This course, a seminar/design studio, proposes a reckoning with the architectural envelope; specifically, our obsession with conflating building facade with building identity. This course wants to challenge the focus on architecture’s object-hood.

Le Corbusier’s Dom-ino diagram represented a profound shift in how buildings are conceived. Whereas before, the walls of a building were there to support its floors, Dom-ino proposed the inverse: that the floors of a building are there to support its walls. With this flip, walls were liberated from their role of bearing the gravitational loads of a building. And not long after, the advent of mechanical air conditioning further freed walls from their role in the modulation of heat transfer. With these two shifts, the race was on to make ever thinner and lighter skins. Yet, in the end, all this has ultimately served is the financially driven ambition of the developer mind, which never wants to cede a single square inch more than absolutely necessary to what is otherwise rentable floor area.

This course wants to make an argument for a thick facade. Perhaps so thick that there is no envelope; no traceable membrane distinguishing inside from outside. A non-facade; a deep threshold realm.

Just as our bodies give us a false sense of ourselves as distinct from the external world, so do building facades. This course is an argument for eliminating such distinctions in buildings. After all, we endlessly breathe the outside world deep into our bodies. We ingest the outside world and discharge back into it. Our skin is not a shell; it is porous and permeable, absorbing energy and perspiring fluids from the bloodstream. If Covid has taught us anything, it is that our own microbial cloud surrounds us. Imagine if our eyes were, rather than light sensors, heat or humidity or microbial sensors. Imagine how different we and the world would look as beings. We would no longer perceive the myth of hard edges; we would see only gradients.

We put so much emphasis on the facade as the identity of a building; the expression, the form and composition of a building. This course will make an argument against this approach. Against caring what the building looks like in favor of how the building situates itself within the abundant energy flows of the earth. Not thwarting them, but engaging with them.

As mentioned above, this will be a studio based seminar. We will think and read and talk about all of the above, but, more importantly, we will try to visualize a new interface between architecture and the world. We will look at the outer edges of architecture as the site for a new metabolism.

Students will research architectural precedents before air-conditioning, and contemporary precedents of buildings that begin to challenge the envelope. Students will learn the fundamentals of curtain wall construction, but only insofar as it gives them the means to challenge these fundamentals. Finally, students will research existing and emerging forms of energy harvesting with the ambition of developing their own prototype envelope proposal.