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How might we design a shared institutional identity across three separate but related libraries?


(W)Hole Objects :: Interiorizing the Spectacle of Extreme Architectural Forms

SCI-Arc Undergraduate Thesis :: Fall 2015 to Spring 2016

Thesis Advisor :: Devyn Weiser     Thesis Coordinator :: Marcelyn Gow

     Winner of SCI-Arc Best Thesis Prize, 2016

This project reimagines the "sectional object" in architectural formalism, in the context of recent questions of object-oriented ontology in architecture. An ambiguous, mysterious architecture, where spaces vibrate between interior and exterior, embedded and carved out, contained and discrete, single and multiple, is tested in a design for three libraries. The result is an architecture with a mysterious allure, and an institutional identity that speaks to the shared, yet distinct, nature of the three library volumes.


Problem Space: Involuting Expressive Architectural Geometries

The 'sectional object' has proven to be a dominant and robust diagram for an "object-oriented" approach to internal spatial organization in architecture since its formulation as an architectural problem in Jeff Kipnis' seminal text "Towards a New Architecture." The sectional object characterizes an approach where space is defined by a formally expressive object, a container enclosing it, and its relationship with that container.


By forcing the internal sectional object into contact with and outside of its container, this thesis destabilizes its relation with its container and re-imagines the sectional object as an urban proposition, creating architectural elements that vibrate between interior and exterior, embedded and carved out, contained and discrete, single and multiple (see diagram, right).

Underutilized, monofunctional Modernist housing spaces in Toulouse, France.


Diagram showing the "(w)hole object" (right) relative to archetypal examples of the "sectional object" (left).

The (w)hole object takes on two seemingly incompatible formal conditions, constantly flipping between readings as a contained object and a figural hole. In many ways the (w)hole object is torn between these two, often contradictory readings. For example, where the sectional object holds the promise of "deferred interiority," or a unique internal space nested privately within an interior, the figural hole delivers a public exterior topologically sucked into the mass. The (w)hole object constantly negotiates between these two contradictory reading between an object and its container to resist clear resolution and exploit the perception of multiple ontologies and double-readings.

As opposed to what might be typically referred to as a "new sculpturalism" or a typical architectural iconicity through difference, the (w)hole object internalizes the spectacle of the expressive architectural icon. Within an exterior that takes on qualities of muteness or monolithicity, one receives brief and mysterious glimpses of a strange architectural object that recedes seemingly endlessly into the building. On the envelope, perforation patterns deform in strange and defamiliarizing ways in response to the inner object glimpsed within. As one moves in, around, and through the building, one constantly experiences brief glimpses of an interior object that never reveals itself as a whole. The strange near-figural and shrouded qualities of the object dramatize the experience of the spectacle within.


Study models testing the formal effects of (w)hole objects, in which the spectacle of expressive architectural forms are internalized within a mute, monolithic massing.

Testing the (W)Hole Object

The (w)hole object is tested in a proposal for the London Public Library, adjacent to Foster's London Assembly Hall. Responding to the brief's call for a complex multimedia library, the program is broken down into three discrete, specialized library volumes. The (w)hole object brings these discrete object into moments of unstable unity, both visually tying them together through interior figures that imply continuity between objects, and spatially nesting exterior, grotto-like spaces in the holes between discrete masses.

Drawings comparing the elevation, where (w)hole objects imply continuity between distinct masses, and the section, where (w)hole objects nest grotto-like spaces in the holes between masses. Click to flip between drawings.

The involutions are programmed as discrete urban volumes, one acting as a semi-exterior performance space and the other as a ground-like continuation of the park into the mass. As one moves, in, around, and through the building, one constantly has brief glimpses of an interior object that never reveals itself as a whole. The strange, near-figural, shrouded qualities of the object dramatize the experience of the spectacle within.


As the library negotiates its difficult urban site, these holes are strategically concealed and revealed, for example, being mysteriously shrouded by the container on the site's more conservative urban face, revealing glimpses into the hole from the public iconic embankment facade, and spilling out into the adjacent park on its long facade.

The unexpected juxtaposition between the (w)hole object as public urban space and its containers as discrete library volumes create friction between the library as a unified whole and the masses/holes as collective urban form. This friction is exposed as one gains visual access into the mass from the hole or is forced to move through the container to reach parts of the involution.

The project exploits the mysterious allure of the (w)hole object that hovers between multiple and often contradictory ontologies to dramatize the involution as a semi-internal, semi-autonomous architectural urban space.


Alternative views of the (w)hole objects as a grotto-like space involuted into the buildings' massings (above) or as a strange architectural object nested inside the massing.

Click for Full-Sized Gallery:

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