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Wednesday, September 30

6:30–8:00 PM

Welcoming Remarks and Introduction to Conference

Mark Wigley
Dean, GSAPP, Columbia University

Gary Higbee
Director of Industrial Development Steel Institute of New York; Ornamental Metal Institute of New York

Keynote Lecture

José Rafael Moneo
Architect, Madrid, and Professor, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University

Thursday, October 1

10:00–10:30 AM

Introduction to the Conference

Mark Wigley
Dean, GSAPP, Columbia University

Christian Meyer
Chair and Professor, Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Columbia University

Michael Bell
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

10:30 AM–12:00 PM

Ductility: Material Limits and Territories

Moderator: Ana Miljacki
Professor, Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Is a new generation changing the way material operates in the nexus of architectural production? How do you situate material, and in particular metals, in the range of territories that constitute their uses, production, value and life span? How do designers and engineers place material in the production, design and life cycle?

Metals, as surface or structure–as structural generators of space–play a role in nearly every strain of modernization in architecture, but they are also benchmark commodities that are central to labor and employment contexts before and after World War II. Metals define complete geographies of work, production and political life (Bethlehem Steel and Allentown, for example). Nonarchitectural metals delivered in automobiles, and hard goods (from AEG to General Electric to General Motors) in the United States and worldwide have all been sourced as the engines of the sprawling late-20th century city in all of its registrations and forms. But in the received aspects of architectural history, metals, and in particular steel, remain something more segregate and less diluted; they are presented as intrinsic to key terms of the profession. Metals as a material precede architectural concepts–they are instigators and carriers of architectural meaning.

The divide between what metals are as commodities and what they signify architecturally seems to be immense, but this imaginary is rapidly changing. As every material is increasingly seen as a component in a delivery and control chain, it is situated within a deeper set of organized techniques and seen less as an origin than as a conductor. Does the process replace the material’s centrality in architecture and engineering, or diminish the component’s significance as it replaces this with forms of production and performance?

By their nature, metals have differing limits of ductility, but they all inevitably recover more easily and with greater limits than other major building materials such as glass or concrete. Is ductility still an issue in your work and if so, how does the nature of material limits affect design? What aspects of your work exceed the nature of material limits or determine how you see material value as affecting your work? Is there an aspect that is essential to metals that has added qualities, such as ductility, in your work today? What replaces structural performance or what quality in metals does your work rely on, extend or demonstrate when performance at an immediate level is not the singular goal? How do you work with material limits and with aspects of material behavior? How does the material life cycle affect its meaning today?

David Benjamin
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

Keith Kaseman
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

John Fernandez
Professor, Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hilary Sample
Professor, School of Architecture, Yale University

12:00–1:30 PM


1:30–3:00 PM

Discrete Structure: Steel Frame

Moderator: Phillip Anzalone
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

How does one discuss the significance of the steel structural frame today? How does your work conceive of structure in relation to framing, to surface, to enclosure–to other modes of efficiency and implementation; to new relations between structural framing and enclosure?

Architectural and engineering systems predicated in construction efficiencies have since the middle of the 19th century been founded in rationalized structural systems. Nomenclatures of structural frame and subset building systems such as curtain wall coordinate aspects of enclosure and volume to subsets of interior divisions–structure’s essential mathematics forms a substrate against which smaller divisions are made. All of these systems have been modulated by varying degrees of detail and connection to structure, forming tributaries that lead back to the essential stable and grounding frame.

If metals, and steel in particular, have been conceptualized within architectural and economic metaphors of material strength, of factory strife and economic destiny, they also signify all manner of labor and legal aspects of economic equity. Yet it is the architectural metaphors and the facts of frame and enclosure–steel as structural frame and metals as surface enclosure– and curtain wall that have been predominant in architectural schools, and that to a large degree have been presented as free from wider constituencies. Frame and enclosure sustain a form of autonomy, despite their cultural histories, within a wide swath of architectural education. The frame here is usually segregate and neutral within social actions–it enables them but social aspects of building are presented as choreographed by other systems.

