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Force Fields: technologies and topologies for social change

M1 and M2 Fall Studio
Instructor: Lancelot Coar

Understanding what impact emerging technologies have on how we think about architecture, as a practice and artifact, is becoming increasingly difficult to perceive because of our growing dependency on it in the profession. Most recently digital software and automated fabrication tools have been adopted from the manufacturing sectors of automobiles, aviation and the military creating both new capabilities for the architect as well as a closer relationship with making as an integral part of designing. This has simultaneously opened up new opportunities for the practice while also re-orienting it back to pre-industrial design traditions, like the Arts and Crafts movement, which interlaced design with the exploratory expressions of craft through the shaping of material and assemblies.

Yet as our profession becomes increasingly captivated by this new technological prowess, and the focus of professional discourse becomes preoccupied with how best to talk about and use these new capabilities, we risk loosing sight of the larger task of our profession – to improve the human condition through building structures that better people’s lives. This concern is not abstract or hyperbole, it refers to the collective consciousness of the profession that continually seeks to define and promote what “good” design is.

      “Technology is a multifaceted entity, it includes activities as well as a body of knowledge, structures as well as the act of structuring. Our language itself is quite poorly suited to explain the complexity of technological interactions. How does one speak about something that is both fish and water, means as well as ends? That is why I think it is better to examine limited settings where one can put technology in context because context is what matters most.”          
                                             –Ursula Franklin in her lecture “The Real World of Technology”

For this studio, we will begin by considering Dr. Franklin’s argument that context determines meaning in technology, architecture and most things. Our aim will be to test this hypothesis by producing a project that explores how architecture, through the use of specific technology, can positively impact the lives of a community in a particular site and context. 

So what is our context? Winnipeg, more specifically the University of Manitoba.

The Immigration Integration & Community Farming Community Coop (IIFCC), also known as the Rainbow Gardens, is a community garden located on the U of M campus that serves immigrant communities who live in the Central Park area of Winnipeg by providing land to garden and grow their own food. Our studio project will be to design, fabricate, and construct a new shade structure and water catchment system for the Rainbow Gardens.  We will explore how emerging design and fabrication technologies can assist us in improving the lives of these important families in the context of our shared community setting. We will reach out to several partners to complete this ambitious project. Dr. Dimos Polyzois (Department of Civil Engineering) and his students will join our team to study and help us understand the structural performance of the structures we propose and will be partners in the project throughout the term. Professor Brenda Brown (Department of Landscape Architecture) and her students will work with us to develop a comprehensive and informed site design strategy. Another partner will be the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC) to help us develop this project using modern steel fabrication techniques with local Steel Fabricators. Finally, we will work with the FabLab team to help us explore the use of digital design software and fabrication tools to advance designs, construction techniques, and formal explorations that can be translated to full scale with our steel industry partners who will help us produce our designs. Our studio will research, design and construct this structure by the end of the Fall semester.

Project Sponsors – Canadian institute of Steel Construction; Faculty of Architecture Endowment Fund; Assiniboine Credit Union; Centre for Engineering and Professional Practice, Fablab, University of Manitoba

Image Credits
Centre Image: Meti Handmade School, Rudrapur, Bangladesh (photo by Anna Heringer) and Vibrations in illuminated liquid (photo by Berenice Abbott); Image 1: Burning Man, Black Rock City, NV. (Photo by Duncan Rawlinson); Image 2: Instant City by Peter Cook; Image 3: Movement of 2 skateboarders and architects on a site by Linda Bennett; Image 4: Urban Farm by Catrina Stewart; Image 5: Dymaxium House by Buckminster Fuller; Image 6: Still from Jaque Tatti’s “Playtime”

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