Our studio relationship began at Princeton University, which we attended as both undergraduate and graduate students. There we established a way of thinking about architecture that we have tried to maintain as we have progressed from an academic environment into a working practice. We quickly realized that while the perfect isolation of a studio at school encouraged clarity and criticality in design, those qualities often suffer when a project is exposed to the complexity of external constraints one finds in a practice.
Even without the demands imposed by clients, budgets, planning agencies, and building codes, it's hard enough to create the mental space to focus on and define the basic questions that structure a given project. And yet this initial definition of terms—the demarcation of a playing field within all the possible worlds of design —is perhaps the principal intellectual and creative duty of the architect. Once established, a project's initially coherent idea is vulnerable to all the potential depredations of a project's development, whether theoretical or real, and must adapt and mutate to retain relevance and legibility. Accordingly, one of the primary challenges of architecture lies not only in the creation but also the protection of a project's internal consistency as it clears the hurdles of conceptual and physical enactment.
Theoretical and built projects both offer avenues for investigating architectural questions. Each process presents distinct challenges as well as different modes of seeing and testing an architectural idea. For us, architecture resides in many forms, in many media, no one more privileged than another. It makes appearances in diagrams, drawings, models, and buildings, each a mode of representation that renders certain aspects visible while hiding others. We want to operate simultaneously within theoretical and built worlds of design because we think both are valid forms of inquiry that bring different issues to the surface. Practically speaking, in our office we try to sustain a 1:3 ratio of research projects to built work.
space exploration We use our research projects to ask ourselves what we might be taking for granted. For the past year or so, our theoretical work has raised the deceptively simple question: What is space? It seems elementary, but it can be difficult to articulate the specific qualities of the kind of space organized by architecture, especially since every vision of space carries with it a world view. Space is both a concept and something physical. The duality between ideal and real space creates a difficulty in thinking or speaking clearly about it. Operating as an architect, one tends to have a highly developed (if unconscious) model of space already in place. This model serves as a kind of medium within which the design process occurs. In our recent research, we have attempted to embed several quite different spatial models at the core of the design process. Each of these conceptual projects strives to formally manifest these core models—the systems that structure the design process itself. Attempting to articulate these typically mute assumptions serves as a form of discipline and self-critique: How can we manifest these spatial frameworks within an architectural object?
The resulting projects tend to be quite abstract and are already beginning to inform the way we approach aspects of current built work. For instance, the 20 Degree Isometric House analyzes the infinite space implicit within the isometric, axonometric, and orthogonal systems of projective geometry. The form of this project emerges from a recursive isometric projection process performed on a simple rectangle. Another project, the Conway House, develops from a single three-dimensional tile and the chain of relationships its specific geometry prescribes. This tile is a generic biprism—a polyhedron that can be apprehended as a discrete unit but when multiplied implies a vast tessellated array that fills the universe without gaps or overlaps. Finally, our recent Vector House extends this logic of a “thick space” already latent with possibility even when apparently empty. In opposition to the modernist paradigm of the extensible Cartesian grid, space in this project is always already full and is simply awaiting a trigger to manifest its embedded rules.