The Monster Haus Project

Here are some images from a project I undertook last year that I never got around to doing anything with. The images were made using a program called Chief Architect that allows you to generate roof planes automatically based on the walls of the house. My initial project was to try and create 'roof-landscapes' but as you'll see I also tried some other things out too.


There's Glass Between Us: The user-centric implications of Latourian Materialism for Thinking and Making Architecture

This is part of the Graveyard of Dead Abstracts project

Architectural theory tends to speak of buildings at one of two scales, the scale of the technical detail or the scale of the idea / concept. This paper takes as its starting point the ‘materialist’ writings of sociologist Bruno Latour, specifically two of his essays, “Where Are the Missing Masses: The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts” (1992), and “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik - or How to Make Things Public” (2005). From these two papers the author infers the implication that when thinking and making architecture we should shift our focus away from the detail and the concept to the scale in-between, the mundane middle-ground of architecture. This middle-ground, this realm of things being where the user interacts with the built world, the author interprets Latour’s work as being supportive of a user-centric, if not strictly anthropocentric, methodology. Proceeding from this, the paper concludes with a case study of two sets of domestic windows drawn from the history of Western Architecture: the windows of The Hexenhaus, designed by Allison and Peter Smithson (1986-2002), and of E.1027, by Eileen Gray (1929). In keeping with the materialism gleaned from Latour, the case study discusses the windows neither in technical terms, nor solely from a human or cultural perspective. Rather, to use the phrasing of Braun and Whatmore (2010), what is of interest is how the human and the physical, the user and the window in this case, together constitute value.

Building Citizens: The question of citizenry and the political agency of architecture

This is part of the Graveyard of Dead Abstracts project

To what extend can architecture be said to be political? It has long been maintained that architecture both reflects and forms the socio-political character of its inhabitants. The theoretical strand of the ‘New Materialists’ such as Bruno Latour, Daniel Miller, and Andrew Collier would however push us to go even further in this estimation and speak of the political agency of the architecture itself. This paper is concerned with applying this idea to the study of architecture’s role in the production of citizenry. It is argued that while some buildings actively assist in engaging individuals in the public sphere, others do not, promoting, rather, a passive homogeneity contrary to the ideals of liberal democracy. With a methodology derived from foundational work in ANT (Actor Network Theory), the political agency of three works of architecture are assessed, with particular respect to the engagement with, or potential for engagement with, the citizen: Viljo Revell’s Toronto City Hall, Enric Miralles’ Scottish Parliament, and OMA’s Seattle Public Library.

Home in the Hospital | Hospital in the Home

This is part of the Graveyard of Dead Abstracts project.

1.0 Research Problem / Issue

Over the last two years my research has focused on domesticity, self, and technology, culminating in my master’s thesis completed at the University of Waterloo, “Between Technological Flesh and the Technological Field”. In fall 2010, when I enter the Ph.D.2 program in architecture at _____ University, I will bring these interests specifically to the relationship between home and hospital. My doctoral research will examine both how patients attempt to domesticate otherwise anonymous healthcare environments, and conversely how they adopt medical technologies into their existing domestic environments, technologies increasingly no longer confined to centralized facilities. While I intend on researching the incorporation of medical equipment into the contemporary home in depth in subsequent years, the first year of my research, 2010-2011, for which I currently am seeking ____ support, I will devote to studying patients’ appropriative spatial responses to uniform and alienating healthcare environments. In addition to a thorough literature review, I will conduct ten months of weekly on-site interviews with patients and staff at three ____ University teaching hospitals: Montreal Children’s Hospital, the Montreal General Hospital and the Jewish General Hospital. Following the approval of the ____ Research Ethics Board (REB), I shall also conduct a parallel ten-month-long large-format photographic survey of particular hospital rooms at these same facilities in order to document subtle changes in use and decoration by different patients.

2.0 Fit with ____ Research Foci

In the same manner that wearing uniforms flattens individuality, so too do uniform environments. Whether intended to or not, standardized patient rooms participate in the production of something measurable and dissectible, notably distinct from the disorderly assemblages of our day-to-day lived experience. In a hospital the body is brought into focus as an object, no longer integrated mysteriously into an amorphic self but instead an alien body, separate and observable, prepared for inspection, penetration, modification. In my first year of doctoral research I will investigate how the uniformity of the clinical setting prepares the individual for this alienation, and also how this anonymity is resisted. How do patients cope with the “placelessness” of the hospital setting? How do patients maintain and / or create a sense of identity in the hospital? What objects do they choose to take with them from home to familiarize their environment? How do patients appropriate the space of the hospital room? How do patients relate to the alien medical apparatus that quickly become part of their intimate landscape? For instance, do they use the given names for equipment, or make up their own? All of these questions at the centre of my research fit clearly within the larger ______ project of interrogating the place of health care and its relation to technology and the body.

