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A Beginner s Mind

PROCEEDIN G S 21st Nat i on al Co nf er e n c e on t h e B e g in ni n g D es i gn Stu d e nt

St eph en T empl e, editor

Conf e r e nc e he l d at the Coll e ge of Archit e c tur e The U niv e rs ity of Te xa s at S a n Ant onio 24-2 6 Fe br uary 20 05

A Beginner s Mind

PROCEEDIN G S 21st Nat i on al Co nf er e n c e on t h e B e g in ni n g D es i gn Stu d e nt

St e p h e n T e m pl e , e d it or

Coll e ge of Archit e c tur e The U niv e rs ity of Te xa s at S a n Ant onio 24-2 6 Fe br uary 20 05

Situating Be ginni ng s Questi onin g Rep res ent ation Altern ative Ed ucati ons Abst ractio ns an d Con cepti on s Developin g Be ginni ng s Pedago gical Co nst ructio ns Prima ry Con text s Info rmi ng Be gin ning s Educatio nal Pe dag ogie s Analog / Digit al Begi nni ngs Curriculum a nd Con tinuity Inter disci plin ary Cu rricul a

Begin ning s

Design / Build Cultural Plur alities Contenti on s Revisions

Projectio ns

Copyright 2006 Unive rsi ty

of Texas San Anton io

/ individual a rticles p roduced and edited by the authors

Printed proceedings produced by Stephen Temple, Associate Professor, Universi ty of Texas San Antonio.

All righ ts r es erv ed. No pa rt of this book may b e r eproduc ed in any fo rm or by any m eans w ithout wri tt en p ermission of the publ ishe r.

Published by:

University of Texas San Antonio College of Architecture

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Da ta

Temple, Stephen, editor A Beginners M ind: P roceedings of the 21st Nat ional Conference on the Beginning Design Student / edited and compiled by Stephen Temple

1. Archi tecture - Teaching

2. Architecture - Design

3. Design - Teaching

Site as Motion Assemblage

CLARE ROBINSON Iowa State University

“Learning from the exi sti ng l andscape is a w ay o f b eing revolution ary for an archi tect .” 1

This paper present s the design of

a Mo tion Asse mblag e as o ne o f five rela ted pro jects in

a second-year arch itec ture s tudio. This s tudio address ed rela tionsh ips between the body, environmen t, and cul ture and focused on t he des ign o f public transi t-rela ted arch itec tural

intervent ions in A mes , IA. At the end of t he se mes ter, t hese in tervent ions, includ ing a pedestri an

‘conduit ,’ trans porta tion ‘hub ,’ and art

ins tal lat ion, are p art a coheren t circula tion dia gram

connecting Ames and Des Moi nes. The Mo tion Asse m blage preceded the design of t he s pecific

intervent ions , followed in it ial site observa tion , d ocumen tat ion

a nd a nalysis , and served as a

mechanis m for stude nts to visual ize an d cons truct a dy namic diagra m of t he

s ite .

Compared to the precedin g second-year stud io, th is s tu dio pl aced a

grea ter e mphas is o n

phenome nology, phe nomeno logical metho d, and spa tia l pract ices. 2 Such e mphas is that s tudents enga ge the physical and ephe meral con te xts o f p lace a nd s pace wh ile

de mand ed also working

iterat ively, revising each tran sit-rel ated in tervent ion suc h th at each part act ively p artici pates in the larger contex t. 3 In t his way, each studen t was as an in t egral par t o f articul ati ng s ite pheno menon , describing the everyday l andscape in which we live, an d tran slat ing space-producing pa tterns o f inhabi ta tion .

