Thesis Studio, Autumn 2012 Nov26


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Thesis Studio, Autumn 2012

It is always quite interesting to take a look at thesis projects in any architecture program to gauge the concerns of students, and perhaps even predict where the attention of our discipline may eventually move. Indeed, the thesis work of architecture students—which often tackles complex and wide-ranging issues and proposes new design methodologies—has great promise in advancing architectural discourse in relation to what are often difficult contemporary situations. It is a particularly exciting time for thesis work today. The idea of what constitutes an architectural thesis is no longer confined within the conventional boundaries of a building on a site. In some cases, it is the scale of thinking that is at issue—from broad and ambitious projects to those that consider the most minute detail—and in others it is their interdisciplinary reach—where architectural thought is applied to other fields or draws upon other areas of knowledge.

This year the thesis studio brings together a rather remarkable set of interests that are not only challenging the boundaries of architecture; they are testing the abilities of the instructors. Thankfully, I am not alone in this effort, as I have been joined by Brad Khouri of B9 Architects—who has participated in all of our structured reviews—and three visiting critics—Josh Distler of LMN Architects, Lee Copeland of Mithun, and Danielle Rawson of Rohleder-Borges Architecture—who have been meeting with small groups of students on a weekly basis. The result has been a rich and intense studio experience where the individual student interest has been balanced with a common set of themes that runs through many of the thesis projects. It is those themes that are quite interesting to discuss and that reflect something of where architecture may be moving in the coming years.

Figure 1. Dafer Haddadin

Figure 2. Paul Flores

Figure 3. Chris Pineo

Figure 4. Aaron Allan

Figure 5. Davis Hammer

Figure 6. Hilary McDonald

A number of the projects put forward what could most succinctly be described as an architecture of the environment. Some of these projects focus on sites that have been made or manufactured—and not in a positive sense—by the industrial processes that we have depended upon during the last century—such as copper mining, oil production, nuclear proliferation, and the disposal of waste. Others deal with some rather sublime natural landscapes—such as South Georgia Island near Antarctica and the Great Basin National Park in Nevada—that we need to better appreciate. In these theses, architecture takes on different roles, from an agent of remediation, to a vehicle of environmental education and a form of social and political commentary.

Figure 7. Lauren Rock

Figure 8. Juan Vergara

Figure 9. Andy Williamson

A second group of projects deal with urban problems, although either their site—such as Detroit’s Eastside or the Cuidad Bolivar in Bogotá, Columbia—or their approach—strategic demolition and surgical insertions in the Skyway system in Minneapolis—is unconventional. What these theses all share is that they question the standard urban development models, reflect a desire to create more informal and responsive urban environments and convey a sense of working in the aftermath of some of the greatest failures in modern urban theory.

Figure 10. Peter Chimicles

Figure 11. Michael Wright

Figure 12. Katey Ricker

Figure 13. Rebecca Becker

A final group of thesis projects explore the generative potential of the architectural program, though they do so in divergent ways. All of these theses tackle large-scale systems of communication, transportation and exchange—such as the production and dissemination of music, and the ferry system, rest stop program and public slaughterhouses in Washington State—and they do so with careful attention to some very specific and quite compelling urban and site conditions. They also share a critical engagement with programmatic thinking that challenges the most common assumptions of how architecture is a product of its functional demands.

Reflecting on some of the ambitions of these thesis projects it is clear that they are all in one way or another attempting to make architecture relevant to a broader audience. As an advisor to these graduate students it is heartening to remember that architecture has always had the capacity to reinvent itself in response to a difficult and constantly changing world.


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