Architectural Design, Level II: Material and Tectonic Transformations: The Herreshoff Museum

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 4.131B (Fall 2003)
Course Title: Architectural Design, Level II: Material and Tectonic Transformations: The Herreshoff Museum
Course Level: Graduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
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Department: Architecture
Course Instructor(s): Prof. Paul Lukez
Course Introduction:
Syllabus Introduction

This semester students are asked to transform the Hereshoff Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island, through processes of erasure and addition. Hereshoff Manufacturing was recognized as one of the premier builders of America's Cup racing boats between 1890's and 1930's. The studio, however, is about more then the program. It is about land, water, and wind and the search for expressing materially and tectonically the relationships between these principle conditions. That is, where the land is primarily about stasis (docking, anchoring and referencing our locus), water's fluidity holds the latent promise of movement and freedom. Movement is activated by wind, allowing for negotiating the relationship between water and land.

Boats and Boat Building

As a vehicle for exploring these relationships, we will focus on learning about boat building, so that it might inform our design process. We are going to spend the first part of the project learning about the craft of boat building, its history, as well as learning about advanced boat building technologies such as Kevlar-carbon composite skins with honeycomb and resin cores. The value in exploring another method of assembly is that it removes us from more conventional material and tectonic conventions. This can help stimulate new thinking about transferring concepts and technologies where appropriate or simply to inspire alternative design and production processes in creating new environments.

Search for a Tectonic Language

The search for an appropriate tectonic language will be driven in part by an understanding of the performance standards governing boat design, and their resultant qualities. These include:

Displacement

By definition boats are about displacement of volume, carving volume below the waterline, but minimizing drag by designing sleek profiles.Lightness

The design of racing boats is driven by needing to make them as light as possible, requiring less energy to propel them forward.

Mass

It is also about the fine-tuned distribution of mass, delicately countering-balancing the tendency for flight while staying within racing regulations.

Strength

Despite their lightweight construction, racing boats must be built out of efficient and strong assemblies capable of withstanding the tremendous forces on the sails, mast and hull.

Harnessing Energy

Their strength must be sufficient to harness the wind's energy, with lightweight membranes, stitched together out of smaller elements, yet acting as a whole.

Speed

In the end, racing boats like those designed by the Herreshoffs are about, speed, fluidity, and grace, in seeming defiance of material limitations.

The Site and Program

The site is located in Bristol R. I. where the Hereshoff brothers started their company in 1870. Our site overlooks the Narragansett Bay, where two boat hulls are elevated on stilts in the front of the existing buildings. The site is bisected by Bristol's main road and consists of a compound of buildings  (manufacturing, storage, and maintenance buildings as well the museum proper). At one time, the original wharf housed structures for manufacturing boats and ramps for launching boats. Today, traces of past structures are still evident, presenting interesting opportunities for transforming this site, its existing structures, as well as its water's edge.

The existing building's interior spaces by contrast are rather dark, cluttered and dowdy. Yet they house treasures, such as a replica of Herreshoff's model room, where over 500 models of the hulls are housed. There is much room for improvement in the presentation of the models as well as full-scale boats and exhibits.

Process

We will explore design as an iterative process, which incorporates reading, research, representing and testing.

Reading

Reading is about understanding the site, the program, the context, the history, the culture and technology. Drawings, models and words are used to describe the results.

Research

As individuals and in groups, we will research about boat building, the program, and technologies. We will record, document, model and experiment as part of our investigations and search for an appropriate language. Research is the first act of design, since its results will strongly influence both the course and content of future design investigations.

Representing

Representing our design ideas through drawings, and models, we can internalize of the lessons learned from research. Representing is not always carried out at full scale (prototyping) but can be abstracted at different scales and levels of detail. We do not necessarily need the skill of a master boat builder to experiment with the ideas embedded in their craft.

Testing

Testing entails putting forth propositions forward; to be reviewed in relationship to the performance standards you have set forth in your design. Failure is desirable and revealing. It can force us to question whether we read the site and the problem correctly, or whether the research was appropriately directed, or applied through its representation. Inevitably, we must go back and forth in this process iteratively as we seek the best fit between our design and its performance standards.

So while we will not end up designing boats this semester as Alvar Aalto did in his career, we will seek to allow the study of boat building to inform and generate new approaches to thinking about material and tectonic expression.