The following book was edited and curated by Natalie Bellefleur and I, and includes work from the 12 collaborators. My personal contributions to the Soft House project include design and conceptual development, the robotics work, photogrammetry research, developing and documenting construction methods, and installation.
My full architectural portfolio from previous studios can be found here.
The Soft House project is the culmination of an interdisciplinary studio-workshop taught at MIT in Spring 2017 by an artist, Janet Echelman, a structural designer, Caitlin Mueller, and a software entrepreneur, David Feldman. Over the course of the semester, a group of 12 students who span disciplines and programs across MIT explored themes related to content, form, material, and structure through the lens of an installation for Philip Johnson’s Glass House site in New Canaan, CT.
Beginning with the iconic 1949 Glass House structure and continuing until Johnson’s death in 2005, the New Canaan property was an evolving, highly curated landscape of architecture and nature that borrowed from a broad set of references and served as a nexus for important discussions and experiments in art, architecture, and culture. In response to this context and history, students developed a range of concepts for a temporary sculpture installation on the site early in the semester. Simultaneously, they investigated the materiality and physical behavior of softness, from both a tectonic and formal perspective and through the lens of engineering and computational simulation, as it relates to flexible materials that hang and bend to create form.
In contrast with hard materials that go where they are told and behave rigidly once placed, soft materials and systems contribute to the creation of form through the specifics of their physical behavior: how they drape, bend, hang, stretch, and grow offers avenues for formal possibilities, and also constraints. Their compliance means that they will always obey the physical laws of gravity and equilibrium, but they may change shape in unexpected ways to reach it. Mastering the formal palette of softness requires expertise in material behavior, structural engineering, and modelling (both physical and digital), as well as a willingness to collaborate with the soft system and the rules that govern its behavior.
The studio developed digital tools and physical modelling techniques to tackle these questions in a series of individual proposals and proto-projects completed in small groups. In the last third of the semester, they joined together to design and engineer a final proposal for the Glass House site: an occupiable soft structure that hovers among the trees surrounding the Glass House building, reflecting the connectivity of the landscape and reinventing the formal vocabulary of the house. In addition to developing the concept from a range of artistic and technical perspectives, the students also collaborated on the fabrication and installation of a full-scale prototype on the MIT campus, suspended between four trees in the East Campus courtyard. The installation materializes and synthesizes many of the ideas explored during the semester, and also makes clear the technical challenges and visual opportunities of attaining formal precision with a soft material system embedded in a natural landscape.