Memorial No. 3, The Fallen Journalist

Washington DC, 2023-24

Exhibition Design No. 9, Fabric Object

Princeton, New Jersey, 2024

Fabric Object is a small show on the early career of Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas, of Agrest and Gandelsonas Architects. There are seven projects, mostly unbuilt, all related to ideas of urbanism, presented through things made by hand. Drawings. Writings. What seemed important was to show an intimacy to their work, while also showing how impersonal it is. It may sound contradictory, but Agrest and Gandelsonas have always played with oppositional binaries. Individual-Collective. Building-City. Memory-Amnesia. Fabric-Object. Like the flip-flop reversibility of their axonometric drawings (think El Lissitsky Proun,) architecture appears as something and an inversion of that thing. They love design. They love non-design. Architecture is autonomous. Architecture relies upon the city. And so on. Maybe this is because there are two of them. With two, and is inevitable. Or perhaps their work is simply a product of its time, a collection of 1968 Pre-Post-Structuralist desires (think Barthes, Saussure, Kristeva, Lacan, etc..) brought into Architecture, ideas like Language as a Model (and Speech as a Model and Text as a Model,) Dialectical Opposition, Semiotics, Typology, Rejection of Authorship/Individualism, and so on. If you read their descriptions of their own work, they will tell you what everything means. This as That. That as This. They construct complex thoughts and arguments with their work, but they will also tell you that it can never mean any one thing, there is always and.

With and in mind, the exhibition includes multiple perspectives and thoughts on their work by Princeton School of Architecture faculty.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Andy Kim

North Gallery, Princeton University School of Architecture, Princeton, New Jersey, March 7–May 3, 2024

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Art Space No. 5, Ruth Arts

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2023–24

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Joel McCullough, James Wood

Software No. 16, DROP

P5, 2023

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Ben Dooley

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Housing No. 17, Missing Middle

Chicago, Illinois, 2023

1 lot. 2 row houses. Adaptable to multiple lots. A lot. A larger lot. Another lot. Modular Construction. Ceramic panels on a lightweight structural frame. Everything arrives on trucks. Stacked. The roof collects rainwater and solar. Terraces, front and back. Ventilation. Light. The ground floor can provide additional revenue, a small store, an architecture office, a studio, a coffee shop, or another apartment. The second floor is the apartment, living, kitchen, bathroom, a small office. The third and fourth floors have bedrooms, shared spaces, a media room, a ping pong table or a library, or karaoke, or an indoor garden. They can have 2 bedrooms. or 6. 2 in 1 addresses housing through incremental development, variable mixed use, middle scale, low-rise high density that is economical and flexible.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Joel McCullough, James Wood

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Rug No. 1–4, Twice Woven

2023–Ongoing Series

Wool is handwoven into 25cm strips. These are woven again. It is twice-woven. They appear woven from a distance. They appear woven close-up. The loose weave gives its physical character, like something that was enlarged, an oversized detail of a flattened basket. Some historians think cities and buildings began with textiles. Our textile work began a few years ago, in a city. In Rome. We cut strips of paper and wove them together. We made models and drawings. We made different arrangements. We studied them. We made some small ones that we carried around with us in our notebooks. We made some larger ones that we pinned on the wall of our studio. We made some even larger, to sit on. We tried different colors. We tried patterns. We wanted it to look casual, informal. It took time.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample

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Greenhouse No. 2

Without A Specific Site, 2023–Under Construction

A lot of contemporary architecture looks like greenhouses. Some non-contemporary architecture too. Glass. Polycarbonate. Lightweight frames, with structure on display. Plants. A collection of small objects. Things floating within structural frames. Difference and variation, maybe for its own sake, maybe towards a multitude of beauty, maybe towards a diverse garden of architecture, maybe towards nothing in particular. 428 pieces, bolted together. Various species of aluminum parts.  About 380,000 plant species are known to us. We are surrounded and outnumbered. Community Gardens provided a place of retreat, of protest and consternation, of victory gardens, of  seed bombs, of non-western medicine and  self-care clinics and homeopathy, of collective responsibility and action, DIY green guerillas, and so on. Community greenhouses are a sort of urban infrastructure of small structures. Places to bring things and people together, to plant seeds and cultivate. This community greenhouse has a vented roof, workspaces on both the north and south sides and a mezzanine for more plants.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, James Wood, Andy Kim, Ben Dooley

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Greenhouse No. 1

Without A Specific Site, 2020–24

At least one version of Modernism began with a public greenhouse, a so-called crystal palace with steel painted sky blue. This is aluminum. No paint, although possibly someday. Lighter. Recyclable. Reflective in the right lighting. Easier to carry and put together. Made from a kit of parts. Imbued with Gothic clarity, maybe. Crystalline-ish. Crystal Lite. 290 pieces, bolted connections. Manufactured in a factory. Assembled on site within a week. An instant bubble. An atmosphere. An environment. A totalizing experience. Ol factory. Designed to move, to travel almost anywhere. And plants can visit from anywhere. An instant garden. An instant community. A community greenhouse. An exotic display of difference. A collective. A place for people to visit to restore themselves and unwind and work and meditate and rest. An allotment to grow food, outside of the marketplace, outside of work. An alternate economy. A place to cultivate care. The possibility of something better.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, James Wood, Andy Kim, Ben Dooley

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Housing No. 16, With 38 Towers

Chacarita Alta, Asunción, Paraguay, 2019–Under Construction

The site is an informal settlement along a canal in central Asuncion, a 15 minute walk from the Government Palace of the President of Paraguay. Each unit of new housing replaces an existing dwelling and is for an existing resident. A spreadsheet was given. The residents’ ages, genders, family ties, disabilities, and illnesses like depression, high blood pressure, hypertension, bad hips, and so on, were give to us. Extended families were listed, and kept together. Spatial requirements were listed, for instance, if someone needs to be on the ground floor, or next to someone else, or in a specific location. Empathy via excel. No unit is exactly the same, because each site is unique and each resident is unique. Some single adults, a family of 10, everything in-between. Up to 5 generations. Not-nuclear. Sometimes nuclear. Some residents live in the 38 towers (a 3.5m x 3.5m plan with 4 stories, terraces and roof access) located on 12 unique sites, each with direct access to a public pedestrian street. Some live in the base level, which contains courtyard houses for individuals and small families with 79 total units, again with direct access to a public street. Commercial spaces were provided for businesses that were there before, and small pockets of shared public space. Topography, neighbors, and infrastructure define the limits of the building. The base plans are irregular and specific to their situation. A field of repetitive towers, resting on a field of irregular gardens. Light and air everywhere. A pedestrian city. Passive systems, sustainable, low energy, spaces for food production, not typical contemporary social housing. There were periodic meetings with residents and the Paraguay Ministry of Housing.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Tianyang Sun, James Wood

In collaboration with adamo-faiden and Equipo de Architectura

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A Book on Making a Petite École

Book, 158 pages. New York: Artist book, 2019; 2nd ed., Barcelona: ACTAR, 2022. 19" x 22" (original), 9.5" x 12.75" (second edition).

With contributions from Sebastián Adamo & Marcelo Faiden, Yussef Agbo-Ola, Sir David Adjaye, Xavi Laida Aguirre, Stan Allen, Benjamin Aranda, Assemble, Tatiana Bilbao, Bureau Spectacular, Marlon Blackwell, Galo Canizares & Stephanie Sang Delgado, Sean Canty, Jan De Vylder, Ambra Fabi & Kersten Geers, fala, First Office, Antón García-Abril & Débora Mesa, Go Hasegawa, Steven Holl & Dimitra Tsachrelia, Wonne Ickx/PRODUCTORA, Florian Idenburg & Jing Liu, Sam Jacob, Andrés Jacque, Johnston Marklee, Ladi’Sasha Jones, l’AUC, LEFT Architects, Toshiko Mori, Catherine Mosbach, Umberto Napolitano, Daniel Norell & Einar Rodhe, Lütjens, Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Mónica Ponce de León, Pier Paolo Tamburelli, Bolle Tham & Martin Videgård, UrbanLab, Welcome Projects, WORKac with Ayah Wood.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Paul Ruppert, Lafina Eptaminitaki, Charles Dorrance-King, Julia Muntean, Ben Dooley

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Studio No. 5, Ceramic Studio

Brooklyn, New York, 2022-25

Rooftop No. 1, Observatory, Canopy, Open Space

Brooklyn, New York, 2019

Our ancestors peered into the night sky searching for something, understanding that the moon, the planets, and the stars were connected with the earthly, the bodily. Observing our surroundings was a fundamental social and cultural act, something translated and recorded and represented, collected and contrived, posted and commented, told and retold. We built instruments to measure and map. To help communicate, help us understand our world and ourselves. Art and Architecture has always been one of these instruments, something that exists between here and there. Tall mounds formed, altars constructed, temples built, pyramids, domes, and observatories. This is a circular canopy, providing shelter from rain and the sun, allowing for different events, operating like an architectural instrument. The canopy collects various, almost ready-made, architectural elements: A Chimney, Deck, Roof, Dome, Stairs, Elevator, Sign…. The canopy maps the night sky, providing an experience of the night sky no matter the weather or light conditions, animating and enlivening the space below it. We can adjust the night sky map to a specific date or time to mark its importance, a sort of flattened Centotaph of Newton. The canopy is a radiant surface. We partnered with Dr. Forrest Meggers to provide radiant heating and cooling, allowing for a more radically open observatory, a comfortable space for outdoor lectures, dinners and star gazing events.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, James Wood, Andy Kim, Ben Dooley, Yifei Yang, Joel McCullough

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Art Space No. 4, Big Space

Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada, 2022

A small arts campus, that including offices, teaching workshops and the renovation of a church into a multi-functional arts space.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Joel McCullough, Ben Dooley, James Wood

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Mixed Use No. 5, 9 West

Cambridge, New York, 2022–25

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Joel McCullough

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Winery No. 1, In a Valley

Mendoza, Argentina, 2021–25

4 walls. Approximately 5.5 meters tall. Approximately 58 meters long. Almost north-south. 10 almost squares per wall. 40 almost squares total. The repetitive rhythm of structural piers. The soft irregular landscape. 3000 square meters built underground, filling an existing valley. The walls step up the hillside, looking like remnants of a dam of some long-dried-up river, overgrown. Something like the archaeological site of a Roman aqueduct or a forgotten James Wines project or a buried factory. It is where the natural world and the landscape surpasses any architecture. Orienting everyone who comes there to the ground around them, the vineyards and the mountains beyond. El Plato: 60km NW. Tupungato 80km SW.

Also, there were many studies for additional pavilions and furniture.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Tianyang Sun, James Wood

In collaboration with adamo-faiden

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House No. 22, With Sunken Courtyard

Location Withheld at Request, 2022

The house is built into the ground, with 1 story of collective, domestic spaces above ground, and 1 of individual, more private spaces below. Everything is connected by and revolves around the sunken courtyard. It is an object. It is a space. It cools and animates the house, filling the 2 stories with light and air and nature. Its rotation aligns with the cardinal directions. 9 skylights/solar chimneys dot the roof, bringing in light while passively cooling the interior. The house is focused inwardly. Everything is set in motion by patterns and shapes and what is above.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, James Wood, Tanya Al Saleh, Andy Kim, Ben Dooley

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House No. 21, With Large Eave

Jefferson, New York, 2021–22

A small house with a large eave. The exterior space under the eave is the primary space of the house. This space under the eave could be a porch, a bbq grill pit with picnic tables, a bike repair shop, a makeshift podiatrist office, a photo studio, a late-night smoking lounge, a yoga retreat, a place to store partially used items that don’t fit anywhere else, a local ceramic workshop that specializes in custom mugs, a kombucha startup, a karaoke parlor, a dog’s play area, a summer camp fingerpainting venue, a temporary dance club and mosh pit, a stable for livestock, a flea market, homeopathic garden, and a garage. The attic space within the eave is the bedroom. The bathroom and kitchen are on the ground floor. It didn’t require a large budget. It is for 2 artists to spend time in nature, and to occasionally think about birds.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Andy Kim, Ben Dooley, James Wood

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MANIERA 24 MOS

Brussels, Belgium, 2021

Furniture of a New Order, Zoë Ryan

“Furniture inhabits both the world we choose to call real and the world of our imagination.”

So begins curator Suzanne Delehanty’s essay, Furniture of Another Order from 1977. Nothing seems closer to the truth these days as so many of us spend hours traversing the real and virtual spaces of our desktops, slipping between the two in a constant state of shared reality. I came across Delehanty’s essay many years ago, drawn to how artists, architects, and designers approached the making—and imagining—of furniture, at times very differently. The Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania had beaten many to the punch with the exhibition memorably titled Improbable Furniture, curated by Delehanty (her essay is published in the exhibition catalogue). In it, she called for a reexamination of this paradigm of quotidian objects through the lens of work by artists who have at some point situated furniture within their output, as in the work of Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Edward Kienholz, and Yayoi Kusama, or made it the very underpinnings of their practice, as in Scott Burton, for example. One of my favorite works in the show was Barbara Zucker’s Alice Inland from 1966, an oversized white wooden chair, nine feet high and crescent topped, that as Delehanty notes in the catalogue, “plays upon the viewer’s conscious and unconscious modes of thought.” The image of the work in the catalogue definitely plays with mine, generating discomforting echoes of “Off with her head!” as well as “Someone’s been sitting in my chair.”


Improbable Furniture appealed to me for its promiscuous take on furniture as the subject, and in some cases what determined the form, of the works on view. As Delehanty writes, furniture “can slip from the mundane to the metaphysical,” from objects that represent the world we inhabit to objects that through their scale, mode of production, and relationship to the body have become a never-ending means of experimentation, especially so in the case of the chair. Architects have throughout history also been drawn to furniture as a practical way to further probe human behavior and question social norms. Take as examples Gerrit Rietveld’s De Stijl chairs and Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Charlotte Perriand’s chaise longues and Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair from the early part of the twentieth century, or Charles and Ray Eames’ plywood versions from the 1940s. These now iconic designs grapple with everything from issues of form, production, lifestyle, an economy of means, and even hygiene. Chairs in particular continue to prove a never-ending source of inspiration, fascination, and fetish that’s hard to shake even in this saturated landscape. It seems there remains much to say.

