Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Future Events

Please stay tuned to this blog as well as for more events and information concerning this installation.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Progress Photos

Here are a few shots of SwitchTower4022 components during construction:

The construction of the folly is broken into two basic parts- The Nest & The Legs. The following photos are of the prefabricated "Nest" portion being constructed at the Switchyard. I will be posting more later about the specific ideas behind its details and methods of construction:

The "Legs" are being concurrently assembled on the site of the Cameron Art Museum. Once complete, the pre-assembled nest will be delivered to the Cameron site and placed atop the structure. The following photos show the sonotube-formed concrete and steel foundation upon which the legs will be built:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Introduction to Design Concepts

After rendering a loose definition for an architectural folly (see previous posts), I then began my sketch response to the problem put fourth by the Cameron. As I gathered my thoughts and feelings about follies that I knew and discovered in my research, I was particularly intrigued by the presence of certain illusions. While many follies are attached with ancillary functions (a meditation space or honey storage shed, to use examples from previous postings), these uses are often merely labels or excuses to communicate architectural ideas. Many times, this suspect utility is so dominated by allusion and expression that the existence of these structures contradict any type of logical principles they might otherwise represent. Scarpa's floating cemetery meditation platform, while beautiful and serene, creates a space inaccessible by anyone who wishes to keep their pants dry. Blackwell's honey house uses a complex lattice of steel and glass to inefficiently store and display honey in the middle of the woods. In these cases the wish to, perhaps, communicate a metaphor of the afterlife, or to manipulate the forms of nature and agriculture through modern means, places aesthetic and philosophical concerns over any typical programmatic hierarchies. However, the "front" of usefulness is never completely abandoned. These buildings seem to always offer just enough of a cue for us to, if only momentarily, expect some level of the comfort and utility that we usually find in our buildings. It is in this way that follies straddle the line between architecture and sculpture.

In this contradictory and illusory nature I found the opportunity to connect with a familiar set of ideas. In college I had the opportunity to study architecture and urbanism in Florence, Italy. While there, our studios came under the tutelage of the Italian architect Andrea Ponsi. Particularly, Signore Ponsi pushed us to reinterpret and reimagine our environment through drawing and painting. It was through these exercises that I was introduced to the Italian concept of cappricio. In this idea, architectural scenarios are realized through graphic representations of often sublime or fabulous notions. In Signore Ponsi's interpretation, this involved drawing existing urban artifacts in the city of Florence, not with the goal of documentation, but rather morphing the scene to satisfy fantastical conditions spontaneously adopted by the viewer. In his own particular pieces, for example, the Ponte Vecchio becomes a sleek, ultra-modern structure and the famed Renascence facade of the Uffizi is redefined in glass and steel (see In Fig. 1, I have included one of my own drawings from this time. It represents a view of the Castle Vecchio in Florence, as seen from the loggia of the Uffizi. It is near this site in 1993 where a car bomb killed five people. This capriccio depicts the castle’s famous tower super-imposed with armor, a red scar from the bombing still evident. These drawings depict buildings which appear to have been built for a purpose. For example, Signore Ponsi's gestural curtain walls of glass would presumably be adopted and installed to provide light and air lacking in the narrow medieval streets of Florence, or perhaps to encase their precious exteriors and protect them from the elements. However, these structural components were not designed, and were relayed into the drawing spontaneously. They were merely selected and composed together in order to access the emotional notions about architecture of which we are conditioned. Thus, these drawings are, in a way, premature follies. They are obsessive representations of aesthetic and philosophical ideas in architecture, wrapped in the disguise of functionality. Yet, the folly earns its namesake through the act of building.

With these ideas in mind, I began to establish an outline which would become the basis for designing SwitchTower4022. As stated previously, I had decided early on that I would draw heavily on a lifelong fascination with industrial structures and equipment. Concurrently, I began to imagine a life for my folly beyond the six month exhibition period at CAM. I realized that by designing something which could be disassembled and resurrected with relative ease, the folly could be brought back to the Switchyard (the home of Kersting Architecture) and displayed indefinitely. In this way, my design would be a visitor to the CAM site, a sort of ambassador for the ideals for which the Switchyard was created. As I discussed in an earlier post, the Switchyard is an adapted industrial site which sits as an island, surrounded on all sides by highly active rail lines. The new facilities there were conceived to relate to and maintain the industrial nature of the site, while providing a modern incubator in which craftsmen, merchants, and designers work alongside one another.

