The HCT Publishing Wall is the rolling platform for work by students in the History & Critical Thinking M.A. 2010-12 programme at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London.


2011 THESES:

Veronica Giordano

Designing with ‘what is there’: The use of ready-made components in the architectural project

The thesis will focus on the practice of  ‘designing with’ as a mode of conceiving the architectural project through the use of existing products and ‘ready-made’ components. Especially during the 1950s, the component assumed a different meaning for architects; instead of taking part in its design and production in the factory, designers used it as an existing point of departure for a catalogue-based design approach. The Hunstanton School of Alison & Peter Smithson will be analysed as a main case study. Their method of design will be framed within the 20th C art practices of collage, montage and assemblage. In particular, the Smithsons’ attitude towards the ‘as found’ object and their ‘honest’ approach to materials are crucial points to tackle several questions such as the relation of ‘whole’ to ‘parts’, inherent to the definition of the discipline of architecture itself. Starting from this case-study, the argument will develop around established dichotomies of whole and parts, system and components, process and end-product.



Orit Goldstein

White Cubes

This thesis attempts to challenge the critical discourse on modernism that reads the canonical white modernist space as absolute and rigid, one containing nothing but itself and unable to be interrupted or ‘contaminated’ by any spontaneous user. I aspire to discover how the white ‘cubic’ space offers areas of transgression, being intimate rather than universal, free rather than physically and morally restricted. Through critically examining the polemic argument of the ‘white cube’ the emblematic ‘single cell’ of modernism claiming that the highly controlled context of the modernist gallery ‘devours’ the art object and the viewing subject, I will offer my own readings of two well-composed narratives of modernism which are metaphorically viewed as ‘white cubes’. I will examine Villa Noailles as depicted through Man Ray’s 1929 film The Mysteries of the Chateau de Dice. The art patron’s modern villa became an object of a work of art as well as a gallery space to contain art objects and performing art. Furthermore, I will explore the narrative of the White City of Tel Aviv, as portrayed through the 1984 exhibition which recreated its story as the ultimate modern city, a ‘work of art’ a ‘large-scale white cube’ in itself, containing a conglomeration of singular well-promoted ‘white cubes’. The prisms of the filmed, the exhibited and the narrated reveal unique readings in which dichotomies are transgressed and while both objects and subjects perform, spontaneous events occur. As the actuality and interpretation of space blurs, the allegedly ‘frozen,’ white, museum-like space may lend itself to the personal wishes of the utilizing subject, becoming anything but neutral.



Emma Letizia Jones

Constructing Site

Le Corbusier, from Precisions, 1930

What do architects really mean when they talk about site? Are they referring to a set of latent environmental conditions, to which their projects form a direct response? Or is the site to which they defer actually of their own making, framed as part of the architectural project, and indivisible from it? Does the architect, in fact, design not a building, but a site? The thesis will put forward the supposition that the notion of the site is not pre-existing but is in fact staged or constructed, as an artifice or an effect, from within the architectural project. Rather than examining a project’s response to its site from the outside, where the architectural artifact is viewed as an autonomous object placed within either an urban or natural landscape, the thesis will propose an inversion of the critical point of view from an exterior to an interior trajectory, looking instead at how the site is constructed as a projected ideal from within the formation of the artifact itself.



Meggie Kelley

Dark Alcoves, Hidden Niches and Cozy Corners

In 1977, Christopher Alexander amongst his colleagues wrote about the alcove in their self-help guidebook of how to design a comfortable home for one and their family. Section 179 of the book states: ‘No homogenous room, of homogeneous height, can serve a group of people well. To give a group a chance to be together, as a group, a room must also give them the chance to be alone, in one‚’s and two’s in the same space.’ This thesis will be a quest to find the function of the alcove as a form of conditional space. A space that, despite its non-existent written history of functional use since and prior to the Middle Ages, has emerged as an architectural device of coziness that can be found within many photographs of interiors from the modern movement. Thus, a significant question that will be addressed in the writing will be: what makes this space so cozy for someone living in the 21st century?



Alison Moffett

Falling up: Auguste Choisy and the lightness of stone

The drawings collected at the end of Auguste Choisy’s first book L’Art de Batir chez Romains occupy a unique place in the history of drawing and architectural representation. Contained in each drawing, Choisy manages the monumental but delicate task of clearly putting forward his complete theory of rational architectural construction within a utopian framework of communication. In a sense, he ‘re-builds’ Roman architecture through drawing (or etching) thereby creating a new architectural space. These worm’s eye view axonometric images are distorted reflections of the built world, floating islands of utopia in the sky.

Each drawing functions as a fragment which is a totality – telling the viewer all the information given within the text, delineating in visual terms Choisy’s theory of construction, how to build each building, and the importance of rational thought. The pieces of the structures drawn are not depicted as crumbling ruins (though ruination is an important aspect) but rather carefully sliced sections, each drawing representing the entire idealized Roman civilization.

My analysis will consist of looking at the drawings themselves, and extrapolating out different ‘aspects’ or ‘elements’ that depict, delineate, or help define, the creation of a new architectural space and mode of representation.



Max Moya


Somewhere around 1947, a group of students and teachers at the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria in Lima are rumored to have organized a book burning ceremony. In it, texts ‘such as Vitruvius and Alberti’ are supposed to have been thrown into the bonfire. It certainly followed what seems now like a general anti history attitude that pervaded modernism: in order to be modern one had to reject history, at the very least in one’s education. Regardless of all that has been said, modernism did not aim for a tabula rasa, an erasure of the past as it is commonly understood. If we look at the ‘Big 4′ proposed by the International Style exhibition of 1932, we will almost find the complete opposite. But what do they really mean when they say history?



Danielle Rago

Mediating between realities

Focusing on exhibitions and printed publications, I plan on exploring how the institution of the museum transmits ideas about architecture between contemporary practice and culture through the use of media. The museum no longer functions through the creation of the ‘canon’ or even a distinction between the building and its image, but rather the creation of environments. By looking across these multiple platforms of architectural media  ‘exhibitions and publications’ and focusing on the exhibitions themselves and the accompanying texts, publications and programming from within the institution, as well as external media including press, audience reception, and political action (in some cases) in order to explore the ways in which the exhibition reaches a broader audience, but most importantly the way in which the museum uses media to transmit ideas about contemporary architecture.