When, for example, American architect Frank Gehry launched in the 1970s his now well-known line of chairs, ottomans, and chaise longues constructed from laminated cardboard, a utilitarian packing material found across the US, he called attention to his original intent, to create a more affordable, yet refined range. Once described as “paper furniture for penny pinchers” by the New York Times, given their lower price point (a lounge chair and ottoman were reported to be about $80 and under $30, respectively, when they launched in 1972) and availability at department stores such as Bloomingdales in New York and Marshall Field’s in Chicago, they are now coveted by collectors and in museum collections worldwide. More recently, Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye released his Washington series of chairs in 2013 as companions to the building he designed for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The chair designs excavated references from both Africa and America, including the trade practices of the first African American slaves freed in the Southern states of America, who went on to create the visual iconography of towns such as Charleston and Louisiana. Adjaye’s team retraced the patterns of the architectural detailing of bronze balustrades and screens for homes, employing parametric modeling tools to generate a new articulation of these forms that shifts in density across both the seat and back of the chairs, to accommodate the body.

Since its founding in 2014, MANIERA Gallery has continued to provide opportunities for inventive minds to navigate between the realms of architecture, design, and art. Working to give space for ideas that expand current discourse, they recently invited Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of New York-based architecture studio MOS, to develop some objects for the gallery, with an open brief. The chair, or seating, again became a focus for their explorations. As Sample notes, “We’re interested in making things, not buying things. If we need a seat, we make it. If we need a table, we make it.” Furniture design has long been a part of MOS’s practice. For their design for MANIERA, they determined to investigate American approaches to furniture making. They focused on what they call “a brutal economy of scale,” no doubt in response to the contemporary moment, with the need to conserve resources, be mindful of waste, and treat invention as critical. Turning to Shaker furniture as inspiration, they have designed a number of pieces, including Baskets No. 1–3, multipurpose stools/baskets/seats, sturdy enough to sit on, stand on, and to hold objects.

The Shakers were nineteenth-century America’s largest and most well-known communal utopian society, boasting thousands of Brothers and Sisters in the early 1800s. Today only a handful remain, and yet their legacy is long. Their work ethic, high-quality output, and objects made to last are concerns that continue to have currency today. MOS’s design was also motivated by the exceptional craftsmanship of Shaker objects, especially the baskets that were a staple, made with an open hexagonal weave and sturdy enough to be used to harvest fruit or drain cheese curds. With its utility and stripped-down yet elegant form, Baskets No. 1–3 exemplify the Shaker code of practice to make something useful and necessary, but also beautiful, with any decorative elements part of the design and supporting the function of the piece. The bolts that punctuate them are both functional and are the only decoration, other than color, on the piece. Available in a range of sizes and scales, the baskets/stools can seat one or two people side by side. The only thing missing is two handles, which would have governed a Shaker basket, making it easier for a pair of workers to hoist a heavy load. Rather than wood, MOS’s baskets are made from a latticework of metal strips outsourced from fabricators who send the finished parts to MOS to do the final assembly. “We have the last say,” affirms Sample. Like the Shakers who were also fastidious about quality, they live with their designs, including “failures and mistakes,” which Meredith says they learn from. With an enthusiasm for a hands-on approach that was shared by the Shaker brethren, they test out their work in their studio and home to ensure that it is fit for its purpose.

MOS’s interest in weaving techniques was born a number of years ago when Sample made what she calls tape blankets. Living in the Netherlands, and without the time and access to a loom to weave in the traditional way, she acquired rolls of double-stick colored tape. She would peel off the tape and create blankets by sticking different pieces of tape together in a crisscross formation. “It became like a sort of weaving project,” she recalls. “It was an immediate, precise form of making something, unlike architecture. I liked that.” Sample’s approach speaks to the studio’s current fascination with working with what’s available, whether materials or manufacturing processes.

Object No. 11 (Peg Bench) and Object No. 12 (Peg Chair), also for MANIERA, are other cases in point. They underscore MOS’s satisfaction in finding off the rack components that they can repurpose for new uses. This time they appropriated thick wooden broomstick handles, cutting them down to size for the back and legs to create whimsical, yet practical designs whose material origins are a part of their appeal. Other pieces include Object No. 16 (Peg Rail), a reinterpreted Shaker design, typically hung on the wall and used for hanging up coats, keys, scarves, and other quotidian stuff, as a way to organize their communal homes. Updated by MOS, their wooden design can be screwed together in different arrangements to meet individual and collective needs. Another common object found in Shaker homes is the wood stove, which MOS has rethought with their Wood Stove No.1, made from simple component parts, such as a fire box fitted to a table, for outdoor gatherings. “One of the main values of the Shakers was a precise sense of utility, every object had a specific function” says Sample, “The objects we make typically have multiple uses – legs can be back rests, stoves can be tables, baskets can be stools, or something we haven’t imagined.”

The Objects of One Part, No. 3, like their baskets, are multi-functional objects. The pieces are made from identical perforated metal panels bolted together. The rounded form, reminiscent of a child’s toy, allows many different configurations, such as a stool, chair, table, or bench. Finally, the sectional lounge chair Object No. 17 (Circular Bench) is also made from metal and looks as if it was inspired by pew seating in a Meeting House. Erected from corrugated aluminum panels, it can be aggregated to form a circle or semicircle, making it fitting for congregating indoors or out. What MOS’s collection of works has in common is the rigor with which they approach their designs based on an economy of construction, an attitude that finds an affinity with the work of the late Italian designer Enzo Mari. MOS, like Mari, put emphasis on the value of objects that have become subsumed into our daily lives, their origins forgotten or taken for granted.

Just as artists shift perspectives and open our imaginations, design too has the potential to reinterpret the familiar in ways that not only offer new typologies of objects that prompt us to question and even modify behavior, but also open space in our minds for new thinking about the physical and metaphysical relationships we have with the built environment. As MOS has shown, rather than improbable furniture, their intuitive designs are resolutely probable.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Matthew Acer, Ben Dooley, Joel McCullough

Solo Exhibition, Maniera, Brussels, Belgium, June 19–September 18, 2021. Including Zoë Ryan, “Furniture of a New Order.”

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Casa No. 1–17

Book, 160 pages. Milan: Libra. Including Stan Allen, “[La città e la casa],” and MOS, “The Quote Un-Quote [Apro e chiudo virgolette].” 12cm x 21cm.

“The Quote Un-Quote”

We look back at our own work every so often, making sense of it. It is impossible. Something slips away. Something enters the scene. We never quite grasp it. Architecture especially. We try. Others help. Each sees what they want to see. Things say something, and then something different to another. None of us are totally right, but others might understand it better. Although, even if they told us, I’m not sure we’d believe them. We take it personally. Our work is personal. I’m unsure who said it first. But someone said your work is quote un-quote Neopomo. Neo-Post-Modern. They said we helped establish it in the academy. Someone else said we were leaders of the movement. These weren’t compliments. We didn’t even know NPM was a thing. We never cared about semiotics or signifiers or salmon-colored faux classical pediments. We don’t remember the classical orders, some of us. We never cared about architecture as a language. We never heard what architecture was saying. It only mumbles. We cared about building things, about materials, proportions, and construction. We liked vernacular architecture because it was practical, it wasn’t trying to mean anything, not because we were referencing something. Everything seems to reference something else nowadays. If you’re not working on a project of measurable data or technology or performance, then everything is in quotes, regardless of intent.

When we started, the world around us seemed to be about progress through technology, data, complexity, animation, fabrication, performance, simulation, mass customization, a newfound control over architecture. Anything other than that seemed regressive. That word neopomo sounded so weird. N-E-O-P-O-M-O. They spelled it out for us. We stared blankly in return, trying to understand if they were right. Maybe they were. Some people want history to repeat itself. We don’t. Although, sometimes it repeats itself regardless. Quote Un-Quote. Cute chubby objects. Axonometrics. Color. Aggregation. Typology. Square Windows. Maybe we thought it was good or beautiful, and not too expensive to build. Maybe we could do it with our own software, open source. Maybe we didn’t think enough. We liked little to no expression. We liked simple drawings and forms and shapes. We liked boredom. It seemed far more exciting than the supposedly exciting stuff. We liked blankness. We liked readymades. We liked vaguely familiar things. We liked economic construction. Pitched roofs don’t mean anything particular to us. They’re cheap. They work. We liked the overlooked beauty of the world around us. We didn’t like the work being about us. We disliked design’s classism and luxury. We liked Bernd and Hilla Becher photographs. We liked non-representation representation. We didn’t like technological expressionism. Too much technology. Technology can only be corporate nowadays. It’s all unseen. The corporate takeover of everything. It requires money, a lot of money. We are afraid of money. We don’t like what money does to the world. We didn’t believe the hyperbolic claims of progress, although we want progress, we want things to get better. It doesn’t seem better. We overheard a professor of public health say, when I hear architects talking about some new thing, or new material, I just think of the future health problems. If you’re thoughtful, nothing is as easy as it seems. We didn’t believe in a single institutional linear narrative for the field. We liked taking things apart. We liked putting things together. We liked buildings. We liked things in the world. We hoped our work offered a way of being in the world to others. We still do. Have you noticed how everything is related to something else. Every object has an infinite web of connections. They’re impossible to control. We don’t want to control them. Buildings just quietly sit there as the world changes around and within them. Perhaps it’s all about personal taste, perhaps it’s just two extremes playing out simultaneously – the incredibly personal and the vast array of references. We wanted a non-style style. We didn’t want fancy or expensive. We wanted to avoid something. We numbered. We repeated. We repeated with slight differences. We wanted to be personal without being expressionist. We weren’t of one mind.

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Exhibition Design No. 8, (662) MOS ARCH

Princeton, New Jersey, 2022

This exhibition presents the remains of an architectural office: a collection of objects – prototypes, books, sketches, models, notes, drawings, experiments, material swatches, paper with a concentration on smallness and smaller-scale work. The organization of the exhibition mirrors our little office, with a large table where things accumulate. Nothing is separated into categories or organized by project or theme. Everything simply exists together as part of a landscape of things that are made, with multiple scales, formats, happening in parallel and in conversation by their proximity.

When assembling work for the exhibition, we thought about our work as a sort of spam, spam architecture. As the artist Hito Steyerl writes in “Digital Debris: Spam and Scam,” “Contemporary electronic spam tries to extract an improbable spark of value from an inattentive crowd by means of inundation. But to become spam – that is, to fully identify with its unrealized promise – means to spark an improbable element of commonality between different forms of existence, to become a public thing, a cheerful incarnation of data-based wreckage.” While architecture is obviously different from spam, spam architecture is repetitive, inexpensive, and without signature. It circulates, relying on representation. And once you start looking for it, it is everywhere. The general mode of disciplinary communication as well as protest, theory, commentary, and self-promotion appear similar, as spam. Everything arrives, notifying us of its arrival. Everything tries to hold our attention. And then everything is quickly replaced by the next thing, and the next, ad infinitum. A lot of architectural representations circulating today feel like spam. MOS makes a lot of stuff, all the time, many times without clients, on many platforms, through various media. We ourselves are constantly reaching out, in the hope of finding a common ground within our fragmented attention. We produce spam architecture. And perhaps paradoxically, as much as we spam, architecture’s physicality, collaboration, and use (both functional and cultural) make it unlike spam. Although architecture repeats and circulates, it doesn’t need to constantly notify the world about what it is doing. It usually does this by simply sitting there quietly, sometimes on an office table, at even the smallest scale.

Curators: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Ben Dooley, Carly Richman, James Wood, Andy Kim, Jacqueline Mix
Graphic Design: Studio Lin
Exhibition Manager: Kira McDonald
Fabrication: Cole Cataneo, James Wood, Andy Kim, Ryan Shin, House of Varona

North Gallery, Princeton University School of Architecture, Princeton, New Jersey, February 22–April 22, 2022

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Vacant Spaces NY

Book, 608 pages. New York: ACTAR. 6” x 9”.

This project began by walking around our neighborhood noticing empty storefronts. Once we saw them, they were everywhere. They followed us, appearing quietly throughout New York City. Many with no signage, no “for rent,” no “coming soon.” Usually empty, sometimes dusty, sometimes with brown paper covering the glass. Now, vacancy has only increased. In the densest city in the United States. During a housing crisis. Throughout a pandemic. The quantity of vacant spaces is anyone’s best guess. It’s only partially documented. They hide in plain sight.
Within the city, there are multiple vacancies – retail, commercial, office – but storefronts and street-level spaces are the most noticeable. A majority are claimed as losses for tax write-offs. As we have found, some large vacancies persist for years. An insistence on higher rents inflates profits and value, maintaining inflated property values throughout the city. Meanwhile, an immense housing shortage grows worse.

The basic provocation of this study is that we do not need to solve large-scale problems with large-scale solutions, with more building, with additional infrastructure, with huge investments. Solutions exist that avoid developers and those who have continuously profiteered off of what should be considered a fundamental right. Possibilities exist that don’t take 5–8 years to develop, that reinvigorate street life, that don’t require massive investment with disproportionate returns, that are incremental and equitably distributed throughout the city. Housing and other social services should infiltrate our city through vacant space!

We look at these immense retail vacancies as akin to the loft spaces left as Lower Manhattan deindustrialized in the late 1950s and early ’60s. During this time, light manufacturing such as plastic warehouses, paper recycling facilities, and garment factories, moved from SoHo out of the city or went out of business entirely.1 Manufacturing changed. Vacant lofts transformed into inexpensive live-work spaces. Still zoned for industrial use, these lost apartments were illegal at first. But community groups formed quickly and fought successfully for policy changes. Sometimes solutions to problems are already here, around us, if we rethink our assumptions, if we imagine other possibilities, and if we organize.

