July 26, 2016

Tectonic Studio 2016

Contributed by M.Arch candidate Allison Acosta

On the afternoon of Monday, March 1st, students in their second year of the Masters of Architecture program gathered in Gould Court to unveil their tectonic models for Jim Nicholls’ Arch 570: Design Development course.  This annual event brings together everything we have learned thus far about architectural design, construction detailing, structures, and model-making.  The models are large-scale (1/4” = 1’ – 0”), finely-detailed examinations of a portion of our 501 studio project, which focuses on tectonic design.  This year, each studio was dedicated to design with a particular building material: steel with Rob Corser, pre-cast concrete with Jim Nicholls and Tyler Sprague, and mass timber with Elizabeth Golden and Rick Mohler.

The model-making process began about a week before the due date, starting with selection of a slice of our building to model.  We then spent several days designing this slice, collecting materials, and making and executing cut files for the laser cutter.  These preparation required so many hours that it wasn’t until Saturday night that models started to rise from the piles of basswood and chipboard that overwhelmed every desk.  Building continued late into Sunday night and Monday morning, and the studio became a working exhibit of our model building process and final designs.

These models offered us the opportunity to explore projects at a level of detail usually not seen in a typical ten-week studio process, and provided a window into a fragment of our buildings in a way that a digital model does not.  With the large scale, projects explored the articulation of wall assemblies, structural joints, and façade composition.  Additionally, it allowed us to zoom in on the human scale of the building, to see those “microspatial” moments where people interact with the architecture, such as thresholds, handrails, bike racks, and benches.  With each element, design decisions about tectonic language and human interface were made that might not have been considered otherwise.  Furthermore, the construction of a physical model allowed us to design structural systems and joints that were then actually tested and executed.  In this sense, problems were solved through the building process.  And in the end, after hours of grueling work, we were able to look inside the model and get a sense of the physical building that has existed in the realm of the imagination until now.  Finally, this project is exciting for the rest of the CBE community, who look forward to the annual exhibit of detailed design work and model-making skills evident in each model.  Now that the projects are done, the school is already anticipating the exciting new innovations to come next year!