Columbia University-Advanced Studio VI Sp’09: Scott Marble
Columbia University-Advanced StudIo VI (Spring 2009)
Critic: Scott Marble & Assistant Critic: Ben Krone
We had the opportunity to attend Scott Marble’s review a few months ago and got a closer look at the array of digital design techniques being developed in his graduate design studio. We are featuring Katie Shima and Hyoung-Gul Kook projects from the studio. Please take the time to browse through.
Building Democracy in Bhutan
Bhutan is a small country between India and China with a population of just over 630,000 (less than ½ the population of Manhattan), and an area of 39,000 sq km (about 1/4 the size of New York State). It is currently going through an historic transformation from 100 years as an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy. A constitution was signed in July of 2008 and parliamentary elections were held over the past year to form an upper and lower house that now makes up the world’s newest democratic nation. Bhutan has long been one of the most isolated nations in the world and only recently began modernization by building basic transportation and utility infrastructure, allowing international flights and open media including TV, internet and mobile phone networks. This has initiated a link to outside cultures and influences that combined with the opportunities of a constitutional democracy will initiate changes that will challenge the preservation of its long-standing traditions. A significant part of this change will be the development of institutions to build and support a strong educational system which will be the focus of this studio. The studio will collaborate with Michael Barth of upublic, an education development company based at Teachers College, who is currently serving as a special advisor to the Royal Education Council (REC) of Bhutan to advance education reforms that will attempt to maintain the cultural heritage of the country and provide the means for its new democracy to flourish. We will be meeting with members of the REC and other government officials to discuss their goals and ambitions for redefining their educational system in the context of the move towards modernization.
Initial research will include an overview of the social, economic and political evolution of Bhutan that has led to the current interests in democratization and modernization. Agriculture and forestry make up the majority of the economy and provides the livelihood for about 90% of the population. Any new economic program must take into account the governments desire to preserve the environment and cultural traditions. Bhutan’s modest economic growth thus far has been closely tied to India as a source for technological knowledge and as a buyer of energy. One of the major resources that have begun to be tapped for both internal needs and neighboring India is the abundance of sustainable hydroelectric power. Bhutan’s geographic location on the southern slope of the eastern Himalayan mountains with many rivers that flow rapidly during all seasons offers significant opportunity to develop power plants that will provide for local needs in addition to producing a large, revenue generating surplus for importing to India where there is a rapidly growing demand. It is estimated that at full capacity, the existing and projected hydropower plants would produce enough energy for all of Bhutan and still have over 90% of production remaining for export.
Students will define their own specific programs based on preliminary research and subsequent meetings with governmental officials. Programs could include individual primary and secondary schools, university buildings and research institutes and although our focus will be Thimphu, the capital, it is possible to propose sites in other parts of the country. The structure of the existing education system is somewhat similar to western models with primary school extending from grades 1-7 and secondary education from 9-12. Higher level education is limited at this point and is undergoing a reorganization under the umbrella structure of a National University that will incorporate several existing colleges. The National University will initially consist of 8 institutions and offer programs and establish centers of research to prepare the population for future challenges as a democratic society that begin to engage the private sector and grow in a way that is consistent with the resources and needs of the country. Among the research institutes currently under discussion is an Institute for Legal Research which is intended to be a place where intergenerational groups, from both professional and academic sectors, ranging from interns to established scholars from around the world could come to participate in developing the constitutional, contractual and overall legal structure of Bhutan in real time. It would also be an advisory resource to the government as they begin to interact with outside private interests and foreign countries looking to invest in Bhutan.
One of the crucial considerations when proposing progressive and innovative design in Bhutan will be integrating advanced techniques with the established local building traditions that are part of its national identity. Managing the pace and process of modernization is central to the future goals of Bhutan and the designs developed in the studio will have to be cognizant of this. In this moment of international economic crisis that is affecting most parts of the world due largely to integrated global markets, proposing steps toward modernization in a place like Bhutan is especially challenging. The unfortunate culture of excess, anything goes, and reckless investment practices that has negatively affected both developed and developing countries has to be measured against intelligent and thoughtful discretion that addresses both the immediate needs of Bhutan yet also understands the long term implications. From the National Portal of Bhutan website:
The development philosophy of Bhutan led by His Majesty, the King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk is Gross National Happiness. His Majesty announced this philosophy a few decades ago and our country is the only country in the world to measure its wellbeing by Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross National Product (GNP). The GNH policy has been passed in the parliament and the Government is taking every step to ensure that the GNH precedes over economic prosperity.
