5 Projects: Interview 4 / Brian Spring

exterior view

5 (student) Projects: is a group of projects completed at Yale University’s School of Architecture by 5 young architects during their graduate education. Each of the 5 projects are sited in New Haven on or adjacent to Yale’s campus. Each project focused on an institutional building, loosely defined by program, type and context. These commonalities became a framework for discussion that illuminated individual polemics and debate about experimentation in today’s architectural landscape. Despite the initial appearance of diversity within the set, each architect sought to address a common set of ideas emerging at Yale and perhaps within the discourse of architecture at large.

Primarily addressing the legacy of Postmodernism (in its various guises and forms), each sought an architecture that engaged historical memory, local context and an renewed concern for communication and legibility. Each was interested in an operable or speculative way to use history and its associated culturally established values, meanings and forms to produce new bodies of work. In that sense, each sought a contemporary way to learn from the past that would have particular resonance in today’s social, political, and cultural milieu.

The identity of the group of 5 is meant as a provocation towards two related issues: the desire for individuality and expression by today’s younger generation of architects inculcated by media and secondly, the desire for consensus within discourse on what counts today as critical & theoretical concerns for architecture. The aspiration behind the interviews and feature is to reveal an internal discussion which demonstrates an effort to clarify and identify a set of ideas that underpin contemporary architectural production. The feature and interviews were organized and conducted by Alexander Maymind.

You can check the first interview, second interview and third interview in case you missed them. Read the fourth one after the break.

Interview 4: (critic: Peter de Bretteville)

Your project is a Digital Archive. Can you explain how issues of typology, program and site came into play for your project?

The project is a design for the Yale Digital Archive, an institutional building that mixes faculty, students and the public on Yale’s campus. Given its prominent siting, the building is conceived of as a condensed polygonal box that alleviates the ground plane. This public domain is subtly differentiated and populated with a series of large, articulated public collective spaces. An outreach public library extension/ bookstore and a lecture hall/ auditorium occupy two corners of the building allowing the general public to access an otherwise hyper-controlled, secure building type. An outdoor sculpture gallery is located at the rear of the plaza to induce user traffic throughout the site. These public collective spaces essentially function as feet upon which the hulking mass of the building sits, elevating the more demanding program above to allow for a clear span lobby that phenomenally leaks out into the public plaza. Within the building, a prominent ramp traverses vertically three levels to connect the gallery levels and reading room. The ramp functions as ‘slow circulation’ to allow viewership to a distributed conception of archival storage. This storage is tectonically codified at specific moments throughout the building.

exploded axonometric
site plan
Gordon Bunshaft/ SOM: Beinecke Rare Books Library at Yale
Morphosis: 41 Cooper Square, corner
Morphosis: 41 Cooper Square, main stair
Le Corbuser, Carpenter Center at Harvard University
Le Corbuser, Carpenter Center at Harvard University
Le Corbuser, Firminy
Kevin Roche, Ford Foundation
Kevin Roche, Ford Foundation
Charles Moore, Ford Foundation
OMA, Jusseiu, model photograph

The project seems to be a stock-taking of a number of recent and not-so-recent tropes in the discipline of architecture. A number of ideas are being defined, tested, collected and ultimately, evaluated. This is similar to Enrique Walker’s ‘Dictionary of Received Ideas’ studio at Columbia which attempted to find new territory that might have otherwise been precluded. In that sense, the use of these tropes is an effort to evaluate and come to terms with your own reading of the discipline.

I think that is an accurate reading of the project. There are a number of tropes. To begin with, the building deploys extensive use of a ramp as both circulation and programmed surfaces. Much of this points back to the architectural/ circulation strategies of Le Corbusier. Corb’s conception of the ramp as a floor-to-floor mechanism for linkage and its ability to create a distinctly different sensation of space, as compared to stairs, is the kernel for the spatial organization of the project. Koolhaas’ reading and parsing of Corb’s projects (including La Tremblay, Villa Savoye, Carpenter Center, Palais de Congres, and lastly, Firminy) and co-opting into his own projects further builds on the capacity of the ramp to problematize building components and programs (ie. via the residual, etc). Much of this thinking was elaborated in Jeff Kipnis’ seminar which I took as an undergraduate at Ohio State’s Knowlton School of Architecture. Strategies regarding the articulation of the façade are entrenched in the eclecticism of post-modernism. Above all, the building wants to communicate with many diverse constituencies. It’s deliberately tall to have a vertical presence on its block. It co-opts the elevation motifs of existing buildings to instigate a sort of perverse campus dialogue. It connects with the public via an unscrambling of the partial, contextual hieroglphys on the façade. The formative writings of Venturi, Moore, Scully, Stern (tenets of the “Grays”, see Stern, “Gray Architecture as Post-Modernism or, Up and Down from Orthodoxy, 1976)) serve as background for co-opting the nearby building elevations and their re-assemblage into a composed collage. The post-modern tendency of the “thickened façade” (historically/culturally thickened) allows the façade notation to communicate a “new familiar” language due to its site-specific, campus elevation cues.

exterior view
sectional model view

Let’s talk more specifically about the form-making and its process.