This research documents a small portion of the vacant spaces in Manhattan: those that have been reported. We worked with students from Princeton University’s School of Architecture along with our architecture office, MOS, to document and draw the available data. New York City does not keep track of business or residential vacancies, instead relying on private companies to document and provide information. In their 2019 report on retail vacancy between 2007–2017, the City Comptroller contracted a private company, LiveXYZ, to document vacancies in the city. The information is opaque; their sources and methodologies aren’t clear. Larger, corporate real estate holders often report their vacancies as losses, but many others do not. Because of this, it is nearly impossible to understand the extent of vacant spaces in New York. Most data is under-reported. Harlem, where we live, is one neighborhood that is under reported. Our observations do not align with the reported data; we live our daily lives alongside entire blocks of vacant storefronts that are missing from data.

The following document is organized from large to small, general to specific. It begins by looking at vacancy within the United States and continues down to each Manhattan neighborhood, where we zoom into specific vacant spaces, where we have provided as case studies that imagine some possibilities for transforming current vacant spaces into housing or social services. There is also a section on Covid 19, which infiltrated New York during our research. As a whole, this document is not meant to provide specific solutions. The data is incomplete. Case studies are limited. We are not policy experts or data analysts or urban planners. Instead, it is simply meant to show something we have taken for granted, vacant spaces, taking part in a collective process of imagining a better city.

Notes
1 See Aaron Shkuda, The Lofts of SoHo: Gentrification, Art, and Industry in New York, 1950–1980 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Ben Dooley, Andy Kim, Vicky Cao, Reese Lewis, Jacqueline Mix, Hannah Lucia Terry, Cristina Terricabras, Carly Richman

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House No. 20, With A Curve

Dutchess County, New York, 2019–2020

It began as a house for two families, and ended as a house for one. There was a pandemic happening. It was a process. We tried to do what they asked. The site is amazing. Remote. Wooded. Stone walls. They wanted something beautiful. Something that didn’t cost a lot. A place to raise children. Everyone wants architects to promise what it will cost. We don’t deal with this enough in school. We are asked to do the impossible. Something spectacular and responsible. Uniquely beautiful and affordable. Unlike anything we’ve done before, and similar. Something larger than legally possible. We looked through old sketchbooks, unearthed previous deadends. A curve was introduced.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Matthew Acer, Qiazi Chen, Reese Greenlee, James Wood

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House No. 19, Slope

Location Withheld at Request, 2018

Built into a slope. Half of an A frame. Oversized steps. It has a single large sloped roof supported by a grid of beams. Exposed structure underneath. A waffle. A cap to something. A lid. A coin. A funny beret. A satellite dish. A sign that fell over. Almost a circle. All the spaces sit under the large roof, shifting horizontally and vertically to create the living space, the kitchen and bedrooms. The bedrooms have triangle shaped clerestories. Maybe we will add a lower window. We like the space focused on the slope, on being on a slope. Light flows around and underneath. Maybe there will be a skylight. Maybe not, we’re afraid of leaks. Maybe there will be solar panels. Maybe not. There will be guards to stop snow sliding into the entry. The entry pad will be heated, no need to shovel. The earth provides thermal mass and insulation. It will feel warm. A hobbit hut. A place to hide. The North is protected. The South is accessible. The whole house is lined with windows on either end. It is entered from the top or the bottom of the slope. There are 2 entrances. In/Out. On/Off. Up/Down. In-between. Maybe.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Matthew Acer, Anam Izhar Ahmed, Qiazi Chen, Andy Kim

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“Over/Under”

Los Angeles, California, 2020

A holder of toilet paper.

“Over/Under” Marta, Los Angeles, California, September 10–November 1, 2020

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House No. 18, Along a Ridge

Columbus, Indiana, 2019–In Progress

Long and narrow. Based upon a 10’ sheet of plywood. Bends slightly. Following the site’s ridge. Perched, looking out. Surrounded with tall trees. 3 chimneys, 1 attic and 1 light well as volumes on the roof. It doesn’t look like a house, maybe something you’d find in a trailer park designed by William Morris, maybe Villa Le Lac. It looks like a wall, or a line. It is a straw sucking up space. It is a zipper stitching things together and holding them apart. It is a bent telescope. 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a kitchen and living space that opens on to large decks overlooking the abundance of trees. There are wood burning stoves throughout to heat the spaces. There are passive ventilation chimneys. We like chimneys, too much. We can’t quit them. Bedrooms are on both ends. The central long space has some large and some small windows. Platforms and views radiate. A minty green spiral stair takes you to a small studio and the roof. A studio to draw and read and design very precise furniture. On the roof you can see the stars.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Matthew Acer, Anam Izhar Ahmed, Qiazi Chen, Cristina Terricabras

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Mixed Use No. 4, With 2 Spiral Stairs

Mexico City, Mexico, 2020

A corner lot. A nondescript concrete building. Bush hammered. Terrazzo. An unsurprising urban rectangular volume. Squarish. Parking below ground, open space on the roof. 2 apartments side by side. An architecture office in the base. Some prerequisites. 46 square openings. 34 Windows. Composed Non-Composed. 1 slipped. Stable Unstable. An entry. 2 cylinders. 2 spiral staircases at the building’s center. Ascending in opposite directions. Serving opposite sides. Rotational symmetry. Between 2 thick “walls.” Services and storage inside. Open space beyond. Bare. Flexible. Empty. Versatile. For work. For life. Lots of concrete. Collaborating, discussing possibilities. Waiting for the contractor’s approvals. The specifics were to be left up to the occupants. Use. Rent. Subdivide. Airbnb. Whatever. We all know how quickly things can change.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Paul Ruppert, Lafina Eptaminitaki

In collaboration with Isidoro Michan-Guindi

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“Notes on Staircases”

Hilary Sample, e-flux (July 31, 2020).

Staircases can be perspicaciously complex. The staircase is one place where architects visually and physically connect people within buildings, and where they can directly reveal critical thinking in relation to a building’s form and its function. The staircase is a significant form of public space, not to be underestimated in creating or curtailing human activity and engagement. No multi-story building can avoid them. The staircase is unequivocally shared. Within them, individuals interact not only with the physicality of the building but with each other, directly: acknowledge one another, look at each other, talk to one another as they causally pass by one another. They are spaces where people move together, even if awkwardly going up and down. Unlike a facade, which typically has a singular function to protect the interior from the exterior, the stair enables a multitude of uses and experiences.

Staircases form spaces for shelter, interaction, performance, exercise, conversation, play, protest, etc. More than a straightforward connection between two adjoining spaces, staircases – particularly in housing – represent the importance of equitable and just access as a passage between the street to interior common spaces to living spaces. How a staircase is treated reflects societal concerns, both inwards towards its residents and outwards to society as a whole. The staircase is a place of motion and encounter, and therefore of politics. It is fundamentally different, in this sense, from any other element of a building. An internal staircase has different politics than an external staircase; an enclosed stair is different than an open stair… Staircases are limiting to those who cannot physically use them, and require the proximate location of an elevator. While it’s the norm in housing projects to wall off either use from the other, thus segregating their respective user groups from one another – all due to “fire protection” – this need not be the case. With staircases, politics is a question of design.

Staircases in housing suffer harsh critique, particularly in social housing where particular burdens are placed upon them and they are frequently discussed and devalued for their failures. Staircases might be poorly maintained; they may be too dark, too small, the least designed, unheated, avoided, underused, unoccupied, and potentially dangerous. Inherent to this critique is a belief in the staircase’s potential to create a space for positive communal exchange. Concerns around housing tend to focus on living spaces – the apartment – yet circulation space is the first space anyone must pass through before arriving to their apartment. Circulation space should not be a secondary concern, but a primary one, and staircases should be treated as important as elevators and ramps when designing the inclusivity of space.1

Staircases are discrete elements within any building. Particularly in housing, the various forms and locations they take significantly impact the design and ultimately the use of the building as a whole. The economic model of affordable housing in the United States, for instance, strives towards a minimum of 85% of its floor area to be rentable or purchasable, thus constraining circulation spaces to a bare minimum. However, numerous typological alternatives to the code-dictated minimum of two closed-off egress stairs exist in the history of architecture. Alternatively conceived, staircases can make a positive difference in the perception and actuality of a collective. At the same time, they can impede its formation.

Housing should be a universal right. In order for that to become a reality, housing needs to be interpreted in the broadest of terms, meaning not only as a group of interior, enclosed, protected dwelling spaces, but also the public spaces that connect them and make them a whole. It isn’t enough to provide only a minimum number of units or “products.” If people have the right to housing, it should be possible to observe and experience the enactment of those rights across all scales of a built form. The right to housing should include well-designed, well-lit, well-formed, accessible circulation spaces. Staircases offer an opportunity to reimagine how society can live.

Staircases structure peoples’ interaction with one another, both those residing there and those visiting. There are many states of staircases. A stocktaking of staircases in residential buildings offers a look into architecture’s relationship to circulatory systems and other building systems. With the invention of mechanically supported circulation such as escalators or elevators, the staircase has not been “superseded,” but is still “rendered a nuisance and built to the minimum that code permits.”2 Staircases reveal the nature of buildings to be beyond a formal disciplinary problem. The staircase is the place for a careful making or a difficult unmaking of a community or collective.3

What follows is a series of notes from an ongoing design research project, one that began through investigations into the making of housing’s complimentary spaces. What happens when it is no longer possible to climb stairs, or what is the experience of a building if that use is lost? What experience is needed in its place? What happens to the community of a building in the absence of sharing circulation or a lack of motion? As architects execute services, there are often limitations to what can be designed or built. Understanding not only why but also how certain stairs are designed and constructed is useful in rethinking contemporary and future practice. Further research on stairs as important cultural artefacts is needed.

Santos Prescott and Associates, Iona Street Apartments, Cape Town, South Africa, 1971

This thirteen-unit, twenty-foot-wide-residential building built for students and an artist by architect Adele Santos was carefully designed around a sloping bridge for a street-level entrance and open-air exterior corridors to transverse the length of its narrow site. Building upon principles of both European architectural modernism and local vernacular buildings, the all-white PVA-covered concrete-and-glass building also has a set of stairs that meets the city sidewalk, and an inclined ramp for vehicular access and parking. Internal staircases protrude out into the public corridors, demarcating each unit’s form. They are stacked to produce a rhythm as a main facade along the open-air shaded corridors. On the interior of the units, the staircases separate utilities from living space. The staircases themselves serve as an entry, the transition space between each unit and the corridor, physically and acoustically separating the private from the public.4 As an abstract form, the undulating modules of the stacked stairs give shape a dynamic public space for residents to commingle and keep what would typically be enclosed and private space an opening toward its neighbors.

Frei Otto, Oköhaus, Berlin, Germany, 1982

Prior to its construction, Frei Otto’s worked intensively with the future residents of his Ökohaus project to design their individual units or houses. A photograph of one of these collective workshops captures a group of people gathered around an architectural model with a simple, generic structural frame and infilled with diverse designs. Another photograph shows a similar scene, but adjacent to the building models are two model staircases. Appearing to be modeled out of paper, they stand in contrast to the bricolage approach taken to the rest of the model, and ultimately the building as a whole once built. While the models suggest that the staircases are not integral to the overall design of the building, and could seemingly fit in where needed, it is the one part of the building where residents would interact and confront one another. The staircase is not only representative of the participatory design process as a whole, it is the only inhabitable space of Ökohaus not designed by the tenants, but by Otto himself. They are ultimately the very thing that enables the housing project to create a physical community.

Robert Venturi, Guild House, Philadelphia, USA, 1963

In Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Robert Venturi’s design for the “elderly housing” Guild House project is presented only through an incomplete plan drawing.5 In the accompanying written description, however, nearly every part of the building is described, but not the stairs, or any other form of vertical circulation.6 The symmetrical plan has the left side drawn in more detail than the right, which is reductive to the point of omitting the lines of the staircase; only the outline of the stairwell walls remain. This suggests that Venturi understood these stairs to be singular in their function. A staircase is a staircase is a staircase. People go up and down. Interestingly, however, he notes later in the book that one remarkable element of a Victorian house is that its staircase is more flexible and open to alternate uses than a public staircase, despite the openness and comings and goings of many people.7 A private space with a stair can accumulate things and activities; it can entertain clutter and unplanned use.

Adjaye Associates, Sugar Hill, New York City, USA, 2015

Affordable housing projects often suffer from a lack of access to cultural or educational public experiences in their programs, too often having their ground floors filled with commercial spaces that are likely to become vacant, rendering the building incomplete and isolated. At Sugar Hill by Adjaye Associates, ground floors are filled up with educational and cultural programs that extend out and invite the local community and neighborhood in. This affordable, below-market-rate residential building includes housing for formerly homeless people, an early childhood education center, a Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, offices for the developer Broadway Housing Communities (BHC), and an urban garden welcome space.8 The building is situated on a steep sloping site in the historically-significant African-American Sugar Hill neighborhood in Harlem and at the crossroads of a Latino community. It is designed using graphite-tinted precast panels with an embossed rose pattern that recalls the neighborhood’s tradition of ornamental detailing, while the building’s sawtooth and stepped form references the brownstones nearby. Residents are required to sign in when entering the building – no guests are allowed – and amenity spaces are limited within the building, other spaces are given to the residents elsewhere. The efficiency of the plan of the 124 residential units above – a double-loaded corridor and typical fire stairs – enables public spaces below to be enlarged. The museum’s street-level entrance lobby and bookshop contains seating and connects to a wide wooden stair. Its interior landing, which feels like a balcony and brings light into the working spaces below, serves as a transitory gallery before terminating in a large open space with built-in auditorium-like seating for events and rest. From this stair it is possible to be a part of the museum and look out over the city at the same time.