In the United States steel’s architectural history is often geographically substantiated in Chicago architectural history–the late 19th-century “Chicago Frame”–but the true separation of surface and structure as pedagogically efficient and segregate has also suppressed the wider discussion of metals in the very economy that produced new office buildings, new curtain walls and new forms of assembly. The formation and subsequent rise of corollary economic machines prior to and during World War II redistributed metals on a global scale and introduced them to an indexical financial value that architectural histories have rarely dealt with. The material aspects of engineering and architecture, and in particular the ductile and static properties of metals, offer a discrete and workable repose against the wider liquidity and distributed nature of finance and aspects of construction indexed in buildings, cities, automobiles, etc. Measuring these matrices–the history of architecture and its local histories–against the mobility of materials and monies establishes territorial relations and in some sense exacerbates attempts to see construction in discrete terms. From the outset of steel’s rapid rise in the 1940s, elastic limits have been set for metals within markets but also for labor and a deep investment in the value and sourcing of material within new financial territories and new methods of construction.

Has your work in structure been affected by wider changes in the social or urban aspects of where you work? The profession is increasingly engaged in broader and more reflexive forms of computation and management of construction. Do you find new directions or evolutions in the significance of structural framing today that renew the discourse of structural framing?

Christoph Kumpusch
Professor, Department of Architecture, Cornell University

Rory McGowan
Engineer, Arup, Beijing

Jesse Reiser
Professor, School of Architecture, Princeton University

Heiko Trumpf
Engineer, Werner Sobek Engineering and Design, Stuttgart

Nanako Umemoto
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

3:15–5:00 PM

Structure and Program: Clear Span / Long Span

Moderator: Toshiko Mori
Robert P. Hubbard Professor in the Practice of Architecture, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University

What are the significant innovations within clear-span or long-span structure in architecture and engineering today? What are the current conditions, tendencies and potentials of long-span and clear-span capacity in the architecture and engineering of metal structures? Do structural and spatial innovations still merge to create new social potential in architecture today as they have at key historical moments such as the design of Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève by Henri Labrouste (1834–50) or the Neue Nationalgalerie by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (completed 1968)?

In clear-span or long-span structures varying degrees of integration between framing and enclosure means that volume, mass and structure are often unified and undivided. Structural engineering, in this realm, takes on social aspects of what could only incrementally be called architectural space. In long span or clear span structures a threshold is passed that indicates that space is fundamentally derived from engineering as much or more then architecture. Its social meaning is derived or understood within the tributaries of both fields but at a scale that was often virtually infrastructural. Within the evolution of metals and in particular of steel framing, the nature of a clear or long span structure has also been a continually evolving project in which spanning capacities reveal new functional potentials; new spaces that preceded use.
Is structure’s relation to expansive forms of space and use still a driving factor in design today?

As either a pragmatic foundation, or a conceptual device, the structural frame segregate from and as a datum or foundation for space–not as closure or volume, but as its matrix– has often maintained a tight perimeter that keeps social aspects of use apart from overtly structural or material concerns. In the normative modern structural paradigm the structural frame holds the building up as non-load-bearing walls, and subsequent programming, affect social life and use. The stability of structure assures a datum for a segregate organization of social life–in this realm a concrete office building essentially functions as a steel office building would. As a subset of structure the social aspects of architectural space could occur as a concurrent or parallel project. In clear-span structures, or spaces where structure and space are synonymous, however, the degree to which social aspects of occupation were related to the very means of construction–to overt use of materials–meant that structure was a social entity. It was capable of instigating use. In other words, the social was overtly tied to material and to engineering, even as space was often cast wide open and made to seem a-material in its newfound expansiveness. Quasiendless interiors made by clear-span systems fascinated architects and engineers, but also engendered counter movements and caused trepidation in other realms where the freedom became a source of anxiety.

