I spent a second semester with a great group of young architects, urban designers and planners teaching a course at Columbia. The class was titled “Hacking the Urban Experience” and was about a number of things I’m interested in, specifically how to fabricate, repurpose and interact with urban space. It was a very good short semester and I was super proud of all of the student’s work. I thought the ideas went deeper and successfully built off the earlier semester. All lectures and process work are archived on the class tumblr: http://hackingtheurbanexperience.tumblr.com. Classes typically took the form of lectures on precedents and concepts, a discussion of student work and tutorials on materials or software techniques as required. Topics during the semester included overviews of unsolicited architectural proposals, building-scale light projections, inflatable materials, urban siting opportunities and community/crowd sourced funding.
The course goals haven’t changed dramatically since the last semester, the course still seeks to assert the relevance of the fabrication tools at our disposal as potentialities for social and environmental relevance. Through the re-appropriation and re-imagining of existing urban conditions, the student will design and fabricate a working prototype that embraces the messy reality of our city and promotes community involvement. The student will begin by identifying a quality of the urban condition that includes the latent capability for improvement and work toward fabricating an adaptive, responsive and environmentally viable solution. Specific emphasis will be placed on testing and exploring through hands on research the possibilities of detailing and fabricating connections using unorthodox materials. At the conclusion of the course the student will produce a full scale urban intervention and observe and document their relevant successes or failures.
Workshops were conducted to introduce the students to the possibilities inherent in new material technologies, through production and detailing techniques, and the proper use of fabrication techniques. Material workshops encouraged students to explore with everything from dynamic, variable surfaces using latex and silicone to parametric agglomerations using quotidian materials.
The first investigation was the creation of the connection detail. It was encouraged that this be a parametric joint that breaches the gap between the existing streetscape and the student’s intervention. Flexibility, safety, durability, adaptability will all be tested while exploring different possibilities for a potential synthesis with existing urban forms, examples of which can include: will the student’s intervention clamp on to a lamppost, hang from a phone booth, project from an existing building or rest in a parking lot?
By attempting to capture a broader audience for architectural interventions, a number of questions presented themselves and the student was challenged to anticipate possible eventualities – how will it be used? Can its use be changed? Is it durable? Is it waterproof? Can it safely stand up? Fabrication was considered less from a formal quality, and more from a use, durability, improvisation and public participation viewpoint.
Ultimately the student should have come out of the course with a healthy respect for two core concepts: Firstly, an increased skill in the use and applicability of the fabrication machines we have at our disposal for solving design issues using unorthodox materials in unconventional settings; and two, that there is an opportunity for architects to regain lost relevance by inserting themselves through unsolicited proposals into the public consciousness as steward’s of urban well being.
Assignment 01 – PARASITES
Part of the Atlas of Urban Connections project (TBD), the first assignment involved designing and fabricating a joint to connect something, anything, to a vertical street extrusion (such as a tree, street sign, light pole, etc…). The members of the Public Works Department in NYC are masters of improvisation, you can see it walking down any street here, and there is a lot to learn from their successful and not-so successful techniques for attaching to existing sidewalk infrastructure. This assignment was prepared to introduce the student to the capacity to breaching the gap between the pedestrian and existing streetscape objects, with the goal to test flexibility, safety, durability, adaptablility while exploring different possibilities for potential synthesis with existing urban forms.
Assignment 02 – INFLATABLES
Hurricane Sandy played hell with our first few weeks, and necessitated that the initial assignments were bundled together. However, we still had a chance to look at inflatables and the material qualities inherent in cheap polyethylene of different mil thickness. Using an iron, tape and plastic, quick inflatable bladders were constructed and tested. The students were tasked with creating an inflatable, mobile “seating” system that was either self-supporting or used a site’s natural currents to inflate.
Assignment 03 – LIGHT PROJECTION
Using Graffiti Research Lab’s projection bombing tutorial at Instructables, the class set up a mobile power station using a 75V marine battery, and set off around the neighborhood near Columbia to experiment and throw up some interactive light projections.
The last year has seen some truly inspiring displays of the potential light can have as an interventionist tool, and the class studied this problem using three main strategies: 1) messaging independent of site, i.e. you only need a blank wall, 2) site dependent projections, like those following the curving, horizontal bands on the Guggenheim, and 3) flexible projections that can adapt and interact to a number of different sites, taking advantage of the unique characteristics of each. Care was given to create projects that both actively and passively engage those passing by the site. Each group’s projects was able to successfully confront one of these strategies.
Assignment 04 (FINAL)
Building off the previous assignments, the final assignment sought to synthesize the work and concepts of the class into a larger installation that could still be completed in our very tight time frame, but started to explore the core ideas of the course, in effect becoming a proof-of-concept, working model. By attempting to capture a broader audience for architectural interventions, a number of questions presented themselves and the students were challenged to anticipate a range of possible eventualities – how will it be used? Can its use be changed? Is it durable? Is it waterproof? Can it safely stand up? Fabrication was considered less from a formal quality, and more from a use, durability, improvisation and public participation viewpoint.
Ultimately, A successful project would accomplish three things: 1) display ingenuity in fabrication technique and material 2) re-imagine or re-design a specific urban site/condition to take advantage of its hitherto hidden potential, and 3) have a performative component, in that the intervention has a temporal quality that while engaged promotes public interaction.