Proximity of Cemeteries in the Chicago Area

My gut feeling about our western paradigms on death seems to have some merit. As a first pass, I chose to take a look at the Downtown Chicago area to see how the cemeteries of the metro area were organized. In taking a closer look, it appears that there is a marked void of cemeteries in the urban fabric. This leads me to believe that the notion of placing a program that relates to death may, in fact, have potential. The closest cemetery the the Downtown Chicago area is Graceland Cemetery approximately 6.5 miles or a 15 minute car ride to the north of downtown. So, the question arises, where might be the best location for a program addressing human passing be in the Chicago area?

RAW : investigations of materiality + matter

These investigations begin to break down the vast array of materials available to designers and too arrange these materials according to their proximal or potential relationships with the "RAW". The first organizes the materials by category and then breaks down the many sub-materials within each category. The second diagram begins to get at the sensory or haptic relationships these materials embody. Each of the materials was given a number characterizing its raw sensory stimuli. The diagrams show which materials might be used and in what ways they might be implemented.


Potential Program

In thinking about notions of time and its relation to the "RAW" and technology, I have been thinking a lot about time's signifigance and a human experience or condition that might bring further awareness to entropy, lifecycles, and the core ideas of my thesis research. This thinking has steered me toward thoughts of human death and passing. I think a program like this is a good fit for its symmetry of temporality. Our human passing makes us extremely aware of the temporal notions of our human existence. Similarly, these notions resonate in the material world, most commonly found in nature. Could a tomb further the implications of the "RAW"?


RAW : TECH_time + architecture + matter

Here, I am trying to reconcile the relationships between the many factors arising in my thesis research. Fundamentally, and of most concern is an architecture of time. Everything we do happens in a continuous thread of passing pasts, presents, and futures. If notions of material alchemy, entropy, and life cycles are of importance then it makes sense that time would become of monumental importance. Therefore, I have tried to equate other notions about RAW : TECH to time. It seems that the idea of the RAW harks back to the past, while notions of TECH or ecological hi-tech draw connotations to the future. This places ourselves, the human element, smack dab in the middle of it all. How might our human existence in the present begin to bind RAW : TECH? Might the thesis be RAW : HUMAN : TECH? Each piece relating to the difference phases of time?

These are just fantastically early thoughts about relationships, but I'm feeling pretty good about the general direction of things.


Notions of Death

Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to the topic of my pre-thesis investigation. Up to this point, I have been thinking primarily about impermanence and its connection with natural processes of decay, which I find beautiful. I feel American society has a genuine aversion to notions of human decay or death. While this seems obvious, I think American society has this fear to the nth degree. Could my thesis project be an opportunity to create an architecture that directly deals with American notions of death, while simultaneously addressing the issues of decay through the structures materiality? I have been thinking about this for the past couple weeks and am having trouble making a decision. My thesis research has left me without the traditional keystones most architecture students pre-thesis experiences, like for example, program and site, which at some point I will have to address. Could thinking about America's ingrained fear of death provide me an opportunity to demystify or rethink our paradigms on dying? To cast death in a new light? If so, would it be appropriate to start thinking about a program that would, in one way or another, tackle these notions?

My concern here, is that addressing the decay of materiality and human passing might fundamentally take on a powerful issue that has the potential to outshine the real roots of my thesis. Would a building that deals with human death become to human and therefore less architectural? I keep jumping the fence back and forth trying to decide. Ruminating on this.


Dissecting Suburbia_James Kunstler

Kunstler, while coming off somewhat cynical here, hits our misplaced notions of suburban success on the head. I hope to use the information contained in this talk and address it directly in the design and research associated with my thesis this coming final semester. I agree that our urban environments are going to have to perform at a much more efficient and holistic way than many of our urban cores do today.



This is simply phenomenal work. Simultaneously: structural, technological, and musical.



Primodernal examines the inherent absurdity in proposing indigenous intervention within the urban context.

Sensodernation addresses sensation in relation to an architecture associated with the rational. This juxtaposition of opposing or unaligned ideals brings a heightened clarity to the fundamental differences of each.



a) Does this illustrate that Zumthor doesn't use a concept but instead imagery?
"I think that every project has its theme. And it has to be formulated in a very strong way, so that the entire building and all things, can be explained by this principal theme. For me, the principal theme isn’t an abstract idea, but a physical one. The architecture which interests me is concrete architecture, not architecture as an abstraction. So there is already a body: the idea is a real body."

b) Quotes of Interest
“I think the chance of finding beauty is higher if you don’t work on it directly,” Zumthor has said in describing his philosophy. “Beauty in architecture is driven by practicality. This is what you learn from studying the old townscapes of the Swiss farmers. If you do what you should, then at the end there is something, which you can’t explain maybe, but if you are lucky, it has to do with life.”