To what degree have we often seen counteracting tendencies to the capacities of spatial and structural extension– toward new models of privacy, intimacy and interiority as antidotes to the tendencies of expansiveness in clear-span experiments? Are examples such as the cellular nature of space in the Whitney Museum galleries by Richard Gluckman (which created permanent rooms out of former office space in the otherwise open plan of the building) or the wide range of aedicular spaces common in postmodernism, or even within new forms of networked communities and communication? What are the technical aspects of clear-span today; what aspects of spatial specificity versus universality affect its organization today?

Friday, October 2

Environments, Air, Oxidation: Final Finish

Moderator: Felicity Scott
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

What role does oxidation play in the conceptualization of design? Are there advances in material such as Cor-ten® or changes in how we see a metal’s stability in light of weather and change? What alternate meanings of reflectivity are critical in metals today?

The oxidation of metal occurs when the material loses electrons: the atoms of the metal move from a neutral state and become positively charged. The result is the formation of what we commonly call rust and what is routinely addressed as a fact of maintenance. The concept of decay in metals dramatically changed during the rise of Cor-ten® and other metals that controlled oxidation as a protective final finish. The visual result was a dulled surface–a darkened, rough patina. Cor-ten® allowed the temporal affects of weather to merge with the universal or timeless aspects of material in modernism. Coupled with landscape orientations in design by Roche and Dinkeloo, Cor-ten® was part of a naturalization of the modern office, and an invocation of weather in material maintenance.

Compared to architectural metals that were highly polished, or finished in work by Mies van der Rohe and others, Cor-ten® was a radical shift. In Mies’s work, aspects of material, light and optics deeply affect the work’s complex presence; the metals bridged retinal aspects of work in the visual arts by Man Ray and others where reflective materials were critical. Is it a mistake to see aspects of polished and highly reflective or refracting metals as contrary to the opacity of Corten’s ® controlled oxidation? Rosalind Krauss describes a kind of opacity in the work of Duchamp as an “arrêt à la rétine”–a stopping of analytical process at the retina. The production of meaning is found in the interactions between the subject’s nerve endings– the retinal aspects of the art instigate what is ultimately a physiological production of meaning. The optic aspects of reflectivity in the art are experienced as coordinated innervations of the retina; what Krauss called a “selfsufficient or autonomous realm of activity.” Was Cor-ten’s® matte, but still complex finish relatable to theories of surface and opacity in art? Was its chemical work a kind of optic work and far more intertwined with art than we have often imagined?

How are buildings understood environmentally today? Is there a visual effect of our contemporary capacities to control or manage thermal and environmental aspects of metals?

Anna Dyson
Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Mark Malekshahi
Engineer, Buro Happold

Jorge Otero-Pailos
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

George Wheeler
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

11:15 AM–12:30 PM

Infrastructure or Architecture: Structural Performance and its Visual Qualities

Moderator: Christian Meyer
Chair and Professor, Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Columbia University

How does your work in structural engineering and control of forces change the end result in visual and social terms, safety, serviceability, and economy? Can you discuss the qualities of your work as they are affected by new technologies, in the design of repetitive versus unique structural components, in the control of production and on-site verification of performance?

New aspects engineering in the structural design of bridges has led to new crossover works and a new architectural aesthetics of infrastructure. Coupled with recently developed computational tools that have allowed high levels of customization in structural design without compromising essential requirements of serviceability and economy, we are seeing a wide range of new forms of infrastructure as new forms of quasi-architecture. The professions of engineering and architecture merge in unique ways as new means of structural analysis open new visual and aesthetic forms.