Sit e a nd Ass e mb lag e

Be fore the de sign and construct ion of a Mo tion Assem b lage, stude nts observed, documented , researched, and ana lyzed the ex isti ng lan dscape o f dow ntown A mes a nd en gaged various stra tegies o f experie nti al rese arch and visual re presenta tion . 4 Th is process com bined issues surrounding observa tion and experience wi th th ose of visual com mun icatio n. While individual str ategi es o f o bservatio n an d represen ta tion could di ffer , s trate gies were

characterist ically analy tical and coordina ted , des igned i n such a way th at the in for mat ion was accessible to all me mbers o f the s tudio .

The p hysical and ephe meral si te ele men ts , i ncluding e dges,

spat ial boundaries ,

neighborhoods , and distric ts , the type and locat ion of b uilding m ateria ls, roadways , s idewalks ,

and pl ant ings , bui lding spatia l seque nces and

orien ta tion and in frastructure , s i gnage, and his tory, served

as clues to

pa t terns o f inhab ita tion . And ele ment s, such as bus sto ps, parking

meters , trash receptac les, newsp aper s tands , benches , power lines , a nd fire hydran ts, were relevant “ thi ngs” wi th ‘charac terist ics, ’proper ties’ and p osi tion s that in ferred the si tuation o f each object. 5 Space was conce ptual ized as no t merely the s etti ng i n w hich o bjects exis t bu t the mediu m through which objec t p osit ions are poss ible .


Fig. 1 . Co mposi te ma p o f all ele ments map of pedes

Fig. 1 . Co mposi te ma p o f all ele ments map of pedes trian lig hti ng a nd ‘green”

(le ft) , map o f a ll pedestrian and road signs (center) , and p laces (rig ht) .

All o f the o bserved an d docu men ted s ite

o f dow ntown A mes. This

ele ment s (F ig. 1, le ft) to tal it y, the su m of all

resulte d i n a map of a par ts, i mpedes an alysis

place, a to talizin g view and phe nome nological

co mprehensio n. An ele men t in isolat ion however, (Fig . 1, center)

illustra tes aspects o f p lace, speci fical ly the locatio n an d directi on o f s ignage , and aspects o f space, the in ferred d if ference in sca le a nd sp eed o f inh abita tion above and below the ra ilroad

tracks. Si mi larly, a group o f si te ele men ts , i ncluding a pedestrian l ight ing and ‘green’ spaces (Fig .

1, ri ght) , reveal po ten tial pa tterns o f i nhabi ta tion and an of l igh ting and pote nti al recrea tion spaces .

apparen t disjunc tion bet ween the loca tion

Such f indings de mons trate rela tionsh ips and/ or

dis junct ions be tween th e forma l order of

place an d the Asse mblage s

inhab ita tion o f sp ace and in for med the d esign a nd con ten t o f the As sem blages .


there fore, syn thet ic in terpre tat ions of si te , d iagra ms rel ati ng the comp lexity of

various physical an d eph emera l as pects of t he exis ting landscape .

Site in terpreta tions transport atio n, and motio n,

grew fro m care ful considera tion of p atterns o f i nhabi ta tion , sys te ms o f includ ing s pace a nd s peed of move ment and t he ti me, durat ion ,

frequency, and character of inh abi tat ion. In t his w ay, Assembla ges ne goti ate ‘ tours’ o f s pace a nd

‘maps ’ o f place, narra tives and spa tial to tal iti es an d, as a consequence, di d an d do no t necessarily rese mble t he p hysical characteris tics of si t e but per form in a ma nner a nalogous to elemen ts and pheno mena observed o n a nd around do wntown Ames .


One such Assem blage il lumi nates t he p heno mena of in terruption (F ig. 2). Speci fically , the s tuden t o bserved that the ra ilroad line , which part ici pated in the es tabli shme nt and

developmen t of Ames , is the sa me ra ilroad line t hat car ries tra ins tha t periodical ly s tops automo biles and pedes trians t hroughout the day and ni ght. Here, the ‘ train tracks’ are constructed of wood and enclosed on all four sides whil e the ‘roads ’ are bui lt as o pen three- pronged tracks and ‘s idewalks’ as two tracks wi th side guards. Several large silver bal l be arings

represent the tra in, dozens of

mediu m-sized ball beari n gs are the auto mob iles, wh ile several

dozen s mall bal l be arings are pedestri ans. The syste m uti lizes grav ity to genera te mo tion and a lever to hal t veh icular and pedestri an mo tion be fore a tr ain p asses o n the ‘tra in tracks.’