Using the Museum of Modern Art as my site, I will explore three exhibitions within the last ten years’ Tall Buildings, The High Line, and Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront to demonstrate how they have affected contemporary architectural practice, culture and the built landscape of New York City.

Jing Supitchaya

Irony, a line of thought development

‘The “pipe” can “break”: The common place – banal work of art or everyday lesson – has disappeared.’

- Michel Foucault

If one is interested in how to create new things, new ideas or new concepts, and at the same time, critique what has already existed, irony is one of the ways to achieve that. The opposite of irony is common sense. Irony challenges and critiques common sense. It always introduces doubt. The aim of irony is subject to change and goes beyond platitude. The purpose of this thesis is to analyse and crystallize the process of irony in contemporary architecture. To examine how irony functions, firstly the thesis examines Rorty’s and Freud’s definitions of irony and looks at Magritte’s painting to depict the ironic process.

Secondly, the thesis will focus on irony in architecture namely Michelangelo’s mannerist architecture and Venturi’s work, both his seminal text Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and the Guild House project. Finally, the thesis, by using Deleuze’s text, ‘On the Several Regimes of Sign’, will conclude with a reflection on the process of irony as a differentiation machine.



Terumi Toyama

Culture of Copy in Japan: Dialogues between Architecture and Painting in the 17th Century Capital design

My thesis focuses on Japan’s newly created city of Edo (present day Tokyo) and the ways in which architecture and paintings in the 17th century utilize the city to demonstrate the power of a political institution. To this aim, the thesis investigates the unique relationship between architecture and paintings which developed at the time, though it was based upon styles that were formerly existed in the older city of Kyoto. Particular attention will be given to the significant role played by religious architectures in each city, placing emphasis on the transformations of their function and the role that politics played in this process.



Hitoha Tsuda

The Trajectory of Triumphal Parade

The relationship between architecture and memory of the city is mostly denoted in the notion of ‘monument’. Monument like locus, the myth of the place, is thought to fundamentally belong to the past of the place. However, throughout modernity which is characterized by its vigorous and mass pursuit of ‘the newness’, the identity of the city often had to be reconfigured. By looking at one particular monument, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and how its monumentality has been transferred into different milieus, thus deviating from the initial intention of the monument, this essay will attempt to redefine the myth of the city in our times.


2009/10 Thesis Research

Daniel Ayat, Urbanization and agriculture: from Nature to natures

In the contemporary city, agriculture is a political discourse that is critical to the processes of urbanization. The aim of this study is to raise the historical questions of how and why agriculture shifts from an enforcement of the dualist and essentialist view of Nature opposing Culture, to the production of plural and multivocal natures. This shift is questioned in its effect within the relationship between the agricultural and urban practices of London’s formal and informal spatial history. Specifically, this raises the question of how the city operates without Nature as an external and material limit, serving to demonstrate a dematerialization of urban space away from pure objecthood and towards a discursive political process.

Shumi Bose, Discourse 2.0: Architectural Writing and New Media  

This thesis explores contemporary modes of writing as a means of knowledge production. Within the context of new media platforms, communities and conversations, what are the modes of engagement and participation, and what are the effects of these on the nature of architectural discourse? How have these affected the production of architectural theory, critical standpoints, and the notion of an architectural agenda? Beginning from the plural condition of post-modernity, over the last forty years communication technology and mass media have evolved from being unilateral flows of information to non-linear meshes where one is, in more ways than one is aware, a participant. So within the remit of architectural writing and critical thinking, what does this networked space mean, what is the status of the reader-as-broadcaster, or the writer-as-community builder? This study is not one based on historical precedent or comparison, but rather an example of the practices and effects of various contemporary architectural writing platforms, using theoretical antecedents and their cultural contexts to illuminate the present.

Sylvia Chan, Writing in(to) architecture: China’s architectural production since 1949 

The thesis uses architecture writings in the mass media as a lens to look at the public participation in China’s architectural production from 1949 until the present, when the country transformed from a closed Communist regime into a state capitalist country. The general public participates in debates over architecture to form views which in turn inform and transform the architectural production. Architecture writings in the mass media reflect such debates on architecture and provide one way to mark the contours of the architecture public sphere, which registers the public participation in architectural production. The thesis, through the studies of texts, investigates the shifting meaning of public participation in China since 1949. The thesis questions whether the general public in China has ever been able to contribute to the discourse on architecture in such a way that it informs and transforms the architectural production of the country.

Marco Ferrari, Embassies: The Architecture of Exception 

Embassies are unusual components within the sphere of power relations which constitutes the ‘normal’ domain of a city: like foreign bodies in a tissue, they take advantage of a peculiar condition of non-involvement in order to affirm their presence. They are highly critical nodes within the governance pattern of a territory. Their extra-territorial status originates a magnetic field of effects on their nearest surroundings and, at the same time, they constitute a model for the transformation of their homeland’s urban order. They are trans-scalar devices which fully embody the paradigm of security dominating the contemporary perception of space, from the major scale of the geopolitical order, to the tiniest one of the city and its components.
The U.S. embassies and the parable of their architectural history – from the outstanding modernist prototypes of the 1950s to recent designs, shifty attempts to hide under the semblances of ordinary buildings what are in facts military fortresses – are an ideal case-study for this argument. The disclosure of what happens within the liminal zone which separates them from the city can demonstrate how the paranoia for surveillance is permanently modifying our urban habits, and how far architecture can concretize a biopolitical control over its users, while fostering into a threatening autonomy the role of design standards. 

Lori Gibbs, Manufacturing Sustainability: Transformation of the Modern Factory Typology

The term ‘sustainability’ and its many definitions stem from a central and predominant question: how can the finite resources of the Earth continue to meet immeasurable and continuously growing human demands? This thesis interrogates the construction and utilization of the term sustainability by the architectural practice in the United States through an examination of LEED green building standards and the architectural practice of William McDonough. The renovation of the Ford Factory Complex will be questioned in relation to the modern factory typology originally constructed by architect Albert Kahn in order to problematise the contemporary institution of sustainable practices. The specificities of the factory’s spatial organization and relations, the role of the building envelope, and conditions for the worker are all elements the sustainable project aims to address after eighty years of industrial production. Scientific knowledge has been appropriated to ameliorate the destructive conditions created by industry. However the sustainable architectural practices institutionalized by LEED and McDonough do not seem to redefine or critically address existing cultural values in continuous growth and progress that underpin the factory typology. Instead, the paradigm upon which these sustainable practices operate appears to remain in direct conflict with the finitude of the Earth’s resources.  

