Architecture as Catalyst 2015 | Façade

Rapson Hall Courtyard

Architecture as Catalyst is an annual week-long event, bringing new ideas, conversations, and expertise to the school by inviting guests from around the world to run experimental workshops. Architecture as Catalyst 2015 ran from March 9 to 13, 2015 and investigated the broad and nuanced concept of façade.

2015 Workshops & Lectures

The workshops interrogated façade as an experiential, philosophical and technological construct, as situated in relation to its multitude of meanings: face, fascia, front, enclosure, envelope, skin, membrane, exterior, appearance, pretense, simulation, affectation, semblance, illusion, act masquerade, charade, mask, cloak, veil, veneer. Acknowledging at once the classical and contemporary issues of façade, questions within the workshops included themes such as relationships between interior and exterior, enclosure and environment, surface and structure, image and reading, ephemerality, and the body. 

Full schedule for Architecture as Catalyst 2015

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Reading Façade: Integrating Human and Computer Vision

Workshop Summary

How does the emergence of computer vision, or machine phenomenology, inform our interpretations of the built environment? How can the face or exterior of a building be detected, organized, and understood? Instead of approaching human and computer vision in a binary fashion, how might they be blended to ask questions about society, technology, and design? In this workshop, we will combine image capture, Python programming, and physical computing techniques with object‐detection frameworks in order to not only expand existing perceptions of built environments but also consider the relevance of computer vision to building facade design, archiving, and analysis. Here, the affordances of computer vision to systematically, superficially, and rapidly detect, describe, and model 3D objects will prove informative. These affordances will be combined with critical studies of algorithms and computational culture. Students will participate in hands‐on, introductory workshops on Python, photogrammetry, image processing, machine learning, and physical computing. No previous experience in these areas will be assumed.


  • Computer Vision: methods for acquiring, processing, analyzing, and understanding images
  • Object Recognition: task of finding and identifying objects in an image or video sequence
  • Machine Learning: algorithms that can learn from data
  • Photogrammetry: taking measurements from photos to determine locations of surface points
  • Physical Computing: interactive physical systems using software and hardware that can sense and respond to the analog world
  • Python Programming: an open‐source, high‐level, easy to learn programming language


Guest Instructor: Jentery Sayers, Assistant Professor, Department of English & Director of Maker Lab, University of Victoria

Architectural Filmmaking: Behind the Façade

Workshop Summary

The focus of this course will be to explore the medium of film for the practice of understanding and communicating architecture. We will learn the core techniques of architectural cinematography along with editing software to create a film that uses local iconic architecture as our subject. The students will be tasked with investigating the facade and then deeper into the circulation and sectional qualities of the chosen buildings to develop a narrative storyline to communicate the essence and experiential qualities embedded within. We will explore and manipulate the variables of time, motion and light with the medium of digital video to illustrate the design qualities of our chosen sites. The course will culminate with the students premiering their videos.

We will view and discuss select renderings, photographs and film segments for historical and contemporary precedents to understand technique, composition and message. The image and communication of architecture has become an even more powerful tool in today’s age of instantaneous and ubiquitous media sharing. Architects are now empowered and quickly being required to learn how to use these tools to explain and showcase their work if they are to compete in the industry and continue to illustrate value to future clients and the general public.

Guest Instructor: Ian Harris, Producer / Architectural Cinematographer

The Tarp

Workshop Summary

In the search for meaning through the medium of architecture, we strive to implant our structures deeply into the soil of context. The phenomenological qualities of the climate – the rain, sleet, hail and snow – provide depth to our architectural narrative. The elements that shape the landscape shape our architecture in kind. Placed within the global context of a collective environmental awareness we believe that our regionally‐inspired architecture should evolve beyond its traditional role as a barrier against the natural elements, towards a more integrated model wherein these elements participate with and drive the form of the architecture itself. The workshop promotes the idea that any formal architectural solution should evolve from a deep connectedness, exhibiting a tightly‐knit symbiotic relationship between us and our environment.

Water will be our focus. Together, we will explore how basic strategies for diverting, mitigating and integrating water – in all its forms – can reshape our notions of how architectural form may develop through a close relationship to the natural world.


