Forms of Energy: Appearance

Late in his career, architectural historian James Ackerman’s attention shifted to the role of magnificence in the work of Michelangelo and Palladio. Ackerman reflected on magnificence in terms of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, as speculation on how people might best live, and thus design. While Ackerman was largely concerned with the character of Palladio’s public works, the question of magnificence and how people in this century might best live certainly applies to multiple domains of design. The question of appearance today necessarily involves not only the outward appearance of an object—like Palladio’s façades—but also questions concerning the appearance in the most literal material and energetic of terms: its planetary modes of production, its energetic and mass flows, as well as the physiological responses of our visual and non-visual sensory apparatus to building. Perhaps most critically today, appearance also invokes fresh questions about the means we use to design, describe and coordinate the production of architectural phenomena and artifacts. The latent reciprocity among these potential causes of appearance engenders a more cosmopolitan practice of design and thus situates magnificence in a more architecturally ambitious context today. It thus poses a central epistemological question for design: how does, and how should, architecture come to appear to us today?

This studio will address these questions about causation and appearance, specifically as motivated by a novel account of architecture’s energetics: the forms & formations of energy that are inherent to architecture. The relationship between design and energy in recent episodes of architecture today requires a reckoning because the relationship between form and energy has been constrained, on one hand, by an instrumental reductionism evident in technocratic and managerial treatments of energy topics. On the other hand, the latent formal possibilities of architecture have been constrained by persistent hylomorphic habits of design and Cartesian habits of description. As a response to these limitations, this studio will focus on design methods that are a formally ambitious and exuberant yet physically rigorous and valid.

The studio will consist of three design projects that provoke novel questions about form and formation. Since energy is above all the science of mixing and transformation, the first project will develop design methods through the mixing and calibration of architecture’s extensive & intensive properties as the basis of formation, with a focus on the tension between the intensive appearance of a building and basic architectural parameters such as its mass, massing, and volume. The second exercise will privilege unfamiliar modes of coordination as we study flow fields at two simultaneous scales: the convection of air in interior volumes and the mass flow of materials around the planet. The third project will advance these preoccupations through the design of a new collective of exhibition, studio, office, and artist housing space associated with the proposed expansion of the New Museum in New York City. This museum will soon nearly double its size by building on its adjacent plot in the Bowery (about 42,000 sf, over 9 stories). Each of these projects demands experimental, in many cases unprecedented, methods of formation and new models of representation. The discourse of the studio will build directly on content developed in the What is Energy and How Else Can We Think About It? lecture course (taught by Moe and Kwinter in spring 2013 and spring 2014) and Kwinter will engage the studio during the semester.