Formative Complexity: OMA / Seattle Public Library (globalized studio typology)

The main theoretical alternative to [the largely structuralist conception of] totalities is what the philosopher Gilles DeLeuze calls assemblages, [that is] wholes characterized by relations of exteriority…assemblages are made up of parts which are self-subsistent [so] that a part may be detached and made am element of another assemblage. Assemblages are characterized along two dimensions: along the first dimension are specified the variable roles which the component parts may play, from a purely material role to a purely expressive one…a second dimension characterizes processes in which the components are involved processes which stabilize or destabilize the identity of the assemblage (territorialization and deterritorialization).  (De Landa, A New Philosophy of Society, 10-19)

Among the projects I analyzed in the fall, OMA’s Seattle Public Library (SPL) façade details stood out as perfect tools to investigate the complexity inherent in the transnational cooperative agreements which parsed its design process. At the most fundamental level, take the fact that OMA is a Rotterdam-based firm, which (despite the presence of an American branch) chose to partner with a local design firm — Seattle-based LMN Architects — to complete this project; furthermore, as the design team coalesced it became increasingly split into several functional groups, one centered on OMA and their European manufacturing contacts (the former provided the parti for the building and massing models for early fundraising and the latter — Seele GmbH — fabricated the façade); a second focused on the concrete and steel of the central masses of the library (Hoffman Constructionand Magnusson Klemencic Associates), and a third on the discreet programmatically-defined interior finishes and public procession through the building (LMN and Arup Services Division). This territorialization of subsets of the assemblage actually acts to destabilize the identity of the overall assemblage, I would argue.

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Oakland Arena (facade mutation)

As originally designed, the Oakland Arena façade is a study in engineered efficiency. Given a non-uniform structural parí and a complex site with frontage on what was then a shiny new BART line, the 880 freeway as well as major city arterials and traffic from Oakland International Airport, there was no shortage of factors to elicit differentiation within the façade; however, the solution was a perfectly rectilinear vertical joist system with flat Fink trusses deployed evenly around the perimeter to span from the top to bottom of the concrete primary structure rather than attaching mid-span where the wide X-bracing gives various possibilities for attachment.

SOM / Oakland Arena 1962My claim is that SOM’s model of working had something to do with the undifferentiated detail deployed in this project. The organizational chart adjacent talks about the different players present on the design project; in this case, Architect (A) Mechanical Engineer (Me) and Structural Engineer (Str) are all SOM. The closeness of these roles and their collapse into a single epistemic community (where engineers and architects are often typified as having differing linguistic norms and teleologies) makes it difficult for any to act unilaterally, instead merging into an assemblage which acts to territorialize a large part of the project,  giving it an internal consistency created to mirror that of the formative organization not the many contextual cues contingent upon it. (De Landa, Assemblages Against Totalities, 13)

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Formative Complexity: Hybridization, Hacking and Mutation

Regardless of over- or under-representation in the built world, every trait expressed in architectural detailing has expressive possibility. The theoretical background for each gene is my claim that all possible expressions of the gene have merit, and that observation of those expressions would be useful to humanity at large in fostering an understanding of the built world, their surround.

In the era of privatized and invisible infrastructures, understanding of our environment has never been more difficult. This disconnect between public knowledge and the process of spacial production is something architecture is particularly well positioned to address; not only do we have the power to gather the atomized components of our process back into the bounds of our profession, but we can do so with intention to reveal those bounds in a way that is experientially legible to those individuals who inhabit our creations.

Above, Utzon's Opera House hacked. Below left to right, organizational charts for global design studio, architect-as-artist, and integrated project.

Moving forward with my thesis, I am proposing a collection of details which embody the resultants of various methods of working present in today’s Architectural profession. The jumping points for these details will be projects from the sample population analyzed in the fall; I will choose projects from my study which are close to or particularly ready for mutation to express one of the underrepresented traits I’ve identified. Each of these projects has an organizational format documented and known to me; I’ll start by identifying where in this assemblage of players the shortcoming of the project’s detailing is rooted, then hybridize it with a more expressive detail resulting from a markedly different format of working. Some details will come from a single-handed (Architect-as-Artist) mutation implemented by me; others will require the input of other individuals, with ties to epistemic communities other than my own.

Beyond the realm of Architecture, how does the endgame of material connection terminate? What happens when there is no designer? When a detail is assembled without the specificity of oversight, derived wholly from standards implemented by an unknowing body? This exquisite corpse detail is a necessary bounding condition within the context of my thesis; I will assemble a few such designer-less designs to contrast with more the more willful creations of designers and engineers. {x-posted}