Monday, April 06, 2009

I Write Myself A Building And Who Knew It Would Take Two Pages


None of these ideas came from nowhere and I would like to thank my classmates, professor, and critiquers for their conscious and subconscious interventions and suggestions throughout this project.

Rather than raping the site, or destroying the site, or even thinking about the site as something to be used, my goal was to work with the site and allow the site to relate to the building in an indispensable way. This interest in site-building integration led me to the site I chose, which is currently home to six old trees that this design retains. My initial explorations centered around fitting rigid, geometric shapes into the spaces between them, allowing the focus to be on the trees. However, it was too facade driven, and the experience of being inside the building was terrible. After our mid-crit I started over, now having something to react against and a better understanding of the site.

The trees stand 70 feet tall, and even though the building takes up almost two-thirds of the site, the size of the trees allows the squatter but wider building to not overpower their visual weight. Literally the building was formed by drawing on a site plan where the building could be while still preserving the trees. The two compliment each other, with the building's main circulation a direct response to the home of the trees, and the lower height of the building allowing them to shade the upper levels from the hot western sun. The stairs open onto the trees rather than the interior of the building. But their light is carried inside through the opaque glass that shields them from it. The Western Elevator views the central tree as it rises, and the Eastern views those just across the street in the Admin Lawn. The ramp is the notable exclusion to this tactic, rather responding to Art and Architecture instead of the trees – a duplicated image of the new exterior path separated only by a piece of glass. The entire form of the building is derived from the placement of the trees, and steps back as program requires to allow more light into the space between the two buildings and the offices inside Art and Architecture.

The site is also important as it sits in a very prominent location on campus: between the Admin and double A, Life Sciences and the Commons, close to Gibb and Morrill Halls, and in a prominent location on the historic admin lawn. As a result of location the building seems to want to engage its surroundings, which is one reason why keeping the trees was necessary. The western stairs view the Commons on their lower levels, the Kibbie on their upper. The Eastern stairs look out over Admin Lawn all the way up. The rooftop lawn, used for outdoor ceremonies, smoking, or lounging, looks at all the buildings around it, but also over their tops to the Palouse in the North and West. It is sloped inward to allow some privacy, and the trees provide further privacy. Water collected off the ceremonial space's roof allows the grass to stay green until it gets covered in snow. The other roofs are planted with native Palouse bunch grasses in order to survive the harsh winters and dry summers. These smaller roofs are viewed from both inside and out, unlike the grassed roof.

Operable windows to the East and West, as well as in the central circulation bridges, allow natural ventilation to take place. The atrium of the central space acts as a stack ventilation chimney and the hot air can be vented either outside to the north or to the largest room in the building: the banquet space on floor three. This will hopefully reduce heating costs versus comparable banquet spaces.

The top, or fourth, floor is occupied by the roof-lawn and the ceremonial space, as well as two dressing rooms. The elder's apartments are on the quiet and least-used third floor, separated from the banquet space for privacy and sound isolation. The evergreen trees shield direct views between the banquet hall and the elder's apartments, furthering their privacy. A small balcony for the elders allows outdoor viewing of the central tree, as well as fresh air. One apartment features a large bookcase, another a larger dining area, and the last a multimedia space. I hope these three different focuses will help increase communication between the elders. The offices are one floor down next to the smaller classroom, which I imagine could be taken over for larger meetings or conferences that do not fit in the conference room. Art's office shares a balcony with the AIST director's office. The two labs, two science faculty offices, and lab supply room are adjacent to each other just across the central space. The first floor has the large classroom next to the Student Center, which is zoned from north to south as social to study spaces. A bank of computers separates the two. Steve's office is in the quieter study area. The child care center is across the hall from the door to the courtyard, which is a playground for the children. The ramp leads from this floor down to the ground floor, which has a cafe in the north and a museum in the south. Alternate sections of glazing and non-glazed wall allow the ramp to feature smaller display spaces. The museum is partially underground, allowing the thermal mass of the earth to keep its temperature more stable, good for the health of the artifacts. Light to this floor comes in from the stairs and from the north, leaving the southern display space artificially lighted for an adaptable and controllable lighting scheme.

The stairs are basalt slabs. The interior walls are a combination of gypsum and glazing. The roofing materials have already been stated. The structure is steel for two reasons: the variation of these bands of floors requires a lightweight, strong material that works well in both tension and compression; also, structural steel is 96-97 percent recycled. The exterior cladding is a metal embossed with six foot vertical bands. Their visual rhythm and overlapping not only recall Tule mats, but act like a processor's heat sink to shed heat from the south-facing building.

The ceremonial space is punctuated by a skylight which allows direct noon sunlight into the space for only 1 week each year, centering on the summer solstice. The rest of the year only diffuse sunlight, direct skylight, and due east-west sunlight penetrate the space. Directly beneath the skylight is the strip of earth. The roof is metal not just to provide clean runoff for watering the roof-lawn but primarily to capture the aural qualities of the rain. This kind of out of body experience, hearing but not feeling the rain in this case, seems to recall tactics of other sacred spaces: cathedrals hiding the light's origin except for the rose window; the ocular skylights of many early mosques creating an unearthly indirectly lighted area in the land of sun and shadow, perhaps even recalling the special moments just before dawn and just after dusk in the desert; and the unusually cool, dry interior of Hindu temples contrasting the hot, humid climate of India. The roof and skylight are held up by north-south wooden beams, which in turn hold up east west plank sheeting, held apart a quarter of inch for the aural infiltration of the rain. The metal roof rests on slats above the planks.

The varied exterior of the building allows natural daylighting in all of the spaces except the museum. I tried in everything to allow the building to respond directly to its location and adjacencies at multiple scales: engaging the Palouse, the campus, the immediate surrounding, and at points even turning in on itself to view the central tree. The site remains its main influence, and I view the building as simply another information layer of the site.


I'll put up some final renders when I get time. But the first time I get is going to be sleep, not posting. Priorities. Instead, have a sketch of the ceremony roof with the AA roof and Palouse behind it:

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