A case to consider is that of the cable-stayed bridge: the delicacy of the balance and the linear-planar control of forces reflect a mechanical invention that creates new forms of structure, but also new forms of visual monumentality. Unprecedented levels of precision in the routing of forces enable reductions in material weight in cablestayed bridges: while the towers or pylons carry primarily compression loads the cables are arrayed in a way that essentially cantilevers the deck surfaces. The deck’s ability to resist the horizontal components of the cable forces has the consequence of eliminating the need for heavy buttresses or anchorages. There are uncanny visual results as the historically expected visual mass of the suspension bridge’s massive anchorage is absent: the structure resolves itself internally. The concrete deck acts as a prestressed element and the structural composition becomes a visual matrix of linear and planar elements. It is visually light–the taut cables replace the parabolic form used in the suspension bridge.

Does your work on structure engage design in new ways? Does your work in architecture engage structure in new ways, and are we seeing a new moment in the bridge-like structures that opens new social or cultural potentials?

Kenneth Frampton
Ware Professor of Architecture, GSAPP, Columbia University

Steven Holl
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

Hans Schober
Engineer, Schlaich Bergermann & Partner, Stuttgart

Marwan Nader
Vice President, Project Director T.Y. Lin International, San Francisco

Man-Chung Tang
Engineer, T.Y. Lin International San Francisco

2:00–3:15 PM

New Metals Equal New Space

Moderator: Michael Bell
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

Does architecture have the capacity to instigate change in material science or is it bound to be a recipient of these changes? It is possible to detect in the early decades of the 20th century a coincidence of material being organized within previously unimagined matrices of engineering, industrial coordination, political and economic propensity and will. What is inherited from this era in regard to metals in architecture and engineering?

In the case of metals, what are the concepts that serve to outline the material for our work today? Is metal now simply one material among many in a leveled field; does it hold a central position as it might have with the work of Walter Gropius or Mies van der Rohe (as frame or curtain wall), or in work by Renzo Piano (as infrastructural scale or as cast components) or even Frank Gehry (as spline-based skin or shingle)?

Aspects of high modernism often are received as a story of rationalized or discrete production yet the steel and glass towers of this early period were never isolated from wider parameters. Political or social action could not be separated from material even as new forms of urban, social and financial life emerged that increasingly relied on dispersed and bucolic forms of suburbia and media-based modes of social life–forms of private life that insulated subjects from overt forms of production. Yet production, by many accounts, has permeated the postwar suburban sprawl as fully as it has the prewar city.

Prior to the end of World War II, the goal of full employment in a postwar United States was understood to require a dramatic rise in manufacturing and material exports. Metals were key to this equation at the heart of the expansion of the U.S. economy and its territorial expansion. At the Detroit Economic Club in 1944, then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau pledged that the formation of the International Monetary Fund, as part of the Bretton-Woods Treaty, would secure for Detroit the exports needed to secure full employment after the war. Producing automobiles to meet that goal could only occur against a stable exchange rate between the United States and Europe. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, set into motion by the Bretton-Woods Treaty signed by forty-four nations, fueled a new urban landscape worldwide. Driven by the dual mechanisms of production and finance, material commodities were never to be understood as discrete again. As they found their way into buildings as much as automobiles and airplanes, and into consumer products worldwide, metals became distributed and complex commodities.

Where in this explosion of growth are the known terms for our fields? The postwar city and its wildly expansive and often predicted collapse has usually been presented as having humiliated the local aspects of building, and material craft or control, but in this new moment of material logics, do we return to the real or imagined aspects of architectural and engineering history of engagement?

1. The percentage of consumption for the automotive and construction industries remained fairly similar over the course of the last century. Although there are high points in both industries–for example, in 1935, 25 percent of steel production in the U. S . went to the automotive industry and 14 percent to construction; while in 1958, 21.4 percent of steel went to automotive and 31 percent went to construction. Today the automotive industry’s reliance on steel is smaller in comparison to global construction: 6 percent of steel now is used in the automotive industry, while approximately 74 million tons a year are used to make cars and light trucks. World steel production totals 1.3 billion tons.

