Studio 5: Part II, Thesis

August 15, 2010

Throughout the studio, Jeff and I worked on and constantly revised a manifesto that revealed our fundamental design processes as well as the heart and soul of our project:

As a studio, we have been collectively exploring the concept of flexibility and future or nextuse.  However the concept of flexibility does not prescribe anything, since flexibility can be achieved in a many different ways.  We needed to take a stance on the situation. We needed to define our attitude.  BC’s current image is one of history, tradition, and age – indeed, another Age – superimposed on a a mid-late-century infrastructure.  This is evident to the campus-goer, who can perpetuate the iconic western image of studying under a tree in the quad while being supplemented with electric power!  This timid sprouting of the new is what currently represents Boston College’s attitude.

Our attitude towards the problem of building on Boston College can be expressed simply as 51/49.  51/49 represents a system of two things in near equilibrium but with enough unbalance to break from the realm of mere potential, slowly towards actualization.  In other words, it represents a self-causing chain of events leading ultimately somewhere.  The diagram of the studying-tree with the source of electricity is the model where the potential of modernity is forever suppressed by the firm roots of tradition.  We want to reverse the ratio, placing 51 on the side of the forever-current Age: today.

This attitude is manifest in our architecture and in our master plan.  In our architecture we pursued and refined two things from the beginning: the beauty and honesty of tectonic expression and the flexible open plan.  Site/landscape design on the other hand, inherently far more temporary and “soft” than the architecture, could be more ambitious and imposing. It is the ability of masterplan thinking to anachronistically respond to the next use of a site that prompted us to design our site to not only be thoughtful but also suggestive.

I could speak for hours and across scales about our project, but because this post is already packed with insightful goodness, I will try to be short and succinct. The foundation to our thesis, architecturally, is our structural system. Using long-span trusses running through cruciform columns and taking advantage of the cantilever of the top chord, we were able to develop a structural system that is successful across disciplines. It is structurally efficient, it is inherently flexible, it provides a clear and logical open plan and circulation diagram, it is tectonically honest, and, to us, it is architecturally beautiful. The enclosure is then allowed to be free and act as a separate responsive entity.

Our site strategy also relates directly to our manifesto by tying in a larger set of scales to the fine-grain systems at work within our building. The project works to mediate topography, scale, site circulation, and the identity of the existing quad. Currently, there is heavy traffic that runs diagonally across the quad from the freshman dorms to the main campus. We were interested in controlling the approach from both access points. When approaching from the freshman dorms, you first walk along a hard concrete wall offering glimpses of both the building and the trees beyond.  This then gives way to a soft wall created by the canopy of trees on the lower level. The canopy gives diffused visibility of both the building and the approaching quad. When you move around the trees, you travel under the building itself down into the grid of trees that then offers a less diffused view distorted through the parallax caused by the trees themselves. You are then free to move any direction to your destination, whether it be a bit of grass under a tree or a class beyond. This entire sequence is balanced by the approach from the main campus, where you are given an understanding of entire project at once; the full open quad, the bosque of trees, and the building itself.

With this studio, like Studio 4, we worked as a class to make a complete archive of our projects in book form. The book will be available soon on Lulu, and I will make a post about it when it is. Until then, I posted the six spreads that will highlight our project. Enjoy!

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