Senior Thesis Abstracts 2011-12

Senior Thesis Abstracts
The following thesis abstracts offer examples of the scholarship of the Senior Theses.

Ruth Chang, The Artifice of Water: Fluidity and Fantasy in the works of Charles W. Moore

This thesis follows Moore's move from theory to practice to built fantasy, tracing a translation of water from writing and theory, to a domestic water in built architecture, and finally, to a civic water that strives to enact a new experience where fragments of places are connected in new ways through a fluid time. The idea of Moore as a place-maker of ordinary and vernacular places is challenged as the author grapples with Moore's lifetime predilections for water and fantasy and the artificial manifestations they take in his architectural production. The thesis explores the topic in three sections: Water and fantasy as written water as theory (1), placed heterotopia as places (2), and shimmering fluidity as history (3). The first chapter examines Moore's PhD Dissertation at Princeton University in 1957. In it, Moore grapples with the architecture status quo of International modernism of the late 1950s, using water as a strategic tool to gauge an "arid" architectural modernism. The second chapter examines how Moore uses water in the home to introduce the experience of a heterotopia (as discussed by Michel Foucault in "Of Other Spaces" in 1967) resulting in the injection of new public-domestic life in the private realm. The surface ornament as a kind of water is discussed. In the last chapter, Moore's later public projects are explored, where water exceed its own substance to characterize a fluid architectural temporality in order to connect disparate styles of architecture and pieces of places. Water's shimmer is used as a model to evoke the concept of fluidity when looking at Moore's public projects that seek to connect and engage architectures of many times and styles.  

Ling Jun Chen, Architecture and Mimicry: Performing Modernism in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle

My thesis looks at the inter-war Modern Architecture and the post-war consumerism in Jacques Tati’s film Mon Oncle. The film plays on the opposition between the old quarters in Paris (in reality a small town Saint-Maur 40 miles north of Paris) and the Modern bourgeois suburbia of Paris. Together with painter, architecture, set-designer Jacques Lagrange, Tati builds the full-scale Villa Arpel in inter-war Modernist style, equipped with all the latest gadgets and machineries. While Tati started his career as a mime artist, his prominent use of mimicry lies not only in the people in his film but also the furniture, machinery and architecture. For example, in his film, there are people mimicking mimicries of themselves (double mimicry), people mimicking machines, machines mimicking people, architecture mimicking people, etc. Through analyzing the mimicry of different aspects of Modern Architecture in his film, I attempt to develop further insight into the nature of Modern Architecture.
The first chapter lays out the ground work for my thesis by exploring the role of mimicry in the film as well as what it means to “perform” but not “function.” In looking at “performance,” we will be looking at not only how film in itself is a spectacle, but also how objects within the film form spectacles. The second chapter of my thesis looks at order in Modern Architecture and how Tati’s mimic choreography of bodily movements within the architecture plays into the role of order in Modern Architecture. In the process, I will analyze what it means to have order in architecture, and what happens when order transcends necessity and becomes a spectacle. Then the third chapter looks at work, efficiency, function and leisure in the film as well as what they mean to Modern Architecture. Modern Architecture is known for advocating efficiency and function as well as freedom from styles, this chapter looks at how all “work” in the film are actually leisure, and how efficiency and functions become mere spectacles in Modern Architecture’s obsessive nature. The fourth chapter delves into Modern Architecture and its obsession with machineries. This is exposed through the post-war French consumerism culture where sales of automobiles, household appliances, and other domestic machineries skyrocketed. In this chapter, the themes explored include the role of machinery in human perceptions of space and time, the role mechanical objects play in the domestic life, as well as the more complex relationship of human-machine interactions, and how such interactions becomes performances in their own rights. Last but not least, the fifth chapter looks at health and hygiene in Modern Architecture. Much of Modern Architecture originated with sanatoria and the concern with tuberculosis, and in this chapter, I look at how the origins and the concerns play into film as well as Modern Architecture in general, and how the aspect of health and hygiene often extend beyond necessity and becomes pure spectacle.

Diana H. Lam, SLUM OR REVOLUTION: A Case Study of Dharavi, Mumbai

The place of the informal settlement within popular culture has changed dramatically since Jacob Riis’ exposé of the living conditions of the urban poor in his seminal work How the Other Half Lives (1890). From a place condemned for its density-imposed squalor and poverty, the slum has become democratized and sensationalized. It is no longer a blight to be hidden, but is now seen by planners, architects, politicians, and the everyday person as a reservoir of knowledge for city building in the formal metropolis. This fascination has led to a myriad of entertainment, journalistic, academic, and artistic ventures, such as the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2009), New York Times bestselling novel Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo, 2012), Columbia University’s SLUMLAB and Rem Koolhaas’ Harvard Project on the City. These projects have made it their goal to investigate, dissect, and explicate the informal settlement, putting the humanity of high-density living on display for the world to see.

But why the obsession with the slum? The thesis attempts to respond to this intrigue by focusing its study on Dharavi, a 2.4 square kilometer informal settlement that rests in the heart of Mumbai, India. Dharavi is perhaps the greatest exemplar of a high-density urbanism “that works,” home to not only a $5 million informal industry, but also a diverse melting pot of various cultural, geographic, and religious traditions. By studying the relationship between the built environment and community identities within certain neighborhoods in Dharavi, the work explores the viability of the slum as paradigm for contemporary Western planning. Can the lessons of the urban poor truly be extrapolated to the modern city? Or is the phenomenon of slum as salvation reflective of a more critical malady of associational life in the metropolis?
The thesis argues for the latter: the frenetic attempts of urban activists to find solutions for Dharavi are indicative of a greater dysfunction in the way dwellers navigate the city. The culture of slum discourse is simply an attempt to repair an existing urban order that no longer works. In the early 20th century, referencing a similar shift in man’s relationship with the environment, Le Corbusier wrote, “Architecture or revolution. Revolution can be avoided.” In today’s formal metropolis, it is a case of, “Slum or revolution.” Can revolution be avoided?

