The panel project

Introduction to materials and fabrication for architects

“…And yet I think of the word ‘materia’ in a broader sense in which the purely material activity is closely connected with an intellectual process.”

—Alvar Aalto,
The Relationship Between Architecture,
Painting, and Sculpture.

In the spring of 2010, I co-taught an undergraduate architecture studio with Richard Wesley, chair of the Undergraduate Architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania. For this course, a second-year studio required for the Architecture major, we coopted certain techniques of abstract painting and sculpture as methods for seeing, thinking about and working with materials in a design context.

Drawing on the writings of Carl Jung, we were interested in the notion of the transformation of prima materia into ultima materia as a circular process that begins in “raw, uncooked emotion” (chaos) and ends in “rejuvenation, rebirth and promised illumination” (enlightenment). Both Jung and Aalto indicate that this transformation—the separation and then reunion of mind and body (consciousness and subconsciousness, sun and moon, etc.)—requires the application of conscious effort, an “intellectual process”, to quote Aalto. In the case of architecture, we saw this alchemical act analogous to the plying of material into artifice. It can also be used to describe the psychological transformation of the actor—in this case, the students learning to work with materials for the first time in a foundational materials and fabrication course.

Phase-point: A matter of formlessness

The first exercise explored the transition from drawing to fabrication. Each student made a ‘phase-point’ resulting from the application of formless paint to a support (paper) using a specific tool.


Exercise 2A: Re-cut

The second exercise explored the transition from two-dimensional to three-dimensional fabrication and was divided into two parts. In exercise 2A, each student was issued one piece of 5/4” × 8” × 24” clear poplar. The board was to be cut and then assembled with glue into a ‘re-cut’. The re-cuts were to fit within an imaginary volume of 1′ × 1′ × 1′.


Exercise 2B: Panel

Students worked in teams to fabricate a full-size free-standing folded panel. All panels were to be self-supporting and designed to stand on the floor when unfolded. The panels were designed for one of the following situations: (1) between two people; (2) between a person and the environment; (3) between one person and a group of persons. The panels needed at least one fold and fit when unfolded within an imaginary volume of 6′ x 6′ x 3′.

Panel Panel Panel Panel Panel Panel

Student work

  • Noor Al Awadhi
  • Sam Beattie
  • Laura Bridgman
  • Luna De Castro
  • Nhat Dang
  • Arianna Galan Montas
  • Juliet Gensemer
  • Marvin Harris
  • Garvin Hunt
  • Katherine Jones
  • Joanna Karaman
  • Susan Kolber
  • Miya Lee
  • Rachel Reese
  • Anne Rosen
  • Noelle Tay
  • Alicia Willett
  • Tina Xie
  • Elizabeth Young

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