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

Every day I would walk to studio from my home on Main Street and pass by the construction site of the new dormitory on Kent Street. Each time I would notice the incremental progress being made, and though these quick snapshots would grab my attention for a moment it was never enough for me to stop. Construction is slow, and that always bothered me. It seems as if buildings only get made in the past. By the time a building is finished the design is already a year to five years old, maybe even older. I saw the construction site as something very static. The images I gathered in my head played out like a stop motion film. The process I witnessed was never fluid, but broken up into pieces by my walk to and from campus.

One day in the early fall on my usual walk home I stopped. A massive crane was on the site. A steel beam was suspended from its cables, hovering two stories above the ground. From a distance you could barely make out the cables. It was as if the beam floated in the air, weightless. The crane pressed down on the earth, four legs reaching out to stabilize its mass. The crane began to move the beam across the site and into place on the steel skeleton of the building. As the beam lowered, it met a welder perched on top of a ladder two stories high. Sparks began to surround the welder as he melded steel to steel, the beam still hanging from the crane. I was entranced by it all. The juxtaposition of scale and mass fascinated me: the crane grounded to the earth, the beam made weightless, and the man between them all, my only reference to scale and reality.

I play this sequence back in my head over and over again. There is a story being told in the movement of all its pieces. The still images previously ingrained in my mind were replaced with the motion of the beam swinging across the site and the sparks of the welder’s torch flashing off the steel. It is like watching a performance; each piece moving independently but to the same rhythm, together making something whole. I find it a beautiful thought to think that the construction workers are like dancers building the stages they perform on. However, dance is an ephemeral art. Dance exists only in the moment that it is happening. After the last dancer leaves the stage, the stage is empty, it is just how you found it. The process of constructing a building leaves something behind that was not there in the beginning.

I wanted to treat the process of construction as something that is more than a means to an end, and maybe even dare to say that constructing buildings is more interesting than buildings themselves. This is different than to say the process is the idea because ideas about buildings precede building. In this instance I am referring only to the actual sequence of constructing architecture, not the ideas about how a building should be constructed. When I think about the way I make projects, it is always so important to me to think about the setting the project is going to be made in, the way I move around the project, and the way the pieces of the project come together. Even the music I listen to is very crucial, it gives the movement rhythm and timing. I want it all to be so beautiful that when it is over you long for that movement once again.

Beyond my experience at the construction site on Kent Street I can trace the origins of this idea back to first seeing images of Richard Serra throwing molten lead. The image of Serra hurling lead against a white brick wall is perhaps more famous than the splash pieces themselves. He is dressed head to toe in protective gear: face mask, respirator, gloves, knee pads, boots. It is a very purposeful costume. One leg is planted firmly on the ground, the other raised behind him intensifying the moment of throwing the lead across his body and against the wall. We see the molten lead leaving the ladle and splashing against the wall. The moment, which lasted less than an instant, preserved perfectly in the photo. The photo is the action captured in time. It reminds me of the mine blast series of Naoya Hatakeyama. In another well documented moment, Serra seems to acknowledge the performative nature of the splash pieces as he stands in the center of the room surrounded by his works posed like an ancient Roman statue, his body contorted to exacerbate the motion of throwing the molten lead.

In my first year I watched an excerpt from the film Il Capo by Yuri Ancarani, which documents the process of excavating marble from the famed Carrara Quarry in Italy. I watched it countless times; fascinated by every aspect of it: the material, the movement, the process, and the setting. Ancarani takes the task of removing stone from the side of a mountain and turns it into a high art. There are no words spoken between the capo and the machine operators, only hand signals. Each movement of the excavators appears delicately choreographed by the capo, who stands between the machines like a conductor commanding an orchestra racing towards a great crescendo; the moment when a piece of marble finally topples to the ground. I find myself thinking back on this film in every project that I make. I want the process to be a performance; to be a piece of art.