Constructing Heterogeneity

Contemporary buildings are inherently heterogeneous; more often than not they are assemblages of different materials, programs, and subjects. Although homogenous finish layers construct an image of purity, anyone that has looked closely at a contemporary wall section can attest to its many parallel technical layers. Similarly, the easy partitioning of space, or the siloing of functions, obscures – and often confounds – the potential intermingling of the building’s heterogeneous uses and subjects. The twin tendencies within contemporary architecture towards both a functional and aesthetic purism subverts the potency of difference as the basis of architectural production. 

While elaborations of both formal and programmatic heterogeneity – by Venturi and Koolhaas, respectively – are now well established, material heterogeneity is less theorized. Building codes, specification systems, the division of labor, materials science, and structural theories and pedagogies, are bodies of knowledge that privilege and reinforce the classification of material systems into discrete categories. We think of wood, concrete, steel, or masonry buildings, for example. While there are advantages to understanding each material system in isolation, there is an alternative methodology that considers materials in strategic combination. Reinforced concrete is but one example of a powerful composite system that has become commonplace; yet there are many other underexplored combinations that bring together apparently oppositional materials and elements. Going further, a framework based in heterogeneity may be seen as a means to address the multiple pressures on contemporary buildings, and the need for new forms of structural, social, or environmental performance. 

This seminar will look closely at theories and methods of heterogeneity through four lenses – representational, material, formal, and social – to expose and expand upon their architectural potential. Combining discussions on episodes of heterogeneity within architectural history with experimental design work, the aim of the seminar will be to develop new frameworks for constructing difference in a contemporary architectural context.

Course Format: This seminar will meet via Zoom two hours per week for synchronous presentations, workshops, and discussions. One hour per week will be reserved for flexible meetings and asynchronous content.

Method of Evaluation: Course work includes weekly readings, participation in seminar discussions and presentations, and a creative project.

Prerequisites: None