Roberta Marcaccio, Fully Air-Conditioned: The Disappearance of the Artefact and Artificiality in Architecture

This thesis investigates the attitude adopted by ‚Äúmeteorological‚Äù and ‚Äúsomatic‚Äù architectural practices; they propose the¬†idea of manipulating a spectrum of¬†invisible atmospheric parameters (those of ‚Äúnature‚Äù itself, for instance thermal variations, air velocity, pressure, light spectra, etc.), employing them to create¬†new and¬†totally artificial environments. Beyond its actual efficacy or applicability, what is interesting about this attitude is its capability to stimulate reflections¬†and questions that can strategically unveil a set of problems and contradictions linked to¬†the rhetoric of sustainability. Paradoxically, “sustainability” seems to have somewhat deprived architecture of the right and power to engage with the environment and its human inhabitants. Indeed not only has it imposed a vision of ‚Äúnature‚Äù as something which is ‚Äúuntouchable‚Äù (outside of architecture‚Äôs domain), but it also has offered itself as a mere label to be applied on architecture: one carrying moral or technical justifications which shield it from criticism. The aim of this work is to render explicit those contradictions and verify if somehow the chance for architecture to overcome its impasse lies in the very concept those practices propose ‚Äì that of an ‚Äúartificial environment.‚Äù

Deepa Ramaswamy, 130 Cricket Fields: Data and Architecture – Excursions into Precision

This thesis analyzes the document and the processes of documentation within architecture, where the collection and representation of data through accepted and standardised modes constructs a context for architecture to generate its rules of design. This process of design is essentially a strategy to root architecture within the complexities of the ‘real’ world where data is treated as factual, objective and scientific, operating within notions of collective risk and desires, trying to govern the present and an optimal future transformation. However, the inherent subjectivity involved in the enunciation of the data and its arrangement within the document, makes this documentation more a construction and negotiation between realities. The thesis culminates in the assessment of the complex urban condition of Dharavi in Mumbai, where data and its subjective representation construct a context which attempts to engage and negotiate between several contradictory and conflicting realities.

Troy Conrad Therrien, Uncertain Tropical Reflexions

Architectural research has a history. That is, architects didn’t always conduct research, or more precisely, they didn’t always say they were conducting research. Rather than attempt to formulate a mandate for or description of architectural research, this thesis is an attempt to chart the institutionalization of the term in its use and practice in Britain. What’s at stake is nothing less than the very figure of the architect. This thesis focuses on the sites of production and regulation of the architect: the school and the profession. Through these institutions and other actors, three historical questions are addressed. Did anything happen? What happened? and Why does it matter? Taking the AA Department of Tropical Architecture as the principal object of study, this thesis claims that through the institutionalization of architectural research, the architectural imagination became viewed as a risk to be managed, precisely by making of the architect a manager. The result of this process was the eclipse of uncertainty in favour of risk in a transformed design process that favoured an objective positivism.


2008/9 Thesis Research

Imelda Akmal, Architecture in Photography: The Use of Photograph in the Architectural Magazine

Since the use of photography in printed media such as books and magazines, architecture has become a matter for public consumption and not only for architects and professionals.  Mechanical reproduction allowed architects to disseminate their ideas on a mass level. And in this sense, Beatriz Colomina argued that “architecture only becomes modern because of its engagement with mass media” and the involvement of architectural photography. To some extent, the thesis’s argument is in line with Colomina’s statement that photography not only produces an image but is also being used towards other objectives – to shape the architect’s profile and construct through mass media a critique within architectural debates. In this thesis, however, in spite of how early modern architects used the medium of photography to disseminate ideas I primarily discuss how photography is being used and function through two layers: the photographer and the editor (magazine). Both of them have different ideological, economical, and even political interests that establish different architecture interpretations. To this aim, photographs of the Beijing Olympic Stadium in the context of four specific magazines РArchitectural Record (US), Architecture Review (UK), A+U (Japan) and TA (China), published in July 2008 become examples to investigate the problem above. 

Mollie Claypool, The [dis]Appearance of the Architectural Object: Narratives of the Subject on Projects of the City

This thesis attempts to dissolve the autonomy of the autotelic subjects and objects of architecture. This is done through arguing for the constitution of the potentiality of the subject, not by way of expanding upon any dichotomy between subject and object, but through a tracing of the various possibilities of narrative engagement between architectural objects and the singular subjects embodied in them. In an effort to move beyond the effects of Humanist notions of the subject on the objects of Modernist architecture, we will employ as our ground of investigation alternative ideas with regard to the city of modernity. To delve further, it is through a series of architectural projects sited in the urban, and the discourses which have surrounded them, by which we aim to recount the subject. We understand the subject/object relationship of Humanism to be defined either by the subject as the controlling and originating agent of meaning, propelled towards the receiving, formerly stagnant object, or visa versa. The task at hand is to clearly trace through the gradual espousing of the subject into the realm of the architectural object; putting forth a potentiality in the possible narratives of the subject.

Ryan Dillon, Navigating the Architectural Brief: Interrogating the Project

This thesis will interrogate the architectural brief. By declassifying the architectural project the architectural brief will be established within theoretical discourse as an operational device. Architecture, and all projects associated with the discipline are indebted to the architectural brief. An architectural brief is inherent in everything the architect takes part in: the academic design studio, the civic urban project in a major city, the international design competition, all begin with a brief. With this very admission that all projects are facilitated by the architectural brief that include theoretical exercises can we continue to only view this device as a pragmatic document devoid of theoretical implications? Can the architectural brief be transformed from its negative connotations where its constraints are viewed as a hindrance to the architect’s ambition into a fertile platform that can foster that very ambition? To answer these questions the research will look at French project artists Sophie Calle and François Bon, the critical insight of Michael Sheringham, and analysis of projects from the office of OMA. To date the architectural brief has remained largely outside the realm of architectural discourse and academic institutions. This thesis intends to rectify this inadequacy by bringing to the surface the benefits of viewing the architectural brief as an ongoing, always incomplete platform that instigates a potential to undo and rearrange formal architectural devices.

