Student Award of Excellence: A Strategy for Design with Intention to Improvise During Construction

Galiano Island, British Columbia

Todd MacAllen, Dalhousie University

Central to this thesis is the question, “how might design be clear yet flexible enough to provide a basis accommodating improvisation during construction?” After examining experiences that arise during construction and special considerations owing to the use of local building materials, the student wished to design with the intention of improvising during construction. Setting out to test whether such a framework is possible, he proposed an arts- related event facility for a population of 1,000 on a small island in British Columbia’s Georgia Strait. The program would eventually comprise a gallery, a caf, a reading room, space for dance, cinema and an outdoor performance space, all built on parkland.

In order to maintain the goal of creating a flexible building with a view to completing it in phases, each of the elements was designed as an independent pavilion. Parts could thus function without depending on others. The philosophical underpinnings of the thesis, rooted in an awareness of the nature of process and the functionalism of parts, is further evidenced as the pavilions are broken down into constituent parts: platform, roof, wall, window, cladding and so on. This breakdown enables each element to be assessed and observed, while being built, as a particular manifestation of the site–its materiality and specific economic value for the area.

The study of element values, functions and provenance exposed the potentialities inherent in the spaces that made up relationships between program parts. These were “becoming important spaces in themselves.” Modeled elements were assembled in different variations along with elements of the site to form “collages of hinged programmatic parts.” While acknowledging that budget and schedule requirements demand the determination and assembly of building elements prior to construction, the thesis seeks to explore the possibility of incorporating improvisational work. This is investigated in a flexible framework for site and program elements.

Caruso: This is a project after my heart. I love the slightly too earnest and methodical research that preceded the design stage. Not a mere precedent study but a substantial piece of work where the student’s energy has made a building or a method of construction come alive. This investment into research has given the student the necessary knowledge to achieve a precisely defined set of objectives. The small settlement of the design makes a convincing place where one can imagine the loose collective of artists finding their individual places and opportunities to make collaborative works. The understanding and application of simple, often prefabricated construction technologies is impressive in a student project and contributes to making explicit the experience of this settlement.

My only reservation is over the elaboration of some of the building sections. In the caf/reading room and the dance/cinema pavilion, somehow the relationship between room and structure is not as direct and hard as one is led to expect in this very mature work.

Kapusta: Clarity, simplicity and tactility were the strong points of this thesis submission. Ideas about improvisational building over time were sensitively explored in both a straightforward text on the inquiry and in the building proposition itself. That the project was aligned to social rather than purely formal concerns–as were many of the other submissions–added to its strength.

Saia: We have not judged this candidate on his reflections, but on their results. It is not that we consider the reflections unimportant, but that the project constitutes, in itself, a preliminary step. It is, so to speak, a pro-jection, a step that precedes the stage of materialization, before the project becomes architecture. The thesis as presented is a little thin. It is, however, a most interesting beginning that is worth pursuing. Already we note the interesting play of volumes and their interrelationships with one another. The “close kinship with the site’s natural topography and views” appears before our very eyes. One can sense the rigour beneath this elegant poetry. Still, for the imagination of this project to manifest itself in the eventual work, the usual architectural practice will depend more on foresight and less on site improvisation.

Thesis Advisors: Richard Kroeker, Essy Baniassad