The human assemblage of body parts, physical apparatus, instincts, concepts, and passions, exists in a way that, as the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty once observed, is simply different from the way that mere things exist. In our lived experience, with our partial, embodied perception, we are not easily divided: into body, mind and soul, let alone into bones, muscles, mucous, skin, organs. In order to work effectively, medicine must draw these distinctions, must devoid the body of its mythical, its poetic, and its socio-political dimensions and reduce the human body to workable matter. Place plays a role in this reduction, and the physical setting of medicine can indeed become a ripe venue of dynamic identity-negotiation. Many patients can be observed to defiantly reject the anonymizing function of the hospital setting and by implication the reduction demanded by the efficient practice of western medicine. My research, analyzing this dynamic in spatial terms, first in healthcare facilities, then in houses, complements ______’s constellation of concerns


Churchill, Postphenomenology, ANT, The House

This is part of the Graveyard of Dead Abstracts project.

It is in fact Winston Churchill who is responsible for one of my favourite quotes about architecture: “there is no doubt whatsoever,” he said, “about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us.”[i] On varying scales, from the texture of a door-handle to the programmatic layout of a community centre, architecture plays a very close role in our lives, engaging in our everyday projects of becoming ourselves and of understanding the world. When architecture functionally satisfies our needs and desires, it gives form to our condition. It renders morphological our values and our ‘ways of living’ and then it passes these back to us. Thus artefacts designed to satisfy material needs gain potent psychological and social value. This dimension of architecture, the landscape of meaning attendant to the physical landscape of our dwelling, has always been my principal interest throughout my studies.

Until I came into contact with the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, I struggled to find the appropriate language to describe this landscape of meaning. As represented by Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Gaston Bachelard and in architectural theory by Christian Norberg-Schulz, Juhani Pallasmaa and Alberto Pérez-Gómez, phenomenology offers a powerful tool for talking about the intimate relationship that exists between people and architecture. It allows us to directly ask questions about what architecture is, how it comes to presence for us, and how we incorporate it into our own self-making. Through a phenomenological approach we can learn how architecture is involved in the human condition: how it frames our day-to-day living and gives a form to our dwelling. As Juhani Pallasmaa put it, “we exist through architecture,”[ii] and its canalizing affect on our behaviour and even our thought should not be underestimated. The outside world is seen through windows. We see each other framed by walls, floors and ceilings. Our daily routines are mapped out according to the layout of our buildings; our world is metered out in rooms and corridors. Phenomenology can be very useful in unpacking this complicated series of relations.[iii]

Canonical phenomenology (such as that of Heidegger or Jaspers), however, tended towards the technologically averse and applications of phenomenological thinking to the study of architecture (such as Bachelard or Pallasmaa) have tended to leave newer forms of technology out. I agree with Pérez-Gómez’s assertion that we cannot ignore “the undeniable reality of … our technological flesh.”[iv] Our technology is changing our experience of space and time and thus architecture completely – our phenomenological encounter with the world of life is vastly altered by every new piece of technology we develop. Architecture’s role as a medium for working out important aspects of our condition and in giving this condition concrete form is modified by the increasing incorporation of advanced technology into our buildings. I find this phenomenon to be of immense importance to the study of architecture, and hence I made it the topic of my master’s thesis, recently completed at the University of Waterloo, titled “Between Technological Flesh and the Technological Field.”

This thesis consisted of a ‘phenomenological’ probing both of technological development and of the traditional house, the house being arguably the most intimate of architectures, the place where the affect of architecture is most clearly felt.[v] Thus while with the one hand I was looking at specific “loci” within the house such as the hearth, the toilet, the dining table, the bed and the window, in order to reveal their symbolic and behavioural relevance in our lives, with the other I attempted to apply a similar method of phenomenological inquiry to technological development generally. I looked at the history of technology as well as contemporary trends and identified a series of vectors in the development of our technology.

The next step in the thesis was then to bring these two avenues of research together by combining these vectors of technologization with what I had come to understand about the phenomenology of the house. The fireplace, for instance, which has been effectively replaced by systems of environmental temperature control and telecommunications technology, traditionally played a valuable symbolic and behavioural role that these new technologies only partially replace. What socialization is available through the television is non-interactive, and what reverie is occasioned is highly directed. Television-watching implies a very different idea of truth and of the relation of the individual to a larger body politic than did the traditional hearth. The bodies and minds of the television-oriented social group are in fact, as Donna Haraway once observed, “frighteningly inert”.[vi] By way of concluding the thesis I offered a series of suggestions for how to preserve those qualities of the traditional house considered valuable that are threatened by changing technology, while acknowledging the inevitability technological change.

