Hacking The Urban Experience

Columbia University GSAPP


This course seeks to assert the relevance of the fabrication tools at our disposal as potentialities for social and environmental relevance. Through the re-appropriation and re-imagining of existing urban conditions, the student will design and fabricate a working prototype that embraces the messy reality of our city and promotes community involvement. The student will begin by identifying a quality of the urban condition that includes the latent capability for improvement and work toward fabricating an adaptive, responsive and environmentally viable solution. Specific emphasis will be placed on testing and exploring through hands on research the possibilities of detailing and fabricating connections using unorthodox materials. At the conclusion of the course the student will produce a full scale urban intervention and observe and document their relevant successes or failures.


Workshops will be conducted to introduce the students to the possibilities inherent in new material technologies, through production and detailing techniques, and the proper use of machines in the fabrication lab. Material workshops will be held to encourage students to explore with everything from dynamic, variable surfaces using latex and silicone to parametric agglomerations using quotidian materials. Grasshopper will be the preferred software and tutorials can be provided as necessary.


The first investigation will be in the creation of the connection detail. It is encouraged that this be a parametric joint that breaches the gap between the existing streetscape and the student’s intervention. Flexibility, safety, durability, adaptability will all be tested while exploring different possibilities for a potential synthesis with existing urban forms, examples of which can include:  will the student’s intervention clamp on to a lamppost, hang from a phone booth, project from an existing building or rest in a parking lot?


By attempting to capture a broader audience for architectural interventions, a number of questions present themselves and the student will be challenged to anticipate possible eventualities - how will it be used? Can its use be changed? Is it durable? Is it waterproof? Can it safely stand up? Fabrication will be considered less from a formal quality, and more from a use, durability, improvisation and public participation viewpoint. 


Ultimately the student will come out of the course with a healthy respect for two core concepts: Firstly, an increased skill in the use and applicability of the fabrication machines we have at our disposal for solving design issues using unorthodox materials in unconventional settings; and two, that there is an opportunity for architects to regain lost relevance by inserting themselves through unsolicited proposals into the public consciousness as steward’s of urban well being.

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