PROJECT 

RESEARCH

The idea of dwelling extends beyond people living in houses. The concept of “Oikos” exists as an established othering, enabled by current modes of architecture, that separate the occupant from the outside world, therefore upholding the social anthropocentric hierarchy. This thesis calls into question the idea of oikos, by weakening the membrane between built environment and natural environment. Framed as an updated Case Study House Program, this speculative project imagines a form of dwelling updated for contemporary times. In this thesis, each exploration will work to dramatize environmental conditions with respect to how they interact with the occupant. The Case Study Program sought to establish a new kind of dwelling for challenges of the contemporary time. In this contemporary time dwelling should seek to address our challenge, environmental degradation. By incorporating a type of wildness, driven by environmental conditions and translated by the house, humanity becomes decentered. In this study, walls and privacy become a negotiation, views are controlled by the waves, not the occupant. The house seeks to condition the user to a rhythm more in tune with the natural forces at play. 

“The island of the senses, that wraps every man like a garment, we call his umwelt.”

Jakob von Uexkull, An Introduction to Umwelt

 

Concerning Perception

Hyperobjects are those events, phenomena, and objects that are difficult for humans to perceive in totality because of their size and complexity or ability to be seen in the third dimension. [1] Global natural systems are Hyperobjects. Hyperobjects are difficult to see because they occur at spatial and temporal scales beyond those that humans can observe. Hyperobjects seem to appear and disappear to an individual but as a system “they continue to unfold elsewhere than we look.”[2] This misconstrued perception gives humans the illusion of the full picture without actually knowing the full picture. While hyperobjects may have begun revealing themselves to humans in recent years like Morton says, human still fail to understand or fully acknowledge hyper objects because they are too vast to fully comprehend. However, technologies- including architecture- can augment this perceptual limitation. Humans may not be able to understand hyperobjects but as Morton describes, computers could act as a translator. But the use of technology in adapting to the natural condition has not always been favorable when technology has been used instrumentally. Buckminster Fuller describes as follows.

Man externalizes, separates out, and increase each of this specialized function capabilities by inventing tools as soon as he discovers the need through oft-repeated experiences with unfriendly environmental changes. Thus, man only temporarily employs his integral equipment as a specialist, and soon shifts the function to detached tools.[3]

Through the use of technology, humans have separated themselves from the natural process, first through human-operated technologies, and later through automated technologies. The process of automation has continued to separate humans form natural processes, a trend Fuller recognized and predicted in 1969. This separation has been then glorified as “industrialization.” Tools and technology at present are being used to shield humans from natural forces. Buckminster Fuller himself admits that the limits of his predictions could only reach 25 years into the future, and in the division of humans from the natural world through specialization and tools he was correct[4].

 

As a result of this separation, the natural world has been framed as a material and aesthetic resource for humanity. Therefore, Architecture has reinforced the hierarchy that nature is there for human consumption, as opposed to humans existing as a part of nature.

 

Heidegger’s concept of enframing establishes how technology has led to the concept of nature as a material resource for humans. Technology has been used as a tool for human comfort and understanding.

Instrumentality is considered to be the fundamental characteristic of technology. If we inquire, step by step, into what technology, represented as means, actually is, then we shall arrive at revealing. The possibility of all productive manufacturing lies in revealing. Technology is therefore no mere means. Technology is a way of revealing.[5]

 

Since technology is a way of revealing aspects of nature not accessible to humans, it establishes that because humans have accessed these resources, that the resources are available for human consumption. Using technology instrumentally is how it becomes problematic in respect to nature.

Modern technology as an ordering revealing is, then, no merely human doing. Therefore, we must take that challenging that sets upon man to order the real as standing-reserve in accordance with the way in which it shows itself. That challenging gathers man into ordering. This gathering concentrates man upon ordering the real as standing-reserve. [6]

Heidegger says there is an inherent need for humans to create an organization of nature in order for nature to be used as a resource. However, nature does not always operate with the rational accuracy of a computer. If technology was used not instrumentally, but experientially, the irrationality of nature would be an asset to human experience, not a pitfall.

 

[1] Timothy Morton. "Poisoned Ground." Symplokē 21, no. 1-2 (2013): 37-50. doi:10.5250/symploke.21.1-2.0037 39

[2] ibid 40

[3] Fuller, R. Buckminster, and Jaime Snyder. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2018.

