Elemental Architecture: structure + skin ----> space + light 

ARCH 573 | Spring 2015
Associate Professor Scott Murray


This studio focused on how two primary architectural elements—structure and skin—can work together to create unique, productive experiences of space and light in a high-performance public building. We asked questions such as: Can structure and skin transcend function? What is the relationship of structure and skin to space and light, and therefore to spatial experience? The goal of this work was to develop design proposals that are both conceptually and technologically advanced, and to define what this conception of “elemental architecture” might produce.

Following initial research and analysis of site, program, and precedents, students in this studio worked on one semester-long design project: a new Illini Rowing Club Boathouse, located at Homer Lake in Champaign County, Illinois (about 10 miles east of campus).  The boathouse is a 25,000 square-foot facility with spaces for training and boat storage for the University’s rowing teams and also includes spaces for public boat rental. The coach of the rowing team provided client input and students interacted with team members during the design process. The project required the creative design of a detailed structural system, utilizing steel as the primary material. Another design objective was to maximize the potential for natural lighting within the building while also addressing energy-saving priorities through innovative building-envelope design.

The structural development of projects benefited directly from input by Prof. Marci Uihlein, who served as structures consultant for the studio. Additionally, each design team included one student who was concurrently enrolled in ARCH 556: Advanced Structural Planning, taught by Prof. Uihlein. The structural system designed for the studio project was further developed and analyzed in ARCH 556, allowing the work in each of the two classes to productively inform and advance the other. Within each team, one student had responsibility for leading the structural design effort, while the other student led the building-envelope design. Of course, the project required close collaboration and integration of these elements throughout the design process.

The studio emphasized mastery of technical principles related to high-performance buildings, as well as more intangible qualities such as spatial experience and the creation of unique architectural character, while also addressing comprehensive design principles of accessibility and life safety. Appropriate and inventive responses to climatic and site conditions were required.

The design process was based on research and experimentation with structure, form, and enclosure, developed through iterative design proposals using large-scale, detailed physical and digital modeling techniques. Design teams were expected to generate, document, and analyze multiple schemes with clear conceptual foundations before arriving at a final proposal for the project.