Sheila Kennedy, MIT and KVA Matx; J. Frano Violich, KVA Matx
Blaine Brownell, U of Minnesota
Catalyst Workshop Description
We have been conditioned over time to view ‘nature’ as something pure and immutable, distinct from and therefore somehow ‘exterior’ to architecture and urbanism. With industrialization, infrastructure became so ubiquitous and so seemingly ‘natural’ to the city that its presence was taken for granted constituting a kind of second nature that is set against the utopian construct of a ‘pure’ nature.
The work of the THIRD NATURE Catalyst Course will challenge this position, by exploring instead the uncanny cross-overs and hybrid conditions that characterize a third nature, where computationally generated form and technology in architecture are integrated by design with ecological materials and natural processes. Here, nature is not ‘pure’, easy or predictable—it always retains the provocative primal aspects of wild beauty unpredictability, and strangeness and cannot be easily domesticated. Students who wish to make happy ‘green’ architecture should apply immediately for a transfer to another Catalyst section.
Site & Context
The Workshop will consider the industrialized north edges of the Upper Mississippi River, between the BNSF Railway Bridge and Lowry Bridges, one of the key focus areas of the RiverFIRST initiative where a set of pedestrian bridges and trails are designed to provide public access to—and along– the Mississippi river. This extensive area has been widely de-treed and most of the ground is covered in non- asphalt and other non-pervious materials.
As David Gissen has argued, certain environmental forces such as dust, mud, gas, smoke, debris, weeds, and insects have been historically seen as inimical to architecture. Much of today’s discussion about ‘sustainable ‘ and ‘green’ design revolves around efforts to clean or filter ‘out’ these elements, as if architecture could be bounded from impurities that surround it in the larger urban territory. It is clearly impossible to try to re-create a ‘purely’ natural world, free of the untidy elements that actually constitute nature.
Taking this a-biotic industrialized riverfront territory as a site, students in the Catalyst Workshop will work in teams to explore, design and construct full-scale third nature cladding systems for selected sections of the pedestrian bridges. Unlike conventional cladding, these systems will be designed as ‘hosts’ that invite and sustain the presence of insects, volunteer vegetation (weeds) and insectivore birds species to boost the bio-diversity and future carrying capacity of this stretch of the Upper Mississippi River.
Techniques & Tools
The THIRD NATURE Catalyst Workshop will explore the materiality of wood. River produced wood includes deadwood, snags and driftwood. Industrially produced wood includes discarded and unwanted man-made dimensioned wood, such as 2×4’s, planks or plywood. Students should plan to work with Blaine Brownell to collect and amass sizeable quantities of these materials to have on hand before the start of the workshop. Self-similar sizes and types of wood are preferable and should be selected for the cladding projects.
Working with a Target Species list provided by KVA and River FIRST Conservation Biologists Peter McDonough, students will select and research the habitats and needs of native insect and weed species, and formulate a short written program that describes what the cladding must do to perform as an effective ‘sub-nature’ host. Using only one type of selected wood material, students will explore how the cladding can be organized along a selected section of the curvilinear surfaces of the pedestrian bridges. The RiverFIRST pedestrian bridges Rhino model will be provided, for reference, and students will select what part of the bridge they will work on. Unlike conventional cladding, which must be ‘watertight’ a system of layers, partial overlaps and/or gaps will instead be necessary in the WETWARE designs as the wood cladding will eventually rot away —i.e. become desirable food and shelter for its insect and avian denizens. Wood pieces may be cut, folded, arrayed and manipulated by design to form the cladding system. The goal is a design process that combines material performance and computation, formal design acumen and ecological processes.
The use of Rhino scripting and computation will be strongly encouraged in the Workshop to allow for a rich formal variation and dynamic density range in the architectural organization of cladding members. An important part of the formal problem will be to design and construct an architectural system that accounts for and allows for the formal variation that inevitably occurs in natural materials. (Please see Project Precedent List for specific organization techniques and inspiration.) A 3-D scanner will be available for students to use to digitize selected wood cladding members, so these can be manipulated and designed in Rhino modeling software.
Each student team will have the opportunity to integrate into their cladding a technology that will precipitate transactions and mediate between the natural and architectural. Provided mediating technologies will include acoustic (small electronic pick up microphone), luminous, (natural phosphor materials with afterglow), optical (small web cam) and generative (microbial fuel baggies).
Each team will be required to construct a full-scale array or ‘swatch’ or of their THIRD NATURE cladding to be determined with the Instructors and to create a set of diagrams that describe the formal configuration and structural and logics of their cladding systems. WETWARE cladding systems must be reproducible as architecture—they should not be considered as one off products of a singular ‘art making’ process. The creative challenge will be to provoke new ideas of both nature and technology in the transactions that occur among and between cladding, technology and nature. Students should install their full scale cladding constructs and diagrams for discussion in preparation for the Catalyst Wrap-Up on Friday when the work of the WETWARE group will be on display for the general public.
- driftwood – a riverbank in an area such as Minnehaha Falls Park
- Contact Peter Krieger and run up to Duluth Timber, they’ll probably fill a truck/s with reclaimed wood for free
- Green Institute’s Reuse Center - maybe not, looks like they’re out of business
- Habitat for Humanities ReStore
- Better Homes and Garbage
- Bauer Brothers Salvage
- Architectural Antiques
- City Salvage
- Gilded Salvage
- UMN ReUse Center - get an EFS # from Arch office for free stuff
- pallets (easier to cut apart than to pull the nails)
Sheila Kennedy’s Catalyst Introduction lecture for the catalyst may be found here.
Sheila’s second lecture—on Augmented Wood—may be found here.