Summer Workshop at Confluence

Much has been written on the convent of Sainte Marie de La Tourette (1959, Evreux, France) designed by architect Le Corbusier and his then assistant, mathematician and musician, Iannis Xenakis. It is indeed an architectural masterpiece, fit for its usage. Anyone can, looking at photographs, appreciate the masterful use of light, color and the undulatory façades that bring joy to ascetic living. Yet, one needs to experience what I come to call a *friar’s habit*, a garment barely comfortable, insulating and quiet, adjusted to monastic activities: the study of religious texts and philosophy, the prayers before each meal, and meditation. When the building material and volumes amplify the sound of the worship service, light sublimes it.

It is also space where silence is obliged—any other sound is very much a disturbance as one can hear a whisper or the alarm clock of their next-door neighbor. With the concrete at times so thin and so old that it cracks, without any insulation except maybe for few rooms under the planted roof, the habit (the word translates as ‘clothe’ in French) intimates us to silence and sensory engagement.

It has been a pleasure to experience the building along with summer school students of the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture. We felt extremely privileged to be given access to the rooftop and the crypt:

On the rooftop. Photograph: Yara Tayoun

We spent a couple of days producing sensory maps of a section of the building—we chose to map the corridor linking the church to the dining hall. A section of this corridor slopes up when you come out of the church highlighting the fact that we are in a “higher state of mind” as Nathalie observed—physically ascending as we are spiritually elevated!

We were trying to make sense of sensory data collection, meaning and representation:

Students collecting sensory data.

The process of mapping luminance by Nathalie Bellefleur transforming image data into a pattern using Grasshopper.

Map capturing the elements which contribute to rhythm our walk through the walkway, activating our body-memory. Work by Kailin Jones and Yara Tayoun.

Thank you Confluence for the invitation and everyone for the wonderful work!


Design by Data Advanced Master

I have been involved in the Design by Data Advanced Master (directed by Francesco Cingolani) as a lecturer investigating with students the meaning and implication of designing “fluid spaces” and guiding them to conduct research for their computational project. I am also heading the “Art, design and knowledge” area of the advanced master.

To me, it has always been important to reflect on the ways in which technologies affect spaces and transform not only production processes but also the ways in which we relate to space and the world around us. As William J. Mitchell wrote in ME++: The cyborg self and the networked city, space has the same characteristics as the onion—“My natural skin is just layer zero of a nested boundary structure.” (Mitchell, 2003: p. 7). Every layer also connects to others and can change properties.

So it is not enough to learn how to use a software or other tool and technology, one also needs to understand which software to use and to which end, and what does it exactly do. And questions of “optimization” should not be the only ones to be taken into account when building for future generations !

I am happy I have joined the conversation with the team at l’Ecole des Ponts, the best engineering school in France, Francesco Cingolani, also co-founder of the Parisian coworking space / makerspace / food lab Volumes (Subscribe to their mailing list!) and Minh Man Nguyen, co-founder of the Woma, co-working and co-making space in Paris.

If you have any question about the advanced master, join us for breakfast March 14, 2017 :-)

Also very useful.. Twitter handle: @byDataDesign

MAP – Motorizing Architectural Processes

Close-up of the Adherence map by Michel Jaquet + Hania Chirazi. MAP seminar SPRING 2013

Teaching again the MAP seminar at l’ESA this semester. Last year the students did a great job of exploring the five senses. Following a discussion with Dk Osseo-Asare from Low Design Office this summer, I am rethinking the acronym, changing it to Motorizing Architecture Processes instead of Motorizing Architecture Paradigms. The “wordsmithing” is necessary as I decided to focus on mapping the invisible, exploring the agency of maps and the parallel between the processes of mapping and designing.