One of the key weaknesses of this research was the technological determinism implicit in my reading of cultural and social change. Culture must not be seen as dependent upon material conditions. As Foucault argued, we should not assume that there is a direct causal relationship between material change and cultural change,[vii] but rather an interconnection between them. The concept of the actor-network seems to offer a valuable means of speaking about this in which artefacts may be seen engaged in the evolution of culture alongside people.[viii] According to actor-network theory (ANT), networks form and transform as a web of relations between people and their things. The cultures of our houses, it may be then said, develop with our things intimately involved, but our things may not be held responsible for that culture.

While in my previous graduate studies I drew a great deal of inspiration from canonical phenomenology, I am also aware of its flaws. A principal criticism of phenomenology, for instance, lies in its claim to access ‘the things themselves’. After the linguistic turn in philosophy and postmodernism, such a claim would seem difficult to defend.[ix] All we may hope to access is the things themselves as they appear to us from our particular position. A second important criticism of phenomenology regards its emphasis upon the individual’s experience removed from the mediation of the things and systems which frame our being. Fortunately, Don Ihde’s notion of a ‘post-phenomenology’ seems to offer a way out of these difficulties, a philosophic framework for discussion which does not forget the important imperatives of phenomenology but opens it up to a greater acceptance of contingency and plurality,[x] allowing it to incorporate augmentation from cybernetics studies such as ANT or Guattari’s ecological registers.[xi]

I continue to feel that the house, given its intimacy to the human condition, constitutes a fertile site for examining the technological modification of architecture. As Bachelard, and in a different context Witold Rybczynski,[xii] have shown, the house plays a particularly important role in our lives. It is, however, a form of technology, and like all technology it changes rapidly. The house of the late twentieth century was very different from the house of the previous century and, looking at current trends, it is evident that the house of the twenty-first century will be considerably different from the house of the twentieth.

For my doctoral studies at _____ I intend to continue to pursue the subject of the technological augmentation of the house but with a method both more rigidly historical and more open to the influence of a broader and more contemporary set of theorists. My primary intention then is to produce a thorough case-study of the technologization of the home in Canada in the post-war period from 1945-1968. During this period there was a flurry of technological innovation in the house, in terms of stand-alone appliances, in terms of systems, and in terms of the literal re-imagining of the home according to technological-industrial metaphors. I will both show how broader economic, political, social and cultural phenomena were reflected in this and how the technology then became involved in perpetuating cultural and social patterns. Through a close study of available documentation I hope to provide a detailed sketch of the typical middle-class home during this time period both as lived and as imagined.

In this research I hope to provide a platform for a more general investigation of both the relation between technological development and cultural and social change and our personal engagement with technology. As technology (particularly telecommunications technology) increasingly mediates our perception of the world and our agency,[xiii] in a very real sense it becomes the architecture of our world, framing our lives, and canalizing our behaviour and thought. I hope to elucidate some of the details of how this occurs and how it concerns architects. Some questions for instance that are immediately of concern are: what occurs, phenomenologically and psychologically, when everyday objects become embedded with sensing and processing technology and become enabled to make decisions and take actions on their own? How do we experience the space of digital information? And how does this space supplement or augment physical space? These questions are all of vital importance both to academics and architects interested in the future of architecture, and questions to which I hope to find a basis for answering in my research.


[i] Quoted in Michael Batty et al., “The Virtual Tate,” The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London Working Paper Series, June 1998, http://www.casa.uc.ac.uk.

[ii] Juhani Pallasmaa, “Aesthetic and Existential Space: The dialectics of art and architecture,” paper delivered at ROM conference for art and architecture, Oslo, September 16, 2005.

[iii] we may think of Heidegger’s late essays such as “Building Dwelling Thinking,” in Basic Writings (San Francisco: HarperSanFransico, 1993), or Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (London; New York: Routledge, 1962).

[iv] Alberto Pérez-Gómez, “Dwelling on Heidegger”, Cloud-Cuckoo-Land 3 no.2 (1998), http://www.tu-cottbus.de/theoriederarchitektur/wolke/eng/Subjects/subject982.html.

[v] Bachelard, we might remember, even went so far as to refer to the house as “an instrument for confronting the cosmos”: The poetics of space, ed. M. Jolas (Boston : Beacon Press, 1994), 46.

[vi] Donna Haraway, “The Cyborg Manifesto,” Simians, cyborgs, and women : The reinvention of nature (New York: Routledge, 1991).

[vii] Michel Foucault, “Space, Power, Knowledge” in The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During (New York: Routledge, 1993), 134-41.

[viii] Bruno Latour, "Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artefacts" in Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, edited by Wiebe E. Bijker & John Law (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1992), 225–258.

[ix] Peter-Paul Verbeek, What things do : Philosophical reflections on technology, agency, and design (University Park, Pa. : Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005).

[x] Don Ihde, Postphenomenology : Essays in the postmodern context (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1993).

[xi] Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London; New York: The Athlone Press, 2005).

[xii] Witold Rybcynski, Home : A short history of an idea (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1986).

[xiii] William Mitchell, Me++ : The cyborg self and the networked city (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 2003), 61.