Ronny Ford, Urban Synecdoche – Rowe and Jameson’s Theories on the City

What is significant in the analysis of the city and it’s related history in Colin Rowe’s specific approach to the urban condition? As a result, do the active and dynamic conditions of Rowe’s polemic further the understanding of the concept of historic centres, when addressing contemporary issues regarding the city? In attempting to address these questions, the thesis will deal with specific aspects of Rowe‚Äôs work related to his theories as presented in Collage City and his design interventions for the Roma Interrotta exhibition. The thesis looks at the concept of collage and question it‚Äôs specific usage in Rowe‚Äôs view on the city as well as identify and discuss the roles of both politics and narrative that are respectively the mainstay of the above works. In seeking to contemporise the subject matter, the thesis poses the question of how similar issues of politics and narrative, addressed by Marxist literary theorist Frederic Jameson have resulted in far less liberal conclusions in relation to the modern city.

Srivalli Pradeepthi Ikkurthy, Reading the City as a text

Kevin Lynch’s idea of ‘meaning’ (the observer in “The Image of the City”) and Roland Barthes’s usage of the term ‘signification’ (the reader in “Semiology and the Urban”) are related to the question of “what next?” in the process of structuring and organizing an image of the city. These two writers are examined together as a way of ‘con-textualizing’ the city. By using Lynch’s sequential procedure of clarification and organization, the thesis formulates the relevance of the text for the city by keeping on the front issues raised by Barthes. The aim is to find the relevance of textual quality to the city (“the complex and shifting urban environment”- Kevin Lynch) and bridge the gap between language and urban (architecture).

Niloofar Khahi, An investigation of the roots of a problematic contemporary architecture of Iran through the socio-political history of the country (1877-1941)

One of the major issues about contemporary architecture in Iran is the often unsettled encounters with modernity in the beginning of twentieth century and the discontinuities of traditional architectures’ developments after the modernization of the country. Many scholars are still concerned with these moments of rupture and their impact upon culture as well as their lasting implications for architecture, the latter still paradoxically considered as a means of preserving and transmitting the cultural and social values through time. This thesis looks at the early phases of this problematic trajectory of Iranian architecture by framing it in relation to the history of the last 150 years and the beginnings of these ‘confrontations’. In particular, the thesis addresses the emergence of political and formal issues in the 1930s through a close examination of the socio-political conditions and architectural practices of the time.

Ishraq Zahra Khan, Rethinking architectural education and critical theory production in Bangladesh

Architectural education in Bangladesh was institutionalized in 1961 through aid from the Texas A & M University in the United States, even though full-scale universities in the region date as far back as the 3rd century BC and the practice was taught informally through a master-apprentice method of dissemination for centuries. However, over the decades, as the number of public and private schools multiplied and enrolment into the profession doubled and quadrupled, there has been little progress by way of evolving pedagogy in the studios and critical theory production. The open-ended and inclusive Bengali culture of re-evaluation and reinvention through discourse and questioning that is prevalent in art, philosophy, music and literature of the region is still to be adopted into architectural production and learning. This thesis explores the various problems that led to this apparent stagnancy as well as the ways, in which, in spite of it, the region’s political and ideological separation from the greater landmass of the Indian subcontinent also protected it from superficial regionalism, making it fertile for future experimentation and growth. The research goes on to explore the shortcomings in current pedagogical methods and curriculum and outlines new questions and issues that need to be addressed.

Natasha Lyons, Escaping the Tetrahedron 

In The Projective Cast Robin Evans proposes that projective geometry is instrumental to design. Through placing the book in its social and architectural context, the thesis seeks to determine how his stance may have been shaped by these factors. His hypothesis provides a rigid frame of projection through his tetrahedron The Arrested Image that addresses perception and the spaces between architecture and its means of representation. This thesis explores the intimate relationship that architects have with their drawings (and models) in order to question whether it is possible for architects to free themselves from the limitations of describing architecture on paper or the related drafting tools and techniques available in any given period. Can Evans’s understanding of projection in The Arrested Image be collapsed in order to make the journey from imagination to the designed object more direct? 

Marlie Mul, Not what but how: The joint as site for material expression between art and architecture 

The thesis opens with a consideration of tendencies within contemporary visual arts where focus increasingly lies on a process–orientated working method, which is expressed through an intensified referencing of knowledge that often draws from the extra-artistic field. The thesis argues for a material application of this tendency through co-action with architecture by reason of a shared knowledge of materiality as expressive language. Material expression as idea is analyzed through earlier discussions of tectonics, in particular, the examples that look at the role of the joint within the work of Carlo Scarpa and the emphasis placed on the expressive potential of the object in the work of Le Corbusier. The aim is to show how the joint and the surface become constructive components that have both an expressive and functional role. These readings provide a set of tools by which the thesis then investigates Gottfried Semper’s theory of Bekleidung, where architectural material is separated into the two elements of ‘knot’ and ‘cover’. The knot represents the joint between surfaces and forms the base for woven structure. Semper here indicates that the creation of material is the source of structure, and with that, of shelter. The idea of a functional role of the joint within a structure is further supported by the notion of Körperbilden as described by Karl Bötticher. The thesis concludes that within the use of these two constructive elements, a fragmented yet articulated design process makes way for a pragmatic approach by means of which artistic intervention within architecture can occur. 

Zaynab Dena Ziari Shalmani, The Stage and the Staged in Architectural Special Effects

“I thought now that it was no longer Berma at whom I was looking, but her image in a magnifying glass. I put the glasses down, but then possibly the image that my eye received of her, diminished by distance, was no more exact; which of the two Bermas was the real?” Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove

This thesis analyses and reflects on the contemporary relevance of the concept of ‘simulation’ as discussed by Jean Baudrillard, who believes that reality is staged, that simulation is a continuous re-representation of itself, the ‘sign’ which exists to conceal the fact that there is nothing beyond it. But it is arguable that reality is the stage. Behind the proverbial curtain, and before the stage, can be found the mechanizations that are strategically in place and at work acting as the prosthetic mediator of a temporal actuality. Visible mechanical systems create transparent acts through the architectural special effect. Through the examination of the works of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Olafur Eliasson, Usman Haque, Rem Koolhaas’ observations on Coney Island, the sensory immediacy and theatrical experience of Artaud, the thesis questions the relevance of Baudrillard’s argument and attempts to uncover the possibility of an actuality that encompasses everything.