[4] ibid

[5] Heidagger, Martin The Question Concerning Technology 5

[6] ibid 9

Formal detailing to dramatize environmental conditions

Perforation of the traditional envelope

Traditional hermetically sealed dwelling architecture

Architecture’s Establishment of Anthropocentric Space

Architecture contributes to the construction of an anthropocentric space, and to its sense of realism, by making spaces for human habitation in which the wildness of the natural world is excluded, tamed, or transformed into a picturesque representation.

 

Architecture has largely served to insulate humans from the natural variation of environment, therefore constructing spaces in which are secure, consistent, and controlled, and which in turn cloud humanity’s perception of its own vulnerability.  Thermal comfort is one way in which architecture has created the illusion of security. Homes, especially in the United States, are often outfitted with heaters and air conditioning “correcting artificially the uncomfortable part of the universe.”[1] Wherever humans go, interior space seems to be regulated. Denying the uncomfortable, “modernity led to uniform consistent spaces in which the temperature is regulated around 21 degrees” Celsius (70 Fahrenheit)[2] regardless of the external temperature. Artificial, uniform temperature removes us from the dynamic experience of temperature and thermal condition in natural environment. Humans do not see themselves as part of the greater picture because “thermal sense certainly places our body at the center of the universe.”[3] We are isolated from our environment because of this Anthropocene view around comfort enabled by architecture. In The Architecture of the Well Tempered Environment, Banham addresses the issue of thermal comfort. Through systems, the house has been designed to prevent the occupant from any sort of unpleasant condition introduced by nature. By design “draughts are killed at source by under-floor ducting feeding fresh air to the stoves, warmed air is delivered to the points where it is required, and foul air is extracted from the points where it is not.”[4] In favor of convenience and cleanliness, the house rejects any kind of environmental variation. This establishes a strong artificiality. Banham tackles a similar issue specifically speaking to the obsession with cleanliness in the United States. In his essay A Home Is Not a House, Banham argues that the discipline of Architecture has been weakened due to the emphasis on systems and their ability to keep nature out. Banham makes the realization that “if dirty old Nature could be kept under the proper degree of control (sex left in, streptococci taken out) by other means, the United States would be happy to dispense with architecture and buildings altogether.”[5] In this way the role of architecture, and especially domestic architecture, to separate people from the natural environment around them. Architecture therefore has constructed an artificial reality for its occupants, one where there is a strong disconnect between the built and natural environments. The following precedent analysis shows how even architecture that claims to have a strong environmental connection upholds this issue.

 

The Bullitt Center

The issue with how designers currently address environmentally conscious building is that they focus too heavily on building environmentally sensitive architecture with the experience of a normal building. When the architectural concern with respect to the environment is simply one of minimizing carbon footprint, the manner of its performance does not require that performance to be observed, or in any way entangled with daily life. So, the Bullitt Center performs in the background, and otherwise strives to afford its users a normative office building. However, in contrast, when the architectural concern with respect to the environment is determined to be on of redefining human space, or human behavior within that space, then the performance must be dramatic, and meaningfully integrated into one’s daily life and daily routines. From this standpoint, the Bullitt Center’s performance is insufficient. Rob Pena’s Bullitt Center, proudly advertised as the “Greenest Commercial Building in the World,” is an example of an unconscious approach to an environmentally conscious building. The Bullitt Center website reads as follows:

The goal of the Bullitt Center is to drive change in the marketplace faster and further by showing what is possible today. The era of harm reduction, half steps, and lesser evils is behind us. As a society, we need to be bold in ways that were once unimaginable. [6]

 

If the goal is to change the way humans interact with the environment, environmentally driven architecture should be bold, but that boldness should be apparent, and impact user experience. Performative architecture “as isolated individual artifacts of ‘mechanical’ parts reached through quantitative methods has no value.”[7] The Bullitt Center performs well quantitatively, but has limited architectural or ecological value because its performance is not tied to experience. It has composting toilets, radiant heating, and solar panels, among other features consistent with sustainable building practices, but without reading the website or a pamphlet, the occupant would be unlikely to understand, or even acknowledge those steps. The performance of the building has no effect on experience and therefore does not subvert the established hierarchy of humans over “the other”. The ideal experience produced by the building should place the user’s routines in a state of crisis. The building should act as an information processing system, translating environmental elements for the occupant in order to return wildness to the human experience.

