Architecture as Catalyst 2014 | Sensory Perceptions

A student walking up the staircase in Rapson Hall.

Architecture as Catalyst is an annual week-long event, bringing new ideas, conversations, and expertise to the school. Architecture as Catalyst 2014 ran from March 10 to 12, 2014. During this Catalyst, students investigated sensory perceptions and considered architecture as a sensory endeavor.

2014 Workshops & Lectures

The theme of Sensory Perceptions questioned how we sense architecture, how we represent or model these perceptions, and how architects can leverage sensory investigations in the design process. As a conceptual link with the School of Architecture Centennial, workshops highlighted how fundamental notions of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch can offer a departure point for an intense and forward-thinking investigation that extends the disciplines of architecture and design into the next century of the school. 

Full schedule for Architecture as Catalyst 2014

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The Architect's Book

Workshop Summary

In architecture, ideas are expressed primarily through visual and spatial representation, such as the drawing and the model. Text is supplemental or optional, and regarded as the medium of the theorist and not the designer or practitioner. This separation results in a gap between visual perception and explicit communication of complex ideas. Books, which incorporate visual, sculptural, and temporal aspects, as well as literary and intellectual traditions, are an inherently multi‐disciplinary form. The field of Artist’s Books, which exploded onto the visual art scene in the 1960s, emerged out of a century‐long struggle to integrate image, form, and meaning, as well as an impulse to use the book not merely as a conveyer of information or a means to reproduce existing art objects/projects, but as a fully artistic medium in itself. As such, it invites investigation from all perspectives, including the spatial and architectonic.

In this workshop, we will begin to explore a new genre we will call the Architect's Book, where the form and the meaning of an architectural design must be read simultaneously. The sensory aspects of relating to a physical book form will highlight ways of interacting with and understanding a design, and only with direct experience of the “book” will one be able to perceive its complexity. This workshop will push the idea of "reading" in architecture to go beyond the understanding of a spatial or formal idea, to include the perception of the broader thought within the project.

Guest Instructor: Maureen Cummins, Artist

Hearing Space

Workshop Summary

One can look at seeing; one can’t hear hearing. — Marcel Duchamp

Architecture has historically privileged sight over the other senses. This workshop will shift the focus to the acoustical aspects of architectural space by considering sound as a design medium. The advent of digital technology has provided new opportunities to explore the relationship between sound and space. For this workshop, we will consider how digital technology can be used to create non-physical environments – How can sound contribute to the phenomenological experience of architecture? How can audio technology be employed to evoke memories associated with a place (or create new ones)? How do acoustics alter our perceptions of space? This Catalyst workshop promotes the leaps in perception of what design can be by asking participants to think beyond a retinal approach to architecture, inviting them to explore the aural dimensions of space.


Guest Instructor: Michael J. Schumacher; Adjunct Professor of Digital Media, NYU/Poly; Founder/Director, Diapason Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

Modernist Cuisine

Workshop Summary

With a growing cultural fascination with food as an artistic medium, chefs are called upon to create dining experiences that intrigue, innovate, and inspire in additional to providing an essential service through a satisfying meal. Chefs can be viewed as designers. In a sense, professional kitchens act as mini design studios and manufacturing plants, innovating and transforming ingredients for small-scale production. The product is edible and therefore it is a highly multisensory consumer product that requires design for all five senses. Like an architect, a modernist chef takes a vision for a product and transforms raw materials into structures and forms. This catalyst will link architecture to food and mechanical engineering. The guest instructor, as well as the host/co-instructor, will provide a new perspective on design and design process. The students will learn a variety of new techniques for manipulating and designing with food product. Many of the modernist techniques that chefs are now using involve transforming a liquid into a more solid form such as a gel, foam, paste, or emulsion with both traditional and less traditional methods. In the class, students will be challenged to apply their architectural knowledge to the food industry to design a dish that would be considered modernist cuisine. They will experiment with a variety of different ways of transforming food liquids into solids that can be manipulated, cast, formed, and constructed into edible design. The week will follow a design process with lectures and workshops related to food manipulation. Students will be challenged to take their own ideas from concept to plate. We will plan for guest critiques and talks from local chefs and (hopefully) several restaurant outings.


Guest Instructor: Barry Kudrowitz, Assistant Professor

Sentient Artifacts

Workshop Summary

Interested in making things that think and respond?  Learn electronic prototyping skills and techniques, and implement a smart object, environment, or garment of your design.  We have once objective for the week: design an artifact with an electronic "brain" and make it work.


Guest Instructor: Lucy Dunne, Professor, Apparel Design

Stimulus Package

Workshop Summary

Recent developments in materials science offer tremendous opportunities for invention. This is particularly so with smart materials and nanomaterials that react to changes that they “sense” in their environment. From materials that change color, fluidity, and shape, to substances that generate electricity and emit light, the novel properties of emergent materials offer an increasingly broad array of opportunities to contemporary architects and designers. We are at the beginning of a new epoch, for which there are few precedents for architects, however it is not unfamiliar territory. The age of electricity, the machine age, the space age, and the information age all produced extraordinary works by artists and designers that lent vision to the problems and promises of new technologies. Encouraged by this tradition of leadership, the intent of this workshop is to conceive of how architecture might be transformed by advanced materials that are just emerging in the field. We can no longer think of materials as just being static, and as resources that must be cut, shaped, cast, blown, printed, or formed into products and devices. In our age, where the domestication of atoms has led to the design of materials at the molecular scale, researchers are fundamentally altering the properties of matter, and our relationship to it. Now, materials are devices, and react with behaviors that we have bestowed upon them. Smart materials, for example, will show a significant change in one or more of their properties when they are stimulated. A variety of external stimuli can cause these materials to change color, shape, fluidity, etc.; the stimulus might be thermal, electrical, mechanical, chemical, magnetic, or photonic. The changes in the properties of smart materials are deeply rooted in the nanoscale – the scale of individual molecules – and are often a direct result of chemical reactions or phase changes.

As architects shift away from the mores of merely reinventing artifacts, and toward a culture of discovery and invention, they will need to think about how advanced materials should be designed to behave in products and environments that heretofore have never been possible. By exploring relationships between smart materials and more conventional material systems, this workshop, Stimulus Package, examines the promises of smart materials and their tremendous implications for the future of architecture. Students will learn about smart materials through demonstrations, presentations, and hands-on engagement with a selection of smart materials. We will not only explore the remarkable capabilities of these materials, but also their limitations. After an initial experimentation phase is completed, our class will embark on the creation of performative artifacts that demonstrate how the behavior of these responsive materials might both stimulate and enchant the senses of one that encounters them.

You will be provided with a package that contains a few different classes of smart materials. Working in teams, students will design and make an object of their own invention that exploits the properties of these materials, which are engineered to change shape, change color, and emit light. Your design must consider how the behavior of these responsive materials might engage the senses, and your solution must necessitate the use of the smart material.


Guest Instructors: Martina Decker and Peter Yeadon, Founding Partners, Decker Yeadon, New York, NY