Swerves [M1]

Half a century ago, architecture became open-ended. Buildings would change and grow, architects argued, not unlike cities. Architects embraced impermanence, promoted flexibility, timed obsolescence, and welcomed uncertainty, just as Umberto Eco proclaimed the birth of the open work, and Roland Barthes pronounced the death of the author. Architects also questioned authorship. Many would no longer strive to prescribe outcomes, let alone inscribe meanings. Against the backdrop of modern masters and modern monuments, and as a result of cultural, social, political, and technological developments, buildings became systems. Paradoxically, architects would pioneer new building types in unprecedented ways by openly disregarding programs.

Design theories for open-ended buildings differed, but they all implied, almost invariably, free plans and modular units, as well as building components discriminated by their rate of renewal: frame versus clip-on, core versus capsule, structure versus envelope. By the mid-sixties, just a few years after speculation on openness had begun in earnest, several projects materialized. Over the following years, many changed: some according to plan, some according to no plan. Others did not. Some were demolished against the architect's will, and some were preserved against the building's principles. Today, some stand for the arguments they promoted, and some for the doctrines they attacked.

This studio will collectively address a building in the U.S. that intersected the debate on open-endedness, namely: Eduardo Catalano's Boston Public Library in Charlestown (1967-1970). The studio brief is straightforward. You will join a team and be asked to double the building area. Do you endorse openness and observe, refine, or swerve the original script? Do you argue against it and swerve the existing object? What is at stake is to design in conversation with, and take position on, a building and the arguments it advanced, and to tackle a longstanding question within the field, again, half a century later.