2015/16 - The Laboratory of Mereology

Image © IDMER

Image © IDMER

Mollie Claypool, Manuel Jimenez Garcia, Gilles Retsin

Even a brick wants to be something. A brick wants to be something. It aspires. Even a common, ordinary brick… wants to be something more than it is. It wants to be something better than it is. – Louis Kahn

This year we will continue to develop our interest in architectural design and fabrication processes that have agency, that can rapidly deploy, assemble, respond and react, and that can be both custom and prefabricated. Mereology is the theory of parthood, of the relationship of part to a part and to a part to a whole and in The Laboratory of Mereology, we will investigate the relationships between things, whether this is tectonics, materials, fabrication and production processes or means and methods of describing architecture.

We are interested in you asking, how can a brick be more than just a brick? What is the relationship of the part to the whole, or the part to part within a whole? How can design engage in questions of parthood, of the agency or the intelligence of parts? How can a part be transformed when it meets another part, how can it become more than itself? These are questions which have plagued architects and designers for centuries, and with advances in technologies and materials, we believe that we can rethink these questions in new, inventive and exciting ways.

To address these questions now is timely. Fall out from the financial crisis of 2008, alongside global political tensions and disputes, has resulted in housing becoming a key problem for the future. Qualitative housing has become a device for capital and financial speculation, rather than a fundamental human right. As a result, entire parts of society, such as the young and retired are being pushed out of the city. The Laboratory of Mereology’s work this year will look into radical new architectural solutions to future-proof housing.

In The Laboratory of Mereology we believe that in order to design for the future we must be able to learn from the inventions of the past, and therefore this year we will travel to Argentina, one of the most architecturally diverse countries in the world due to its contested political history and levels of immigration second only to the United States. We will visit Buenos Aires, a city with a disputed and tense history of political revolution and reconstruction particularly in the period of the 1950s and 1960s. This period was marked by a push by architects working in Argentina to develop an architectonic identity for the country, resulting in an explosion in socially-conscious and technologically exploitative designs that tested and used new materials and techniques in order to house their rapidly expanding population. We will then travel from the architecturally chaotic beauty of Buenos Aires to the peaceful serenity of the (almost) end of the world: Ushuaia (“The Gateway to Antartica”) in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, exploring the extreme nature of the landscapes of both manufacturing and natural beauty in this region.

Architecture that pops, fizzles, slides, stretches, expands, builds over time, contracts, bargains, gambles or throws a mean left hook. Architecture which is tectonic/atectonic, continuous/discrete and exists across binaries… these are the kinds of architecture we’re interested in seeing you explore through design. We want you to challenge pre-conceived notions, be confident with doing so, and push architecture as we know it to its limits.

In our work, we use both analogue and digital drawing, craft and manufacturing processes. We will encourage you to think about part-to-whole relationships through time-based processes and techniques of making, whether or not they are analogue or digital. We will work in between tradition and novelty, and search for where they may come together, pull apart, and/or be transformed. We want you to be inventive, captivated and obsessive!

We will work towards defining architectural propositions from the micro scale of the brick, detail, cell or fragment, to the building scale. In Term 1, we will host workshops in a variety of tools and techniques, developing and testing your innate spatial knowledge and experience in re-thinking what a part is, and what a whole is. Year 4 students will test these micro-architectures from Term 1 at the building scale in Term 2 and 3, while Year 5 students have the opportunity to develop a rigorous design research into modelling, simulation, making and/or fabrication.

We view the unit as part of a laboratory, where knowledge grows from a collective energy, teamwork and open-source approach to furthering architectural design research. We share, and tap into, the resources and knowledge in the RC4 in MArch AD, as well as B-MADE. The unit benefits from a rich network of collaborators and experts in materials, simulation, engineering and design, including Vidal Fernandez Diaz – Design Realisation Tutor (associate, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners) and Vicente Soler – computing consultant (The Bartlett).