The crux of Sendack’s Where the Wild Things Are is that imagination transforms the environment: a solitary child is liberated by his imagination. The story centers around ideas of growth, survival, and change inspired simultaneously by real and fictive worlds. What is the impact of imagining a new landscape, and where do ephemeral experiences crafted within the mind overlap with those occurring in the natural/physical world?

For the protagonist, it is not memory that signifies place, it is imagination that transforms his environment; the tool used to construct the framework of ephemeral experience. Placed within the global context of a collective environmental awareness, what role can we imagine architecture serving in a continuously changing landscape?

Architecture is essentially an art form of reconciliation and mediation and in addition to settling us in space and place, landscapes and buildings articulate our experiences of duration and time between the polarities of past and future… Memory and fantasy, recollection and imagination, are related and they have always a situational and specific content. One who cannot remember can hardly imagine because memory is the soil of imagination. Memory is also the ground of self-identity; we are what we remember.
—Juhani Pallasmaa

We must confront and deconstruct the simplistic binaries distinguishing natural and constructed environments: art vs. science, imaginary vs. built, phenomenology vs. technology, theory vs. practice. Perhaps these are not dichotomous, but related—fundamental, even, to the relationships between architecture, landscape, and place. The project will need to mediate between past inheritance and future potential, to transcend limiting binaries by finding infinite potentials within them.

In the search for meaning through the medium of architecture, we strive to implant our structures deeply into the soil of context. The phenomenological qualities of climate—the rain, sleet and hail, the cyclical presence of sunlight and shadow, the turn of the seasons—provides depth to architectural narrative. The elements that shape the landscape shape our architecture in kind. This studio aims to evolve the discourse of regionally-inspired architecture beyond the role as barrier against the elements toward a more integrated model where the elements form part of the architecture itself.


This studio proposes the challenge of designing a campus of creatures on the property of Rabbit Snare Gorge: a series of interventions that use methods of biomimicry to produce specific functional qualities, to develop a process or ideology, and to frame sensory experience. Phenomenological opportunities will be utilized to create a unique architecture of “place” through climatically responsive design. Students will explore progressive strategies for diverting, mitigating, and integrating climate, in all its forms, through and within the built environment. The studio will explore the evolution of architectural responses to building in a region of extreme climatic conditions: Inverness, Nova Scotia. Through a blend of traditional and contemporary approaches, our intent is to evolve a methodology toward a climatically-responsive, regionally inspired architecture.


Rabbit Snare Gorge derives its name from historical use. Lawrence MacIsaac recalls stories of his great grandfather using the property of Rabbit Snare Gorge to teach his sons how to snare rabbits, while his great grandmother commonly used the ‘laundry stone’ at the bottom of a small waterfall to wash clothing.

The landscape of Rabbit Snare Gorge is defined by the steep slopes of the Cape Breton Highlands, a dense woodland with patches of Acadian hardwood, deep gorges cut by a babbling brook, and the rocky cliffs of the Northumberland Strait. The location allows for a long, wide view of the entire gorge which feeds into the ocean. Due to the extremely steep sides of the gorge, it was historically difficult to do anything with the land, including harvesting trees, so it has been left to grow wild.

The cabin is the primary dwelling on the 46-acre coastal parcel of land. The cabin, a gently adapted gabled tower, is the first of three small, creature-like structures hidden in the mysterious landscape. The cabin reaches above the forest canopy with two major viewing platforms, one is oriented toward the ocean while the other looks across the length of the convergent brook valley. The structure is linked to local vernacular through a number of formal elements. The traditional gable form is manipulated to open views, follow sun paths, emphasize major interior spaces, and accentuate the verticality of the tower while shedding snow and rain. Traditional, local wood board cladding is used on the cabin exterior, while the steel entry hoop takes shape from traditional entry windbreaks, which are unique to coastal communities in Cape Breton and Newfoundland.

The strong local suetes—local south-easterly winds which reach speeds of over 200 km/h—demand robust structural systems to withstand major lateral loads and uplift. The tall cabin combats the high winds through redundant sheathing. Every solid plane, including the interior partition wall, contributes as shear walls, diaphragms, and stacked compression rings. The windbreak, constructed out of welded weathering steel, is then hung from the framing. Light on the land and heavy against the wind, the tower endures the full brunt of heavy Atlantic rainstorms.