While projection systems and technologies ­have increased their accuracy (we think of today’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS), open digital mapping platforms such as “open street map”, and locative media), maps have gained agencies, which challenged their “veracity”. Maps, like the census and the museum, can enable the construction of national identity (O’Gorman Anderson, 1991). Maps include and exclude, prompting author Philippe Vasset to explore the unrepresented spaces of maps, these left blank (Vasset, 2007). (Dis)information visualization, which is what maps essentially do, is about editing information (collecting and choosing), organizing (in a collection) and coding it. Now, maps are also dynamic, “perpetually updated objects” to the point that we “inhabit both the city and its representation” (Desbois, 2011). Maps thus precede territories (Baudrillard, 1983); they exist before that territories materialize. The codes embedded within become the parameters of an imagined or could be space.

Cesar Harada – Social Architecture

What is social architecture? Cesar Harada, inventor, entrepreneur and environmentalist came organize a workshop to think through what is social architecture. This event organized for the seminar MAKE led by Marie Aquilino – event to which I collaborated – happened at l’Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture. Students of the MAP seminar participated to the event. Here below is an embedded time-lapse video of the event edited by Cesar. Thank you for the wonderful time and for making us think about decision making, tasks, roles, steps, iterative design, linear/branched/complex networks, voronois, etc. all this though MAKING – in 3h – a structure out of flexible plastic tubes and paper, string, electrician tape and wallpaper paste :-) Find also the Social Architecture Flickr set.

1954 Robots Are Here

Yesterday I have invited Anne Chaise to present her work on Technologies And The Future As Represented By The Feminine Press From 1945 to 1968 during the Technologies, Architecture, urbanism course that I teach at l’ESA. Not only Anne is a pearl, but she is also a mine of information and the awesome librarian in chief at school.

Anne had gone through 1200 ELLE and 196 Marie-Claire back issues to find out that in these times, the magazine, which was already a strong medium of advertizing, had the goal of transforming the mentalities, to reconcile people with progress and science (invented/used during war time), eyes focused on the USA where technologies of the temporary, prefabrication, and standardization was being developed. I spoke already about how Buckminster Fuller envisaged post-war housing, free from infrastructure so people could pack and leave easily in case of war. That was the mindset.

ELLE and Marie-Claire had for mission to educate the good “manager” of the house (the word share the same root with the word “ménagère” in french) – the woman who had to be “clean, economical, efficient, ingenious, managing her own budget,” etc. Anne found that 31% of the magazine related to home improvement, the Salon Des Arts Ménagers, individual housing, préfabrication, mobility and flexibility (even featuring the work of Buckminster Fuller!). ELLE was participating (they had a stand) to the Salon Des Arts Ménagers as the magazine was at that time selling prefabricated houses designed by then young (and promising) architects such as Ionel Schein and Claude Parent. ELLE was also touring France with a mobile home to sell this new way of living.

In the ELLE issue 435 of 1954, the magazine shows a table summarizing how “authors of science-fiction, philosophers, scientists, visionaries or even imaginative individuals announce with a charming precision” the “everyday life of tomorrow’s man”. What was thought to arrive in 2500 has almost all already happened:

4-1954 ELLE 435 p.24-25_smallScreen shot 2013-04-20 at 9.50.01 AM

Here below are a couple of picture of Anne Chaise showing her preparation work with the time line in relation to the articles of interest she found:


Digital – Biodigital

A diagram for a class I give at l’ESA on digital architecture based on the teaching of Antoine Picon who writes that digital culture caused architecture to enter a crisis of scale and tectonic and that architecture is seeing a renewal of ornament [1]. The ornament versus cosmetic argument comes from a text by Jeffrey Kipnis [2]. My interest in mobility and ecology leads me to believe that architecture is actually going beyond ornament, and that we have integrated to our digital manipulations molecular scale and structure. This is what constitute biodigital architecture. You see how both are linked. To be continued!

[1] Antoine Picon, Culture numérique et architecture – une introduction (Birkhäuser, 2010)
[2] Jeffrey Kipnis, “The Cunning of Cosmetics,” El Croquis 84 (1997): 22 – 28