UChicago Department of Ecology and Evolution

Connor Gravelle (website), Diastika Lokesworo
Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc)
Design Studio
Faculty: John Enright (website)


The Department of Ecology and Evolution seeks to produce an educational building for the University of Chicago, located within the Loop along the Chicago River, from an aggregated surface module. In manifesting the abstract properties of a module into the accumulated whole of a piece of architecture, the project tackles questions of structural / mechanical articulation in respect to the inhabitants of a building, circulation and awareness of site or context in terms more than purely linguistic.

As part of the center’s program, the building is to contain a series of ecological spaces for the study of various types of plants. This provocation of nature cum architecture cum urbanity becomes a topic of interest for the development and conceptualization of a building as an architectural entirety in the contemporary American cityscape. Dealing specifically with the larger ramifications of realizing such a piece of architecture, the project attempts to navigate in a novel approach such relationships as those between conformation and resistance, instruction and intuition or temporary trend and epochal quality. This is as much on the parts of us – as students finding ourselves through architecture in the year 2015 – as on ruminations about architecture is a timeless engagement between humanity and the constructed environment.

Chiefly, while it may appear counterintuitive to say so, this project is against Form as a driving prerogative for the development of architecture. As a new generation emerging into the seemingly vapid condition or architecture, how are we to resist? This is not to say that architecture ipso facto ought to resist, but rather it indicates the necessary stagnation which ought to point us towards this goal. Around the Western World, it appears that a myriad of architects have come to concern themselves with issues which we have over the past few generations sculpted to be “formal”. Investigations of color, effect, form and the like have left architecture marginalized, self-enamored. Architecture stares mindlessly into the shimmering lake of its own convolution.

Meanwhile, the citizens of the Western world continue to live obliviously to any of these disciplinary prerogatives. Does the average human being concern his- or herself with the precise meaning of a corner? Does your mother ruminate before bed about the meaning of a floor’s thickness in relation to the thinness of the wall beside it? Probably not. Architecture obviously is no slave to the demands of those outside its realms, and, as any profession, it delivers to society the tasks which society itself cannot be expected to muster the adequate time to be concerned with (each profession does the task which it is assigned because everyone else is just too busy).

This, though, is no excuse for a complete involution of the profession. In lieu of embracing the shifts in time, architecture has become preoccupied with a cyclical agenda in which each generation must kill its father. Were you raised by the Modernists? You must resist the grid; you must transfix simple reading and abstraction with ambiguity and reference. The Postmodernists? Reference is your nemesis, the digital your vanguard. This pathetic to-and-fro now appears less like progress and more like belittling self-denial.

Pertaining to this very moment in architecture, we find ourselves straddling an era of formal obsession. Strangely enough, we have been coaxed to believe that the formalism of architecture lies in form. While we might take this as a nascent condition of the field, one could raise the inclination that the very essence of architecture is not purely in the absolute form of a building, but something deeper. Perhaps, form is just the medium for the expression of intentionality in a building. Architecture claws its fingernails along a chalkboard of “form” as literature might profess its obligation to ink. That is to say, architecture has confused the medium for the message.

To perceive architecture purely on its terms of geometry and form is to vacuum the potentials of understanding the far deeper meanings which attach most of us to the discipline. It might be posited that most people do not actively experience their architecture in the moment of confronting it, but rather use their encounters with contemporary instantiations of built form to draw on a much larger set of connotations. These form the basis of a wide-swung pool of memories from which we are enabled to understand and to compartmentalize the world before us. While it is clear that some exceptional experiences of architecture can reform these memories an equally valid set of architectural moves hinges on the deepest parts of our nostalgia.

This method for approach the reading of a form relies specifically on the form’s meaningfulness, which begs an immediacy of the architectural prerogative to deconstruct what the piece of architecture implicates within a specific condition. It is the most efficient perspective to investigate the justifications, in terms cultural, of an architecture’s genesis.


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