Research: Polyhedral Atlas

The “Polyhedral Atlas” is a research project that investigates the concept of “lightness” in architecture - exploring strategies of doing “the most with the least”, i.e. lighter building envelopes, less materially intensive manufacturing practices, and thus more environmentally responsive spatial systems. In order to innovate in the present, the project picks up the research lines of the past, thus leading to better design decisions for the future. “Lightness” in architectural terms means literally exploring light structures that use minimum material for maximum structural and environmental performance, while at the same time developing more efficient and sustainable methods of construction. The research analyses the work of prolific architects, engineers, and educators, specifically Konrad Wachsmann (USC, 1901-80), Robert Le Ricolais (Penn., 1894-1977), Mies Van der Rohe (Chicago, 1886-1969), and Frei Otto (Stuttgart, 1925-), who performed structural research that deepened the exploration into the relationship between man-made and natural structures as a way to achieve a more comprehensive and sustainable method of construction. Blurring the line between “organic” and “inorganic” as in natural processes—the research looks for ways in which it can innovate with respect to architectural design. These pioneers of light architecture and their research into structural and architectural form becomes the starting point for the Polyhedral Atlas as a way of cultivating an understanding of light-construction and sustainability in contemporary practice. These projects embody the search for the potentials inherent in light-construction through the creation of more environmentally responsive, deeply structured spaces that host an endlessly heterogeneous mix of program creating new forms of civic space. The thinness of these structural and formal systems speaks to the increasing necessity of lighter footprints and processes of manufacturing for our built environment in the face of its challenges of today. Finally, the possibility of arriving at a more responsive and lighter building envelope is also interested in the cultural and political dimension of the diaphanous, open plan spaces that these lightweight structures provide. The interior of Mies van der Rohe’s Chicago Convention Hall project in 1956 where structure, government, and people are accommodated by the project’s open plan crystallizes the potential of this research. The Polyhedral Atlas will research a catalogue of thirty space-filling frame-like structures, describing how each prototype is defined in terms of a polyhedral unit and its aggregation. It recognizes tessellation (two-dimensional) versus polyhedral aggregation (three-dimensional) as two forms of spatial unit aggregations. Furthermore, the Atlas displays interior-view renderings of each structure to investigate each prototype’s spatial performance and affect, making the Polyhedral Atlas a critical design resource for architecture students and practitioners alike.

Team: Daniel Lopez-Perez with Ryan Barney, Jacob Bruce, Paul Short (SURE, McNair research scholars, 2013), University of San Diego.