Thursday, March 5, 2009

Architecture Department

Although it is still early in the semester, the fourth floor of the BEB has been buzzing with activity since early January. Degree project research and design began with the start of Winter session and never saw the break between semesters as anything more than a three day weekend, if that. So, for all intensive purposes, I am observing a section of the department that is already in the middle of a long semester, deep into rounds of exploration for some, research for others, and the early phases of architectural design for the remainder. No desk seems to be the same. Each student has their own repertoire of materials. For some, they are materials they have tested previously and have developed an intimate knowledge of, seeing them as reliable, yet exciting materials. Looking around, there were no materials that I felt to be unusual for the department, but it was clear that each individual had developed a preference for certain materials.

Around the floor, a few people were exploring use of sheet acrylic, a common material in the BEB, but being explored both for its material properties as well as its formal abilities. In most cases, working with sheet acrylic can nearly guarantee use of the laser cutter in the basement, as seen in the first image, where dozens of quarter sized circles were sliced out of 3/16” acrylic. However, one of the significant problems with this material is hardly noticed until you land yourself a studio desk on the south side of the building next to a great window that pours in sunlight and fresh air. During the traditional school day, roughly 9 am – 6 pm, the laser cutter does not get much use. Unfortunately though, from 6 pm until roughly 12:30 am, that laser cutter gets a full workout. There is an exhaust vent that pulls the toxic and generally nauseating fumes out of the laser cutter room, but then it dumps it directly outside of the window for the unexpecting students on the upper floors to breathe in, leading to horrible headaches and nausea.

Another materials, known to all architecture students, yet not frequently utilized is the reflective sheets of mylar. Every second year graduate student and forth year undergraduate is forced to take advantage of two major characteristics of this materials in order to study acoustics in design proposals. First, the reflective nature of the material allows for the use of a laser beam to determine how sound will bounce off of surfaces and secondly, the flexibility of the product allows for easy application to most model surfaces.

The next two images show two very common materials used at all stages of design development and representation. The third image shows a series of plaster casts that one student has been studying. The fourth image shows 1/8” corrugated cardboard, which is being used for its thickness, ability to layer and modify layer by layer, as well as the opportunities allowed by the voids of the corrugation. For many students, it is a joyous product because you can cover a lot of area for not a lot of money, which is great for study models that you would not consider precious.

The last two images are of fabric-like materials. The first being a heavy felt that has been rolled, sliced, wrapped, folded, and stitched. The second is a heavier leather material that has undergone similar explorations as the felt, but is now being stitched together with metal wire joints to begin forming a surface system.

Unfortunately, within the department, early on, there is encouragement to produce as many iterations of an idea as humanely possible in a 24 hour period as opposed to thorough study of a few models. Although as you continue through the program, students begin to control this idea more, there is still a vast amount of waste that exits that building through the garbage cans at the end of each semester. As I live in Providence year round, I have walked through the various floors of the BEB after everyone has cleared out their individual studio spaces, but before the maintenance team has had a chance to clean it all up, and I have consistently been horrified, semester to semester, year to year, by the volume of trash.

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