Sanford Kwinter
Professor, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University

Theodore Prudon
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

Craig Schwitter
Engineer, Buro Happold, New York

Werner Sobek
Engineer, Werner Sobek Engineering and Design, Stuttgart

3:30–5:00 PM

Precious Metals: Abstraction and Rationalization

Moderator: Mabel Wilson
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

To what degree is the cleft between real and imagined, rational or abstract, material or a-material critical in architecture today? Do new material logics driven by computation diminish themes of abstraction in design via greater forms of computational control, and higher forms of engagement with production?

Metals have been both the epitome of the rational and pragmatic aspects of building as well as the denominator of modern architecture’s more rarefied or a-material aspirations. The imagined terms of production and its broader territories and their impact on architecture during first half of the twentieth century frequently linked issues of rationalization with parallel themes of abstraction or programming and use. By seeking forms of structural and material rationalization that were simultaneously carriers of social change, or transcendental experience, the boundary that separated empirical work and less quantifiable imagined aspirations did not present a divide; indeed it was a constituent aspect of much of what still forms core educational values in architecture programs today. Is abstraction an aspect of modern conceptions of materials that seem less valued in the emerging aspects of material today; for example, in relation to contemporary digital controls, or the modeling and choreography of project delivery?

During the Bauhaus era the simultaneity of empirical work and transcendent aspirations allowed and perhaps even perpetuated a divide between what architecture and engineering may be capable of versus what its aspirations were. Today it seems we have entered a new realm of technical work in architecture and engineering that is decidedly less abstract in how it relates to broader issues of economy and money–of its place in the spectrum of building. Issues of speed in realization, not as leitmotif or zeitgeist of cultural experience, but as a denominator of management of monies, time and ultimately profits are common in architectural discourse today.

How have we constructed the imaginary and literal aspects of our work, and how does this revise what we have come to expect as standard appreciations and procedures for the role of materials in practice? From what basis do we engage materials today and how is our thinking still affected by the social and technical aspects of the previous centuries’ origins–from all its vantages, whether quasi-religious, secular, mystical, technically based or socially driven?

In the writings of Mies van der Rohe, the drive toward the factual aspects of building is parallel with a renunciation of forms of mysticism; the search for a renewed form of the building arts in Mies’s work is founded in an “enthusiasm for the immediately real.” Yet Mies’s work is based in an “understanding of life” as having “become more profound.” Mies’s iconic nickel-plated cruciform column and its optical qualities under light stand as both the figural and empirical signifier of a rationalized world yet it of course was famously abstract and even a-material. The column is demonstratively “real” even as its visual qualities and color give it a saturated sense of flow. Nickel is both hard and highly ductile–that hardness is as evident as the sense of flow is palpable.

How is the relation between abstraction or rationalization constructed today–or have these arguments been displaced by new relations between material and production–between function and use, between image and...?

Juan Herreros
Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid

Sylvia Lavin
Professor, Department of Architecture and Urban Design, UCLA

Paola Antonelli
Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art

Matthias Schuler
Engineer, TRANSSOLAR, Stuttgart

5:00–6:00 PM

Concluding Discussion: Architectural Surface and Structure Today

Mark Wigley
Dean, GSAPP, Columbia University

Werner Sobek
Engineer, Werner Sobek Engineering and Design, Stuttgart

Steven Holl
Professor, GSAPP, Columbia University

Matthias Schuler
Engineer, TRANSSOLAR, Stuttgart

Is it possible today to create new terms that conflate surface and structure? Are these out of date terms? Are new concepts of materials and industry needed in order to reinvent the role of material aspects in design– in social life?

Convened by:
The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation,
Columbia University in the City of New York
Mark Wigley, Dean
Michael Bell, Professor, Conference Chair

In Collaboration with:
The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Columbia University
Christian Meyer, Chair and Professor

Steel Institute of New York
Ornamental Metal Institute of New York
American Institute of Steel Construction

Exclusive media sponsor:
The Architect’s Newspaper

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