Ariana Tiwari, Life is a Highway: The Evolution of the American Mobile Home and Mobile Home Park

American mobile homes and mobile home parks have evolved into an urban phenomenon, redefining our understanding of cities, communities, and neighborhoods. Initially, the federal government characterized mobile homes as temporary residences for victims of war or natural disasters. As a result, homes on wheels such as trailers and recreational vehicles (RVs) have been excluded from the mainstream American housing market for a variety of reasons, including a lack of clarification related to their definition (they were not considered home dwellings due to the physical presence of wheels) as well as negative stereotyping. Consequently, both the architectural development of the mobile home and the urban evolution of the trailer park have been largely disregarded by the federal government, scholars, architectural theorists, and urban planners.

My thesis investigates the mobile home and mobile home park in post-World War I America through a variety of lenses: the architectural evolution of the tow-behind trailer, the urban development of the trailer park, an approximate adaptation of architectural and urban theory to the RV and RV park, the negative stereotypes surrounding the mobile home and its occupants, and the formation of mobile home parks in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I collected data from a broad literary sampling, including newspaper articles, architectural and urban theory, and site visits to a variety of mobile home parks.

I argue that a variety of factors have contributed to the development of homes on wheels and their occupants, including zoning laws, governmental regulation, media portrayal, and the socioeconomic status of residents. Architectural and urban theorists have overlooked mobile homes and mobile home parks as a new urban model. Additionally, the federal government and persisting negative stereotypes have marginalized mobile homes and mobile home parks in the American housing market. Despite these oversights and prejudices, the mobile home provides a unique opportunity to architecturally engage with a new type of dwelling on wheels amidst growing environmental concerns about fuel efficiency and ensuing housing foreclosures. The mobile home park is an alternative urban typology that may be adapted to a variety of situations such as college or retirement housing, uniting mobile home residents through a shared community. The recent rise in popularity of the luxury RV and RV resort indicate that the mobile home industry is targeting a wide range of socioeconomic customers, including those with middle to upper incomes. Both the mobile home and the mobile home park cater to a unique segment of the American population whose needs are not served by the traditional housing market, providing an exciting opportunity for architects and urban planners to further improve this evolving community on wheels.

Tess McNamara, Optimism In Concrete: Perspectives of Paolo Soleri

“To start at the beginning, I was born in Torino on the twenty-first of June, 1919. Thatʼs the longest day of the year, the solstice. And my name, Soleri, means, ʻYou are the sun.ʼ In Italy, we are all the sun. We are all the sons of the sun.”  (Paolo Soleri, The Urban Ideal: Conversations with Paolo Soleri (Berkeley: Berkeley Hill Books, 2001), 19)

Paolo Soleri is an Italian architect that worked and lived in the Arizona desert. In 1970 he developed the theory of arcology, a combination of architecture and ecology, in response to the sprawling and disjointed conditions of urban life. He constructed one of his designed arcology cities test his theory in the physical: Arcosanti in Arizona. This thesis is an exploration of the complex moment in time that Soleri inhabited. It explores the reasons behind Arcosantiʼs enduring presence, and asks what we can learn from this visionary thinker.

I examine Soleri within the various contexts that generated his beliefs and buildings; the multi-disciplinary and cross-temporal subjects that are manifested through his lifeʼs work. In order to do this, I start in the realm of the theoretical, the no-place of utopian discourse that has evolved since St. Tomas More coined the term in 1516, and evaluate the utopian resonances within Soleriʼs work. I will look at the modern ecological movement through the lens of Spaceship Earth, a perspective that explains the desire to explore new forms of civilization. From this mindset of pursuing ecological civilizations, Soleri developed his theory of arcology, and the desire to construct the urban laboratory of Arcosanti. From Space, I move closer in scale to the physical setting of the Arizona Desert, Soleriʼs home and the site of Arcosanti itself. The desert has developed a unique persona throughout American history, an ecology that extends beyond its physical characteristics to modern aesthetic and cultural attributes. The next step closer is to the site of Arcosanti itself, which I had the opportunity to visit this January. Here I examine the specifics of Soleriʼs work, analyzing his solar inspired architecture and the success of his experiments in urban living.

What emerges from this discussion is a solar optimism that runs throughout all of Soleriʼs projects—he has endured because of the inspiring confidence he places in the conceptual. Soleriʼs work at Arcosanti is neither architecture, nor non-architecture. It goes beyond architecture—his cosmological focus and enduring conceptual belief in Arcology make his architecture purely optimistic. His is an architecture that transcends the physical, and exists as a conception of the mind. It is a built reminder that “we are all the sons of the sun,” soleri.

Arcosanti is more than the physical ruin it appears to be. Soleri says that the project “is ʻoptimism in concrete.ʼ It works by believing that there is a tomorrow that can be prodigiously affirmative.” (Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti, an Urban Laboratory? (San Diego: Avant Books, 1984), 87)  Though the concrete structures appear to be pessimistically demonstrating desert decay, they embody an endless optimism. This is the optimism that man can change the way he lives, emitted through a sculpted light and sculpted desert. Arcosanti has survived these forty years because it exists as a conceptual experiment. It has stayed revolutionary, proved capable of evolution, and evaded the entropic forces of the desert through its true location in the cosmos.

However, the place itself, warmed by light and thick with life, is the most compelling explanation for its endurance. Both the forms and inhabitants of Arcosanti emit a stalwart optimism that they can change society—an optimism that has allowed Arcosanti to transcend a decaying reality.