Translating materiality, fabrication and education in modern architecture
In spring 2014, Assistant Professor of Architecture Tolya Stonorov led a team of third- and fourth-year architecture students in transforming a 21-foot 1969 Airstream Globetrotter into a mobile outreach, education and design center. This unique American Institute of Architects, Vermont Chapter (AIAVT) project was made possible through a $42,750 grant from the AIA National Innovation Fund to create an “Archistream.” AIA VT acted as the client for the students. Stonorov will continue with the project through ongoing research.
The Archistream Project has already gained national media coverage from AIA National, statewide coverage in “Seven Days” and local media coverage in Montpelier’s “The Bridge” and the “Northfield News.”
Stonorov explains, “The research project will be divided into three parts: research and methodologies, the design build process and the results. Graphic and photographic support materials will accompany each phase.
“The process/making research will be conducted by looking at my own fabrication process and by analyzing the students’ process. Much of the research will involve critically (re)looking at work and questioning the production methods. I plan to explore the results of the Archistream in the field and comment on the methodologies used in the design build process. The study will furthermore engage the notion of authenticity; how can we re-imagine and redefine an authentic, modern Vermont architecture? This will involve examining how to educate rural communities about the importance of architecture today. The research will look at how the Archistream functions as a mobile outreach tool and will ask: Is it able to draw people in and engage them with architecture? Does it open up questions about modern design in Vermont, etc.?”
Stonorov’s research proposal
Through independent and studio team investigation, I am researching the nature of fabrication, examining the relationship between digital and traditional methods of making. The research questions what becomes of the maker if the hand is no longer involved? How is the experimentation that comes from working a material through touch translated and shifted when the process becomes automated and preconceived? There is feedback specific to working with materials, tools and methodologies that directly informs design, assembly, concept and built work. How is evolving feedback transformed when the relationship between hand and material is distanced?
As material tolerances approach zero with the use of digital fabrication methods, is there a richness lost in the presence of precision? Explorations between disparate materials suggest a reinvestigation of how they are joined; the relationship of material to ornament is reconsidered. Through a parallel exploration of digital and hand techniques, fabrication methods are challenging our generative means of making. Current research with plywood, felt and resin examines the relationship between the materiality of process and production.
Though there are examples of mobile galleries and texts written on digital and traditional fabrication methods, there is not, to my knowledge, a text that researches such an iconic vessel as the housing for a mobile teaching tool, while simultaneously examining the methodologies used to craft it. Existing works concerning the objects and qualities of architectural fabrications are typically either hand-based or digitally based: the craftsman or the machine. This separation perpetuates a false perception of a division in sensibility and underlying systems of feedback given methodology.
Much digital documentation and inquiry focuses primarily on the assessment of established works that are mostly ornamental and installation based. Handcraft-based works tend toward explicit documentation, political commentary and spirituality. Many of these texts approach the development of digital fabrication from the perspective of an architect/designer who was not previously involved in the field of making. My study attempts to be unique in that it will engage the question of transition from more traditional forms of making to digital and will specifically explore what occurs in this thickened threshold between hand and computer control. The research will critically document and write about the studio process, fabrication research and the post-occupancy results of the Architstream’s travels around Vermont.