By Cara Armstrong, Director, School of Architecture + Art
This summer, three undergraduate architecture majors were among the 38 Norwich students awarded competitive six- and ten-week Summer Research Fellowships by the university’s Undergraduate Research Program.
Using stipends up to $4,000, Sarah Bedard ’16, Keith Stipe ’16, and Alex Menard ’18 traveled to Canada, Switzerland, and the American Southwest, respectively, to conduct original research on diverse architectural topics.
Senior Sarah Bedard, mentored by Prof. Cara Armstrong, investigated the ethics and aesthetics of modern additions to art museums. Starting in Toronto, she considered two projects. The first was the extension to the Royal Ontario Museum, dubbed the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, by Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind. Bedard also examined the first Canadian building by famed architect and Toronto native Frank Gehry. His redesign of the Art Gallery of Ontario marks the place where Gehry first connected art and architecture. Bedard also traveled to Williamstown, Mass.,to study the Clark Center, a new entrance to the Clark Museum, by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando.
As museums in the past 20 years have expanded buildings housing collections to welcome more visitors, the architecture of additions has become an art form in its own right, nearly as important as the art and history they house. Whether the additions are sculptural landmarks, provide more space without compromising the original the design, or juxtapose glass, steel or titanium with the original historical brick, limestone, or concrete structures, they are a hopeful suggestion of a cultural and civic resurgence to their communities. By examining different approaches to museum additions through three case studies, Bedard explored how the ethical implications of architecture relate to other design dimensions, such as aesthetics, craft, and materials, and regularly blogged about her research through photography, drawing, and writing.
A wood and glass structure swoops across the second story like a fish (indicative of Gehry’s work). It seems to have a good scale in relation to the public walking on the sidewalk. The transparent glass and warm glu-lam wood is inviting as well as serving as a good source of natural light for the interior. It seems to have very clean details and joints and adds to the quality of the existing building.
Sophomore Alex Menard, mentored by Prof. Tolya Stonorov, traveled to the bustling heart of Zurich, Switzerland, and the serene landscape of the Swiss Alps. There he explored the physical and theoretical relationships between building, site, and landscape for several notable works. These spanned the Cemetery Building Erlenbach by AFGH architects Andreas Fuhrimann and Gabrielle Hächler, and the Riesbach Harbor Pavilion and St. Benedict’s Chapel in Sumvitg by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor.
“The factors distinguishing these spaces from other buildings are the connections and relationships that this form of architecture shares with its site,” Menard says. “By effectively representing and responding to the elements of the surrounding space, these buildings achieve a sense of belonging and a genuine symbiotic relationship with the landscape.
“Although form, function, and site may change, achievement of an architecture that effectively and coherently responds to its surroundings is a matter of giving extreme consideration to the effects of the site on architecture, the architecture’s effect on the site, and the combined effect of the two on the individual.”
Visit Menard’s blog about his research.
During my time there, I began to realize just what Zumthor means when he describes presence, and the act of “presencing” buildings. Although he dives into this concept within his writings, to actually understand what he means really requires a visit to a building that has a particular presence. The only way I managed to describe the feeling of the Therme, to myself during my stay, was that it is a place that had created a distinct harmony between the element of man and the grandeur of nature. A person would feel comfortable here, welcomed, but not as if they had built this place for themselves. It seemed as if nature had manifested this space, or some godly figure, as a temple to the earth. Man was not there to complete the space, but to compliment it, an indifferent entity. It was a perfectly cavernous space. Yi Fu Tuan references “place” as being a stop along the arrow of perceived time, the culmination of all memory and experience of such area. This space has such a “place”. Every physical element is still, unless altered by man. The water is perfectly even, and so are the stones constructing the walls. Light is what gives animation to the space, bouncing, reflecting, moving. Something intangible. This is what I have come to realize about presencing of space. In order to successfully do so, the idea of place needs to be addressed. Place is achieved in the Therme through the control of elements. The stone construction suggests a monumental nature, thus the space is eternal and should be everlasting. It dominates the space, and forces this ideal upon the other elements, for change elsewhere would undermine the monumental essence. Light should continue unhindered through the night, and it does, as lights placed above the reveals in the roof provide consistent light. Water does not seep through the stone as one would expect, nor does it alter in any other way alone, making it more substantial than just water. The Therme is in every sense, a pause, a distinct place.
Senior Keith Stipe ’16, mentored by Prof. Danny Sagan, traveled to Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, where he examined earthen structures as part of his project titled Ancient Principles to Modern Practice: Rammed Earth Building. Stipe studied the performance (thermal mass) and ephemeral qualities of historic rammed earth construction in relation to its modern counterpart.
Stipe explored the history and performance of rammed earth construction and site-specific building traditions to provide insight into a tradition of co-existing with the land and comparative analysis of modern rammed earth construction and the ways it relates to its landscape and social context.
He analyzed the architecture of rammed earth construction as it expresses humanity within the built environment and to serve as a more relevant and practical guide to architects facing the challenges and issues of earthen construction in the modern age.
“I traveled from the ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, to the monumental ancient building projects of Chaco Culture National Historic Park, to the incredible mud brick Dar al-Islam Mosque, and then explored completely off-the-grid houses known as Earthships,” Stipe says.
“These Earthships use rammed earth construction, recycled materials, solar energy, and passive heating and cooling strategies to offer users a very unconventional and sustainable structure and approach to living.”
“As I discovered at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, an ancient approach and understanding of building orientation and climatic cycles continues to be essential in designing structures which perform well within the landscape they occupy. I was lucky to have the opportunity to spend a night in the Lemuria Earthship outside of Taos, N.M., where I was able to thoroughly explore and analyze the structure, performance, and various building systems on this incredible home.”
Stipe is also profiled in the eight-part news series about Norwich University Summer Research Fellows.
The Mesa Laboratory, dedicated in 1967, sits proudly atop the Table Mesa outside of Boulder, CO in the shadows of Colorado’s Flatirons. The research facility, for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, was I.M. Pei’s first building project outside of an urban environment. The rich red/pink color of the concrete and stone structure is a clear reference to nearby Red Rocks and, more significantly, to the ancient earthen cliff structures of Mesa Verde. References to Mesa Verde can be seen in the circular entrance kiva, elemental forms, and unique window placement and design. The resulting building plays with the complex broken geometries of Modern Architecture in plan, while creating a structure which embodied the beauty of the surrounding landscape without competing against it. The rich hue of the rough bush-hammered concrete was achieved by mixing a locally sourced pinkish aggregate into the concrete mix.
I stumbled across the “Alien Watchtower” while driving through the San Luis Valley near Great Sand Dunes National Park. The viewing platform drew me in with its sleek modern appearance which contrasted the domed cement structure which stood before it. The dome itself was a foot thick and featured bubbled skylights which cast orbs of light within the rounded interior space. The air was cool inside the structure despite being in the flat sun drenched valley, no doubt a result of its thermal mass. I kept a genuinely open mind as the kind lady running the Watchtower operation described her most recent flying object sighting from the previous day. I passed on her offer to camp for the night and instead looked out onto the sky, snow-capped mountains, and across the valley.