Architecture as Catalyst 2017 | Difference

The word "Difference" written in repeating lines

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 with graduate students and give public lectures on their work. 

2017 Workshops & Lectures

Architecture as Catalyst 2017 ran from March 6 to 10, 2017 and examined the topic of difference through six different workshops and lectures. 

Full schedule for Architecture as Catalyst 2017

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Activating Architecture: The Disruption of Difference

Workshop Summary

Plagued by fear, anger and a widespread empathy deficit, our cultural and political climate thrives on exploiting, rather than exploring, our perceived differences. This exploitation yields fierce opposition worsened by a digital landscape defined by impulse and shame. With difference? Comes distance. Nothing, no one, feels safe.

Heightening the gravity of this polarizing phenomenon is the absence of meaningful opportunities to experience and understand those whom we perceive as different. Rather than bridging continuous, we construct societal divides. Zoning and lending algorithms segregate our neighborhoods. Operating budgets fragment our schools. Documentation limits agency and tendered bathrooms render fear. Admissions policies exclude those with criminal records while so=called news outlets demand diverging ideologies.

We are (culturally, socially, and spatially) divided.

Consequentially, our perceived differences are shaped not by the sincerity of human contours but by the sharp scream of screens and unsubstantiated suspicions.

In the Activating Architecture workshop, students will investigate architecture's opportunity to reclaim authentic human exchange through the disruption of division. By imagining spaces and places that bridge seemingly divergent communities students will be given the opportunity to activate architecture anchored in collective purpose while dismissing the distance that accompanies difference. Work products generated from this course will be featured at All Square, a socially driven gourmet grilled cheese restaurant opening next fall in the Twin Cities.

Guest Instructors

  • Emily Hunt Turner, Civil Rights Attorney, All Square
  • Roslynn Pedracine, Civil Rights Attorney, Department of Housing & Urban Development

Anthropocene Headwaters

Workshop Summary

  • What are the sources of water in the Anthropocene?
  • From what geo-chronologies does local water originate?
  • What are new methods of sharing the complex story of urban water sources and infrastructure?
  • Does a new hydro-social understanding of a water source, its operations, and infrastructure, alter the value/meaning/taste of water?

With these questions in mind, students will utilize the idea and resource of Water Bar and deep mapping to conduct critical inquiry into everyday hydro-social infrastructures and other local and regional drinking water sources. This inquiry will lead to heightened awareness of the complex spatial, social, political, and ecological processes and narratives found within the hydro-social and other Anthropocene systems.

Students will collaborate with Water Bar artists Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker of Minneapolis-based Works Progress Inc, UMN|LA faculty Matthew Tucker, and other invited designers, scientists, and community residents to explore and document several Anthropocene water sources in the metro area, creating a new "menu" and companion materials for Water Bar & Public Studio. These waters and this menu will be served during the Northern Spark 2017 festival in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, as well as at other community festivals throughout the summer of 2017.

Guest Instructors: Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker, Woks Progress (Minneapolis)

Contingent Scapes

Workshop Summary

Contemporary building practice tends to describe architecture as object situated in spatial and cultural field. The ecology posits that all entities are bound together in thermodynamic relationship of energy and information exchange: ecosystem. This workshop aims to investigate the effects of water behavior within a bio-synergetic context on shaping of architectural constructs. As water becomes more central to current state of urban design it is critical to re-frame its force as directly formative within the design process. Using simulation of environmental data sets related to landscape formation and water flow, we will use computational modeling and analog 3d printing to investigate new emergent architectural forms within given landscapes. The workshop will forefront bio-technological framework of architecture and will ask students to negotiate differences between organic and inorganic, formal and performative, cultural and ecological, zones and boundaries, solids and gradients, proximities and tendencies, objects and fields. Using abstraction as a codifier of geo-spatial data sets we will attempt to re-scribe the invisible forces into formed constructs, with hope to shift the focus of design away from singular contextual 'truth' of data, towards the constraints of perception and spatial aesthetics.

Guest Instructor: Dana Cupkova, Assistant Professor, Carnegie Mellon, School of Architecture; Principal, EPIPHYTE Lab

Difference Machines

Workshop Summary

The French writer Raymond Roussel focused on puns and homonyms as mechanisms of transition to redirect his narratives into unpredictable spatial and temporal dimensions. He exploited language's potential disconnect between what is said and what is written. Through the act of 'zooming in' on certain seemingly insignificant details in a scene, Roussel was able to discover whole new worlds-many of them containing intricately detailed fantastical mechanisms, with which to continue his narrative.

Current imaging technologies allow us to construct infinitely scalable image worlds of seemingly limitless resolution, reframing surface as a question of transition and fidelity instead of boundary. Zooming in or zooming out of these high resolution image worlds enables us to virtually fulfill our ongoing love for 'space travel' suggested historically by such films as The Eames' "Power of Ten" and contemporaneously by Google Earth, Google Street View and Google Interior's interlinked image worlds. Still, (fortunately), technical limitations require transitions between various scales and modes of representation that must be hidden to give the illusion of seamlessness motion.

In this workshop we will make Difference Machines, transition devices that mediate between visualization technologies while interrogating this two sidedness of the image world.

Guest Instructor: John Zissovici, Cornell University, AAP

Differentiation Through Contemplation

Workshop Summary

As digital communication and social media become ubiquitous in our modern lives, we increasingly live with a scarcity of spaces for reflection and contemplation in the build environment. Quiet, safe, solitary, analog, places (the hammock on the porch, the breakfast nook, the attic dormer window seat, the backyard apple tree, et al.) where a person could retreat to find psychological space to read, write, to process information, to reflect upon past events, and to imagine the future -- without interruption or distraction -- are rapidly becoming inaccessible to the average urbanite.

This workshop will explore the concept of contemplative space and developing an artistic approach to crafting these spaces.

Guest Instructor: Roger Cummings, Co-Founder, Juxtaposition Arts

Magic, Misdirection, and the Architecture of Influence

Workshop Summary

Perception is the portal  to a complex network of human cognitions that result in what constitutes our reality. Magic works by manipulating these cognitive pathways using limitations in our systems of visual, cognitive, spatial, and temporal awareness to alter the perception of reality and illicit the experience of wonder and astonishment. As such, the principles, methods and effects of magic can be used to persuade and influence human behavior.

Magic, Misdirection and the Architecture of Influence defines the underlying dynamic design structures of influence. From the modern political campaign to contemporary conceptual art, from advertisement to architecture; human actors, as sociopolitical agents and consumers, are intermediated by a contemporary influence practice. This project suggests that language, image, wonder and space, can be more effectively inter-designed to produce desired outcomes in audiences through the integrated use of specific psychological, mnemonic and aesthetic strategies drawn from the methods and principals of performance magic.

Exploring the intersection of architecture and performance magic we find interesting shared qualities. Architecture is produced in accordance with entire sets of methods, theories and practices that remain invisible to the experience of the architectural user. Whether a drawing, building, city plan, or policy, the architectural object occupies a similar realm of secrecy as performance magic - both leverage a form of 'difference' to achieve their desired effects. In simplified terms, magic leverages the difference between performance and perception while architecture leverages the difference between design intension and construction.

Guest Instructor: Richard Merritt, Professor of Art, Luther College