Guest Instructors

Living Surfaces: Building Envelopes as Biological Systems

Workshop Summary

The philosopher Eric Hopper once said, "Creativity is the ability to introduce order into the randomness of nature.” This outlook parallels historic attitudes toward the relationship of the made versus the born. The contrasting view—that nature is the source of creativity—is now gaining strength. Biomimicry, which advocates nature as a design mentor rather than a source for raw materials, has influenced many fields and taken form in strategies ranging from metaphorical to manipulative. Recent architectural examples include Arup's SolarLeaf, Achim Menges' Hygroscopic pavilion, Hulsen and Schwabe's Xylinum Cones, and MIT’s Silk Pavilion.

One tactic in which nonbiological materials and operations emulate biomimetic behaviors is exemplified by homeostatic architecture, which self‐regulates to maintain a constant internal state. Another approach is biodesign, or bioengineering, which writer William Myers describes as the engaged manipulation of living matter. In this catalyst workshop, students will have the opportunity to pursue one of these approaches to create novel design applications based on biological organisms. In creating physical mock‐ups of bio‐based facade systems and drawings of their internal logics, students will discover the roles living materials can play in the conceptualization and construction of architecture, including their advantages and limitations.

Guest Instructor: Doris Kim Sung; Assistant Professor, USC Architecture; Principal, DOSU Studio Architecture

Final Work

  • Living Surfaces Students Final Presentation: Jesse Campos, Takashi Chibana, Holly Jo Engle, Deuk-Geun Hong, Christopher Hutton, Nicholas Kramer, Anna Mahnke, Sienna Mathiesen, Patrick Moffett, Yong Gyun Noh (Roh), Elliot Olney, Cara Prosser, Hannah Roth, Chelsey Schon, Paige Sullivan

Ephemeral Façades: The Matter of Resilience

Workshop Summary

We invite you to imagine resilience as a temporary modality and facades as elements that transform, leaving only traces of their existence. This matter of resilience might ignite when charged with electricity, melt upon the accumulation of solar energy, deflate when pressures abide, or shift surfaces through dynamic changes in transparency, texture and color, or rattle and fragment in response to low rumbles or high pitches.

While exploring environmental and social conditions that shape ephemeral facades we encounter as well the ones that preclude or conclude their material existence. A life cycle perspective in this context does not anticipate how best to sustain an enduring facade, rather it attunes us to ways that a façade might emerge and then become immaterial. What does this intentional transformation offer and how might it influence our experience of architectural facades. Inspirations for this matter of resilience include cultural traditions that involve fire, wind, and water, strategies for adaptation among plants and animals, and the capacity for response, reaction and interaction when materials, computation, and electricity unite.

This collaboratively led Catalyst draws upon the interests and expertise of two hybrid artists, the designer, engineer, artist and educator Leah Beuchley and the multi‐modal artist and creative catalyst Diane Willow. They each gather inspiration and matter informed by the concepts and processes of nature, science, and technology. Together they propose to create the conditions to experiment with architectural scale facades that appear and then disappear; ephemeral not only in the period of their presence, but in their finite and possibly dramatic transformations. Through a series of introductions to transformable materials and technologies, investigations of possible campus installation sites, the fabrication of large‐scale façade prototypes, and diverse in‐process critiques, we will materialize and de‐materialize facades as matters of resilience.


Guest Instructor: Leah Beuchley, Designer and Engineer

"Architecture of the Mask" in Play

Workshop Summary

"How many modern buildings can you laugh at — with the architect standing beside you?” asks architectural historian Charles Jencks in speaking of Japanese New Wave architects’ built work. As a retort to the modernists’ solemn “Form Follows Function,” New Wave architect Takefumi Aida formulated a theory of “Architecture of the Mask,” which accords facades independence from the building function they conceal within/behind. Correspondingly, a new wave of playful, even risible, houses cropped up: Kazumasa Yamashita’s “Face House” (1975) with big round eyes, a toothy mouth and a gun‐barrel nose (that Jencks thinks needs plastic surgery) and Takefumi Aida’s “Toy Block House” (1978‐1984), which mimics toy building‐blocks, are just two examples. This playful spirit originated in Aida’s conception of “Architecture of the Mask” still percolates in today’s Japanese architecture, as exemplified by Hideyuki Nakayama’s “House In Matsumoto,” which mischievously pulls up its bottom/mask just enough for a peek into Behind-the-scene. Building upon this thread of thoughts, this workshop explores new possibilities to don architecture a mask, and stimulates “architecture of the mask” into play. Laugh is welcome.


Guest Instructor: Hideyuki Nakayama, Hideyuki Nakayama Architecture, Japan