“I start with the collection, which is the basis of the museum. I think of separate collections, putting them on different floors, and then I have this terrible feeling, like I am in a department store, with shoes and shirts. So then I draw a forest. And in the forest I find jewels. I have to go here, there, to get them. I think of these jewels as parts of the collection, with their own pavilions, and this gives me a new feeling.”

Imagine the pavilions as metaphorical trees, he went on, “their volumes up in the branches, up in the air. So then I need a system of ramps. Maybe there is a catwalk system.” He sketched more quickly. “Now we have the opposite feeling from a department store. But I am getting confused, weak. I want the sense of informal freedom. I want to feel I am outside. I want a village, but with an upper level, a lower level.” He was sketching, sketching. “But it must give a feeling of peace. Now I feel it will be right only if the collections have real homes.”

Zumthor paused. “To say, ‘Let’s build something flexible,’ this doesn’t produce good results,” he said. “I have to give these alienated works of art some energy, something so that people don’t just pass by them and say, ‘Did you see African art?’ ‘I don’t know.’ So now I no longer see a village but a park. I hate a didactical museum. The goal is a highly emotional place, to put someone in a mood to listen or read or feel.”

“It’s about elevation,” he added. “Everybody can go up, after all.”


Our closest most human bonds are not forged easily. Fleeting glances and serendipidous encounters cannot shape the internal bedrock of our most guarded emotional memory. Only the strongest most beautiful human ties achieve such a rare feat. Our traditional employment of physica ltools and brute force for a task of this nature are of no facility. Patience, heart, and chance are some of thequalities required for a miracle such as this. And, only if individual patience remains sound and fate is allowed to reveal her true motivations may profound human bonds be born from tears of forgotten loss. The emotion thriving in embedded bonds born of patience become capable of more than simply marring stone. The strongest of these connections conjure a penetrating brilliant magnetism whose embodiment etches and vaporizes the most durable of nature’s geology. The relief buried in these stones, echo in memory of the phenomenal and beautiful power born from one relationship given two. Embedded those memories resonate.


Simple & Powerful Rendering Techniques:

Check out Alex's blog (under Links_tutorials @ right) for more tutorials like this one. He is creating quite powerful renderings in little time and surprisingly with little or no use of a rendering program.


Thesis Statement_3.0

Inducing Indigenous

I am first and foremost interested in designing a sensory experience, born from the indigenous cultures of our past, and re-contextualizing them in the modern era. It is my contention that the modern condition does not create architecture that caters to the five senses; instead it caters to one sense. In this distillation everything has been lost. When imagining powerful phenomenological environments that stimulate all senses, imagery of man’s primal beginnings resonate. Our primal beginnings were nomadic in nature and tied to notions of the indigenous. Indigenous tribes were defined through a close connection with the processes and materials of the natural world. The rising and setting of the sun, the gradual changing of the seasons, and the sheer power of the weather were processes our primal ancestors experienced and retained. What is it about the experience of a warm igloo buried in a frozen landscape that is so phenomenal and experiential? When imagining it’s internal shell, I picture brilliant white sunlight transformed into a tapestry of blues and grays washing across the surface like colors on a concave canvas. The implementation of natural materials, like ice, in systems such as an igloo, produced honest tectonics. These materials were unrefined, unfinished, and retained the inherent earthly properties. I believe the material assemblages and sensations experienced by these indigenous cultures are most phenomenal, architectural, valuable, and human.

If we assume the above to be true, then it is follows that we should aspire to model buildings of the modern era after the successful materials and imagery associated with indigenous architecture. Can we use the knowledge and rules of past cultures to inform a ‘new vernacular’, a vernacular of the modern era born from the ideas of our ancestors? It is my contention that there is a vast reservoir of primal knowledge trapped in the indigenous which is more relevant today than at any other time in the history of civilization.


Architectural Model? Interactive Video Game?

The graphics in this walk through are the most visceral I have seen yet. Beautiful!


Thesis Statement_2.0


Architecture creates space for the inhabitants of a society to both function and thrive within the cultural, economic, and social fabric of civilization. As digital technology becomes more pervasive, it threat­ens to fundamentally augment societal norms, changing the member’s way of life. How then will architecture itself change to perform it’s primary task of creating space for the, now changed, inhabitants of the technological society?

Every culture throughout the course of history has worshipped some kind of symbol, icon, or way of existing. In Christianity, this symbol is God, manifested as Jesus Christ. In the Pagan religion, it was multiple gods such as Poseidon, the god of water, or Zeus, the god of lightning. Finally, during the Industrial Revolution it could be argued that the machine was the symbol of worship, which drove the society. Worshipping does not require a god; it merely requires a symbol or ideal to which a culture may align their views and actions. Societal day-to-day goals and activities are largely driven by the cultural zeitgeist they follow. In es­sence, cultural values affect the paradigms and decisions of the members participating in that society. I believe our modern society has an object of worship, but one that does not have religious connotations.

