Performative Territories

Spring 2011, Design Technologies Concentration Studio, Master of Architecture

Instructor:  Julian Pallacio

Student Work:  Brandon Moore

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The catalogue of forms is endless: until every shape has found its city, new cities will continue to be born.
When the forms exhaust their variety and come apart, the end of cities begins.

– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1974

To generalize, a field condition would be any formal or spatial matrix capable of unifying diverse elements
while respecting the identity of each. Field configurations are loosely bounded aggregates, characterized by
porosity and local interconnectivity. Overall shape and extent are highly fluid and less important than the
internal relationships of parts, which determine the behavior of the field.

– Stan Allen, From Object to Field, 1997

Architecture would be then seen in its full proximity and intimacy with system of forces that give shape and
rhythm to the everyday life of the body. Thus the object—be it a building, a compound site, or an entire urban
matrix, insofar as such unities continue to exist at all as functional terms—would be defined now not by how
it appears, but rather by practices: those it partakes of and those that take place within it.

– Sanford Kwinter, Architectures of Time, 2001

The agenda of the studio aims to integrate advanced digital technologies with critical design
thinking, in order to explore how architecture can benefit from alternative resonances between
program, form, and context, to address complex processes of urban transformation and growth.
Digital technologies provide access to tools for investigating the behavior of networks and dynamic
systems— physical, material, environmental, tectonic, or cultural—that affect a project. From data
mining to parametrization, the codification of these variables through computation describes and
redefines existing relations at the scale of the city that can offer a deeper understanding of the
heterogenous territory in which we as architects operate.
The Maine Avenue Fish Market—also known as ‘the Wharf’—located on Washington DC’s
waterfront, is the oldest continuously operating fish market in the United States. In operation since
1805, it is also one of the few surviving open air seafood markets on the east coast. In spite of its
cultural and urban relevance, the market is disconnected from the more active areas of the city and
remains unknown to many tourists and DC metro residents. This particular situation not only has a
negative impact on the market’s economic potential and future viability, but it also represents a
missed opportunity for the city to fully engage with the river and the waterfront.
The problem posed in this studio will require students to address these challenges by designing a
new structure for the Fish Market. The proposal must incorporate organizational strategies capable
of capitalizing on the unique behavior of the site in order to transform the market into a new focal
point of activity for the district with a distinct urban presence, a catalyst that can contribute to
invigorate the area in response to the more generic redevelopment plans for the waterfront.

Phase 1: Scripting Workshop
During the first weeks of the semester, we will conduct a scripting workshop to provide students
the foundations necessary to understand the logic, tools, and techniques behind computational
geometry. This knowledge will be fundamental for the advancement of the projects in the studio as
it requires students to think parametrically, that is, in terms of variables, the relations they
constitute, and the role they play in the generation of form and space.

Phase 2: New Cartographies: Diagramming the site and systems
This phase of the project will be developed collectively as a group, with different members of the
studio taking on responsibility for certain aspects of the site analysis. The exercise will be
performed by using computational tools to produce a series of diagrams that can offer alternative
readings of site behaviors, depending on the type of parameters and agencies considered—views,
pedestrian circulation, traffic flow, noise, sun exposure, accessibility. These models will contribute
to the development of strategies to potentialize uses in specific areas depending on overlaps or
interactions between different systems.

Phase 3Organizational strategies
The goal of this phase is twofold. Firstly, students will analyze the behavior of a specific dynamic
system that can provide them with specific strategies to drive the internal and external
organizational logic of their projects. The result of this exercise must yield a clear set of rules,
operational techniques, or protocols of behavior. Secondly, students will analyze prototypical
typologies, emphasizing the study of circulation, programmatic distribution, tectonics,
environmental response, and will explore the potential that each one of these parameters can have
in generating spatial and formal inventions.

Phase 4: Project Development
Synthesizing the research on site behavior, operative diagrams, and computational models,
students are expected to generate responsive designs for a new Fish Market. The projects should
be comprehensive in their scope and must use digital technologies to capitalize on opportunities
for the production of a new architectural expression that engages the dynamics of the urban

The studio will operate as a design-research unit. As such, emphasis will be put in a processoriented
method of rigorous analysis that can offer continuous feedback as a way to test and
evaluate the implementation of design strategies during the semester.