Monday, February 28, 2011

GhostLab: Locavore Architecture, and the great return to Master Builder

Nova Scotia architect Brian MacKay-Lyons has been taking groups of students to his 60 acre farm for the experience of building from the ground, up, using site-typical materials, methods, and seaside vernacular. 
The subject matter is certainly something near to me: the de-separation of architect from building through a return to the master builder model, thereby realizing highly sensitive design sensibilities in instinctual moves. While my approach has been primarily rooted in technological development, beating the construction field to the proverbial punch, there are also aims of addressing other issues which Ghost, the fairly prototypical (albeit, minus some concessions to the category - such as traveling to the functioning farm!) student design/build classification, doesn't necessarily accomplish in practice (it should be noted that I can only comment on built models through to the 12th annual d/b summer camp as the event is considered a conference, and I have no clue what the discussions were!). 


The three main criticisms I see as a future-of-the-discipline model are scalability, availability, and just plain ol' ability. I feel the need to specify these criticisms as global to architecture, because, as a classroom, Ghost is already moving leaps and bounds in providing quality academia in a pragmatic setting. 


Scalability is an obvious one. Some of the most successful design/builders, Jersey Devil for example, have only accomplished so much quantitatively because a team of handy designers can do only as much as they can do. When I speak of technological developments for scalability, I do not mean to infer armies of robots, as some of my colleagues might propose, but mimicking insanely ubiquitous manufacturing practices used for every other product outside of architecture. An old idea, absolutely. The difference in this round of potential one-off prefabs is the portability of the assembly line, until now, unavailable. It starts small: Gramazio + Kohler transporting a single robo-arm to stack a brick wall.


Availability of materials and equipment are stems from sustainability concerns. While, undoubtedly, Ghost addresses greenness through Locavore practices, the same methodology is unavailable in urban settings. Systemic approaches to reviving found spatial elements and material substance must be addressed in a realistic long-term tactic to alternative material sciences in a growing population. Thinking along the lines of equipment is where we can learn much from social media in open and crowd sourcing practices to loan, borrow, rent equipment and services based on need. 


Craftsperson ability can, in part, explain the repetitious throwback to simple, expressional modernist structures. While this aesthetic choice is not an uncommon, or undesirable one in any way, the honest ascertation is that the same team of designers would struggle to gain traction in other stylistic genera. This may seem as a harsh and petty blow, and is admittedly given last priority for that reason, but is a realistic concern as the first two categories of material availability and scalability will be the primary deciding factors in diminishing our current practices of design and construction.


Always a mega-fan of design build practices for their elite understanding, and thus, freedom to design more assertively, I am humbled by not only the effort of Ghost, but for its success in garnering some of the most prestigious critics, speakers, writers and teachers to participate year after year. Richness in design for me is the integration of many things that are not the hard-edged walls we understand in floor plan architecture, and my personal approach is never technology as a save-all, but as enabler to a wider audience for engaging our craft in the same ways we've pigeonholed ourselves away from understanding and communication. Get some.






Find out more about this incredible program here: http://www.mlsarchitects.ca/ghost/


*image from http://archrecord.construction.com/news/2011/02/110224ghost_lab_13.asp

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