2013/14 - Birds of Passage

Image © Hans Rucker Co, Leisuretime-Explosion, 1967

Image © Hans Rucker Co, Leisuretime-Explosion, 1967

Mollie Claypool, Manuel Jimenez Garcia, Philippe Morel

This year Unit 19 will continue its investigation into spaces of domesticity and the problem of housing as compositions of banal novelty. We will be conceptualising domestic spaces as apparatuses complexities that we face today sociologically, economically and politically, tomorrow and in the near future. Contemporary domestic spaces are for us a result of the pervasiveness and power of the nature of computation – and we harness this in the work we do in Unit 19.

We will work from the micro to the macro in three steps: from a piece of furniture, to a house, to housing. In addition, the project output will be understood as apparatus – continuously in flux – through which we can gain an understanding of the relationship between local and global sociological, political, economic and cultural phenomena. We will specifically look at the various actors engaged in conflicts and dichotomies of power which have helped define the 21st century so far: particularly, immigration from northern Africa into Sicily as a result of conflict in the northern part of the African continent: the migration of contemporary Birds of Passage.

We will investigate Sicily and its contemporary embodiment of a new kind of domesticity as one which is continuously in flux due to migration. Due to its key geographical position, Sicily will be analysed using computational and algorithmic processes. We will use these tools to study patterns of migration, delinquency, nomadism, escapism, alienation, isolation and exile – patterns which for us are a key part of the makeup of a 21st century domestic spaces which are traced and carved from such conditions.

We see computation and the algorithmic process as a tool which is substantially different to more traditional and analogue methods of architectural production, one which allows us to take into account parameters of change, adaptivity, flexibility and flux in terms of how we deal with structure, mechanics and geometry. A generative approach to architectural design allows us build intelligence and logic into our work. While the design project will drive the year, the Design Realisation project for the 4th years and the Thesis for the 5th years will be a key component of this synthesis, bringing together the technical and theoretical side of architectural design into one coherent project. The parameters that take into account structure, geometry and mechanics will be built into the code, scripts and processes we use for the design project, enabling real time simulation and analysis in existing environments, and testing change and variation. The ultimate aim is to use algorithmic processes that allow us, as architects, to encourage and facilitate – not dictate – the synthesis between multiple disciplines.


The first term will be spent working at the scale of the micro, and will be used to build the foundation for what we do for the rest of the year. In this term, we will ‘skill up’ in terms of theory, computation and design processes. Our output will be in the form of writing and coding as well as three projects, 2 short and 1 long: a piece of furniture, a housing unit and a brief.


We will then caravan through Sicily. We will observe how the landscapes and towns of Sicily have been traced, changed and imprinted with patterns of migration from northern Africa, creating domestic spaces which have hybridised, mutated and evolved over time.


The beginning of the second term we will transition from the micro (housing unit) to the macro (housing). With our sites fully documented and parameters of the brief defined, we will begin to work with aggregation logics, using the unit as a component.

We will begin to work on the macro scale of housing, each student working towards developing their own architectural apparatus for housing for Birds of Passage. Through our building up of different iterations of how new domestic spaces could be generated via an understanding of Sicilian patterns of migration, delinquency, etc., we will introduce fabrication techniques as a result of material complexity. Each student will develop 1:5 to 1:1 prototypes that are driven by the computational processes we have used over the course of the previous projects, assisted by today’s technology. The portfolio will be therefore drastically revised as a result of seeing these prototypes for the Birds of Passage as a form of speculative design research.