Aldo Urbinati, The Lacerda Lift: 6 lessons from its history and architecture towards one approach to the city 

This is an analysis of a building, which is an urban lift placed in the City of Salvador, the first designed political capital of Brazil. The lift had its doors opened to the public in 1873 (20 years after the unofficial invention by E.G. Otis in the New York’s Crystal Palace) and suffered a major transformation in the late twenties of the following century that led to the edifice we see today. The building bridges the old commercial harbor with the political and institutional main square in Salvador, 65m higher, acting like a modern Propylaea. The history of its architecture reveals how the building from a pioneering entrepreneurship became a decadent tourist post-card and through this history it is possible to open a debate about six critical architectural themes as verticality, layers, diagrams, memory, topology and typology. The Lacerda Lift is a canonical (forgotten) piece of architecture, and by addressing all these issues, this thesis intends to sketch out one approach towards the understanding of the contemporary city.

Natre Wannathepsakul, The Role of Comics in the Critique of Functionalist Modernism: From Pop Image to Its Continuing Potential as a (Re)-Presentation Technique 

Comics, defined as ‘juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence,’ can be a highly effective medium for visual communication. But if the techniques of comics are to be appropriated and sustained within the architect’s gamut of visual tools, its techniques should be carefully studied in order to uncover the full potential of its use as a representation technique for architectural spaces. As one way to initiate this process, the thesis looks at how architects have made use of comics in the past and the architectural notions that have precipitated its use. The lineage of architects discussed – the Smithsons, Archigram and Nato – all exhibited a concern for and experimented with, the visual communication of architectural spaces sharing certain lines of critique of the Modernist ‘Functional City’.


2007/8 Thesis Research

Faisal Butt, Architectural Evolution or Evolution of Architecture: The Emergence of a New Species

The objective of this thesis is to study the use and application of biological and complex systems in new design investigations mainly articulated in experimental architectural programmes and practices. To this aim, the thesis traces the evolution of the idea of biological systems in architecture with a particular focus on the ways in which evolutionary biology seems to be informing contemporary architectural discourse and practice. Given global ecological issues such as climate change and rising sea levels, the strategy of adaptability as a dynamic response to external forces that is inherent in evolutionary biology and evoked by such practices, only accentuates the importance of understanding and expanding on the implications of emergent technologies for the discipline of architecture. 

Lionel Eid, Mapping the Journey: an exploration into the graphic constructions of space

It can be said that the practice of architecture is dominated by the production of spatial images. From preliminary surveys to projective drawings, these graphic representations are realised as a consequence of as well as precedent to, acts of spatial observation. If this dual function of recording and projecting both the existing and desired condition is integral to our profession then on what basis do we delegate such tasks to one or another form of representation (and to what advantage)? This thesis will examine the use of two familiar exploratory artifacts; the map and the plan to discuss how their respective processes of mapping and planning are thought to be divorced. The convention that sees the plan as a preferred form of projection in architecture, whilst reducing the role of mapping to a preparatory and therefore subordinate element of our practice, is here challenged. To this aim, two theoretically opposed instances of 20th century mapping which have made tremendous contributions to the spatial discourse of one city are being explored. By charting a seemingly improbable meeting between Paul Chombart de Lauwe’s statistical and Guy Debord’s psychogeographic visions of Paris, the thesis demonstrates how consistencies and discontinuities in their methods blur conventional distinctions we can make between the map and the plan or what constitutes a retrospective as opposed to prospective spatial record. In this way, I propose a revision of the way we interpret forms of representation that present themselves as ‘objective’ or ‘subjective’ in favour of a more integrated understanding of the graphic constructions of space.

Braden R. Engel, Interrogating the Object: Usefulness, and Performing the Work of Architecture

The thesis challenges the theoretical status of the “work of architecture” as a fixed object, by criticizing and reforming the concept of usefulness to consider the work as performance by an operative subject. If architecture is an art form beyond or at least different than painting, sculpture, poetry, etc. (as it is treated in the canonical texts), why do we then treat it like painting or sculpture that is merely injected into or applied onto a useful structure?  The primary theoretical works on architecture tend to separate it into some variation of a [utility + art] dichotomy, eventually rendering any notions of use (while necessary) opposed to, or not-architecture.  Whether seen as an object to be used, or the enclosure of uses, the work of architecture is reduced to the physical object that is to encapsulate utility, and leave it undisturbed.

So we ask: How do different conceptions of use or utility (and other closely related terms) influence our approaches in theory, form how we interpret and describe works, and thus dictate the theoretical status of the works themselves?  How might a different idea of usefulness provide a new perspective on the work of architecture?

The thesis aims to penetrate the object, then, in three movements, from the outside in.  Firstly, we challenge the treatment of “utility” in the more canonical texts on the work of architecture, mostly in Vitruvius, Alberti, Kant, and Hegel.  Then, by placing Sigfried Giedion’s approach on one side and Robert Venturi’s on the other, we critique both discourses on works (primarily the Villa Savoye), and theorize a different conception of usefulness – derived by extending Derrida’s argument on the Parergon – from within.  Lastly, due to the Interpretive Subject’s inability to “perform,” we see that in theorizing on the work’s performance, we must make the discourses on the work our object of interrogation.  We return briefly to the Villa Savoye, then, to summarize the unique role of usefulness as parergon in contrast to Giedion and Venturi.

Surbhi Gupta, De-typification of ‘the Indian Temple’

Temples built in the Indian sub-continent since the 4th century B.C. has had many varied forms. It was since the mid-nineteenth century, and after British colonization, that historians have categorized these temple forms into styles – North Indian style, South Indian style, etc.; they have interpreted them through ‘meanings’ and ‘symbols’, and they have¬† established an ‘evolution’ of the temple form that follows a chronological order. However, a closer study of the Indian belief system establishes a case for studying the temples from a ‘non-formal’ and non-symbolic point-of-view. It demonstrates that the process of construction at the time was more vital than the final form or ‘goal’. It discloses a variant and tolerant Indian society where the search for a ‘higher truth’ by a group of individuals in a particular climatic region / dynasty / philosophical school led to particular formal configurations. The culture also supported a cyclic understanding of time as opposed to a linear one and individual expressions were considered as ideal ‘wholes’ at every moment in time instead of steps leading towards a ‘perfect’ future. Thus, this thesis challenges traditional histories of Indian temple architecture, the ways in which they have led to the establishment of the ‘Traditional Indian temple’ type, and seeks to propose an alternate perspective on the subject matter.

