Models Across Scales

In the impeccable and unambiguous world where process and result are always distinguishable, tools are meant to be predictable, reliable means to an end. They should precede the result in the same way in which the pragmatic should precede the ritual, the functional the ornamental, and the private the public. But our neolithic ancestors crafted beautiful blades and scalpels for no other purpose than displaying them as ornament, to communicate with other tribes or partners, birds build flamboyant nests to seduce their mates, and today people draw, design and sculpt because of the communicative and symbolic power of objects, for their ability to seduce, to tell a story, for the inherent generosity of things. 

We believe that our professional tools, from physical models to software, thrive in this ambiguity, constantly shivering across scales and meanings, between representation and object, ornament and instrument, megabytes and kilograms, projected and actual scales. In our practice, we increasingly think of tools as mediative objects, at times naive, at times deceiving, but always exercises in translation, both medium and result, ornament and instrument, useful and useless. In the more imprecise and ironic world we inhabit, and certainly in the one we design for, the ornaments of seduction precede the pragmatics of (re)production.

from “Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region, 1933, plate XXXVII
from “Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region, 1933, plate XXXVII

We work a lot with cast, welded, and joined models, in order to introduce materials early on in the design process. The physical durability of the models helps us overcome the self induced derangement generated by the infinite possibilities of a young project, andas the pieces take time to produce and always require a project of their own, they are ultimately harder to dispose of, bothpractically and sentimentally. As the models accumulate on the shelves, their iterations remain present, continuing to inspire and distract long after they were made, interfering across their generations, often with other projects, reassuring us or casting doubts.

The models also introduce an incongruity between the scales of a project, one that we have come to appreciate and, to some extent, control. The pieces, especially the cast ones, require processes that are partially scalable, like the design of the mold or the dosage of the pigments, they react to infinitely scalable factors – light, floatation, or chemical reactions- but also possess, like maps, a margin of graphic error. The textures of sand or earth, the air bubbles on the surface of the concrete or plaster, the drops of lead, or the fiber of the wood evoke and belong to the imagined scale of representation, but are simultaneously 1:1 details. The air bubbles will not be smaller or larger on a bigger piece, nor will the clot of pigment or the grain of the wood. The models will always be representations, tools, and 1:1 pieces. Within this tension, the model is always tangible and fictional, its details remain always in and out of scale.

While we build most models within the office, we also collaborate extensively with manufactories. When we say collaborate, we mean it in opposition to the purchase, or commissioning of a fully designed element, where the level of interaction with the craftsmen and transformation through the making lie only in the discrepancy between what is drawn and what is built, a space that is typically regulated by contracts, and measured in terms of liabilities. As a consequence, we don’t see our design work as a pure entity, which will leave us innocent and be corrupted as it tends towards its purpose,like a rich kid entering a public school yard, bullied by consultants, clients, regulations. It is born joyfully dirty, it always inhabited reality, and each of its translation will both betrayand transmitthe one behind it.This is far from saying that we don’t care about these iterations – they are, in fact, the thing we care the most about- but we accept a different degree of authorship across them, sometimes decreasing, sometimes increasing as the project reaches its conclusion.

Recently, we began to bring this method further, by rethinking the way we produce images. We still produce two dimensional visuals through 3D modeling (often the result of surveys of physical models), rendering, and collages, but are increasingly using our scaled models as components of a scenography that we then begin to explore, and, at times, ask others to explore and photograph. We find that through this exercise of estrangement we become explorers of the work, more interested in shooting a good photo than pedantically explaining forms. Through the photographic project, the models also acquire yet other “scales”, informed by the size of the grains of sand in their context, or of the leaves around them. In some cases, the image itself is the project, the only outcome that will be shared with a client or a public audience, while in other cases it is transformed by the photo, translated and reinterpreted, its scale and meaning purposefully distorted across their repeated translations. The making of the image, in either case, becomes operational, and as we move objects, living plants, sand, earth, or water, we are both composing the image and the project, and within the miniature worlds of the photographic set, everything becomes architecture.

Three Models

Amsterdam Allegories 

The history of Amsterdam, of its wealth and growth over centuries is built upon the exploration, exploitation and the transformation of nature. Whether through the extraction of water, turf, oil, gas, and minerals, the trade of exotic spices, coffee, rare plants, and animals from the colonies, or the tireless flow of goods and people, the city’s form, its prosperity and fame as a liberal cultural capital are the result of a complex relation with “nature”, constantly reimagined as a threat, a resource, or as something to protect. In the current moment of growth, the city is looking north, towards the IJ, and reimagining its form and identity in the process. Amsterdam Allegories is a call to produce and discover new types of nature and public space in its expanded urban realm.

            Amsterdam Allegories proposes to reimagine the area of Sixhaven, the geographical center of this transformation, as a place where to celebrate the messiness of the shore over the sanitised slickness of the waterfront, the unpredictability of the encounter over the vain statement of the icon, the productive vagueness of being adrift over the assertive simplification of the anchor, the humility of danger over the banality of day to day survival, the colours of heterogeneity over a monotone neutrality. Amsterdam Allegories is a call for new, surreal, experimental public domains, where the citizen will no longer be a user, but a sailor, a farmer, a collector, a cartographer, an explorer.

The Fire Dune

The fire dune is an artificial dune, inhabited by four independent, unique variations on a fireplace, currently being developed for a public beach in Almere. Each fire place has a different orientation, offering protection from the wind throughout the year, and each proposes different uses, from the intimate beach barbecue, to the collective festival.

            The Fire portal is a wide mountain shaped wall, a section of the dune. A conical niche opens to either small groups, to find shelter and light a fire during a rainy day, or to a wider public, gathered in front of it, as the fire lights up the triangle, as a sign visible from afar. The Fire theatre is a subtly curved retaining wall, where the flickering flames light the scene for night time performances. The Volcano is the tip of the dune, visible from every direction, sending smoke signals to other camp fires. The Stove is a triangular open air room, with an oven and storage for dry wood, in which every visitor can collect and store fire wood, while leaving some for the next guest. Collectively, they lighten up the dune, which becomes a sort of geological russian stove, warming and drying the sand through the collective effort of the fireplaces.

Geese Grottos

Four geese nests for the artist Kutlug Ataman, to be built in his ranch-atelier in Erzincan, Turkey.
The structures provide nesting place for over 500 geese during the breeding season, while defining the geese’ territory, and giving shelter from the wind through movements of soil. The five nests absolve an utilitarian function, but are also follies within a vast garden for birds and people, a place where the lines between ornament and function, utilitarian and hedonistic, bird and human are redesigned. Each nest is used as a large “tool” to sculpt the ground that surrounds it. From afar, they appear as coloured, two dimensional strokes, from close up, they define a wind protected, slightly excavated open air room, for geese to graze. Over time, the accumulation of nitrogen from the guano and the compressed soil will mark their territory in a more permanent way than the built structure.