As I sat amongst these surroundings, I began to imagine my folly as a symbol of this industrial second-life: a sculpture in the form of a building, a sort of beacon to broadcast the character of this place: the in-situ adaptation of reclaimed and repurposed components and spaces, along with the integration of available modern technologies and talents, resulting in a material and aesthetic culture which honors regional and archetypal precedents, not by mimicking them, but by engaging in the ongoing evolution of the built environment through experimentation, in which combinations of time-proven methods and innovations are tested through adaptation.

It would be these ideas which would build the foundational language on which I would build my folly. In later entries, I will discuss the specific design interventions taken to express these first principles, as well as the measures taken to articulate them through the construction process.

Fig. 1- Cappricio depicting armored fantasy of Castle Vecchio in Florence.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Some of My Favorite Follies

Here are some follies I have found inspiring. I have been fortunate to study at least a few of these in person, with Blackwell's honey house and SHOP's camera obscura as exceptions. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites:

1. Meditation Pavilion, Brion-Vega Cemetery in San Vito d’Altivole, Italy, by the great master, Carlo Scarpa. This is an original sketch I made on site. Scarpa's obsessions concerning constructivism & symbolism are perhaps best represented in his works at this private family cemetery.

You can see more pictures of the cemetery here:

2. The Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, Italy. This work by Bramante is more an intensely rationalized sculptural treatise on high Renaissance artistic and architectural tenants, as set out by Brunelleschi, than any type of useful structure.

3. The Honey House by Marlon Blackwell in Cashiers, North Carolina. This is a structure built by the Arkansas architect to store honey. Taking cues from "utilitarian" structures such as mobile homes, roadside stands, factories, and farm buildings and employing contemporary design and construction concepts, Blackwell exemplifies an approach which is highly inspirational to my own folly design.

4. This camera obscura designed by SHOP Architects is an example of how follies can be experimental instances of design and construction with its extensive use of digital fabrication techniques.

5. NC native and Chapel Hill resident Patrick Dougherty's "stick houses" are sculptural installations, painstakingly created using woven tree saplings, resulting in follies which draw on mystery and whimsy.

It is my hope that these few illustrations further illustrate the phenomenon that is the architectural folly, and that they cause you to search out your own beloved examples. In future postings, I will discuss my own folly design- however, these notable endeavors are not meant to be compared to my own modest effort, only to introduce the notion of creating a folly in the first place.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What is a Folly?

When I first decided to compose an entry for CAM's call for designs, my office mates (Michael Ross Kersting and Mark Wilson, both of which have continued to contribute ideas and provide guidance for this project) and I began to formulate a loose answer to the question, "What is an architectural folly?" This definition would not prove easy to articulate. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: " A popular name for any costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder." Presumably, this implies a folly results from a disregard for pragmatism in both functionality and economy; a mistake of sorts, a blind effort made despite sensible inclinations to the contrary. The phenomenon of the folly has occurred throughout history, navigating through the ebb and flow of artistic styles and architectural convictions. A quick study of past follies confirmed an infinite variety of methods, which realize an even greater array of types & styles. In short, there is no archetypal folly, only disregard for a simple question:


However, there are certain discernible patterns which emerge when studying follies, and one is able to get a feel for what one is expected to produce when asked to design such a structure. The most obvious observation one can make about many follies is that they are usually relatively small. Often, follies are small buildings or garden structures which are meant to be experienced wholly, with relative ease, consumed by the senses and digested by one's faculties without considerable effort. This diminutive scale, however, does not imply that follies are modest. To the contrary, these tiny buildings are, at times, exceedingly elaborate in decoration & assemblage. In other examples, they are painstakingly minimalistic or compulsive in their assertion of social, technocratic, or symbolic ideals. A good analogy can be found in the culinary concept of an amuse-bouche: a single bite which completely encapsulates the chef's ideas about flavor and preparation.

It was the realization of this obsessive nature in follies which set into motion the development of my submission to this exhibit. I began to understand that follies (at least the best examples) were not consciously created to be defined in this way. Follies, simply put, are a manifestation of obsession. Sometimes these fixations produce a folly as collateral artifact, such as in a Venturian duck-like, teapot-shaped stand (Fig. 1) or a faux castle ruin in a mysterious forest (Fig. 2). Other times, a folly is a demonstration of technical or intellectual prowess (see Fig. 3).