In conjunction with the research on educational institutions in Bhutan, this will be a part of an ongoing series of design studios on the impact and potentials of digital technology on the practice of architecture.
The focus of this semester will be the study and use of parametric design systems, as they have become an essential part of advanced software that set the underlying structure of how we organize and communicate design intent. In broad terms, parametric systems are used to manage complexity and have been approprated in architecture both as a generative design technique to quickly and efficiently produce design options based on a limited set of algorithmic variables (rules) and as an organizational system to rationalize complex geometry into managable designated constraints between components of a complex object (like a building). As architecture undergoes a transformation to a more integrated practice through digital implementation, parametric modeling is being recognized as playing a more active role in the evolution of design processes themselves shifting the focus from its form-generating associations to a more cohesive system for the overall management of building and design complexity. Of particular interest for this studio will be the task of moderating parametric systems, moving away from its use as a totalizing system, through strategically combining constrained and unconstrained components as a design problem itself – designing parameters.
(general design intent, in both wiritten and graphic format, that begins to narrow the design space)
(a loose digital model for quick design studies that interpret the qualitative rules in form)
(discrete rules that can set numeric relationships of parts)
(a more concise parametric model that begins to document design decisions with established relationships between parts)
(a digital description of the component parts that make up the larger assembly)
(the actual files used to cut component parts)
(making of the physical prototype)
(evaluation of the digital model & physical prototype with subsequent feedback into the rules and interpretive model)
The difficulty of utilizing the computer as an active part of a design process is having the ability to negotiate between quick intuitive studies and definitive quantifiable decisions. The interpretive model is the design space within the workflow where ideas can remain separate and abstract. As relationships between the parts in your design coalesce, a new type of workspace is formed which deals primarily with associations of the parts and their interdependent relationship with the whole. This “mother model” or associative model, affords the designer the ability to simultaneously negotiate between determinate formal logics and indeterminate parameters and procedures. The focus for this studio will be in utilizing parametrics as a tool for managing the complexity of the design process by strategically injecting into and refining the workflow where the resultant iterations begin to bridge the gap between procedure and form.
For the first half of the semester prior to visiting Bhutan, the studio will work on a series of exercises that focus on developing prototypical parametric building systems that will be able to later adapt to a series of site-specific conditions. These conditions will include, among others, environmental, material, topographic, structural and programmatic and will be set up as variables in the initial design studies. The studio will emphasize developing systems of design and fabrication that are rigorously linked by digital work flows and refined through multiple, quick iterations. As the semester progresses, each of you will refine and modify your workflow as you design your design system. As part of this, you will be asked to develop and rigorously track a set of rules that will guide the progress of your project. These rules will be both qualitative (those that set more loosely defined intent that are not easily reduced to metrics) and quantitative (those that can be described mathematically in computer code). The initial work flow to begin the process of design will consist of the following steps that will get modified by each student as your project develops.
The Avery Digital Fabrication Lab
This studio will be integrated into the Avery Digital Fabrication Research Lab and will work extensively with the tools of the lab. The shift toward more expansive forms of digital production within the construction industry is leading to opportunities to reconfigure the relationship between the key players within the industry as well as the incorporation of industry sectors not typically associated with building construction. At the core of this shift is the integration of communication through various forms of digital networks, CNC fabrication being just one among many others, with the ambition of developing a comprehensive, well organized, easily accessible, parametrically adaptable, body of information that coordinates the process from design through a building’s lifecycle. The goals of the Fabrication Lab include developing these integrated processes and a significant part of the studio will involve researching and developing design approaches that utilize computer fabrication and information management techniques to merge design and production processes.
The intent of the lab is to work at, or close to full scale using the machines for prototyping actual components as opposed to representations (models). The machines are primarily for 2D fabrication geared toward sheet material so component parts will need to be designed with this in mind. In order to be rigorous with our use of the lab, it is necessary to limit the target area of your project to develop through actual fabrication. This will be up to each student to determine as the projects develop.
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