Generic Specificity

Architecture’s most dramatic evolution in the last century has been the increasing fissure between the generic and the specific. As Internationalism at the beginning of the 20th century evolved into Globalism at the beginning of the 21st, the roles that generic and specific architecture played in the course of globalization have been reversed. While the International Style of early modernism assumed a generic form to homogenize and sterilize the specificity of local context, the global architecture of late modernism has launched a counter-movement, which assumes a highly specific form to invigorate and colonize the generality of the newly homogenized local context. At a time when there is globalization without an international style, when generic specificity is replaced by specific generality, these two poles of architectural production—global and specific on the one hand, local and generic on the other—are more distant than ever before.

An architecture of approximation provides a methodology that assimilates local typologies, geographies, construction methods, symbols, traditions, and language as means to approximate global form. On a building scale, typologies and construction processes specific to the local context are deployed as a form of departure.

Adopting a strategy of assimilation and integration to reconcile the chasm between the generic and the specific, between global and local space, the studio will engage in the design of a 100,000-square-foot office building that will house a hybrid program of various workspaces. Changing scenarios of work that emphasize innovation and collaboration have challenged the organization and space of the office plan, while the boundaries and relationships of the workplace are becoming more and more porous and ephemeral. We will investigate new forms of ephemerality and adaptability in spaces for working and question how to make an open generic building adaptable to different specific uses over time. We will focus on different scales of design research: from building and infrastructure systems of multistory buildings, to notions of the longevity of the interior and furnishings in relationship to architecture.

After initial research on generic typologies, the studio will test the findings with the design of the specific program for an upstart tech office situated in the rapidly changing infrastructural and architectural landscape of the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles. The studio will travel to the site to study it and examine the surrounding urban landscape. Student projects will be developed with individual responses to the problem; participation in biweekly studio meetings, readings, and collective model production will be the basis of evaluation.

This studio has an irregular schedule. Sharon Johnston and/or Mark Lee will be in residence on January 23, 24; February 5, 6, 26, 27; March 11, 12, 25, 26; April 8, 9, 22, 23; May 1, 4, 5 for Final Reviews. The instructors will also be available via Skype or in-person in the intervening weeks. This studio will travel to Los Angeles, California.