Lee McCormack, Branding in a ‘man made’ society; a new era for architecture and design?

Man has sought to understand and dominate the world through his own image. The so-called ‘human scale’ has been used as a tool through which to create what has increasingly become a man made society. The formation of the metric system in 1790, divorced of relationship to human proportion and brought about by consolidating governmental powers and advances in science and technology was the catalyst in the process of categorising human activity through a measured system of ergonomics. This process has evolved beyond simple ergonomic measuring techniques to include human emotions and psychology as well. Now, within the contemporary, the creative process still works through the reference to the ‘human’ and ‘man made’ to define and evaluate itself; yet, its essence has no roots in anything more tangible than our belief in an object as experienced through its associated branding. The thesis interrogates the status of the category of the human within a creative process firmly set in the grips of commerciality, and at the same time, driven by the desire for the new.

Karin Pfannenschmidt, The Neue Frankfurt Development 1925 – 1930: The dwelling for the subsistence minimum

This thesis critically reassesses the large-scale housing development in Frankfurt between 1925 and 1930. Within this program, the architect Ernst May and his team endeavoured to formulate standards for the subsistence minimum of the dwelling. The political, economical and social background which led to such requirements is being initially explored towards an understanding of the premises of the functional town planning and of architecture as part of the building industry. In order to establish the methods by which various types of low-cost housing were created to accommodate the needs of various family types, the thesis closely examines the kitchen and bathroom as the smallest units of the house as well as the relations between the unit, the house, the Siedlung and the city. The aim of the study is to identify the reasons for which this development was only in certain aspects successful and what conclusions can be drawn from a contemporary point of view. 


2006/7 Thesis Research

Stine Atla, The problem concerning mathematics as aesthetic value

“In what follows, therefore, we shall understand by a priori knowledge, not knowledge independent of this or that experience, but knowledge absolutely independent of all experience. Opposed to it is empirical knowledge, which is knowledge possible only a posteriori, that is, through experience.” Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

The thesis concerns with the problem of aesthetic experience and the concept of the beautiful in architecture. Kant argues in relation to the beautiful: “The beautiful presupposes no concept of what the object should be.” If we understand Andrea Palladio as an architect who set up formal principles, which, according to him, were corresponding to the principles of nature ‚Äì what are we then confronted with as an aesthetic value? The thesis uses Kant‚Äôs Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Judgment to pose the question of beauty, and then discusses the ways in which Andrea Palladio defines the above question structurally in the architectural form. It examines the latter in relation to one of the first representations of mathematical order in the pictorial developments of Giotto. Following on this, the question is on whether it is possible to consider the construction of mathematical order in the case of Andrea Palladio’s architectural approach as a justification of the beautiful as aesthetic experience.

Timothy Deal, The ‘New Universities’ Revisited: A Comparative Look at Britain’s 1960s Campuses, Conceived and Built as Complete Academic Communities

As a result of the 1963 Higher Education Report under the Chairmanship of Lord Lionel Robbins, Great Britain produced seven new universities, singularly and wholly designed.  This thesis examines the revolutionary vision and the response through a comparative analysis of two of these new institutions, The University of East Anglia (Denys Lasdun) and The University of Essex (Kenneth Capon). UAE and Essex were not built simply to fulfil the Robbins Report’s requirement for additional physical places, but were conceived as a multifaceted “Welfare State” response to the changing requirements in education and the larger society.  While maintaining the monastic typology popular in British colleges, these innovative “architect’s universities” (so named because they were each designed wholly by one firm or individual) were supposedly planned for growth and adaptation.  However, the vision and the reality did not match up.  Through an account of their respective evolutions, patterns of growth and new development I will examine the whole as an idea of the “New Universities”

Chun-Yu Hsieh, Conceptual Sketch As Language: A Semantic Approach to Architectural Drawings

The various forms of the relationship between language and drawing have always been of great interest in architectural theory. Jean Louis Durand thought of architectural drawing as a neutral medium to represent reality as well as a kind of language to transmit human thought, and Bart Lootsma viewed the architectural drawings as computer language which can be summarized and structured into a complexity. However, the relation between language and architectural drawing can also be situated on the semiotic level, which Ferdinand de Saussure framed in his Course in General Linguistics. This thesis proposes to use the sign system of Saussure (1913) as main reference to establish the major criteria of testing a specific sort of architectural drawing, the conceptual sketch. The aim of this research is to re-examine the linguistic paradigm and possibly develop a way of thinking through the graphic.

Vasileios Kyrgiotis, Alternative Aesthetics: The Status of the Architectural Object in Morphogenetic Design

The thesis takes as a point of departure the discussions on morphogenetic design processes in architecture and attempts to introduce an aspect that seems to have received little attention. These processes present us with an architectural object that it is difficult to discuss in traditional terms and this raises questions as to how it is to be received and evaluated. Reflecting back on the theoretical apparatus of aesthetics as articulated by Western philosophy and especially Immanuel Kant in the 18th century to investigate the subject’s experience in morphogenetic works of architecture, the thesis poses the issue of whether aesthetics can still be a valid category by means of which we can evaluate the outcome of these processes. It appears that a new sense of totality, distinct from the Aristotelian or Kantian notion, problematises aesthetic judgment. The resolution is not to develop a prescriptive theory but rather to utilise theories to address some critical issues in current practice. In that way, it operates from design to theory.

Seokwon Kim, Paju Book City: An Experiment in Coexistence?

Fast industrialisation for decades after the Korean War has caused population concentration into urban areas, and the decentralisation of population has been one of the main governmental policies. These attempts have produced a series of featureless dormitory towns usually constructed in less than ten years. Statistical studies such as the number of units or percentage of green have been always the focus in those developments. Compared with those new towns driven by the government Paju book city is quite distinct in terms of its development process. The project was initiated in 1988 by a group of publishers wishing to create their own territory where they could concentrate on their business without difficulties such as high rent and low efficiency. Culture was adopted as the essential concept for the project and helped shape the main framework. Internal politics in successive governments during the nineteen year process- exceptionally long compared with other projects in South Korea- has changed the direction of development, yet, the emphasis remained on the branding of the city as a ‘cultural territory’. The thesis examines in depth the spatial, urban but also political implications of the specific identity of the city and reflects on the role of architecture in the production of such an identity.

