David Gissen’s autumn semester studio asked its students to consider the aesthetic and physical qualities of darkness as a response to urban heat island effect. David situated architectural darkness as both a continuation and subversion of the modernist search for solarized aesthetics. For modernists, the sun was prized for its health-bringing qualities, while, in the face of climate change, architecture now must respond to overheating. David thus chose the city of Vienna as the site for its historical ties to modernism and the fact that Vienna has a higher at-risk population (young, elderly, and disabled) than most cities.
My project began with precedent research on the United Nations Secretariat in New York City. Throughout architectural history, the aesthetics of the sun have sided with political power. From the Egyptian pyramids, through the architecture of Louis XIV, the Sun King, to the UN Building, the sun has had a unifying influence on the aesthetics of architecture and political power.
While researching the UN building, I learned that the four-block length of its site was once considered a “sooty stretch of darkness” and that the Tudor City development across the street has small windows facing the site because of an abattoir and gas plant that once existed there. Diving further into the site, I found that the area was previously a farmhouse, a shantytown, an industrial area, and a disease-laden tenement neighborhood. Through this research, I posited that the aesthetics of the solarized UN Building relied on the historical and physical erasure of these previous conditions.
The final drawing of my precedent study takes this history and reintroduces each urban form to the site simultaneously as a method of countering both the historical and the political power of the UN building.
When I moved to the site in Vienna, I took this process from the precedent study and reapplied it to the new condition. The history of the site in Vienna is much more continuous than that of New York so instead of repeating the programmatic and iconographic reintroduction of history, I scaled down into the material details of both the immediate site and its urban context. The collected material diagram shows the materials I ended up introducing to the site.
The project is a proposal for collective living in an infill block in the city. The loose accumulation of material allows the building to resist the parcelization of real estate and allows the inhabitants of the building to change the building without much applied labor. The loose accumulation and the fluidity of the spaces also allows the use and sharing capabilities to be entirely defined by the users. The loose material stems from two quotes I found while continuing my research from the precedent study. The first stems from Victor Hugo in Les Miserables where he describes a barricade in Paris made from household objects and stolen building materials, a pile that he calls “a garbage heap and a Sinai.” The second is from the Viennese architecture theorist Hermann Czech, who writes that the “consumer” that changes a building against the intent of the original architect views the architecture as pure “material.” Using these quotes, I aimed for the loose accumulation of my Vienna project to tie my historical research on solarized aesthetics to the contemporary political situation of the city.