 

The building is also not processing or revealing any information about its context. Seattle, the location of the project, is famously known for the amount of rain that the city experiences. Rain water collection and treatment would be an easy phenomenon to exploit for a dramatic performance. The description of Rainwater Harvesting by the Bullitt center is described as follows:

The building will restore the historical relationship of water to the land by collecting rain, returning it to the Earth and the atmosphere. [8]

 

An attempt at a bold intervention falls flat. The article on the webpage continues to describe the system by which the rainwater is harvested. But this incredibly detailed process, inspired by natural filtration, is completely concealed. It does not influence daily occupation. Even if one allows for the most generous interpretation of function influencing form, and argues that the form of the building was built around rainwater catchment, therefore influencing the floor plan, the building still fails to communicate this in a significant and meaningful manner according to the terms of information theory. The static nature of the effect the rainwater catchment has on the form, and subsequently the occupant, has very little information given to the user. An issue with such performance is that it inherently looks upon the environmental condition only as a collection of resources for human use—and therefore as something to be managed. It therefore misses the opportunity to reveal other interpretations of the environment—ones that refrain from placing humanity at its center, and instead allow for new perceptions that could lead to new modes of occupation. In the case of the Bullitt Center, rain is not experienced, it is collected, used, and displaced. Sun is not felt by the user, it is deflected by shades, harvested by solar panels, and combated with cooling strategies. Even when done in a “sustainable” way, the Bullitt center is creating an artificial condition that disconnects the user from nature. What it sustains is the view of the planet as a fundamentally anthropocentric space, managed and controlled through human technology.

 

 The Bullitt Center’s efforts at sustainable practices are commendable, in that they proceed from a desire to mitigate detrimental human behavior. However, the Bullitt Center cannot be regarded as anything other than a black square. The building is not boldly experiential. It does not bring a user to acknowledge a mitigated position with nature. The building, by working to hide the environmental context, not highlight it, simply reproduces the experience of occupying an average office building. This conception of architectural performance, in which the building works behind the scenes to correct for problematic human behaviors, is not the best conception of performance for designing environmentally responsive architecture. But environmentally focused architecture should also be more than an aesthetic spectacle.

 

Villa Savoye

There have been moments in which architects have designed nature directly into architecture. In Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, Corbusier attempts to integrate nature and the built environment. However, his attempt to integrate leads to a condition in which nature is commoditized. Some of Corbusier’s five points unintentionally insulate dwellers from the natural environment.  The use of pilotis elevates the house away from the ground. Both metaphorically and physically the user is elevated above the natural environment they occupy. A loss of the natural ground plane creates an area of occupation that is distinct from the natural landscape, but feels real. The sensation of reality is augmented with the use of ribbon windows. Ribbon windows bring the landscape into the house but in a way that flattens the dynamic landscape into artwork. The landscape is literally framed as an aesthetic resource. The use of a roof terrace also tames the condition of being outside. In the roof garden nature is also formally framed as an aesthetic resource. Because of the walls surrounding the terrace, wind would be reduced in a way that thermally conditions the exterior space and places humans at the center of the universe. The integration of interior and exterior spaces offers opportunity for integration of experiential environmental design that is not capitalized on.

 

[1] Philippe Rahm Architects, Digestible Gulf Stream. Accessed September 30, 2019.

[2] Ibid. NP

[3] Zografos, Stamatis. Architecture and Fire: A psychoanalytic Approach to Conservation. ULC Press. 89

[4] Banham, Reyner. The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment. 2nd ed. London: Architectural, 1984.

[5] Banham, Reyner, “A Home is Not a House,” in Art in America, No. 2 (1965). 111

 

[6] DEI Creative in Seattle, WA. “Building Features.” Bullitt Center Rainwater Harvesting Comments. Accessed November 18, 2019.

[7] Dean, Penelope, “Never Mind All That Environmental Rubbish, Get On With Your Architecture,” in Architectural Design, Vol. 79, Issue 3 (May/June, 2009),  24-29

 

[8] DEI Creative in Seattle, WA. “Building Features.” Bullitt Center Rainwater Harvesting Comments. Accessed November 18, 2019.