Mario Pani, CUPA (Centro Urbanos Presidente Miguel Alemán), Mexico City, Mexico, 1949

All 800 units in Mario Pani’s CUPA complex are connected through open-air corridors and switchback staircases. It is possible to traverse the zig-zag building from end to end without ever touching the ground. Small sets of stairs between buildings navigate slight shifts in the building’s floor elevation, allowing the buildings to move in response to seismic activity. The staircases located at the end of each corridor are wide enough for people to comfortably pass one another. Each corridor is enclosed with a guardrail that contains planter boxes for each tenant, and at the intersection of staircases and corridors, a space for potted plants creates a lush environment set against brick, concrete, and stone walls. The staircases are not only a means of moving up or down, but in contrast to the linearity of the corridors, they offer continuously changing views of both the immediate surroundings and the city and the mountains in the distance. The staircases are offset from the plan, and their landings allow for a measurable pause. The majority of residences have internal staircases, furthering this movement when ascending to a living room with horizontal windows looking up and outward, or descending into kitchens and work spaces that are more inwards and closed. While the building is also serviced by elevators, the scale of the building requires continual movement by walking.

O. M. Ungers, Block 1 IBA, Berlin, Germany, 1987

Outwardly uniform, symmetrical, cubical, and repetitive, O. M. Unger’s Block 1 IBA is anything but predictable or familiar on the interior. The organization of the plan is not, as might be typical of a form like this or a building of this size, around a double-loaded corridor. Rather, it favors floor-through unit plans with natural light on both sides. The architect’s focus on the repetition of a variety of residential units creates interrelationships that are not immediately visible but can be understood with careful study.9 The six-story, forty-eight-unit residential building consists of more than fifteen different unit types, all organized around a central, shared, open-air courtyard with four staircases, one at each corner like the traditional Berlin block. Each staircase, in turn, serves a select set of apartments, thus breaking down the building into smaller clusters. Smaller groups of residents share an entry, an elevator, and a staircase to their individual apartments. Tenants might not know everyone passing through the courtyard, but they would at least likely know their neighbors all the more.

Alvaro Siza, Punt und Komma, The Hague, Netherlands, 1986–1988

In order to achieve other spatial and material economies, social housing often sends its residents through lengthy sequences of interior spaces to access units, at the expense of security and community. Alvaro Siza has said about stairs: “When you enter a building there’s a moment when you come to a stair and you have to stop. Then you must make the effort to position your feet, and then hold onto the handrail, otherwise you’ll fall. For this reason, it’s a crucial episode in a building and this is always extraordinary.”10 In this four-story collective housing project in The Hague, Siza reimagines this philosophy of stairs in transitioning from a series of public collective spaces to private living spaces, all the while responds to the domestic and urban needs of the neighborhood’s mixed residents of Islamic, Dutch, and Southern European origins. Ensuring security through increased visibility of residents coming and going from their homes, each unit is accessed either by doors directly facing onto the street or by overly-wide outdoor staircases that puncture the facade and move into the depth of the plan. Leading up to elevated landings with multiple entrances, each one forms a kind of sheltered townhouse stoop, typical of Dutch housing.

Alvaro Siza, SAAL Bouca Social Housing, Porto, Portugal, 1972–2007

Rows of rectilinear stucco housing units stand adjacent to one another and set across a series of open courtyards in Alvaro Siza’s SAAL Bouca Social Housing project in Porto. One courtyard offers direct ground-floor access to lower-level duplex units, while the next is lined with more than twenty open-air staircases, one for each upper-level duplex unit. Connecting directly with the city’s sidewalk network, neighbors come and go for all to see in these staircase-lined courtyards, which are frequently used by residents for collective celebrations, festivals, and holidays. In contrast to the wide and accommodating external staircases or open-air balcony-type lateral hallways typical to social housing, these unusually narrow and steep staircases – with the thinnest of handrails – dignify the threshold experience of leaving the city and entering one’s own home.

Farshid Moussavi Architecture, Îlot 19 La Defense, Nanterre, France, 2017

In Farshid Moussavi’s Îlot 19 project in Paris, a multitude of discrete staircases with elevators repeat across the ground floor plan to provide private entrances for pairs of individual units, mostly for students, thereby eliminating the need for common corridors and minimizing collective interaction between all residents.11 Smaller groups are favored to larger ones. As a result, horizontal circulation can be turned inside out and recast at the building’s perimeter in the form of deep covered balconies, giving residents expansive views of the city from the upper part of the building. With a range of apartment types, including seventy-two affordable units, nine social housing units, and a singular level of maisonette penthouses, the building is purposefully designed to segregate tenants with different lifestyles, allowing them to live collectively within one building but maintain their autonomy. In a complete reversal of housing projects that often make units specific and public spaces generic, however, durable materials of anodized aluminum, glass, concrete, and hardwood flooring are used in spaces of circulation, while the dwelling units are left bare and amenable to residents making them their own.

Lacaton & Vassal, Housing Hérouville-Saint Clair, Caen, France, 2000

Lacaton & Vassal designed a series of units with individual interior spiral stairs, as well as a central fire stair at twice their radius in a proposal for housing at Hérouville-Saint Clair. Across a field of rectangular units, the regular circular markings of the spiral stairs abstract the plan and turn it into a repeating geometric pattern that complement the circular profiles of existing cylindrical water tanks located adjacent to the site. The floorplans of individual units have a noteworthy efficiency, provided by the tight radius of the spiral stairs. In duplexes, the second-floor landing is compressed to such an extent that the stairs directly lead out onto the bedrooms beyond. Repetition and variation affords a wide variety of lifestyle and domestic arrangements, even within this constrained “kit of parts.” The spatial economy of the core affords unusually broad exterior terraces around the full perimeter of residential floors.12 Here ground floors are converted into open spaces or parking with spiral stairs.

Kazuyo Seijima, Gifu Kitagata, Gifu, Japan, 1996

Kazuyo Seijima’s design for the Gifu Kitagata residential building was part of a large-scale public housing reconstruction project coordinated by Arata Isozaki & Associates. Staircases connect the open-air ground-floor parking spaces to the 107 maisonette and other two-story units hovering above on pilotis. Metal staircases continuously ascend along the facade and provide access to exterior corridors that connect and provide access to each of the individual units. Interior stairs are located at the perimeter of the window wall and lead to a terrace for each. The amount of glass and visibility of the residents activates the building, forming a dynamic public identity. “The silhouettes of people moving inside will be visible on the south facades just like on a cinema screen.”13

LOT-EK, DRIVELINES, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2019

Working in the Maboneng neighborhood of Johannesburg, LOT-EK used abandoned shipping containers to provide 100 apartments. Stacked as two independent bar buildings forming a “V” shape, external staircases look out over an internal courtyard and associated public spaces. The faded brands and original colors of the seventy containers used sets the backdrop to the oversized, perforated metal staircases and corridors. The staircases themselves have enlarged landings that serve as viewing platforms towards the Brutalist architecture of the city’s central business district. While they have the potential to host crowds of people commingling, the shared corridor balconies can be apportioned to each unit when not in more collective use. The stairs enable an expanded life of the apartment that is at once enclosed and secure within the courtyard, while also allowing for an ebb and flow of sharing space and occasionally a cascade of people.14

1 Thank you to Thomas de Monchaux for reading and making suggestions on the working text.
2 John A. Templer, The Staircase: History and Theories (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992).
3 Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: Making and Unmaking the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987). See also the American with Disabilities Act.
4 This project was built for a family member, who lived in the building and rented the remaining spaces to students. Thanks to Adele Santos for the interview, and to Mario Gooden for recommending Ilze Wolff’s important blog.
5 Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (New York: MoMA, 1966), 116.
6 There is no mention even of the elevator, which would be needed to ascend to the highest floor and the main room where residents were to watch television overlooking a framed view of the Philadelphia skyline.
7 Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 130.
8 Susanne Schindler, “Architecture vs. Housing: The Case of Sugar Hill,” Urban Omnibus, September 3, 2014.
9 Kenneth Frampton and Silvia Kolbowski, eds., O.M. Ungers: Works in Progress 1976–1980 (New York: Rizzoli, 1981).
10 Kenneth Frampton, Álvaro Siza Vieira: A Pool in the Sea (IITAC Press, 2018), 40.
11 Farshid Moussavi, “Îlot 19 La Défense.”
12 Lacaton & Vassal, “23 dwellings, Trignac.”
13 Joseph Lluis Mateo, Global Housing Projects: 25 Buildings since 1980 (Barcelona and New York: ETH Zürich/ACTAR, 2008).
14 Karen Eicker, “Drivelines by LOT-EK,” Architectural Record, October 1, 2018.

Apartment No. 3, With Large Skylight

New York, New York, 2020–23

An apartment with a large skylight. The top floor of an old artist’s loft. Plywood. Custom Furniture. Bar Stools. Stools. Table. Chairs. Daybed. Towel Bars. Hooks. Floor Light. Bits of Color. Generous. Space. Warm. Light. Wonderful client. Thoughtful. Kind. Not always easy during construction. Started with a pandemic, ended with a vaccine.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Joel McCullough, Qiazi Chen, Matthew Acer

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“A Conversation about Models”

Michael Meredith, Oliver Lütjens, and Thomas Padmanabhan, Log 50: Model Behavior (Winter/Spring 2021).

This began like a lot of things nowadays, with a random email, about how it would be great to do something together. MOS – Lütjens Padmanabhan or Lütjens Padmanabhan – MOS. Long pauses between responses. The Log issue on models, maybe? Emails late at night, early in the morning, maybe? No idea where or when they are. A glowing window on my phone. Back and forth a few times. Looking at each other’s work through social media, searches. I knew some of their projects, but we don’t really know each other, we still don’t, wasn’t even sure what they looked like when we started, but it’s obvious we share architectural values and sympathies. – MM

Michael Meredith: I fell in love with your work through the models, the photographs of models in particular. I haven’t seen your buildings in person, but I’m sure they would be good. I can tell from seeing the models. There’s a sort of economy and playfulness, an ambiguity between flatness and volume, games of scale that are done really well, a good color sensibility. The abstract models have a graphic quality, where things feel economic in a good way, not overly articulated, luxurious, or upper-class, but industrial, affordable. Assemblies of readymades and products. Looking at them makes me think of other architects, like Adolf Loos or Álvaro Siza, Venturi, Scott Brown or John Hejduk. In general, abstraction allows us to find things we want to find. Perhaps I’m projecting my interests into your work. This can be a problem with abstraction, too. But your work oscillates between this abstraction and blankness of the architecture and the realism of the model, where you have weight, material, color, and so on. Where renderings or drawings rely mainly on the visual as representation, models inevitably have to do more work than a drawing, they have to hold themselves together, deal with humidity, glue, structure… I’m curious what you think of this? Do you see the model as a thing in itself or a prop for image making? Do you have any concerns about me projecting references and/or an architecture of quotations?

Oliver Lütjens: For us the model is certainly a thing in itself. We start building working models at the 1:50 scale in the early stages of a project, just as we gain enough certainty about the general size and layout of a building. 1:50 is a great scale because you can decide how much detail you want to build or leave out. For instance, it might not be relevant to build the window frames, yet you can judge the impact of a special roof detail on the whole building. We also love this scale because the models have a real physical presence in our office. If a project gets built, its model is in our studio for around two years. Even if at some point we stop working on it, we look at it every day. We see it from all different kinds of angles, in different light, in relation to other projects. Even though our models are, as you noted, rather abstract, they stay an important authority when we detail the project. Usually the model is always right – especially when made quickly in the heat of a deadline, with intuition rather than thought. For us working with models is a tool to look at architecture as a language of form. A language that is evolving, that allows you to copy or to quote and make things your own. I think we have a lot of common ground in the way our models inform our way of thinking about architecture. I guess sometimes both of our built works even look a bit like models. I asked my wife what she thought of the image we selected for an Xmas card. It looks like the others, she said. What do you mean? I asked. It’s a model, like the others. When I told her it was the actual building she had to look twice to see the difference! Lately you have found a beautiful way of making images, photographs of models with very subtle but strange computer backgrounds. They are super atmospheric and remind me of surrealist painting, particularly Dalí. Your buildings are mute but enigmatic. They are filled with lights and stuff, and are surrounded by the most adorable model rocks. I would be curious to hear about how you work with models and what they mean to you.

MM: Yeah. It’s similar. We work at half-inch = one foot, close to 1:50. Prototypes, fragments, material samples, large foam-core and paper models have all been hanging around the office ever since we started. It helps us see what we’re doing. We’re pretty literal, we need to see it to see it. This comes from Hilary, she pushed models from the beginning. Maybe it’s from her time at OMA. I remember visiting her in Rotterdam and the models were huge, with lots of little blocky model furniture floating around. Models were the primary object of study, where you tested out forms, materials, etc…. They were always a wonderful mess. I think the photograph of the model has become more important than the working model at the moment. Before, the model was more for the office, working through ideas, now it’s for making images, they’re theatrical. Both of us stage our models. At the beginning, we used to photograph everything in the dark and say it was to create a moody environment, where the architecture was more mysterious, on the verge of disappearing or appearing. We claimed that we were sort of anti bright white V-Ray rendering and pro moody darkness. The reality was we didn’t have the proper lighting equipment anyway. In dim lighting I think the model became more and more of a stage set, a bunch of props for image making, effects, and little videos. Like everything in our office, over time, models have become more and more technically demanding, requiring more precision to achieve a sort of abstract realism or surrealism realism. Muteness through folded paper. After we started photographing models, we quickly began making stop-motion videos with them too, with narratives, and then non-narrative narratives. Nothing happens in our stories. Maybe this came from my experience of being in Marfa and also working with Pierre Huyghe, or our love of the Eameses, or OMA, like I just mentioned. It’s hard to piece it together after the fact. After Assemblage ended in 2000, we were all making more than we were theorizing. I think we and a lot of our friends wanted to be in the world doing architecture, not just representing things. Models and videos seemed closer to the world, and for what it’s worth, the models in our office happened along with a renewed interest in literature, in reading and writing, after meeting some of the McSweeney’s people and David Foster Wallace, and being around writers. I was reading The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, short stories by Donald Barthelme and Lydia Davis, stuff writers recommended to me that they thought I’d like. I love the story of confusing the model photo with the real photo. I think that’s how we (architects) exist in the world. So how would you describe your architectural language or expression? It’s not a parade of novelty, but there is a consistency to it. If I said it was both refined and clunky, or if I said it was playful, abstract but also not radically new looking, would you be okay with that? I see a careful calibration in your work. At first glance it looks effortless, almost ready-made, or sort of undesigned, but is very careful and precise when you look a little closer. There are interesting games of symmetry-asymmetry in the facades and plans. I think we share this desire for certain effects, but maybe our architectural expression is tied to our different building conditions. For us that’s pitched roofs and wood-frame construction, cheap construction techniques. Yours is perhaps more concrete and steel?

