Platforms for Exchange: M.Arch. Core 2 Studio, Spring 2012

Platforms for Exchange: Multitude, Media and Material
East Cambridge Public Library at Lechmere
M.Arch. Core 2 Studio, Spring 2012

Instructors: Joel Lamere, Ana Miljacki (coordinator), Cristina Parreno
Teaching Assistants: Masoud Akbarzadeh, Michela Barone Lumaga, Sasa Zivkovic

The Second Core studio poses three challenges for the semester: Who (and how) we envision as our architecture’s subject today? What use might a disappearing institution have for its architecture? And finally, how do we understand and manage disciplinary lineages in an anachronistic time like ours? Each of these larger issues is meant to prompt different modes of contextualizing and to enable definitions of criteria for a design of a synthetic architectural proposition. The semester is structured in terms of two longer problems that dove tail together, without requiring the students to carry all the lessons of the first shorter exercise into the second longer design problem. The site (an active public transportation node) remains the same for both design problems ensuring that the students’ understanding of the urban context (cultural and formal) builds up over the course of the semester. The first problem requires roofing over the transportation node with particular performative and egress rules. The second problem engages the program of a medium sized library that brings its own series of constraints to an already complex site. Together these exercises introduce disciplinary issues that range from siting, through inhabitation, sectional and spatial proposition of the building, to the performance of the outer envelope. And insofar as they are understood as disciplinary, these issues will also orient us towards the vast archives of architectural knowledge. Throughout the semester the emphasis is placed on the clarity of intentions (on each of the above listed registers), and by extension, on the choice of the appropriate architectural and representational solutions. However, the emphasis on clarity does not also require pre-meditation of every design move, this semester is highly iterative, and the clarity of design intentions is expected to result from an intelligent and diligent pursuit of ideas through constant testing and reworking. 


We have been told repeatedly that the public is a phantom, that the masses operate through a kind of silence, that they have been networked, assembled and globalized. In fact, we are told that “masses” as such no longer exist. The subject of the era of globalized capitalism - the multitude - constitutes itself as a public only occasionally through shared concerns, or a collection of personal turn-ons. It makes itself visible more often on twitter than in types of architecturally defined public space. This is not to say that architecture does not have a role to play in the constitution of the multitude, but rather that the relationship between public space and the type of public that assembles from the networked multitudes has yet to be properly conceptualized. We will take on this issue of defining the contemporary subject of architecture in the studio as we re-examine and re-engage two sites that have been traditionally seen as the locations in which a public makes its appearance de facto: a public transportation interchange and a public library. 


Victor Hugo’s prognosis of the book replacing architecture in its efficacy as a cultural product has haunted architecture for a century. In a certain sense Hugo was right, books were faster than architecture at disseminating both knowledge and cultural effects of various kind, but the internet and digital technologies have made the dissemination of knowledge via physical books equally laughable in return. And it is precisely at this moment when the garbage filled internet, self-publishing industries and other even more atomized types of content production render old classifications of knowledge into piles of miscellaneous bits, that the physical building - because of its slowness and physical organization - might become effective anew. Library for the multitude will still be charged with archiving knowledge and controlling access to it, as well as facilitating and representing its historically new user: the multitude. 

The baths of the Roman Empire and the science halls in North Africa and the Middle East in the 9th century were arguably the first literary collections open to the public, but the first truly public lending libraries came of age in Europe and America in the 19th century. In The Tribes and The States, William Sidis claims that the Public Library was a distinctly American invention with the first public library established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1636. The Boston Public Library, a separate institution founded in 1848, was also the first free large municipal library in the United States. In the latter half of the 19th century, the Boston Public Library expanded both its collection and its access, its offshoot (and the first Branch Library in the United States) was opened in East Boston with twenty-one more branches established in various diverse communities throughout Boston between 1872 and 1900. The McKim Meade and White building, referred to by the architect as a “palace for the people,” along with the Johnson building of the Boston Public Library, holds the research collection, the circulating general collection, and serves as headquarters for the Boston Public Library’s 26 branch libraries. The Cambridge Public Library was established just five years after the Boston one, and it is today constituted out of six branches. The main branch was initially designed by Van Brunt and Howe, and the extension for it just opened in 2009, signaling a reinvestment in this institution just at a time when the general wisdom is that readership is declining and circulation of books plummeting. The studio will take this, perhaps paradoxical, reinvestment in library architecture as a grounding hypothesis of sorts - that the library and its expanded content are here to stay for a foreseeable future (even as the library opens its twitter and facebook accounts).

As a collection, the library needs to deal with both storage and distribution. These two missions are sometimes at odds. The library must archive and preserve and at the same time make accessible its collection to the greatest number of people, a process that results in the inevitable wear and tear of the artifacts that are being protected. The studio will focus on the intersection of media and material, with a special emphasis on the performative aspects of architecture. In addition to organizational and spatial strategies (the library program), we will look carefully at the mediation of traffic (below), light, sound, and the environment. The intent of this studio is to update the concept of the library and to call on architecture to play a new active role at the interface between the electronic, the physical, and the social.

The first three weeks of the semester will be dedicated to understanding and reconfiguring the ground of the Lechmere station, while producing a roof over
it. The point of this minimal programmatic, but possibly substantial architectural intervention is to open up a number of the issues of the site through design and architectural thinking. The main design project for the semester will be a new and expanded East Cambridge branch library at Lechmere. It will have to take care of the special collection of rare Portuguese language books and all the material currently at the Valente Memorial Branch Library. Since information today exists in several different and coexisting forms of media, ranging from physical printed matter to digitalized text, from film reels to video disks, from LPs to MP3s - all successively less permanent and more easily disseminated media - the new East Cambridge branch will be charged with making room for this new reality of the library. The New East Cambridge library will be charged with the creation of a new institution that engages the physical and the material with the digital so as to produce a (re)new(ed) kind of civic structure within the contemporary city. 

Projects Featured: 

Jie Zhang, “Lechmere Idea Playground”
Trygve Wastvedt, “Labyrinth”
Jasmine Kwak, “Lechmere Library”
David Moses, “Inhabiting Information”
Claudia Bode, “Symbiotic Library”
Chris Mackey, “Urban Oasis Library”
Shiyu Wei, “Reading Involution”
Barry Beagen, “Re:Search”