Air in Motion / Thermodynamic Materialism

The air has been treated in architecture and its historiography as an element which existence is recognized, but about which only one could speak metaphorically, poetically or phenomenologically . Even Le Corbusier gave up publishing (except for a brief article) the repeatedly announced text significantly titled L´espace indicible. The space is in the modernist arch the great topic (Space, time, architecture, S. Giedion), but remains in the subjective and intangible realm, something like the “duende” for the flamenco singer or the muses for the romantic artist.

Meanwhile, science has been deconstructing throughout the XIXth and the XXth centuries this emptiness, this nothingness, this Cartesian “res extensa,” from different disciplines that have filled with microscopic and macroscopic activity what before was defined by its dispossession. The revision carried out by the thermodynamics from the mid XIXth is critical when reconsidering the architectural and landscape conception of this element, thus happened to be a real building material. This is enabled by parametric digital media, which allows not only deciphering its changing nature over time but also conceiving artificial environments, opening new territories at the scale of buildings, public spaces and the landscape. Now, the air in movement demands to be studied in its different manifestations, to reveal its power through meticulous analysis, to map them and to conceptualize what we are calling a new idea of thermodynamic beauty which completes the tectonic tradition and points new directions to architect´s work.

The focus of this seminar is dual: to study theoretical /historiographical issues as well as contemporary cases through critical analysis. Taking advantage of the different profiles of instructors, students will play a creative role in relating thermodynamics in design. The class presentation includes two complementary components: The first is to construct cartographies in architecture, urban design, and landscape; Fluid motion, thermodynamic mapping and their expanded fields will be used as references to work on cartographies that interact with various disciplines, exemplified by the four Aristotelian elements. The sum will prefigure an Atlas of Thermodynamics which serves as the basis for a series of activities including exhibitions and a book on the topic in the future.

A second is to prepare new prototypes in relation to thermodynamic materialism. It has a practical orientation constructed through a meticulous analysis of the case studies presented in the course. The work will serve as hypothetical prototypes contributing to the expansion of knowledge, methods, and tools in the field. In coordination with a research project at ETH Zurich titled Thermodynamic Materialism, the research coming out of this seminar will be exhibited at the GSD in April.

The seminar is designed to attract students with diverse background and a shared interest in the role of thermodynamics in changing contemporary practices and opening new critical debates. The course is highly recommended for students applying for the option studio Thermodynamic Madrid. A New Good Life. It may serve as the background for potential thesis projects associated with the Energy Environments and Design Research Lab at the GSD.

Seminar Organization: Students will organize themselves in groups of two in order to develop both works required – historiographical and practical. Individually they will send weekly synopses of readings and contribute to class discussions.
Jianxiang Huang will also be involved in this course as Teaching Associate.
20%Readings and active participation
20%Reading presentations
30% Cartography
30%Prototype research project