Digital technology has become modern societies object of worship. Every day hundreds of thousands of employees in the field of technology work grueling hours to pump out and produce the next technological breakthrough, conscious of the benefits of their efforts, but ignoring the vast implications this new techniques potential may have to harm their society. As the number of these developments rapidly increases and accumulates, a need develops for us to take a step back and truly contextualize the implications of these techniques. The myriad of problems associated with the rapid increase in technology is just beginning to reveal their ef­fects on the denizens of the expanding technological society.

For the sake of example, employees of companies that rely heav­ily on technology for their daily production are being given the opportunity to work from home. While this is a benefit in the sense that employees lives are freed to be productive when they wish, to reduce the stress of a commute, or to provide increased autonomy over ones life, it carries with it the inher­ent problem of the human condition. Human beings are fundamentally physiological and social beings whose function and happiness decrease without physical or social inter­action. What happens to an employee who can generate revenue to remain financially stable and have their necessities of food and shelter satiated, but who lack a network of friends? If ones only connection to the political world of friendship and networks is through ones employment, how do these privileged individuals maintain this human aspect of their existence? In the new technological frontier, I believe these individuals will increasingly need a place of social interaction as their employers re­move them from the culture inherent in the office setting. While this only serves as an example, I believe many examples exist to illustrate how technology can both increase our potential for production and connectivity, while simultaneously eroding the fundamental being of what it means to be human.


Embodiment of our Social Development

"Yet the untamed undigested, unrationalized, uncontrolled world is still there. People as thinking, feeling beings still exist. What form, then, do we take, in a world where there is, how else can I put it?, no world at all? To put it another way: What kind of idea do we have of the world when, day after day, we sit in front of our screens and enter further and further into the illusion that we ourselves are actually creating our own external reality out of our own internal desires? We become impatient with realities that don't gratify our impulses or satisfy our picture of reality. We find it harder to accept the immutable limitations imposed by identity, talent, personality. We start to behave public as if we were acting private, and we begin to fill our private world with gargantuan public appetites. In other words, we find it hard to bear simply being human."

Seigel, Lee. Against the Machine.

Institutions vs. Collaboration_Shirky

Cognitive Surplus


Perception and Reality

I found this writing on Wikipedia today and thought I would record it as a nice summary of perception.

In the case of visual perception, some people can actually see the percept shift in their mind's eye.[4] Others, who are not picture thinkers, may not necessarily perceive the 'shape-shifting' as their world changes. The 'esemplastic' nature has been shown by experiment: anambiguous image has multiple interpretations on the perceptual level. The question, "Is the glass half empty or half full?" serves to demonstrate the way an object can be perceived in different ways.

Just as one object can give rise to multiple percepts, so an object may fail to give rise to any percept at all: if the percept has no grounding in a person's experience, the person may literally not perceive it.

The processes of perception routinely alter what humans see. When people view something with a preconceived concept about it, they tend to take those concepts and see them whether or not they are there. This problem stems from the fact that humans are unable to understand new information, without the inherent bias of their previous knowledge. A person’s knowledge creates his or her reality as much as the truth, because the human mind can only contemplate that to which it has been exposed. When objects are viewed withoutunderstanding, the mind will try to reach for something that it already recognizes, in order to process what it is viewing. That which most closely relates to the unfamiliar from our past experiences, makes up what we see when we look at things that we don’t comprehend.[5]

This confusing ambiguity of perception is exploited in human technologies such as camouflage, and also in biological mimicry, for example by European Peacock butterflies, whose wings bear eye markings that birds respond to as though they were the eyes of a dangerous predator. Perceptual ambiguity is not restricted to vision. For example, recent touch perception research Robles-De-La-Torre & Hayward 2001 found that kinesthesia based haptic perception strongly relies on the forces experienced during touch.[6]

Cognitive theories of perception assume there is a poverty of stimulus. This (with reference to perception) is the claim that sensations are, by themselves, unable to provide a unique description of the world. Sensations require 'enriching', which is the role of the mental model. A different type of theory is the perceptual ecology approach of James J. Gibson. Gibson rejected the assumption of a poverty of stimulus by rejecting the notion that perception is based in sensations. Instead, he investigated what information is actually presented to the perceptual systems. He and the psychologists who work within this paradigm detailed how the world could be specified to a mobile, exploring organism via the lawful projection of information about the world into energy arrays. Specification is a 1:1 mapping of some aspect of the world into a perceptual array; given such a mapping, no enrichment is required and perception is direct perception.

"Perception." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Feb. 2011. .


Nature's Genius

Nature inherently elucidates the model for recycling. Are we responsible enough to figure out how to mimic it?