Stephen Mullins, A Study in Strategies of the Between

“Unless we put into question architectural and cultural identities – the identities of men and women, of different races and classes and of different religious, sexual and political affiliations, as well as the identities of cities, urban regions, buildings, and houses – this openness to the future, the promise of time unfolding through innovation rather than prediction, is muted rather than welcome.” Elizabeth Grosz, Architecture From the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space

Elizabeth Grosz points out that Deleuzian approach to addressing these questions of identity is from the position in between.  This position inherently engages both space and time, “(t)he ‘mind’ reaches from person to person both in space, ‘between here and there’, and in time, ‘between this and the next moment’.” This expression finds itself in an architecture that addresses the relations between elements, subjects, etc., in ways that promote unpredictable or open-ended possibilities of use, action, or interpretations.  It is an architecture that promotes events, encounters, and blurring of edges. 

Harmony Murphy, Modernist Exile Beyond the Colonies: Architecture of Escape and Export in Sub-Saharan Africa

When Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson opened Exhibition 15 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1932, the style they had selected from Europe would ignite a canon. Crossing the Atlantic these designs became international, in an effort that sought to make modern architecture ubiquitous. Reiterated in the department’s next show, 10 years later, Brazil Builds, the momentum of this gesture had pushed the cannon beyond international, into universal.  Despite Johnson’s claim that he intended to present an aesthetic divorced from political implications, the spread of his stylist dogma can not be separated form the connotations held within it. Modernism, projecting a new transparency, a rigorous hygienic prescription, and a dedication to technology would not break from history, but rather spawn a collective one through the shared experience of modernism throughout the world.

In Africa, the absorption of modernist principles was piecemeal. Europe poured its architectural projections onto the colonies of the North, extending modernism as an exportation of European culture and a solidification of its political strength and dominance. Southern Africa, physically an economically isolated, contained a more autonomous infrastructure than its northern counterparts. Resulting from this and the lack of attention to the region by mainstream western culture, the area was allotted a certain freedom from scrutiny and the promise of experimentation. Émigrés from Europe, such as Ernst May, Hellmut Stauch, and A.S. Furner, exiled from war-torn Europe or dissatisfied with the prospects of contributing to the movement within the framework established, relocated to the region. Their activities in the area helped promote a laboratory of modernism and establish a thriving and contained trajectory opposed to the empirical parasitic tourism in the North. 

This thesis examines the central figures who carved a place for modernism in Sub-Saharan Africa, including the Africans Norman Eaton, G.E. Pearse, and members of the Transvaal Group. The thesis purports that an investigation into the dissemination of modernism and the impregnation of an International Style into what Corbusier called “the end of the earth” reveals the power of architecture to catalyze what is now referred to as globalization. The phenomenon of this period gives us greater understanding of how the effects of collective methods of production and lifestyles permeate the exportation and organization of cultures to expose a universality.   

Aaron Schiller, New York/Beijing: Urban Legacies

“The basic foundations of [urban] planning and design as we understand it in the West seem [so] at odds with‚Ķthe emerging urban conditions in Asia‚Ķto the point where the conventions of practice [and experience] developed in the West have no relevance for these new conditions”¬†- Richard Marshall, Asian Mega cities

“Based on existing accepted planning theories, rapid growth and population explosion must inevitably result in large scale urban redevelopment and the destruction of traditional urban centres. It is a natural response to progress‚Ķplot ratio and land price increase will hasten the pace of redevelopment and the displacement rate of the urban poor. Now is the time to re-examine the concept of the inevitability of large scale urban redevelopment.”¬†- William Lin, New Asian Urbanism

“The metropolis annuls the previous history of architecture and [generates its own urbanism]”
            РRem Koolhaas, Delirious New York. 

The aim of this thesis is to generate groundwork for comparison between the urban milieus of New York City, specifically in the 1950′s and 60′s, and Beijing today. While the evidence used to establish a logic of argumentation is collected from a larger time frame then these small windows the goal is to explore a specificity shared by these two great urbanities separated by half a century, that specificity being the aggressive pursuit of large scale urban redevelopment pursued within significantly developed urban landscapes that views them each as Tabula Rasa. The prevailing theory of today holds that nowhere in Asia “are traditional forms of city making defining the shape of the contemporary city.” The thesis hopes to confront that notion through three chapters leading to case examples. The first part is a macro-scale comparison of the critical urban facts‚Äîthe grid and the ring road‚Äîpatterning the development of each city. The second examines a small but important set of urban planning examples in both places/times that can be characterized as “anti-urban” in order to bring the common ground for comparison down from the macro. The third section is a similarly narrow examination of a few important socio-political mechanisms that each site shares. Finally, the thesis ends with a side-by-side comparison of the urban redevelopment projects/examples discussed and referenced in the previous chapters.

Martin Self, Computation, Mind and Body: Self-Aware and Non-Aware Design in Architecture

The computer has caused an explosion in the capacity for architectural production, allowing seemingly limitless invention of form.  Increasingly sophisticated software tools lead to a sense of digital fundamentalism.  The algorithm takes command. This thesis aims to reframe the position of computation in design.  The concept of ‘awareness’ will be used to test the relative status of the computer and the human mind. What happens to conscious intentionality when responsibility for design is devolved to the algorithm? A parallel consideration of human awareness in architecture will be used as a counterpoint. Bernard Rudofsky’s celebration of non-pedigreed architecture and Christopher Alexander’s study of the success of unselfconscious design appear to demonstrate potential for an approach that in fact benefits from a degree of non-awareness. Sources from within the debates over AI (Artificial Intelligence) are also used to test these arguments. That opposing views concerning consciousness and creativity remain unresolved seems to highlight the need for a similar debate within architecture.  Particularly relevant is the role of the body and environment in human cognition; does the ‘situated’ nature of the mind endow it with capacities relevant for architectural design that cannot be recreated in the computer? Ultimately, two opposing questions are being asked in the thesis.  Firstly, can the apparent success of non-pedigreed architecture, credited to collective unselfconscious design, be reproduced using the computer Рitself non-aware?  Or, secondly, does the mind-body’s capacity for awareness (of space, for example) imply a limit on computation’s role in architecture?

