Magna Parens Materia

In the last century, architects have been driven by market conditions to build with the highest possible combination of CO2-heavy materials, including steel and reinforced concrete frames hung with glass, aluminum, and fired clay bricks. The studio will speculate on the potential to turn construction from a major CO2 contributor to a sequestration industry — a strategic device — that demonstrates the ingenuity of an architectural response. Our model of inquiry will focus on stone as an ancient actor on the stage shared by architecture and engineering with the goal of lowering the carbon footprint of new midrise buildings. Aided by recent technological development, this ancient material is in search of a new language. The studio will seek opportunities to explore the contemporary understanding of how to design in stone in more meaningful ways.

We will begin with a speed course in material properties: structural, financial, and carbon cost, tactile and textural. This exercise will allow us to make informed choices that assemble a carbon-negative result while prompting a theoretical position that internalizes the technical as part of the intellectual apparatus for the project students will design.

Our base ingredients of stone and timber both need next to no processing and are validated by the climate crisis. Timber, a heavy carbon sequestrator, and stone enable the dramatic reduction of reinforced concrete and steel. Simultaneously limiting the mediums in this way defies normal architectural thought, largely because of practical differences between architectural elements. The roof that protects from the elements, walls that support buildings, and floors that support people must all be considered. This dichotomy will force inventions that transform and evolve our thinking.

Stone will need a comprehensive introduction. To this end, we have asked “source to product” suppliers and specialists to tour quarries, stonemasons’ workshops, and completed buildings. As we are setting the design project within an existing London masterplan, Earls Court development, these tours will occur across London and Belgium.

We will encourage learning that recalibrates practice and is immediately applicable in the real-world, that purposely engages with topics of building technology, sustainability, and codes, but more importantly, establish more reciprocity between technical and conceptual aspects such as aesthetic currency.

Students will be evaluated based on conceptual clarity, experimental representation, and design execution of individual projects. We will encourage the use of models as part of the methodology. The instructors will teach both in person and online, with details noted on the syllabus.