TP: Your work has something that Oliver and I were hoping would come to Europe from America for some time: an architectural reflection on the possibilities of the American house, largely made with the usual elements and materials of ordinary American houses. Half a century after Frank Gehry’s early projects, finally. This is how I like to see your work, and your models. I completely agree with your generous reading of our models and projects, with one exception regarding the notion and nature of abstraction. We never speak about abstraction. But, as you said, there is a lot of abstraction in our models. I guess the reason we avoid that word is because we’re more focused on other things while we work. The abstraction is more a result of the situations that we build in. Switzerland is very different from the United States. We usually have tiny irregular plots that have to be used to the maximum. As a result, the building volume is essentially dictated by the building law. This means that the incredible unity between figure and form that we admire in your work is impossible for us to achieve. We are literally confronted with the task of transforming an ugly volume into architecture through the design of the facade! That also explains the strange slippage between interior and facade that we often experience when we struggle to find an adequate exterior expression. So that’s one reason. We also look to the history of architecture in constructing frameworks for our buildings, engaging in things like Italian architecture from the Renaissance. We’re historical, but not vernacular…

OL: Yes, our architectural expression is very much tied to the specific conditions of building in Switzerland. In fact, I would even say we found our means of expression through building. This might sound very Swiss, but it’s not the refined way of building like Diener & Diener, Peter Zumthor, or Valerio Olgiati. We never had the opportunity to rely on reduction, the essence of material, and the value of craft like the generations of Swiss architects before us. Our projects are conventional programs like apartments. They almost always come with the need to build economically. Therefore, we work our way through the constraints and resistance of catalogue products, standardized systems, and the need to heavily insulate. The cheapest way to build in Switzerland is a raw construction of brick walls and concrete slabs on which you add 20 to 30 centimeters of insulation to the outside. With a layered construction like this, the means of expression are only found within the last few centimeters (or sometimes millimeters). This fundamental condition leads us to explore an architecture that is relying on surface rather than mass. It is light and thin, it is literally open, for it has joints and cracks, it is faceted, layered, and plastic. We omit the closed box for an open figure. I am not sure if I can describe our architectural language, maybe Thomas can. But when we design a facade, for instance, it certainly feels like using a kind of general architectural language. We work with proportion, order, rhythm, and composition. We are not thinking in images or in types, therefore we have no shortcuts at hand. Like in writing, it is an arduous process of putting one thing next to the other. I admire the ease with which you deal with volume in your work. It’s like a language made out of objects, an assemblage of types and figures, such as the Krabbesholm Højskole school, where two building parts seem to nudge, or the main elevation of the House with Courtyard, which is formed by two equal pieces (or one broken piece). These are moments where seemingly autonomous entities are looking for a form of connection. It reminds me of works by Aldo Rossi and Ettore Sottsass. In a similar way, we construct a volume using different planes and layers, although we do not think of it as a volumetric entity from the start. You said that the way you were using models became more theatrical. I wonder if not only the models became more theatrical but also the buildings. A bit like the Palladian villas, which create this amazing sense of place in a gentle yet monumental way. Thomas was speaking about the American house. I was wondering, is your work less about the house and more about the American landscape?

MM: All the superstar-architect type of work is unavailable to us too. I love it, but it’s too refined, too elegant, too expensive. For better or worse, we are stuck working with really cheap budgets. Clients looking for a bargain. Maybe because of this I feel like our work is becoming more and more American. It feels strange to say that. I am uncomfortable with nationalist narratives, Swiss and American, etcetera, but at the same time there are histories and specific situations that we are all dealing with. It really is difficult for me to say American architecture, it feels backward, although I say Japanese, Chinese, Swiss, Belgian, Spanish, Russian, Chilean… So much of history and curatorial agendas are framed within nationalism, shows like “Contemporary Japanese Architecture.” That said, I can’t think of any shows on American architecture. I think the school and the house you’re talking about have a physicality that might come from working in models and may be indebted to specific narratives of vernacular construction, industrial construction, pragmatism, a sensibility of materiality and structure, economy, bluntness, objectness, literalism, blankness, playfulness, stuff embodied in figures like Venturi Scott Brown, Ray and Charles Eames, Louis Kahn, Anne Tyng, early Frank Gehry, Charles Moore, John Hejduk, Donald Judd… The list goes on. Last year, Hilary and I taught a design studio that revisited the MoMA Things in the Making: Contemporary Architecture and the Pragmatist Imagination conference in 2000. It was such an interesting event. I reread the debate between Cornel West and Rem Koolhaas, which seems more important nowadays than at the time. West argues against Rem and neoliberalism, suggesting that we can’t just erase national narratives because that would be inherently ahistorical, while Rem takes a very neoliberal view and says they’re problematic, prefers a globalist perspective where there isn’t necessarily a significant distinction between France and Germany, for example. West’s argument is that without narratives like our national identity, race, class, history, the discipline, and so on, money and capital and corporate power will fill their vacuum. Our histories, as horrible as they might be, are important. Without them things become too generalized, or universalized. West’s argument sounds right to me. We’ve been interested in capital P Pragmatism and the particularly American history of it. Trying to reconcile scientific empiricism with non-rational/scientific belief structures. We can’t remove material construction and economics from form. I love what you said about the layers of construction, knowing how to manipulate that last few centimeters is maybe enough, and this idea of putting one thing after another, piece by piece. I once heard Kurt Vonnegut talk (I think it was Vonnegut) about his writing process, which was similar, building up piece by piece.

TP: Pragmatism! We are so envious of the pragmatism in your work! It is pragmatic, which to us is different from just being practical. We build in Switzerland, where the weight of rules makes building incredibly expensive and heavy, not only in practice, but also in a conceptual way. The cost difference between a “cheap” and an expensive building is minimal. So where do you find the freedom and the wiggle room to develop direct, unfiltered work?

MM: Yeah, it’s a very different situation, a different culture of construction, labor, and liability. We work through small projects that are under $300 per square foot, very bare-bones projects. I don’t think this type of work exists there. Over time, we’ve learned to love things like pitched roofs, blankness, corrugated metal, aluminum storefronts through a sort of necessity. They are just the elements of economic building, not signifiers of “architecture.” Models are similar. We have limited means and try to figure out how to work with what’s readily available – foam core and paper. Do you build the model like the building? It seems to me that the act of layering material versus casting a solid model makes it more like a building. Do you think of it as a building, not just as a model or representation, but something that has its own life? What makes it different from a photo-realistic rendering?

TP: We really do build our models like buildings. When we work on a competition, we build the interior structure of the model as soon as we solve most of the floor-plan problems. Then we work on the models and the plans in parallel. We stick parts of potential facades to the structural model, look at the model, take the parts off, and rebuild it. Over and over… Today, computer renderings used in architectural practice privilege a perspectival view of form and space. We are skeptical of perspectives as they feel too subjective to us. They are about one view point and end up being more about the composition of the image than the form and composition of the work that is being represented. In perspectives, proportions are distorted and complex tectonic ideas are lost in the dynamic character of the image. Models, and even photographs of models, retain a certain objectivity, a factual reality outside of the observer and outside of the author. There are always different ways to see the work through models, similar to built work. To us, model photographs are a way to avoid the propaganda and kitsch of computer rendering. Still, in model photographs there is an inherent danger that they can start to look like poorly executed renderings, especially when their context is done in a more naturalistic way. Our models look best when they are photographed in a cold, non atmospheric setting. When the context is cold, the architecture feels warm. We try to give only minimal clues of its urban and topographic context, similar to the late portraits of Titian, where a few loose brushstrokes are sufficient to define the landscape or domestic space in the background.

OL: We leave it to the imagination…

MM: I know what you mean about the kitschiness of renders. The almost photo-realistic ones have a sort of glossy corporate tone, and even though this may be a sort of pre-Warhol Clement Greenberg thinking, the corporate renders, representation, and cheesy commercial stuff still feels wrong to us. That said, someone like WOJR does renders that somehow are so real that they don’t fall into this reading. They feel like photographs. I know this sounds naive, but we are academic practicing architects, an oxymoron. And our work is not always clear even to us, which is why we are constantly making things, looking, searching, making again. With this in mind, I guess a basic question is why build physical models when it’s easy to make digital ones. Maybe it’s even easier to be completely digital nowadays. This makes me think about Brian Massumi’s argument in “On the Superiority of the Analog” and Alexander Galloway’s response. For Massumi, the analog is the system that allows for the digital. The analog is primary and the digital is secondary. Galloway argues that analog and digital are equivalent and inextricable. Our work has constantly played in this collapse of the digital and analog, the early software experiments with video game physics, our representation, our writing. Thinking about models in particular, a digital-analog spectrum is a way we can locate all practices nowadays. We all work in this space in between. Some practices are more digital and some more analog. This said, I suppose we would err on the side of the analog over the digital because, in the end, we are architects interested in making buildings in the world – larger-scale models.

Artist Retreat No. 2

Hudson, New York, 2019–In Progress

A long house collective art studio sunken into the ground.  Cabins for artists in residence scattered within a beautiful site. Overgrown. Art in the landscape. Serial. One after another. A series of small cabins. Some alone, some paired. Large thick living roof. T shape. Wild. 4 elements. A stove, slightly off-center. A roof, square and overhanging. An enclosure, in folded weathering steel, or maybe aluminum. A retreat. Square windows. A mound, on the roof. Or smaller mounds. Landscaped like the surroundings. Deep shelves as structural braces. Plywood interior. Material. Folded steel outside and above. Weathering Steel. Some horizontal, some vertical. Some filled with tapered insulation. Everything based on a 2’ grid. Think of architecture in terms of sheet material. As long as standard sheets will allow. We imagined building things ourselves. We do not want to build it, but do what we have to. We began with everything in metal and foam. We thought about the least labor. The least amount of processing of material. Large. Lightweight. Things started, stopped, started, stopped, and started again. Stopped for now.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Matthew Acer, Mark Kamish, Paul Ruppert, Lafina Eptaminitaki

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Studio No. 4, With Flat Roof

Location Withheld at Request, 2019

A studio with a flat roof. A studio for making things. Art or anything or almost anything. It is an assembly of 120 foam blocks and more than 600 pieces of bent aluminum. The foam is scaled for infrastructure, for highways and roads, the metal is more like a mail-order shed. A piece of furniture. Or an old tin toy. Still trying to convince someone to make a foam building. Things look simple, direct. Maybe cold. All this sits atop a thick slab, floating amidst a field of trees. A low res aircraft carrier. A lot of insulation. An overweight lightweight Wright. Like rock beanbags. The present configuration arranged 3 identical volumes. Stepping. But needs might grow, and volumes may be added. 3 might become 5, or 7. If it’s too expensive it might become 2 or 1 or nothing. Or everything might be moved to another site, another field. All services and storage are held to the studio’s center, alongside a spiral stair to the roof. The flat roof can become a flatbed surface of things, a stage, a backyard, a basement, a combine, a personal junkyard. The roof is a yard. A place to relax and for everything in progress, forgotten, imagined, referenced, bought, sold. A place for things you don’t know what to do with yet.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Lafina Eptaminitaki, Paul Ruppert

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An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures without Architecture

Book, 1,256 pages. London and Cambridge: MIT Press. Including Raymund Ryan, “Go Figure!,” and Martino Stierli, “Fare Buona Figura….” 8.25” x 11”.

“Architects Draw People,” by Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample

Ask anyone, “What do architects do?” and most will reply, “Architects draw buildings.” They will likely imagine a myopic figure, often dressed in black, huddled at her/his/their desk, obsessing over details. This image is not all wrong, but architects also draw, add, copy, or notate people to go along with everything we make. It is impossible to represent architecture without representing the human. Even when the human presence is intentionally left out or is reduced to a faceless set of measurements, it haunts architecture in its absence.