RITUALIZING EXPERIENCE_ thesis statement 1.0

Our current paradigm within the profession of architecture remains fundamentally aligned with that of modernism. It is my contention that modernism is the celebration of the efficient, the progressive, and the rational. Operating within this paradigm has reduced the use of sensory, experiential, or ‘raw’ materials, in favor of materials that embody the same zeitgeist as the modernist view. Materials that can be mechanized, mass produced, and pumped out of a factory for quick application. The problem with this approach, is it has suffocated the materiality of experience; or the ‘raw’. ‘Raw’ materials require little heating, beating, or treating and represent a product, which remains most closely tied to its place of extraction. For example, the ‘raw’ is embodied in a fallen branch in the woods, a quarried stone, which still retains the surface texture inherited through years of erosion or other geological processes, or adobe, which still holds the sedimentary nature of the earth from which it was gleaned. As these materials are increasingly used less and less in favor of mechanized materials, like drywall, sheetrock, and plastic, our buildings and spaces decrease their potential to embody meaning.

There are a select group of projects that cater to “the experience” or phenomenology by incorporating the 'raw', but these projects are surprisingly few, and are seemingly isolated to specific geographic locales. Many of these projects exist in the rural or backwater areas of the globe, traditionally isolated from the productive and populated cities of the industrialized world. Why does this happen? Is it a fundamental law of a phenomenological approach that, in order for a designer to pursue this type of thinking in architecture, their creation must exist away from the urban core, containing relatively minimal program? Or, is there a way to create architecture, which puts phenomenology at the fore, and in doing so, provide both a sensory experience and function for the denizens of our urban centers? Or does the process of designing for experience meet head to head with the fundamental rationality and function born of modernism?


Material and Meaning

Throughout and after World War I, there was a vast explosion of new materials the United States learned to fabricate. There was an abundance of cheap fossil fuels throughout North America and companies extracting the resource wanted to sell more of it than was being burned in the automobile. So, they hired scientists from all a round the world and tasked them with the job of figuring out how many useful ways, besides burning it in a combustion engine, this material could be reconfigured, marketed, and sold to consumers. The first of these were synthetics like polystyrene (PS) polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and synthetic rubber. Later, these were followed by polypropylene, commonly used in carpeting and synthetic rope. Or polyamide known more commonly as nylon. While this century long period of creating new types of materials has given us many of the useful materials we utilize today; like toilet scrubbers, cadillac tires, and cell phone batteries, I wonder fundamentally about what they mean. To rephrase that, do all material things, just by there having a physicality or a tangible presence give them the potential to embody meaning? Is a material meaningful because it draws associations or perceptions of the natural world from whence it was extracted. Or are materials only meaningful because of the associations we develop with them through personal experiences? Will I always connect with smooth river stones, in any amalgamation or assemblage, because I grew up chasing the school bus along the creek bed as a boy?

It is my contention that there exists a gradient of material typologies which move from the 'raw' to the 'mock'. 'Raw' materials are those extracted from the earth, acted on minimally, incorporating little heating, beating, or treating. These materials are known by their texture, their odor, or their distinctive form. 'Raw' materials remain closely married to the processes and nature of the location of their extraction. While these types of materials are more difficult to mold and form with the human hand and are increasingly difficult to industrialize, they are unquestionably beautiful, tangible, and authentic.

'Mock' materials are materials, which have gone through a higher number of processes. These materials are heat, beat, and treated extensively. They are increasingly the outcome of chemical compositions that are highly processed and altered from their original state. While 'mock' materials may be more useful today than 'raw' materials, they are many times unknowable by the ordinary observer. For example, would an average consumer know what their laundry hamper, cell phone, or face scrub were really made of? The fact is that most people don't care about what these materials are because they serve a specific function in their day to day lives. A cell phone is important for our ability to connect and share with the people we relate with in our day to day lives. We don't need it to be meaningful we simply need it to work. Yet, it is through this type of items 'function' that it embodies meaning. Similarly, a toilet bowl brush simply needs to not pick up, hold, or transmit bacteria in the bathroom while having some type of scrubber to clean the inside of the bowl itself. These types of products have value in todays society and increasingly, through the invasion of technologies like the computer, seem to have concretized themselves within modern culture.

What remains problematic here is that 'mock' materials embody meaning though their function. It is the task they perform for us, which makes them meaningful. A cell phone means something to us for its ability to connect us with our network of friends and family, to entertain us when were bored, and to keep track of our important meetings and deadlines. While this seems to be no problem at all, it does present a problem for the 'raw'. How does the 'raw' material typology embody this same kind of meaning. I would argue, the 'raw' does not need to fight as hard to obtain meaning, it simply needs to be revealed. Sadly, I feel our approach to these types of materials, on large, has not done as much as is possible to reveal the inherent meaning in the 'raw'.