Site Opportunities

Architectural systems can respond to, adapt with, or mimic local environmental processes. Students will need to develop an awareness of the natural-constructed relationship to navigate the complexities of both natural and built contexts in the surrounding region. How do environmental conditions transform throughout a year? And how are local cultures and their architectures impacted in turn? Constructed Elements
Examples from local building culture
Social rituals
Local production
Environmental Elements
Precipitation: rain, sleet, snow, ice.
Sunlight: hours of daylight and sun patterns change throughout the year. Access to and quality of light.
Wind: Extreme, seasonal winds. Salt-spray from the ocean carried by the wind.
Soil and Erosion: what is the geological formation of the rock at Inverness, and how does the environment actively transform the landscape?
Aspen Forest: seasonal foliage, peeling of the paper-like bark, shedding of external layers.

Studio Schedule

Project 1: Primitive Hut (groups of 2-3)

Students will be divided into groups to design an architectural system that responds to specific environmental conditions. Each team will explore progressive architectural strategies for diverting, mitigating, and integrating either precipitation, wind, or sunlight and will design a site-specific intervention somewhere on Yale’s campus. In response to a singular climatic condition, teams will manipulate a large tarp to achieve the basic criteria of shelter and security, reshaping notions of how architectural form may develop through a close relationship to the natural world. Results will be recorded through drawings, sketch models, and photographs of interventions.

The resulting forms will be analyzed and developed through both physical and digital modelling. The single, manipulated plan will be translated into a more complex envelope with performance characteristics such as transparency, porosity, and thickness. Students will be asked to further manipulate and adapt their form based on the requirements of a narrative. This narrative (given by the instructors) will introduce and character and her/his requirements. The program or experience should underscore a symbiotic relationship between environmental conditions, designed elements, and users. Teams will construct sectional models demonstrating the primary aspects of each scheme as it related to their respective elements; adaptations will also take shape through plan and section drawings. Teams will present their work before the scheduled travel week.

Project 2: Site Analysis (full group), Pavilion (individual), and Tell the Tale Detail (individual)

Project 2 will begin during the scheduled site visit to Nova Scotia. As a studio, students will conduct site analysis, gather climatic data of the region, and analyze responsive building methods in the local architectural vernacular. On site, students will select a specific location to place interventions, and throughout the week will individually develop an initial response/program/experience based on systems developed in Project 1. Focus on: topography, wind, sun, precipitation, views, trees, historical precedents, local materials, local building typologies.

The following weeks at Yale will involve integrating site/contextual analysis with previously explored methods of climatically responsive design. Students will develop a formal implementation of ideas and methodologies, resulting in a carefully sited pavilion for the mid-term. The project should house a specific program, facilitate a relationship between natural and constructed environments, and distill a connection to different elements in a continually changing environment. In addition to the singular “prototype”, students will also prepare a site/aggregation strategy toward a network of interventions at Rabbit Snare Gorge.

To further demonstrate increased connection with the surrounding environment, each student will design a detail demonstrating the adaptive or responsive nature of the project at varying scales.

Project 3: Campus of Creatures

Each student will be responsible for designing a “Campus of Creatures” at Rabbit Snare Gorge, with the entire site serving as an outdoor camp for children. While the specific programs and activities made available to the campers are be determined by each student, the main objectives will be for the kids to experience the great outdoors, to learn respect for the natural environment, and to gain an understanding of the local landscape. Students will focus on how architectural systems respond to climate at multiple scales—the scale of a campus, a building, a detail—to generate wonderful experiences for pint-sized users throughout all four seasons.

- Site analysis and contextual relationships at 1/32” scale. This may include sun paths, prevailing winds, topography, general survey of tree locations and species, existing pathways, and research into local vernacular and practices.
- Statement of program. Must include spaces for eating, sleeping, washing/cleansing, solitude, gathering.
- Diagrams/sketches/models demonstrating building form.
- Processional route from arrival to departure.
- Drawings and models of site interventions at 1/16” scale.
- Floor plans at 1/8” scale.
- Wall section at 1/2” scale.

All Semesters

Fall 2020
Advanced Design Studio: Workhouse
Hitoshi Abe, Nicholas McDermott
Fall 2019
Advanced Design Studio: Postprivacy, Designing New Centralities at the Border
Fernanda Canales, David Turturo
Fall 2017
Developer Studio
Alan Plattus, Janet Marie Smith, Andrei Harwell
Fall 2016
China Studio
Alan Plattus, Andrei Harwell