As such, the point of this book, An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures without Architecture, is to collect various architects’ representations of life into a single document. We began this project with no strong methodology other than to cast a wide net, scouring both library and Internet to collect drawings by architects we knew to produce significant buildings and drawings or those we simply thought of at the time. Then we deleted the architecture and context of these representations to focus specifically on the humans depicted by various architects or architecture offices. If we found nothing, we noted as much. While compiling all of these images, we were surprised to find that many architects simply do not represent people. Equally surprising, we found that architects who arguably have or claim nothing in common sometimes share an attitude toward scale figures (or lack thereof). Perhaps the absence of such figures is evidence of desires for the so-called posthuman; perhaps including people simply would have obscured representation of the architecture; or perhaps the architects just didn’t get to it. Throughout the Encyclopedia one can find architects who represent the human as inchoate scribbles, draw them by hand, exaggerate features, create a style, emphasize the geometric or mechanical aspects of bodies … And architects who reference other scale figures, collage themselves as scale figures, make political statements, want to portray a mood or attitude, want to make the human as uninteresting as possible, show only backsides or only silhouettes, are eclectic, and so on. One can also see the relationship to media and technology through how architects represent people: in gaussy, transparent Photoshop silhouettes; models collaged from lifestyle glossies and on-the-street fashion blogs; soft charcoal smudge-sketches; watercolors; full-color graphic illustrations; etcetera. We tried to include broad-ranging examples; but, when skimming the Encyclopedia, please accept our apologies for those offices and buildings we have neglected to include. We did what we could to be as inclusive as possible within the relatively narrow medium of architectural publications. After all, the point was never to be complete – an impossibility nowadays – but rather to be as broad as could be managed within our given resources. And we tried. We collected over 1,000 figures produced by over 250 architects, and (with a few exceptions) we present every figure at the same scale. Scale figures are a fundamental part of any professional’s arsenal; we architects have all amassed folders upon folders on our servers filled with these fictional people. And although scale figures are only of those things that most of us take for granted in day-to-day practice, they are no doubt a disciplinary problem, a fact which became increasingly evident as we assembled the Encyclopedia. It might seem naively absurd, but as we stared at the countless figures in this book it became hard to see them as anything but a kind of global citizenry. They are Architecture’s refugees. They travel the world, popping up from time to time on reviews, and in student work. And the more we looked at them, the more we thought about both the architecture offices that created them and the wonderfully diverse world we all live in – a world which seems ever more intolerant of difference and increasingly inhuman.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Michael Abel, Jacob Comerci, Taylor Cornelson, Michaela Friedberg, Paul Ruppert

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Object No. X, Chair of 1 Part, No. 2

A chair made from 1 part. Rearrangeable. Many different chairs possible. Designs we can’t think of yet. Maybe a stool. Enzo Mari in aluminum, sort of. Something like a 2 x 4, but different. The number of parts can change depending on use. Extra pieces can be used for ornament. Or to pile. It’s clunky. It depends on your mood.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Paul Ruppert

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“MMM: Multiple Resolutions”

Michael Meredith, Mark Foster Gage, and Michael Young, Log 46 (Summer 2019).

On April 11, 2019, Michael Young, assistant professor at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union, hosted a conversation at the school between two New York–based architects and educators, Mark Foster Gage and Michael Meredith. Young characterized the meeting as a middleweight boxing match, as it was the first face-to-face exchange between the two men, who had previously stated their positions in Log, and gave them an opportunity to spar over the state of architecture in real time. What follows is an edited excerpt of the transcript.

MICHAEL YOUNG: About a year ago my partner Kutan Ayata and I were interviewed for Tarp, the Pratt School of
Architecture journal. The interview began with a series of binary choices to elicit quick responses to things like Mies
or Corb, wood or marble – you had to choose one. And then came this question: Are you object-oriented ontology (OOO) or indifference? First of all, it’s a funny question, because if you’re indifferent to it then you have already chosen a side. Conversely, if you choose one or the other, you can’t be indifferent. More important, I didn’t know these two positions were in opposition. But I did know what the question was referring to. It originated in articles written by Michael Meredith and Mark Foster Gage in two consecutive issues of Log. In his Log 39 essay “Indifference, Again,” Michael argues that there is a younger generation of architects that no longer cares about formal experimentation through technology or the moral promises of sustainability or the ethical issues of
social justice, but is simply indifferent to these as architectural positions. Mark wrote a response in Log 40, titled “Speculation vs. Indifference,” in which he claims there are several developments in contemporary architecture that don’t fall under this label of indifference or into the positivistic problem-solving categories Michael identified. One development that falls outside these definitions Mark locates in the influence of speculative realism and Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology.

What’s important to me is not whether these ideas are antithetical positions but that these architects care to have a debate, to publicly put forward disciplinary arguments as architectural discourse. This is something we are sorely lacking today: people willing to put something on the line, have a disagreement, and through this disagreement, hopefully get somewhere in terms of defining what it is that we’re doing today as a discipline.

To open tonight’s discussion, I want to highlight issues of representation and aesthetics that are crucial concerns for both architects. I’ll do this by showing three pairs of images that should suggest possible talking points. I will refer to Mark as MFG and Michael as MOS. It’s important to realize that this work is the product of practices, not individuals. Mark has worked with numerous employees over the years, and Michael’s practice is in partnership with Hilary Sample and a collaboration with numerous others.

The first image pair shows two models. The fact that they are tilted at exactly the same angle and treat apertures with a similar gold trim is weird, but there are some important differences. For MFG the formal expression is treated as an inflected yet coherent whole that is then intensely articulated internally. For MOS the massing is a purposefully awkward displacement of odd primitive elements articulated flatly and abstractly to sit in a kind of nonchalant adjacency.

These are clearly different aesthetic positions regarding composition, which seems to suggest a way to identify traits of their two positions. MFG has made a very strange object, it is hard to define its scale, materiality, and allusive mechanical and geological qualities, yet it is clearly the product of an intense refinement of architectural expression. MOS has made an odd ensemble of vaguely familiar objects, producing the appearance of informality and casualness, yet to create this effect requires a significant amount of expertise. Labor concealed through indifference?
The second pair compares drawings. Again, I like the odd similarity of the overall geometries. MFG’s drawing plays
on conventions of the architectural construction document, especially the extreme end of technical drawings. MOS’s plan is radically simple. The line weight of the furniture is as strong as that of the walls, which have been simplified to a single-line diagram. It would be easy to describe the MOS drawing as abstract and the MFG drawing as realism. But these categories miss the fact that both representations are attempts to advance conceptual agendas through aesthetics. The informality and equality of the entourage in the MOS plan speculates on inhabitation. The intensity of the notational excess in MFG’s drawing creates a plausible reality we know to be absurd. In different manners they both use the aesthetics of abstraction to comment on “the real” through representation.

The last pair of images concerns the issue of resolution. Both digital renderings use resolution to create an atmosphere that establishes the mood of the scenario. In MOS’s aerial axonometric, lowres, three-color screening is demonstrative of the digital medium in which it was generated. In MFG’s rendering, the context of sand and sky is rendered with high fidelity to approach the resolution of photography. These images raise important questions. All architects work digitally and we all work through images. All digital images deal with resolution as a fundamental question. Is an image critical if it calls attention to lowres pixelization as a kind of honesty about the digital medium? Does immersion in high-res, photo-real imagery automatically entail nefarious seduction? These assumptions seem too accepted to be of much use. Is there really any “high-res” or “low-res,” or is it more likely that resolution attracts attention only through the juxtaposition of multiple resolutions?

Let’s start with this question of resolution. We say the word resolution and we think we know what we’re talking about, but I know you both have differing opinions about it. Is there a shared place in which we can overlap a debate, a discourse, a discussion about the issue of resolution? Michael, you recently curated a show at Princeton called “44 Low-Resolution Houses,” so I’m assuming you have something to say about resolution.

MM: Nowadays, I feel the need to describe and group work in reaction to the atomization of the field. It’s very basic; I want to produce collectives to find ways of arguing aesthetics and value systems: this is more low-res, that is more high-res. The groupings are very abstract at some level. It started from looking around and seeing what work
is being produced, and perhaps it’s related to the indifference thing – there is work being produced, discussed, and propped up in architecture that seems to be against the progressive technique-based narratives that the three of us were all taught. We come out of a moment in the field that was very much engaged in progressive arguments based on technology and technique. It used to be that we would find small differences and argue over who used different techniques. Everyone knew what software everybody was using, whether Maya or Rhino or writing their own
software. I don’t think anybody cares about that stuff now, and if anything, it might be going too far in the other direction. The low-res show, with all its problems – I understand it’s relatively vague – was a way to try to
group things and produce a structure around it. I felt like people who are high-res would be happily high-res and people who are low-res – nobody’s happy to be labeled anything nowadays – would be happily low-res. The show was also a way to have a technological narrative in the mix. I could have said basic houses or dumb houses. The fact that it was called low-res is because technology is still lurking around. Even technology is a very fuzzy word – too broad, perhaps.

MFG: The low-resolution show is a good place to start. I just want to give a little shoutout to why OOO is a part of this discussion. Its fundamental tenet is that you value objects for their individual qualities rather than their relationships with other things. For instance, Deleuze would say a water bottle isn’t a water bottle; it’s some chemicals that happen to make plastic, presently in the form of a bottle, and on their way to becoming a different chemical arrangement in a landfill. Deleuze would say everything is a process on the trajectory of becoming something else. OOO says no, this water bottle is a water bottle in this moment in time, and it is a singular object with specific qualities: perhaps transparency and flexible plasticity and things we humans can notice. But it also has a lot of qualities that we cannot sense, which I’ll talk about in a minute. I was initially interested in that idea because it is a fantastic intellectual weapon against parametricism, which is all about the interrelationships of things – thousands of tiny little parts. This is related to that, which is related to that. OOO, on the other hand, is about individual objects and their qualities. What I found problematic about the low-resolution show is that it was about the interrelationship between the 44
houses, not their individual qualities. Because they all shared some particular aspect of low-res, the show was about being able to categorize them rather than revealing any of their particular architectural qualities as individual
entities. What wasn’t on the table was how these particular houses produce any architectural qualities that are sensible to humans or the value of what was produced. The idea of a show like that plays into a standard rep-
ertoire of Enlightenment categorization, where you have species, genus, family, order, etcetera. The Enlightenment’s contribution to science was to parcel things into categories to study them. But when you put something into a category it means you think you know something about that thing, so you’re less likely to look at the thing itself. By having 44 low-resolution houses all shown in the same way, Michael’s making a statement about the value of a collective narrative – architecture as categories as opposed to the architectural and aesthetic qualities of any one house. I am far more interested in the actual qualities of things in the world than the conceptual vagaries of how they’re categorized in some antiquated Enlightenment way. There are new ways to understand things on the table now that largely emerge from aesthetics, which allows us to go far beyond mere abstract collective categorization. I just don’t see the value anymore of creating categories in architecture. All it does is force us to play the game of what fits in what camp and we never talk about architecture – only how it’s grouped.

MM: I like this already. It’s getting good. One counterpoint…

MFG: No counterpoint. I won, you didn’t.

[laughs]

MM: Fair enough, but one counterpoint to OOO is, why does all the work look similar or related?

MFG: Whose work looks similar? David Ruy’s work, my work, Tom Wiscombe’s work, Michael Young’s work?

MM: I’d group it together.

MFG: How could you possibly put it together? You have to be more specific than that.

MM: Well, we could talk about the role of figuration of surface.

MFG: Let’s talk about that because I don’t see any similarity. The reason we started looking at the fundamental operative system of architecture – that is to say, a shift from architecture’s Deleuzian (and parametric) emphasis on becoming to one of ontological existence, literally of being and the qualities of being – was because it wasn’t merely a new formal style. It was a fundamental philosophical idea that could prompt the development of many different formal directions and therefore resist mere stylistic categorization. Architecture should be way, way beyond style at this point. Saying there’s commonality in my work and Tom Wiscombe’s work is a gross overstatement. Tom uses smooth but patterned or folded surfaces to reveal slightly hidden volumes existing deeper within an architectural form. My work hasn’t used a complex smooth surface for nearly a decade. I think you’re making a lazy categorization based on what you know of our pasts. Again, categorization rather than actual observation.

MM: Come on, there are similarities grouped under the OOO moniker. Generally, OOO work can be seen as an extension of the ’90s complexity project – figuration, digital tools, flows of matter, curvature, the effects of movement, perhaps post-Greg Lynn Ark of the World, post-Zaha Hadid. The work is very much based in specific modeling tools
and techniques. Whereas we are interested in pragmatism, so we have a different relationship to the world, to the economy, to construction, etcetera. I’m against architecture’s foundation as purely empiricism or science.
We play with things like typology, but not the Aldo Rossi essentializing model of urban grammar. Rafael Moneo tweaks Rossi a little, hints at a more open, shifting definition of type in “On Typology,” but it doesn’t go as far as it could. At the moment, I am interested in us looking together at things as a group, in arguing about their value and meaning, reviving or finding new or alternate typologies. The discipline of architecture is simply looking at
things together, structuring similarities and differences. For instance, I may see similarities in your work and the work of Tom Wiscombe, and you may not, but that tension is incredibly productive for the field. In any of these shows, or in grouping people in the indifference article, there are radical differences when you look closely. Imagine the “Primary Structures” show from 1966. I’m sure everyone included said, I’m not minimalist, I’m totally different. You need to stage the similarities to look at the differences more carefully. OOO does that too. I hope that people look closely at the houses, that was the whole point. I wasn’t trying to make them equivalent.

MFG: You erased all of their differences. You did them all out of white Bristol paper, put them on the same pedestals, against the same curtained backdrop, at the same height, and then essentially branded them “MOS Office” by numbering them like you do your own projects. I think in that show you’re making a subtle but strategic play to set yourself up as the godfather of this group of people by forcing them into what is essentially a category of your own projects. Anyone can do that – someone who does architecture that is only in red can find 44 projects from around the world that are also red and say, Look, it’s a new movement! Something new and fantastic and relevant is happening! I could easily find 44 projects now that make it seem like the future of architecture is all spheres or clapboard siding or yellow mobile homes. You erased their differences to make them fit into your own agenda.

MM: No, there are both differences and similarities. The materiality was notational. The models operated a little like drawings. The students at Princeton encoded the materiality in colored lines.

MY: Michael, maybe you can speak more specifically about how you’re thinking about resolution. Because when you and I have had previous conversations about resolution, it was much more than a relationship to digital images or the resolution of rasters. It had something to do with composition and material construction. Because I agree with Mark.
If everything is in white Bristol board, then it controls or limits how we see the differences.

MM: Again, they may have looked white, but the models were delineated, showing material and construction, even though they highlighted the formal aspects more than the material ones. There were basically three categories for low-res. One had low-res house components, like a pitched roof or a window or a chimney or a dormer. Another was low-res construction tectonics, cheaply made or roughly made, no curvature or smoothed out or anything; the projects expressed that they were put together parts and materials. And the last category was a compositional low-res, with heavy abstraction like a circle or a square in plan – very little composition. Those were three ways of defining low-res.

