Beyond the Whole? The Pile
Advanced Topics Studio, Winter 2012
“These towering loads – or "totems", as Delorme calls them – are symbols of both a bustling boomtown and a reminder that the country's economic leaps forward have depended on the hard graft of an army of workers. At first glance, these workers are the Herculean heroes of this brave new world, able to balance and heave huge loads. But linger longer and Delorme's images take on a different dimension. "After a while I had the feeling that the objects they carried swallowed them," he reveals. These pictures aren't an ode to consumerism, then, but a reflection of our slavish clamoring for endless piles of goods. Look closer still, and the loads seem to teeter at crazy angles, defying gravity. The piles have, in fact, been digitally exaggerated to question their role in the world's fastest-growing economy. "I wanted to show how small, traditional jobs in Shanghai life may soon disappear," explains Delorme – replaced, that is, by gleaming transport trucks bought by a city in hot pursuit of modernity.”
Adam Jacques, “Shanghai's totems of consumerism”, The Independent
The intent of the studio is to further investigate formal and spatial orders in architecture. As design research, we will explore the pile, moving a step beyond from what we now perceive as a process of cohesive homogenization of form in the last two decades, towards perhaps a difficult and unexplored regime of inconsistency [incongruity as Jeff Kipnis likes to describe].
In such a regime, excess still means equilibrium and accumulation does not simply lead to quantitative stacking but to qualitative accretion and a lumpy mass. This is not collage, which all too often means a collision of two or multiple opposites. This is about controlled degrees of accretion, of globular mass and clustered volumes without the necessary layer of homogenization produced by topology. The studio is interested in exploring the uneven, the lumpy and the pile, as well as the effects of towering loads and primary nature of totems [contemporary totems]. Beyond the obvious formal exploration, the assumption of the studio is that these cumulative figures constitute a potential new symbol for a contemporary post urban landscape, all too often the consequence of the repetition of high-rise ad infinitum.
Specifically, the studio will not rely on pure self-similarity but on random piling of familial and yet differentiated material. The difference is not in the process but on the solution. Instead of absorbing difference and embedding volumes within surfaces, the studio will seek to foreground heterogeneity by restoring a volumetric coexistence within a loaded mass. This is not the end of the surface, but a more complex state of being between surface and volume.
One of the main problems of recent developments within the discipline and especially evident in today’s state of the profession, is that the building envelope receives most of the attention. Without denying the obvious relevance of the architectural envelope as a site for investigation, the studio’s tradition and current interest will be dedicated to the construction of architecture as a formal whole of surface, volume and mass. Of especial attention will be the problems of grounding a large building, by redefining the ground, through a figural matrix of embedded, nested and disparate volumes.