Material Obsessions
Tenets Publications
Archive Information
The Beginning and the End at Once
The Process is the Idea
The Formwork is Architecture
The Process of Construction is a Performance
The Building Makes Its Site

To be obsessed means to have an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes a person’s mind. When I cast concrete for the first time a domino fell and set off the chain of projects that would become the basis for my thesis work. Perhaps if I had carved wood or stuck to gluing cardboard my work would have turned out completely different. However, concrete always drew me back in. I was captured by the freeness of the process of casting and concrete’s inherent chance of form.

I realize now that my first two years of school were about learning how to work with concrete. I wanted to completely understand the material, which at the same time meant completely understanding the process of casting. While I would play around with other materials, I always felt that concrete was my niche. There is so much to do with concrete that I never needed to explore anything else. It had all I needed. In my third year I became fascinated with coal, specifically anthracite. I was enamored with its metallic fractured surfaces. It has the appearance of a stone of great value, but, truly, it is both dirty and cheap; a duality I could not resist.

There is very little you can do with coal outside of burning it for power. I found this out quite quickly in my experiments with the material, however, it is not immune to change. Coal can be fractured into smaller and smaller pieces until it is dust. Though this is awfully simplistic, I found that changing the scale of the coal led me to look at the material in a new way. As I smashed the coal and piled it up, the landscape that formed intrigued me. However, these artificial landscapes were momentary. Like any alluvial material, the fractured pieces held no permanence on a sheet of paper or the surface of my desk. To preserve this landscape in time I began pouring concrete on top of beds of fractured coal. I would slowly pour the concrete on top and let it spread across the material. Once the concrete had cured, I would excavate the new cast tablet and flip it upside down. This moment was always one of mystery and discovery for me because there is no way to see the final form until the piece is cured and turned over.

During my second year I went to Iceland for a week and drove around the entire country. Everywhere I went I fell in love with the landscape. In Iceland the landscape changes dramatically with each twist and curve in the road. You can have the sea crashing on the beach to your left and the mountains piercing the sky to your right. Every so often though you encounter a vastness that is almost impossible to understand in a photograph. The distances between things become blurred through a lens. You could be driving along a mountainside and open into a massive valley. You are so close to one thing, yet so far from another. It is sublime. Even though it is all right in front of you its presence is something you feel, not see. I never had encounters with nature like this in my entire life. The experience was transforming.

However, there was another place in the world where I felt these kinds of feelings, not from nature, but from building. In New York City you can walk on the sidewalk with an open avenue on one side and a building soaring a thousand feet up into the air on the other. The spatial quality of New York is my first architectural memory from my childhood. I remember going into the city by train across the Meadowlands, a flat and swampy grassland on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. As the train leaves the suburbs and enters this in-between space you catch glimpses of the skyline as the train begins a long arc away from Secaucus Junction. It appears minuscule- like something you can hold in your hand. As the train descends under the Hudson your view turns black.

I remember getting off the train and ascending through the labyrinth of Penn Station. As you walk up the steps to Seventh Avenue the space around you compresses and then releases horizontally in front of you. I remember walking by my father’s side out of the station. I feel like time froze once we got to street level. My eyes went straight up to the sky, but my feet were cemented to the ground. It was sublime. This feeling of monumentality struck me, and all those years later the same feeling came back to me in Iceland. I think the coal pieces are all born out of a subconscious desire to make artificial landscapes.

After my experiences in Iceland I became fixed with finding beauty in extreme landscapes. I felt that there could never be a greater form of sculpture than a mountain formed over hundreds of millions of years. With the luxury of the internet you can go anywhere you want in the world. You can stand on top of Mount Everest from your living room. And so I consumed all these things that would take me to new landscapes, and I would imagine the great forces of nature which constructed these works of art.

In my thesis year I began working with another cast material, wax. It was like I was in my first year again. I had a material that I knew nothing about. I needed to figure out how to melt and cast the wax. Wax does not forgive little cracks and openings like concrete would. It is like trying to cast water. If there is the slightest air gap in a mold it will find it and escape. Wax added a new dimension to my work because it was in between coal and concrete. Concrete when cast is permanent, it can only be changed once from liquid to stone, and coal can be changed virtually infinitely but only in one direction, it can only be made smaller. But wax is more permanent than coal and more fluid than concrete. It can be changed from liquid to solid and back and forth under great heat. I saw the wax as an opportunity to question what is formed and what is formwork, and later become another bridge between landscape and the built world.

When you work with a material for so long you learn everything about it to the point that you think in that material. A carpenter must think in wood. A sculptor must think in marble. I think in concrete and wax and coal. All the learning I did with these materials eventually gave way to inventing. For my thesis I wanted to make inventions. I wanted to create processes that I would be able to call my own. The foundation of the thesis is five tenets, my beliefs and principles that guide me and the work. The book is organized by these tenets and not by the chronology of the work. Each piece stands on all five tenets, but takes its primary position in its strongest belief.