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Fig. 2 . Mo tion Assem blage de monstra ting in terruption ( Benj am in
Fig. 2 . Mo tion
Assem blage de monstra ting in terruption
( Benj am in
Foth , 2003) .
the Asse mblage is com prised of roads , wa lkway s,
a nd a rai l l ine, i t ul ti ma tely
demons trates
how t he train in terrupts pedes trian and v ehicular traf fic. I t a lso o perates as a v isual

pali mpses t, revealing spa tia l produc tions as visible in te rdictions bet ween

and trains and the produc tion of space .


pedestr ians, vehicles ,

Ano ther Asse mbl age

a lso s itua tes the tra in as a sig nif icant

e nti ty

downto wn A mes (Fig .

3). Here, the in terrupt ion of pedes trian and vehicular tr aff ic caused by p assing tra ins , is

conceptualized as a pau se. Sm all , h anging pendu lums , fabrica ted of plas tic , medal rod , a nd

magne ts, represen t the vehicular and pedes trian tra ff ic downtown Ames

wh ile a l arger, singl e

magne t concea led in plas tic represe nts the train . The ‘ train’ is des igned to slide back and for th along the bot to m o f the Assem blage in a track. The sli ding ‘ train ’ causes dis place ment of the ‘pedestri ans’ and ‘aut omob iles’ above .

Fig. 2 . Mo tion Assem blage de monstra ting in terruption ( Benj am in

Fig. 3 . Mo tion Assem blage de monstra ting pau se and di sp la cemen t (Christop her Behrens , 2003) .

The second Mot ion Asse mbl age transl ates t he concep t of a te mporal pause , the ini tia l

experientia l p heno menon , i nto di sp la ceme nt. Th is d isp lacemen t o f pendulu ms s itua tes

pedestrian s an d au tom obiles as secondary and yi eldin g to a

pedestrian s, and auto mob iles, therefore , s hare a rhyt h m but

larger and periodic force . The tra in, not space and are hierarchical in

relations hip to one anot her. L ike the firs t Asse mbl age, the

secon d i llu mina tes poten tia l pa t terns

of i nhabi ta tion . The second , however, ult ima tely reveal s a

mo tion th at

is dependen t , rhy thm ic,

and chang ing , sho wing sta ble re lat ionship s

an d i nsta bl e spa tial st ates .


Ano ther Mo tion As semb lage deal t d irectly wi th mechan i zation and the i mpac t

mechaniza tion has on the la nd ( Fig . 4) . Rather t han m obilizing pedes trians , vehicles , a nd trains ,

the s tuden t represe nted a

process a nd even tual outco me o f develop ment speci fic to t he p lace

and cul ture o f A mes, IA. In this ins tance , mechan izat io n served as a metap hor for the va lues o f

engineering and agricul ture, values tha t shape the phys ical an d socia l landscape .

In a ppearance , the powered mech anis m is

a nalogous t o far m equip ment , circling around

a track in a s low and me thodical manner , w hile the sub strate below is ana logous to the lan d,

fragile and mutab le. Per forma tively , the slow and persi stent moti on o f the m achine contras ts wit h

the o peratio ns o f mecha nical equip men t – i ts

im pact on the rubber substra te is s eem ingly

unpredictab le or growth .

a nd, m ore i mpor tan tly, t he ou tcome a mo unts

to de stru ction ra ther tha n cons truction

Ano ther Mo tion As semb lage deal t d irectly wi th mechan i zation

Fig. 4 . Mo tion

Assem blage de monstra ting de struction ( Joseph Bednar , 2004).