MFG: Again, that’s more categorizing. That’s the problem with the Enlightenment categorization, it masquerades as discourse but you just spend all your time talking about what things go in which box. It’s very difficult getting to actual architectural qualities and aesthetics because academic arguments such as the ones you’re making are about whether something is in this or that category.

MM: I guess I subscribe to Wölfflinian models of art history or architecture. I believe in comparison. I believe in everything being in conversation. You put things next to each other, then you look at them and try to find similarities and differences. I don’t know what it means when you say look at a building on its own terms. I couldn’t do it. I’m happy if you can do it. I can’t. I experience and look at buildings in relation to other experiences, buildings, and objects.

MFG: That’s impossible. You can’t be in Villa Savoye and the Farnsworth House at the same time to compare their actual architectural qualities side by side. You can only compare your concept of each, or representations of them, side by side – never the actual things and their actual qualities. Francis Bacon use to talk about his paintings working directly on the nervous system. I experience architecture that way, individually and directly.
For me, architecture’s great strength is that it can’t be reduced to a drawing and maintain any of its actual qualities – nor digitized, for that matter. When I experience architecture in person, I find myself being more curious about its qualities. I get much more excited about the things I realize I didn’t or can’t know than the things I thought I did.

MM: So do I.

MFG: I’m sitting here in front of a microphone that you can put in the category of microphone or machine or audio equipment, but you can also – and this would be an aspect of OOO – try to go deeper into its qualities. For example, this microphone’s stem is made from aluminum, which is only forged in a supernova of dying stars. This aluminum is over four billion years old, because it’s on Earth, but no more than 13 billion years, as that’s how old the universe is. It makes this microphone far more interesting to think of it in terms of its qualities – even the ones we can’t access – than one’s ability to put it in the audio section of B&H. I think your show puts a bunch of houses in a section of B&H rather than looking at the qualities of any of the houses in particular. The act of categorization removes the curiosity
to go more deeply into things. You think you understand things when you put them in a category, but you don’t.

MM: I totally disagree. I’m not talking about scientific categorization. We’ve been through typology as science and through technique as positivist methodology. These got to heightened levels in the ’90s when everyone was looking for all kinds of pseudoscientific or evolutionary/biological readings of architecture, like hybridization or biomimicry, or trying to focus on novel techniques as a way out of type/categorization. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a much more collective act of looking, evaluating, situating work, and comparing it.

MFG: But why does it have to be the same old way of talking about things? This is why I wrote in Log 40 in opposition to your piece on indifference. You began by saying there are two directions in architecture. There is technology, sustainability, social justice, all this other stuff, and then there’s me and my cool friends doing indifference. And you’re making little tribes of categories. This is my cool tribe. This is what’s going on. I’m the leader of this.

MM: I didn’t say I was the leader.

MFG: You did, in the way you organized the low-res show and presented each house as your own project just by numbering them, house one, house two. That’s what you do on [the MOS] website.

MM: Oh, you’re talking about the graphic listing. Let’s do one subject at a time.

MFG: It’s the same thing. You’ve created a category of low-res that happens to be a lot like your own work. Then you list them in the same way you do your work. To me, you are implying, if not claiming some sort of leadership of this group of low-res architects.

MM: Let me start with indifference, then the low-res thing. Unlike OOO, I wasn’t starting with an a priori philosophy. I’m happy to talk philosophy with you, but I didn’t start with that. I was looking at the world around me, looking at qualities and aesthetics that are already out there. My label was meant as a compliment by comparing the work to “The Aesthetic of Indifference” and relating it to an important moment in art with figures like Cage, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, etcetera, suggesting that this could be a similar moment. Originally, I was asked by Cynthia Davidson to write something about Donald Trump, and so I brought him in through Roy Cohn and McCarthyism and the art production that happens during a moment of incredibly extreme politics. I referred to the article “The Aesthetic of Indifference,” written by Moira Roth in the late ’70s for Artforum. I thought of it as a positive. I meant it as support for young offices out there. I also think it felt true to my experience. Ask around, there isn’t a real desire for ideology. If you ask young architects if they are for OOO or indifference they might say, yeah, I’m both. Or if you ask, are you a modernist? Yeah. Are you a post-modernist? Yeah. Do you like this? Yeah. Do you like that? Yeah. Nobody wants to cancel out any possibilities, because they realize it’s a death sentence. Most people want to be everything. And this nonnecessity or desire to not have ideology is interesting. That said, I don’t know if it’s a sustainable model. Regarding the graphics, we’re not the first to number houses.

MY: Let’s shift direction. In aesthetic movements, realism is the tension between reality and its representation. People who work with appropriation are often labeled under realism because of the ways they shift attention to different aspects or qualities of the world. The second quality in your low-res group, the clunkiness of a material connection and its detailing, I would associate with questions of realism, of directing attention to something that is usually overlooked.

MM: Yeah, there’s some realism.

MFG: There’s a story that I think Robin Evans tells, but I believe it’s originally from either Serlio or Alberti. I open the introduction to my monograph with it. A person in a room is looking out a window toward a house on a hill. The person can see the object of the house on the hill as architecture, as a physical entity with aesthetic qualities. The person could picture that house in her mind, as a concept, and understand it as architecture in that way, or the person could draw the outline of the house on the window and understand the representation as architecture. The debate historically has been whether architecture is the thing that happens in the mind, the thing that happens on the window, or the thing that happens on the hill. I’m only interested in the house on the hill, that’s my realism. I don’t spend time fetishizing or presenting drawings, or dreaming up some sort of genius concept – like, say, Calatrava calling the Oculus a dove being released from the hands of a child.

MM: What are you talking about?

MFG: When architecture fetishizes concepts, like my building is like a bird, the question is not about its actual qualities but about seeing its birdness. Architecture’s value then comes from the idea of it being a bird, and
you recognizing birdness. I believe your show replaces birdness with low-resness. You call a house low-res, so people look for its low-resness instead of trying to understand it as a more complex and rich entity. My interest
in realism is that it places a heavy emphasis on architecture as the thing that exists in the world, on the hill.

MM: I’m definitely interested in architecture as a thing in the world, on the hill, but the either-or aspects of your arguments are odd to me. It’s as if qualities or realism are totally unmediated – either you have a pure experience of qualities or you have a silly metaphorical relationship. And for some reason these are opposed to each other. All I was doing was trying to put things in dialogue with each other and give a starting point for a conversation. Also, for sure, MOS’s work is very much in the world, concerned with building, experience, qualities, economy, construction, etcetera.
Thinking about OOO and you talking about the microphone and dying stars, I’m reminded that the various ways we look at architecture and how we teach it are important questions. Attention and distraction are what I’ve been thinking about recently, via Joshua Cohen’s book on attention [Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction]. From that, I got into William James, the psychology of attention, and also pragmatism. And from that, I looked at the pragmatist conference at MoMA [“Things in the Making: Contemporary Architecture and the Pragmatist Imagination,” in 2000]. The conference seemed so brilliant to me. I really think it needs to be looked at more carefully. We need a discussion about how we are all looking at architecture now and how to work against the current distracted model. One counterpoint to distraction for Cohen is reading, which is a way to subvert distraction. Although, with reading, there’s a loss of the world-at-large. I’m not interested in returning to a dogmatic close-reading model, but there have to be other models of reading that we can do together. How do we look at work together? How do we discuss it? Camps are inevitable, but we do need to be looking at buildings together and discuss how we see them. I’m for very inclusive models, everything is valid for discussion, even OOO. I’m always curious how others see things, even though I rely on horribly Enlightenment tactics like typology or finding similarities and differences, grouping things together. I have my way of looking. I can’t imagine looking at every building on its own and thinking about a dying star. It would be paralyzing.

MY: Let’s take up this question of attention and distraction, because I’m fascinated with it as well. It links us to questions of aesthetics and representation. And Mark, I’m not going to let you off the hook so easily when you say you’re only interested in the building on the hill, because the ways you manipulate representations to shift attention and distraction is incredibly sophisticated.

MFG: It’s all by accident.

MY: No. I want to talk about the two drawings I showed. For the MOS plan of School No. 1 to only be an outline and the furniture having as much presence as the building itself is a mode of focusing and shifting attention to conceptual issues in the architecture. This is related to how Mark takes on the rhetoric and aesthetics of a NASA drawing in order to shift attention and distraction toward the construction of a possible reality through the modes of technical and construction documents that we use as architects.

MFG: When we did the NASA-type drawings for our Geothermal Futures installation at SCI-Arc, the idea was to construct an alternate reality regarding the show’s central object, not to describe the construction of said object. The drawings were entirely fake and had nothing to do with the object in actuality. They only vaguely looked like the object and pretended to put it in an actual technical context. The object itself was hollow. The drawings show the mechanisms inside the object, none of which actually existed.

MY: Aspects of this relate to pedagogy because we are all teaching ways of paying attention, ways of looking and dealing with the world through modes of representation. It is fundamental to the way in which architects work.

MFG: Something that has to do with resolution but that we didn’t mention, and relates to your question, is the idea of exhaustibility. There are things that are easily exhaustible, things that you understand quickly and don’t think about twice. You eat a Twinkie and you’re hardly savoring the complexity of its flavors and textures. Then there are complex things that take more time to wrap your head around, or things you don’t quite understand or that generate curiosity, wonder, a touch of awe. Kant says that nature and architecture are the only things capable of producing the sublime. He gives the examples of thundershowers and the facades of Gothic cathedrals. If done right, architecture has the ability to not be easily exhausted.
I was trained as a classicist, and in classicism you generally have three or four scales of operation, from overall mass to cornice lines, which divide a building into smaller sections vertically; to pilasters and columns, which divide it into further sections horizontally; to large details like pediments or arcades, to small details like guttae – there are maybe five ranges of scales of things. In our office we’re generally working with 10 or 20 scales. The purpose of that isn’t to do high-resolution for the sake of high-resolution or to show that digital technology is so cool that it can do all these things; it’s to not be easily exhaustible. It’s to entice and invite a level of curiosity that doesn’t allow architecture to be so quickly consumed and dismissed.

MM: We need to get project specific. For instance, House No. 10, as we call it. For those interested in paying attention there are a lot of things going on, probably so-called Enlightenment things. There are games of symmetry and asymmetry and games of rotation; the idea of the house as split at the entrance. There are some Venturi Scott Brown things. There are four wings and a fifth one is added, which produces a diagonal symmetry related to the little curve on the other side. The courtyard seems to be arbitrarily cut and indifferent to the pitched roof forms. The voided court produces various local symmetries and super awkward moments that are interesting to us. You know, there’s a lot of basic architecture stuff happening. Programmatically, there is no living room but there are different scales of inhabitation, and furniture is involved in it. When you look at those things you can talk about this house in relation to other courtyard houses. There’s a relation to or inversion of Wrightian structures. There are histories of architecture even if we don’t intend them to be there. I don’t know if anyone will pay attention. Honestly, I don’t know how we would make an architecture that would be immune to being easily dismissed nowadays, like you’re saying. I don’t think it’s in the surface or in the complexity or the novelty of it or the newness of things or the intensity of scale. It can all be easily dismissed. This is why I’m thinking about how we talk and look at buildings at the moment. You’re suggesting it’s the object itself that has inherent meaning, but I don’t believe that. It’s much more constructed.

MFG: This may be a nice segue into Jacques Rancière. Requiring that one read a building is socially problematic to Rancière. Charles Jencks called it double coding, in that there is a reading for regular people and a reading for architects. You’re saying the ambitions of your architecture are not located in its form, meaning you’ve coded them so that regular people cannot access them. That’s a connoisseur-level reading.

MM: I’m interested in that, but it’s not what I’m talking about.

MFG: If your architecture requires a certain type of reading then it’s not an architecture for anyone other than architects. For Rancière, that removes the ability to understand architecture from all but the most erudite of observers.

MM: There is no singular view for architects or for regular people. There are many ways to look at buildings. I’m not interested in a singular dominant reading or viewpoint. I don’t think that’s currently possible and may never be. All readings can be discussed and evaluated.

MFG: I’m more interested in the idea of impact at some deeper and more primal level than conceptual. This is found in things that are not so easily understandable – like the release of the photograph of the black hole by the Event Horizon Telescope team that makes human differences seem incredibly small. How can you simultaneously hold in
your mind the existence of something that is 6.5 billion times more massive than the sun, that is 50 million light years away, and be angry about immigrants coming into our country? The existence of such vastness and wonder compels us to see our own differences from a much different perspective. That is to say, they seem very small by comparison. Architecture can produce these effects, according to Kant. If this sensibility can only be produced by nature (by black holes) and architecture, it’s a much more interesting problem for architects to imagine how their work could be collectively wondered about and not understood – the opposite of categorizing and connoisseur-level reading.

MM: I want to go back to something you said, because it’s a real provocation for me. Does low-res mean it’s more easily consumed, more commercial? I would say no.

MFG: Yes.

MM: I knew you’d say yes, but I could also say that the images you show all fit in a class culture of consumption and luxury goods. You obviously play with that. Their gilded quality can just as easily be dismissed. What may be less easily consumed is something that seems like it’s off or doesn’t quite fit. Maybe, in general, architecture cannot escape consumerism.

MFG: I think we’re in a world of low-res. I’m from Nebraska, and the low-res show looks like a lot of the suburban, pseudo Tuscan villas that I drive by every Christmas when I go to our family farm. Only a trained eye would see the difference between the low-res show and the suburbs.

MM: I don’t think so.

MFG: There are pitched roofs, boxes, chimneys, and kooky half circles that aren’t tectonically arches.

MY: You could also argue that lowering the resolution increases accessibility and dissemination online because it’s now more easily deliverable, it takes up less memory, fewer bytes. It is pragmatic, but it also produces an aesthetic effect.

