autoCADded out all of the interior walls and everything. Then I made “ripples” around the three sets of stairs on the first floor to create some directionality of symmetry. It looked like a zen garden. And I was totally bored with it. It looked like what we called a “one-liner” at LAIAD. So forget that.

Instead, I noticed the relationship between rooms according to whether you had to push open a door, or pull it open. Based on these relationships and my detective work into the original intent of the rooms (and the psychology of what it means to push or pull a door open), I color-coded all the rooms according to Louis Kahn’s idea of Served and Servant spaces.

What I was trying to observe, more than anything else, was what the architecture was telling the visitor to do. Architecture is a language, and if it is used correctly, it will tell you how to move through a space. It will tell you where to stand, and in which direction to go. And if it’s good, you won’t even know that it’s telling you anything; you will just respond, and it will feel right.

This is called “legibility,” and I happened to find an article today on this very subject. But it’s copyrighted. Apparently I can’t even quote even a little bit of it without them wanting to charge me – per word. Hello, no. So here’s a link (those are still free, right?). For some reason, you have to (or at least I have to) reload the page in order to make the article appear. Another reason why I wish I could just quote some of it for you.

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I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

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