Michael Shamiyeh, Exploring Architectural Thinking

On the basis of my previous education, training and practical experience I arrived at the realization that the core competencies that previously constituted essential elements of an architect’s legitimacy—that which entitles the profession to credit, confidence and esteem in the eyes of society such as mastery of aesthetics and engineering—are no longer necessarily attributed exclusively to the architects’ sphere of expertise. Hence, it seems that the architectural profession becomes progressively irrelevant. On the contrary I suspect that architecture harbors incredible potential that—were we architects to utilize it to a greater extent than we have heretofore—would possibly allow architects to play a much more active role in what goes on in society as a whole. For this reason, the aim of the thesis is to investigate architecture as an intellectual modus operandi, as a mode of conjectural thinking that is fundamentally concerned with learning and the search for emergent opportunities to initiate novel forms, rather than with investigating extant forms and its optimization.

Annie Simpson, When the Man Comes Round

This thesis investigates the materialization of memory in recent architectural discourse. Two stories of American land projects will be presented. The first story reports the drowning of towns in the Sacandaga Valley, presently known as Great Sacandaga Lake, in New York State.  This engineered flood created the Sacandaga Reservoir in 1930.  The second story concerns the existence of Michael Heizer’s Double Negative on the Mormon Mesa near Overton, Nevada.  My readings of each project, of the formal and textual connections between them, will consider themes of submersion and emergence, presence and absence, and carving out and building up, particularly in relation to American land use and the implications of the transformation of the land. These readings frame the broader, fragmented discussion about language and memory. How does our history return to us? 


2005/6 Thesis Research

Eleni Axioti, Architecture as Destruction

Maybe today one needs to destruct in order to construct the ‘new’; either through the literal destruction of the existing or through the insertion of an unfamiliar element that destructs through the act of shock and surprise. This theoretical investigation attempts to define this mechanism of architectural aesthetics and identify it in the contemporary architectural practices of R&Sie, Decosterd & Rahm and Ingrid Hora.

Tal Bar, The Role of the Skyscraper in a Changing Urban Environment

This thesis attempts to test the relevance of typology to current architectural practice by locating it as a mediator between invention and convention, between the architectural and the urban, through the prism of the skyscraper as a type and its role and significance in changing urban environment.

Marc Britz, New York Short Circuits: Ungers, Koolhaas, Tschumi and the City

Ungers, Koolhaas, and Tschumi give three different examples of ‘short circuits’ – identifications of at least two structurally different realms that share no necessary connection in reality – through their identification of, respectively, morphology, economy or choreography with the architecture of New York. It is the task of this thesis to outline the conditions and most importantly the hubristic mode of these short circuits in architectural practice.

Yoko Fukada, The Regeneration of the Naoshima Island

In the last 100 years, Naoshima Island has undergone two changes: the transformation from destitution to prosperity by means of industrial development; and regeneration, through tourism and art, of areas damaged by industrial pollution. In relation to the latter, the thesis will look at the ways in which the Naoshima project highlights a specific function of art, namely that of consumption.

Seungmin Kang, The Contemporary South Korean Dwelling and City: Transfer and Appropriation of Traditional Tools and Processes

In Korean the word ‘bang’ engages a sense of both the private and the public. This thesis attempts to explain how the spatial organisation designated by ‘bang’ has become a mechanism to negotiate tradition and modern architecture: in particular, the ways in which it has been used to regenerate domestic space and a particular understanding of the public.

Lisette Keats, Neutra and the Therapeutic Intention

The therapeutic intention is explicit in the writings of Richard Neutra. This study explores the point where notions of medicine, health and wellbeing traversed into the architectural field in his work.

Jose Maria Monfa Guix, Building Effects

This thesis investigates the conscious creation of atmospheres and effects in architecture through the use of materials. By looking at specific architects and theorists who have contributed to the shaping of the existing sensibility towards materials, it is my aim to give an account of the issue in order to uncover the many contradictions intrinsic in much of contemporary discourse regarding materiality.

Christina Papadimitriou, An ‘Ancient’ Landscape: The Case of the Athenian Acropolis

The construction of the new Acropolis Museum designed by Bernard Tschumi has provoked debates about its location, the modern expression of its architecture and the ways in which artefacts will be displayed. This thesis traces the history of these considerations and investigates how archaeological intervention influences the visitor’s experience of the architectural ensemble.

Christian Parreno, Operations of the Formless in Contemporary Architecture

Through specific operations, the formless brings things into the world. Yve Alain-Bois and Rosalind Krauss categorise these operations as base materialism, horizontality, entropy and pulse. This thesis adopts these postulates to map the presence of the formless in the early work of Zaha Hadid, Kasujo Sejima and Peter Eisenman.

Ana Rute Faisca, Copy and Paste: How to Turn a Dutch House into a Portuguese Concert Hall in Under Two Weeks

Rem Koolhaas simply scaled up Y2K’s plans and models to build Casa da Musica in Porto. The main aim of the thesis is to instigate the complexity of Rem Koolhaas’ apparent simplistic gesture on today’s architectural theory and discipline.

Telemachos Telemachau, Reading Urban Complexity: Public and Private

This research project is concerned with the issue of urban complexity, viewing it as a system of overlapping experiences, and through that system it discusses the relations between the public and the private in the contemporary city of Athens.

Kirk Wooller, Nothingness and the City: A New Ambition For Architecture?

If architecture is to engage with urbanism – that is, attempt to re-imagine alternative approaches to the un-thought realities of the contemporary city – then a fundamental shift is required away from our discipline’s conventional fixation on the architectural object. In order to undercut this fixation, a critique of the concept of ‘nothingness,’ as it occurs in the writings and projects of Rem Koolhaas, will be entered into: ‘nothingness’ defined not in terms of a void, a metaphor, or an issue of quantity, but in terms of a politics of building which continue to frame architecture’s engagement with the city. By acknowledging the architectural paradox of building nothing, as well as the scepticism of whether ‘nothingness’ can indeed provide a ‘new’ ambition for architecture, the thesis will seek to address the ever-pertinent issue of just what are the implications of our profession’s fixation with the architectural object, especially when this object defines both the status of ‘the city’ and our engagements with it.