In the th ird Asse mbla ge, t he rela tions hip bet ween the mechanis m and substr ate represents the m anipul atio n o f land and environ men t. The a f fect of the Asse mblage is depen dent on t ime and is cumul ative – i t a llows us to o bserve moti on and also view a physical , ra ther tha n ephemeral , represent atio n o f produced space .

Outco me

The pe dagogical ou tcome of t he Mo tion Ass emb lages i s two fold . F irst , Asse mbl ages

convey tha t s tuden ts are ab le to be observers of phen o menon and ephe mera l ‘ properties ’ a nd ‘characteris tics’ of the s ite into

and are able to tra nsla te p hysical a perfor ma tive mo tion asse mbly .

Signi fican t as pects of th is transl atio n i nvolved care ful o bservation , a nalysis , and re presenta tion o f downtown Ames . This process, nego tia ting t he d if feren ce betwee n forms used in a s pat ial system – the bui ldings , fire hydran ts, and sig ns, for exa mple – and ways of using a spat ial syste m – pa ttern s an d orders of inh abi tat ion tha t may or may n ot a lign wi th place, in terroga tes po ten tial and chang ing relat ionshi ps, si tuat ions and/or di fferen tia ted p osit ions. 10 Second, concepts guidi ng later tran sit-rel ated in tervent i ons e merged from the s pat ial and physical man ifes ta tions of t he Asse mbl ages. The firs t Asse mblage , for exam ple, facili ta ted the conceptualiza tion t he ‘con duit ’ as a pa th tha t ca n ena bl e the movemen t of objec ts. Wi thin th is system , ‘condui ting’ occurs as a comb inat ion of conti nu ous move men t a nd p au sing . Whe n objects grouped toge ther, t hey are collect ing or ‘hu bbin g,’ which happe ns duri ng p ausing . The concepts o f a condui t and hub are therefore in terrela te d and insep arable such tha t the spa tial production of ‘condui ting ’ a nd ‘ hubbing ’ occurs in re lat io nship to one anoth er, oscilla ting continuously betw een ‘conduit ing’ and ‘hub bing ,’ ‘cond uiting ’ an d ‘ hubbing ,’ and ‘condui ting ’ again. A rout ine.

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The second Asse mblage de mons trates t hat pedes trian s, au to mobiles , and trai ns h ave an interdepen dent rhyth m and whi le the ent ities share a rh ythm and space , ca nnot occupy the s ame

place a t the sa me ti me. This Asse mblage , there fore, f a cilita tes the concep tualiza tion of a


and ‘hub ,’ as loca tions of orchestra ted di sp la cemen t an d acco mmo dat ion. In contras t ,

the third

Asse mblage concep tualizes ‘condui t’ and ‘hub’ as re levant to the process o f mendi ng.

This approach reflec ted the stu dent ’s observa tion o f th e apparen t physical and socia l sep aratio n

between the town and ca mpus . La ter projects sough t t o sew places and people back toge ther

again, concep tualizi ng disjunctio ns. In the end , the

the trans it-rela ted in terventio ns as aids to exis ting socia l an d p hysical

Mo tion Assem blages fra med t he concep tual poten tia l a nd p erfor mance o f

‘hub’ and ‘conduit ’ a nd, based on spa tia l produc tion wh ere inhab ita tion ac tualizes spa tial order, caused space to exist and e merge. 11 In addi tion , the pr oject a nd processes hel ped s tuden ts anticip ate th e des ign and funct ion o f trans it-rela ted arc hitectura l i nterven tions , a nd mos t impor tan tly, de manded each studen t be an integra l p art of art iculat ing pheno menon , learning fro m the landscape , and trans lat ing s ite in to s pat ial producti on.


  • 1. Robert Ventu ri, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. (Learning from Las Vegas. Camb ridge: M IT

Press. 1972. Page 3.)

