Material Beyond Materials: Composite Tectonics Organized by Marcelo Spina, Coordinator ESTm
Material beyond Materials: Composite Tectonics
Conference on Advanced Design and Material Manufacturing
(March 25-26, 2011)
Organized by Marcelo Spina
The relation between material and formal ethics has been at the heart of disciplinary discourse and discussion since the advent of modernism. One could not imagine discussing modernity without referencing the experiential transparency of glass, the structural slenderness of steel or the expressive robustness of concrete. Not only is the relation between form and material inextricably linked, but also material is very much in support of explicit design agendas, which promoted such important values as continuity, stability, permanence and mass culture.
The ambition to liberate design from the ethics and traditions of material constraints, tectonic assembly and even on site construction instigated a widespread interest and appeal for monocoque construction and composites in the last decade. Conceptually opposed to the traditional notion of tectonic implying assembly of parts, and certainly outside the encompassing axiom of “truth to materials or truth of materials” composites afford architects with the synthetic and artificial qualities of plastic infinite versatility. In her seminal essay “Plasticity at Work”, Sylvia Lavin accurately characterized the disciplinary framework and recent history of plastic in architecture, expanding the social and cultural understanding of the material and its effects and arguing for the essential role of plasticity in a contemporary project.
As provocative and influential this argument is for a whole generation of architects, it definitely does not lead to a single reductive conclusion, especially one that would simply equate building form to plastic. After all, can the discipline incorporate the concept of contemporary plasticity as an over encompassing notion that would allow architecture to be conceptually and literally conceived like a solid and monolithic object?
Over what is the significance of composites in contemporary design, there are clearly two well-established lineages with two very distinct responses. The first one indiscriminately equates form to plastic and design to transformation. In fact, composites have become the ultimate material refuge for architects not knowing how else to fabricate and construct complex surface topologies. The process of reverse engineering that many of these projects have to often endure in order to achieve their desired formal effects is reminiscent of art fabrication and Hollywood set productions, wherein composite construction is used extensively. For these productions, anything goes into making what I would ultimately consider an image a physical actuality. While some of the results emerging from this tendency are actually acceptable, their failing to engage and rehearse the full tectonic possibilities of their material medium often makes their architectural manifestation a caricature and their effects ephemeral.
A second less explored and maybe more materially aligned lineage and the one I am personally interested in definitely acknowledges and takes advantage of the plastic properties of composites. However, and much like the Eames with their early fibber glass lounge chair or advanced cars of today, this lineage does not seek to subject an entire project to the pliability of composites. In addition, this lineage also acknowledges composite’s potential for variable materialities, synthetic tectonics and flexible assembly. This lineage seeks to integrate composites within a larger genre of materials and construction processes rather than segregate them as a single solution; therefore aspiring to a more robust tectonic form, one that can not only produce nuance effects but sustain them over time.
“Material Beyond Materials”
Composite Tectonics aims to investigate the relationships that currently exist between technological advances in materials, innovations in the building industry and current design discourse and pedagogy. Featuring leading companies invested in the fields of advanced materials and fabrication technologies along with progressive architects and designers, this two-day conference will explore new design agendas and research opportunities resulting from the use of composite materials in architecture and other design fields.
To foster direct exchange and promote innovation by combining leading companies in the field of advanced materials and fabrication technologies with cutting edge architects and designers. The ultimate intention is to promote feedback and exchange among the participants while making the event public for the school and the community at large. Another important goal of the conference is to further future collaborations that could have SCI-Arc and its students work at the center.
Fostering material and formal innovation by nurturing new relations between advanced building industries, technological advances in materials and architectural design and discourse.
The format would be that of a show and tell, where participants will present their most innovative ideas, projects and positions concerning material, technology and the effects for the discipline and the profession. All of these in an open forum with quick presentations where the focus is on round table discussions moderated by SCI-Arc Faculty.
D. Michelle Addington
Yale School of Architecture
Hernan Diaz Alonso
Dean Rensselaer Polytechnic, Evan Douglis Studio
SCI-Arc, Griffin Enright Architects
Machinuous, Los Angeles
Hodgetts+Fung Design and Architecture
Structural Engineer specializing in composites
Kreysler & Associates
UCLA, University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Greg Lynn FORM
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing & Research, EMPA
Institute for Computational Design, Stuttgart University
Eric Owen Moss
SCI-Arc, Eric Owen Moss Architects
North Sails One Design International Ltd.
3-Form Advanced Technology
MIT, Office dA
SCI-Arc, MIT Emergent Design Group, Testa & Weiser Inc.
SCI-Arc, MIT Emergent Design Group, Testa & Weiser Inc.
Potential Collaboration – Trade
The aim is to involve companies in a long-term collaboration with the school, by having them provide expertise, material donations, maybe even internships for students, etc. in exchange for us testing their materials and products in future projects that SCI-Arc embarks on.
A book documenting the Material Beyond Materials conference is forthcoming in spring 2012. The ultimate intention of the gathering is to produce a final document in the form of a print publication to document the most interesting aspects of the discussions and to include graphic material of the presenters. The core of the book will be an edited transcription of the conference exchanges.