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Mind & Matter

 

Third Nature

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"Thicket" cladding prototype using phosphorescent-painted driftwood, by University of Minnesota School of Architecture students Claire Antelman, Jordan Barlow, Michael Healy, and Briana Turgeon-Schramm.

 

In the book Subnature, author David Gissen discusses environmental elements such as dust, mud, gas, smoke, debris, weeds, and insects that have been historically seen as inimical to architecture—despite the fact that they are as much a part of the natural world as trees or grasses. Moreover, in the sticky interchanges between industrial landscapes and natural infrastructures such as rivers or migratory corridors, one realizes that nature is not a pure, unadulterated "other" as is typically perceived, but rather an important and integral force within even the grittiest of urban environments.

These sentiments about alternative views of nature inspired a recent "catalyst" studio at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. For this one-week intensive studio, architects and material pioneers Sheila Kennedy and Frano Violich of KVA MATx joined me in leading twenty graduate students to develop a series of installations focused on the idea of an alternate—or "third"—nature. The installations were full-scale iterations of pedestrian bridge wood cladding systems proposed for the RiverFirst project, a winning competition entry designed by KVA MATx and Tom Leader to improve the landscapes and urban fabric along the Mississippi River.


"Material Pallet" prototype demonstrating modified, reclaimed wooden pallets, by Rob Holley, David McKay, Kai Salmela, and Kyle Tornow.

With a material palette focused on driftwood and recycled industrial wood, the students imagined new cladding approaches that celebrate fertile intersections between nature, abiotic industrial territories, and architecture. These systems were intended to serve as habitats for a variety of indigenous lifeforms including birds, insects, and weeds, in an effort to boost the carrying capacity of the Upper Mississippi River. With this goal in mind, the students were also guided by conservation biologist Peter MacDonagh of the Kestrel Design Group.

In addition to wood materials, students also experimented with luminous and generative infrastructures such as phosphorescent paints and microbial fuel cells, in an effort to conjure various lifelike behaviors in architectural materials. They also utilized 3D scanning, parametric scripting, and various forms of digital fabrication—as well as traditional manual techniques—for the construction of their "Wetware" cladding systems.

The Third Nature installations were exhibited on March 9, 2012 in Steven Holl's Rapson Hall addition. Also on display were works by other University of Minnesota catalyst studios led by guest instructors Andrew Kudless, Lucy Dunne, Hilary Williams, and Ken Tracy.


"Digitized Bark" prototype using recycled OSB, microbial fuel cells, and LEDs, by Madel Duenas, Dantes Ha, Yong Kim, and Chris MacWhinnie.

 

 
 

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.