  • 2. Phenomenology and phenomenological method refer to th e work of M . Merleau-Ponty (Phenomenology

of Perception. Colin Smi th, trans. London: Routledge. 1998.) and his p redecessors, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heideggar, in which a dialect ic between perception and object are central to discerning space and

spatial relationships.

  • 3. The te rms ‘place’ and ‘space’ are used in reference to Mic hel de Certeau who carefully dis tinguishes one

from the other in his essay “Spatial Stories” (The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of Cali fornia Press. 1988. Page 115-130.). He re, ‘p lace’ is def ined as “a n instantaneous configuration of posit ions” while ‘space’ exists when one considers “vectors of d irection, velocities, and ti me variables ” (de Certeau,


  • 4. Specifically, students read and examined Kevin Lynch (Th e Image of the City. Cambridge: M IT Press.

Reprinted in 1997; The View From the Road Cambridge: M IT. 1964.), Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown (Learning from Las Vegas. Cambridge: MIT P ress. 1972), and Ma rio Gandelsonas (X-Urbanis m:

architecture and the Ame rican City . New York: P rinceton Arc hitectural P ress. 1999.).

  • 5. The “things” with ‘characteris tics’ and ‘propert ies’ refers to Merleau-Ponty’s description o f objects. Wh ile

certain aspects of objects a re stable , i t is important to consider that such stabili ty does not define things

entirely – pe rception of size and shape wi ll va ry as our relatio nship to things change (Me rleau-Ponty, p299), hence the importance of dist inguishing between the position and situation of objects (Merleau-Ponty, p244).

  • 6. Here, the posit ion is d istinguished f rom the potent ial s ituati on of an object, implying s ituations are social,

vector based, or dialectical ( Merleau-Ponty, p243-44).

  • 7. M ichel de Certeau describes a ‘ tour’ as a circuit , an itine rary, or series of paths w ith implied o r actual

spatial vectors. Wh ile a ‘tour’ pertains to acting or going, a ‘m ap’ pertains to seeing and/or comprehending a

totality of fixed place relat ionships (de Certeau, p119).

  • 8. This Assemblage exemplifies Michel de Certeau assert ion that space “is composed of inte rsections of

mobile elements, ” including pedestrians on foot and in automobiles, buses, and t rains (de Certeau, p117).

  • 9. This Assemblage illust rates how spat ial p roduction is a dia lectic between bodies (Lefebvre, p183).

    • 10. M ichel de Certeau makes the dist inction between for ms and uses in “Walking in the C ity” (The Pract ice

of Everyday Life. Berkeley: Universi ty of Califo rnia Press. 19 88. Page 91-110.) in the context of spat ial

actuali zation. The core of this dist inction is that the space of place implies relationships between di fferent positions (de Certeau, p98. )

  • 11. M ichel de Certeau situates the concepts of spatial exi ste nce and emergence as the result of a walker

appropriating a ‘topographical system’ (de Certeau, p97-8).

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Refe r ences

Appleyard, Donald, Kevin Lynch, and John R. Myer. The Vie w From the Road. Cambridge: MIT . 1964. De Certeau, Michel. The Practice o f Everyday Life. Steven Rendall, trans. Be rkeley: Universi ty of

California P ress. 1964, reprinted 1988. Pages 91-110 (“ Wal king in the Ci ty”) and p115-130 (“Spatial Stories”). Gandelsonas, Mario. X -Urbanism : a rchitecture and the A merican City. New York: Princeton A rchitectural Press. 1999. Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans . Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1991, reprin ted 2002. Lynch, Kevin. The I mage of the C ity. Cambridge: MIT Press. 1960 (reprinted 1997). Merleau-Ponty, M . Phenomenolgy of Perception. Colin Sm it h, t rans. London: Routledge. 1962, reprinted


Venturi, Robert , Denise Scott B rown, and Steven Izenour. Le arning From Los Vegas. Cambridge: MIT

Press. 1972.

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