Due to the energy expended on the façade (sampling and composing contextual elevation elements) the building form itself adopts a subdued polygonal box geometry. The public collective zones at the plaza level, through the process of lofting, are formally articulated along with subtle level changes via stairs and ramps in the plaza. During previous massing iterations, this lofting technique (constructing a set of surfaces between a series of profiles) was carried out extensively. Part way through the design the program was segmented into three distinct chunks (boxes): public program, distributed archive, and administrative spaces. These chunks were then slightly shifted from each other in plan and arrayed vertically. Then to generate the building form a series of surfaces were lofted between these programmatic chunks. However, that basic technique has been so closely associated with OMA’s Seattle Central Public Library, that I found myself struggling to depart away from its formal influence. Ultimately what was happening is that the façade was loud, the plaza was loud, and the building form itself was loud. Eventually the building’s form was resolved as a square extrusion that begins to cant back at the ramp reading level to defer to its corner siting.

section perspective
sectional model

Something that becomes evident is a mutual attraction and appreciation of OMA’s Seattle Public Library as a benchmark project, both in terms of its clarity and assemblage of cosmetics, radical programming, and public/ civic symbolic space. In terms of your project, what is the relationship to context and its effect on context?

The building attempts to engage the public and serve as an iconic entry at the northern edge of the campus. It occupies the fringe of the last big block of the Yale campus proper — Hillhouse north of Trumbull is lined with historic residential, now institutional buildings. The building is deliberately tall to anchor the corner lot but communicates to the context via contextual notation from buildings in close proximity. The individual building facades relate directly to the building that it faces. Hence, the south façade mimes the rectangular punches of the old Health Services. The elevation logic of each face turns the corner bleeding seamlessly into the adjacent elevations. Thus the modernist punches interact with 19th century collegiate Gothic language and motifs as the “contextual compositions” work around the façade. The resulting building façade then operates, somewhat perversely, as being contextual because it co-opts all of the motifs and language of the adjacent, existing buildings. Stripped of their materiality, the familiar is articulated in two layers that are offset, generating shadow relief for yet another registration of the context (via shadow of contextual motifs).

facade diagrams

A common theme we have discussed and seen in these 5 projects is a candid manipulation and discussion of precedents as integral to the devrelopment of one’s ideas. Perhaps this is inherent in Yale’s pedagogy as a heuristic device and teaching method. I think its useful to identify some of the significant precedents for your project and discuss how were they used and to what end. Which architects are in your own personal collection that are crucial to this project?

Le Corbusier (ramping surfaces), OMA (program continuity, juxtaposition via ramp), Venturi (sampling context), early Graves, early Stern, Moore (façade super graphics), Roche (internalized public realm/ urbanity), Thom Mayne (mainly materiality, Cooper’s central space), Bunshaft/ SOM (as a source of reaction to the Beinecke Rare Books Library). The adjacent facades were first redrawn from photographs (orthographic elevations). With this control, I had license as to the level of specificity and detail to be included in each of the redrawn elevations—the facades were stripped of their materiality (no material register) instead only the formal motifs, profiles, and outlines were left to communicate.


How is the project speculative? How is it pragmatic? And secondly, how does the project deal with the cornerstones of architecture (client, site, budget, program)?

The project is speculative in its conception of the archival process. Typically, these types of functions (delivery, processing, cleaning, inventory) take place out of site, in hyper-secure, controlled environments. This project attempts to reveal the inner-workings of these processes to the inhabitants of the building in a variety of distributed archival pieces. Instead of stuffing the archive beneath ground due to its demanding mechanical and security requirements, it is instead located at the top of the building and smaller distributed chunks attach to the core throughout the building. This process of exposure is a reaction against the Beinecke interior book vault as static, prismatic, hermetically sealed object of aura. The ramps activate the inhabitants view and perception of the distributed storage, it manifests itself in many locations throughout.; not as a static object always viewed from the same vantage point. The distributed archival storage is tectonically coded to further forefront its legibility in the building. The distributed archive is serviced by a consolidated core which incorporates a mechanical labyrinth, located beneath the public plaza, which takes outside air and wraps it through a coil to reduce the energy needed to condition the air. The building is pragmatic in that it addresses this sensitive, building program with extremely demanding mechanical loads with an energy sensitive, environmentally responsive solution regarding humidity control, air changes per hour, diffuser and return air placement etc. Hence, the system of archival storage serves as the impetus for both speculative(distribution, viewership, security, etc) and pragmatic strategies(mechanical servicing, environmentally responsible). A majority of the functional program are dealt with in a very straight forward manner. The smaller administrative spaces are stacked at the south face of the building to allow some freedom manipulate the experience of the primary public areas on the north face.

These types of constraints always put pressure on a project to perform with some dexterity. All of these forces confront the building in different capacities, whether it be scope, aesthetic decisions, material selections, so one must consolidate efforts to place emphasis on what are the real ambitions of the building. How does one make sacrifices elsewhere to allow the building to perform in specific ways, whether it be internal spatial composition, formally, tectonically, etc. These constraints force the building to be a resultant of various processes of negotiation; ultimately yielding to sensitive considerations that result in a better building. Although this is an academic project, these issues have always been around and will continue to be, they serve to ground the project in its reality, bring it specificity, bring it value driven out of immaterial forces.

Cite: Jordana, Sebastian. "5 Projects: Interview 4 / Brian Spring" 21 Apr 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 17 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=129498>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    This is already a much bigger improvement than the projects featured in Interview 3.. Good work :) A bit “busy” but interesting nonetheless!

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