MM: For me the aesthetic effect is more interesting than the technology or science of it. Something can appear low-res whether or not it is. Like, let’s say, Pascal Flammer’s house. If you look closely at it, it’s Swiss-made, a beautifully crafted house, sophisticated. At another level it can appear as pretty low-res, it may relate to other houses, maybe not houses in Nebraska, but a reduced version of a house. I don’t mean low-res as a way to produce more distraction, quite the opposite.

MY: My point is much simpler than that. At one level, to make categories again puts us into this either-or thing. It appears that one of the reasons you decided to develop representations that foreground low-resolution is because it’s against a slick photorealism, but I don’t know if the reactionary stance of lowering resolution is productive.

MFG: There are so many things we could wonder about and discover in any architectural project before plopping it in a high-resolution or low-resolution category. Once it’s in a category, the human mind makes the mistaken assumption that it’s understood and closes the door on further interest. For example, if I introduce you to two equally fascinating people and then tell you one is in the Democrat category and one in the Republican category, you will think you know more about them than you actually do.
Now, having seen the low-resolution catalogue and my own so-called high-resolution work, I realize that one aspect of low-resolution that could be interesting is the concept in Greek antiquity called para-micronic beauty, which means that for something to be beautiful, it can’t be perfect, it has to be off by a little to be truly unique and beautiful.
For instance, Marilyn Monroe is considered beautiful because of her mole, which would normally be considered an imperfection that detracts from beauty. You’re saying that low-resolution may have the possibility to generate an “off-ness,” which generates its own form of curiosity, that something’s not quite right and deserves a second look. That would be a great direction for low-res as opposed to how I read it, which is as easily consumed. Granted I didn’t see the exhibition, but I saw the book and what was published in Log 44. To me it was look at these quirky, cute little houses. Now I’m going to go get a sandwich.

MM: You’re an architect producing your work. You’re going to have a reaction to certain things. In Netflix terms, our work is more like The Office in the sense that it’s both generic/familiar and off, and the work that you two do is much more sci-fi, like Star Wars. It’s a different aesthetic. Maybe these categories don’t help you, but they have different enthusiasms, engender different things, have different relationships to reality and different economies, and could be for or against different aesthetic and cultural institutions.

MY: We have as much time as we want for questions. If you have a question, I think these guys would be happy to talk to it.

MFG: We can’t promise any resolution in the answers, but we’ll try.

AUDIENCE: I want to ask about the idea of exhaustion. The 44 houses are reductions of information, so that you can compare and contrast them. That’s one move, or one series that you can do with the houses, but there are infinite series technically. Once Michael Meredith does this with 44 houses, is that seen as complete? Are those the only 44 low-resolution houses that exist, now reduced to Bristol models, or is this just one extrapolation of those houses?

MM: It’s not a stable thing, it’s a temporary thing. I’m okay with the fact that everything we do is going to be dismantled and exhausted at some point. Again, going to the attention/reading thing, reading always requires a certain loss. To be able to read, you can’t have everything present all the time. We had to lose something to compare things, and we had to choose something. The photographs of the models in Log are quite small, you see only white, but there was other information. We don’t talk about the almost infinite idiosyncrasies of each project, the individual team members or clients or money or whatever, so we can compare and discuss things outside of themselves.

MY: But there is a difference between close reading and close attention. Jeff Kipnis and others have brought up this question.

MM: I didn’t know.

MY: Kipnis, Andrew Atwood, and a number of other people are talking about this. I would like to return to the compositional idea of symmetry in your House No. 10. When you produce that symmetry, you make the house appear as twins or as doubles.

MM: It also looks like one long extruded house that’s broken.

MY: It actually makes you pay more attention. I don’t think it’s a reading project, in which you take out the plan and overlay it in order to extract layers of history and its formal arrangement. I think this is an important issue to bring up as we attempt to clarify what’s at stake with the issue of resolution, because it is about attention. Radical shifts in
resolution make one pay attention.

MM: I wasn’t trying to pooh-pooh high-res –well, maybe a little bit. But the shifts in attention seem right to me.

MFG: I wouldn’t pooh-pooh low-res because I’ve already forgotten about it.

AUDIENCE: I think you’re both into hoarding. Mark, you hoard things by putting them into one building. There are so many things going on. Like when you download multiple .obj files available online and put them into one project. That’s hoarding and finding a way to display it. And Michael, you have images of a really simple house, but then you have crumpled pieces of paper, a bicycle, a trash can, and small models of plants, all super high-res details, for a rendering of a low-res building. Maybe you both flip when you use high-res and when you use low-res.

MM: It’s exciting we’re using these terms. Even if the exhibition was a failure, the fact that we’re discussing low-res/high-res and trying to understand whether low-res is bad and consumer driven and how it relates to attention seems productive, makes me happy – although I might be regretting it soon enough.

MFG: My only interest in philosophy is that it gives us new tools to understand what we’re doing. The term resolution initiated by the show isn’t new to architecture but can be another tool that helps us to understand what we do and how it fits into the world around us. Proust says that the real voyage comes not in visiting new lands but in having new eyes. If resolution is a shifted perspective that allows us to see architecture in a new way, then it opens up new possibilities for discourse. I welcome it to the table.

AUDIENCE: Earlier it was mentioned that architecture and nature can create the sublime. Do we need the sublime in architecture in a society where success is functionality based? Should we strive for the sublime, or do we just need moderately aesthetic, conventional buildings that work?

MFG: One can make the argument that most of the history of architecture was done in the service of capturing the sublime, because most architecture was religious, from the temples of Mesopotamian antiquity to Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals. Most of the money spent on architecture throughout human history has been in the service of capturing an idea larger than we can comprehend, which in most cases was religious.
The question might be whether there is room in contemporary architecture for a secular sublime or whether architecture should give up the project. I couldn’t do it, as I think it would be giving up a significant part of what makes us human. We all strive to do more than merely function. We love, laugh, create, argue, and buy overpriced fashion and accessories that make no sense functionally. Our most incredible qualities as a species are the ones that move us beyond mere function.

MM: Architecture is still religious in a very deep way. What I like about the pragmatism of William James and Cornel West is their reconciling of their religious beliefs with empiricism and scientific rationalism. That’s why I am using pragmatism instead of functionalism to think about architecture. We have all experienced the strange belief systems of architecture – go out and try to convince a nonbeliever in architecture that this or that is good design. You’re going to have a hard time. You might resort to science or empiricism – that’s the model nowadays to convince people. You would say these are the metrics, it functions really well, it’s sustainable. Nobody can argue with the numbers, right? The nonbelievers will probably still not like how it looks. Architecture requires a belief system for people to enjoy or appreciate it. It’s a very bizarre thing.

Housing No. 15, Co-living Rowhouse Prototype

Harlem, New York, New York, 2018–19

A co-living row house in Harlem. 6 stories tall. Efficient, whatever that means. Theoretically cheap to build, which might not mean anything. Theoretical cheap is an oxymoron. We ran some numbers. We think it’d be a nice place to live. Not sure if you agree. It’s nearly impossible to convince someone of beauty, if they don’t see it or are not open to it. 5 balconies look out onto the street. 5 balconies look out onto a backyard. The front and back of the building are separated by a collective core. Circulation. Utilities. Bathrooms. Stacked. The elevator clearance pops up. It’s polished stainless steel. Maybe there are solar panels. The roof is a garden. The ground is a garden. There is a shared garden next to the shared kitchen and dining. Collective spaces above and below. Places to gather, to find privacy, to read, to eat, to take a nap, to talk, to meet, to negotiate with others on how we should live.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Paul Ruppert, Lafina Eptaminitaki, Julia Muntean, Yam Chumpolphaisal

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Houses for Sale

Book, 126 pages. Mantova: Corraini Edizioni/Canadian Centre for Architecture. 22cm x 31cm.

At first glance, children’s books seem like the simplest things in the world. They are, after all, made for children. Their pages often seem casually organized, with a nonchalant and playful attitude. But the reality is the opposite: there is an incredible sophistication to the naiveté of children’s books. This is something, like most everything else, we have learned the hard way. Throughout its making, we treated this book as an architecture project; everything was considered and reconsidered, worked and reworked over and over again. With endless versions and variations stored away in our office somewhere, the book itself became a metaphor for the architectural discipline and its constant search for architecture.

We are grateful to both Corraini Edizioni and the Canadian Centre for Architecture for their encouragement, particularly Giovanna Borasi, without whom this book would have never happened. She was a constant source of advice, tirelessly challenging and encouraging us. To Mirko Zardini, a large child in the best possible way, for the humor and laser-precise insight of his edits. And to Albert Ferré and Jayne Kelley, whose shared efforts were indispensable.

None of this would have been possible without the hard work of our architecture office, especially Paul Ruppert and John Yurchyk, who have been critical throughout this long process and late nights. Many of the figures and drawings were only possible with the tireless support of Michael Abel, Mark Acciari, Fancheng Fei, Mark Kamish, and Zosia Nowakowska, The finishing touches of graphic design by Studio Lin brought the book into focus, Throughout the years, Alex Lin has become our deeply valued conspirator and confidante.

For us, no project ever ends. Each time we look at it anew, thinking about alternatives. What if we did this? Or that? This would be better. That looks like a mistake… After a while, it becomes impossible to look at anything as a child would; looking at this book now, we see only decisions. In such moments, we would place drafts of the book in front of two clients, our children Alice and James, who like all good clients would offer incredible insight and suggestions, and just enough disinterest to keep us motivated and moving forward. They are our constant reminder to keep the wonder of childhood present in both our work and life, and the ultimate reason for this book.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Paul Ruppert, Michael Abel, Mark Acciari, Fancheng Fei, Mark Kamish, and Zosia Nowakowska

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House No. 17, With 10 Trees

Location Withheld at Request, 2018

Surrounded by 10 trees. 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. Beautiful Live Oak trees are on site. Never met a tree we didn’t like. Three trees long, two trees wide. Low-res. Like an 8-bit character. Windows and doors are interchangeable. A single, square entry. Slightly off. A blank elevation. The other sides open to the exterior. Clad in oversized polished aluminum siding. Another option had vertical folded panels. Shiny. Reflective. We assumed standard sheet sizes, folded, lapped. Economy. Economical. We have become experts in metal fabrication. Cheap without being cheap. Straightforward organization. Efficient. Services, circulation, and storage split the house in two. Kitchen/Living. Terrace/Bedrooms/Bedroom/Terrace. Roof Terrace. Blank, flexible spaces throughout. We looked at interiors in stone and plaster. Or concrete and wood. Things were left undecided.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Lafina Eptaminitaki, Paul Ruppert, Charles Dorrance-King, Julia Muntean, Zane Mechem

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Pavilion No. 10, A Glass Spot

Toledo, Ohio, 2019

A proposal for a glass pavilion. A large column with a flat roof. A Nintendo mushroom. A Bernd and Hilla Becher photograph. An aluminum structure, built up of parts. Something like a kiosk, or a temporary café, or a water tower, or tree. It is both monumental and singular. Vaguely familiar. The base is clad in glass shingles. A wannabe Bruno Taut. A standard object with a new technique. The base can be large or small. A room or a pole depending on the circumstance. The canopy is circular. Perforated. A dot in Google Earth. It is covered in glass. Stripes. Polkadots. Something like a flattened disco ball. A glass spot. A place to gather. The structure is metal. Pieces are joined together with bolts. Perforations double as loose-fitting holes. It’s easy. It can be flat-packed, installed, demounted, and reinstalled anywhere. Its genericness makes it open and versatile. Its vagueness gives it meaning.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Yam Chumpolphaisal, Paul Ruppert, Lafina Eptaminitaki

 

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Hut No. 1, A Tent without a Signal

Bilbao, Spain, 2019

A tent. It is without a signal. It is without a noise. This might mean nothing to you. Inside your phone does not work. You cannot call your friends. You cannot email your boss. You cannot post your selfie. You cannot search. You cannot like anything. You cannot. If you want to know what the weather will be or send your location to someone do not bother. If you stay too long, you will get bored. Even quiet is exhausting after a while. This tent is like many and unlike many. It has a circular, O-shaped bench at its base and an X-shaped structure at its top. It is a hug and a kiss. It is closed and open. It is not a primitive. It is not a “primitive” primitive hut. Isn’t it odd how Technology and Nature have become inseparable? But maybe they always were. This structure is lightweight, made of aluminum parts that can be easily packed up and moved from place to place. Assembled it looks something like an antenna. And something like a tepee. It is not a beginning for architecture. It is not an origin. Origins are relative. Regardless, it makes a place to sit or take a nap or retreat or doodle or write this text you’re reading or plan a revolution. The fabric offers some shelter. The fabric is CNC knitted, stitching together electromagnetic field-shielding yarns. The fabric pattern was iteratively developed through homemade, handcrafted software that produces a field of noisy particles, like a landscape or T.V. static. The pattern does not repeat. The tent is neither high-tech nor low-tech. For the time being, it is temporary.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Lafina Eptaminitaki, Paul Ruppert, Michael Abel, Stefan Klecheski, Nile Greenberg

“Architecture Effects,” Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, December 5, 2018–April 28, 2019
Curator: Troy Therrien

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House No. 16, With Extended Roof

Saratoga Springs, New York, 2018

3 deep beams support a long roof. It hovers. Disconnected. Floating. It isn’t. The sky is visible through cutouts in the patio overhang and eaves. We looked at different options. Different cut outs. Holes. The roof extends 24 feet past the front and back door. It is symmetrical. Maybe a little too long. A car is usually parked underneath. 4 evenly spaced square windows on the side. A larger window on its short side looks toward the lake. The top floor is for the parents. Everything they need on 1 level. They prefer to avoid stairs. Aging in place. The lower level is for visiting children. Everyone has their own space. And each looks out to the lake. The exterior cladding is made of corrugated cement panel with aggregate. We did some tests. We made some drawings. They wanted it cheap and fast. They make decisions as a family. We convinced some of them, but could not convince all of them.

Project Team: Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, Lafina Eptaminitaki, Yam Chumpolphaisal, Paul Ruppert

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