Automatic Revisited

On April 23, 2009, Luke Stern and I successfully defended our Master of Architecture thesis project at the University of Toronto Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, entitled Automatic Revisited: Fabricating Sustainable Concrete Elements.

Our thesis abstract summarizes our intentions:
The constructional elements of a building are normally considered components in service of the greater architectural endeavor. Yet elements are also design problems: direct consideration elevates them from the conceptual role of passive expression to that of active contribution, and calls into question their accepted form, function and materiality. The desired qualities of a complete building -- firmitas, utilitatis, and venustatis -- are the same as those desired in a constructional element, suggesting that elements warrant evaluation beyond their ability merely to be organized creatively: the architecture of the element is itself architecture.

We have developed a family of modular armature elements that permit a large degree of formal variability using a small number of discrete parts. These elements emerged as a contemporary response to Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Automatic project, an early exploration into the constructional element as a parallel design exercise. The Automatic system provided a point of departure, and prompted a new set of concrete forms that respond to contemporary sustainable criteria, including maximal architectural freedom, optimal environmental performance, and minimal life-cycle costs. Through an open-ended collaborative problem-solving process, we developed several prototypes; through full-scale fabrication, we tested the validity of the prototypes in confrontation with reality.

A selection of images from our final presentation is shown below.

Two images of our final installation are shown below.

In 2010, this project was published in the journal MAS Context.