All of this, when thinking of my own proposal, prompted me to ask of myself: "What is my obsession?" Luckily, as with most penchants, it did not take much pondering and introspection to identify a concept which I would like to address with my folly. Since my childhood, which was split between two steel towns outside of Pittsburgh, I have always been fascinated by articles of industry. Factory buildings, smoke stacks, train cars, river locks, dock structures, cauldrons, and cranes- I was surrounded, and I drank them all in. The hearty structures and heavy equipment, muted in dusty tones, seemed to organically materialize through some anonymous authorship or unknown lineage of evolution, always serving their intended purpose with firmness and economy, but also boasting a kind of accidental beauty in proportion and composition ( Fig. 4). In my later youth I began my studies of drawing and painting. Very soon, these buildings and objects became my exclusive subjects. Later, when I entered architecture school, I found that I was not alone in my fascination. I read the famed Le Corbusier's manifesto titled "Towards a New Architecture." In it, the Swiss modernist spoke of the production of industrial objects, "not in pursuit of an architectural idea, but simply guided by the results of calculation (derived from the principles which govern our universe) and the conception of A LIVING ORGANISM, the ENGINEERS of to-day make use of the primary elements and, by co-ordinating them in accordance with the rules, provoke in us architectural emotions and thus make the work of man ring in unison with universal order. Thus we have the American grain elevators and factories, the magnificent FIRST-FRUITS of the new age..." (Fig. 5) I began to explore these principles and influences in my own academic projects at Kent State University, often set in areas such as Cleveland and Akron, OH, amid the shifting social landscapes of formerly prolific industrial bases.

After school and a short interlude in the professional arena, I moved to Wilmington to join Michael Ross Kersting Architecture. Predictably, I was lured by Michael and his associates to initially help them turn a wonderful old boat making facility's hulking main building into our new offices and the offices of three other partner businesses. Together, Kersting Architecture, Kingpost Construction, Thibodeau Woodworking, and Fitzgerald Wood Products envisioned their newly refurbished industrial site as a collaborative campus for designers and craftsmen. The site is completely surrounded by three strands of a highly active coastal CSX rail line. (See Fig.'s 6 & 7) We came up with the name "The Switchyard" for the complex because of the three nodes of connection between the lines, often used as a holding area for cars awaiting an engine coming in the other direction. As I sat at my desk which over looks the tracks, and pondered the "little building" I would create, a familiar figure began to take shape in my memory...

Figure 1: Teapot Service Station in Zillah, WA

Figure 2: Castle Folly, Benjamin Ferrand, 1796

Figure 3: Folly by Buro Happold et als.

Figure 4: Lock & Dam

Figure 5: Images of grain elevators in Towards A New Architecture

Fig. 6: Aerial view of Switchyard site

Fig. 7: Switchyard main building

Friday, December 18, 2009

Here are some excerpts from the original design proposal for SwitchTower4022. I will talk more later about the images shown. Many of the details shown have changed due to budget concerns, material availability, & just plain tinkering. The folly will continue to evolve throughout the process, but this is where it began.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Welcome to the SwitchTower4022 blog!

Recently, I was honored with an invitation to design & build an "architectural folly" on the grounds of the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, NC. This installation is in conjunction with an exhibit titled "Inspiration & Transformation" commemorating the designers of the museum itself, the renowned partnership of Gwathmey/Siegel. The folly project is an attempt by the museum to reach out to designers, as well as an opportunity for architects & artists to explore ideas surrounding the way we design, construct, perceive, & inhabit structures.

My design, titled "SwitchTower 4022" will be constructed and installed at the CAM over the coming weeks. I have created this blog to document the project not only for posterity, but also because the intended thesis of the design has as much to do with how the tower will be constructed as does the final articulation of its components. If you are following the project from its beginning, stay tuned for entries about the definition of a folly, the inspiration & ideas behind this particular design, as well as notable examples of follies past & present. Updates are also planned with photos documenting construction progress. If you are just now doing some web browsing, trying to figure out what exactly you saw as you drove down 17th st.- take a look to see just how SwitchTower 4022 came (hopefully) to be.