INHABITABLE – Andrew McCarthy

As students of architecture we are told to push the boundaries of design and explore the edge of our own creativity.  We push our minds and bodies to the limit, but usually from the safe confines of our studio.  However for Andrew McCarthy that wasn’t enough, and what sounded like a better idea, was to test out his tent design atop one of the world’s tallest mountains.  Andrew is currently in his thesis year and has already scaled Aconcagua in the Andes Mountains this semester and tested out his design.  What have you been doing in studio?  Check it out after the jump!

SCHOOL: Taubman College - University of Michigan
STUDENT: Andrew McCarthy
PROFESSOR: Catie Newell
COURSE: Thesis
YEAR: 2012

“Where a project is cited no longer relies on an exploration of the landscape, or an attempt to redefine the coordinates of the places we deem hospitable. Architecture exists in a world dominated by the definitive mapping of site. We rely on buildings to house our lifestyles, and contain a fabricated environment for people to live in. Shopping malls, movie theatres, sports complexes, treadmills, and ITunes promote a ubiquitous fabricated environment that simulates an experience without demanding that the occupant is required to participate with the outside world. Even acknowledging that the average home size in the U.S. has doubled in the past fifty years begins to demonstrate our interest in designing buildings to create an alternative world, a world shielded from all.

Architecture did not always exist in this way. A portion of mankind once relied on non-permanent buildings, caves, windscreens, huts, tents, bivouacs, yurts, igloos coupled with a design strategy that was derived from portability, lightness, and flexibility, defining the essence of shelter. For me the project started an this interest in stripping architecture back to its barest form and engaging with the elements of nature. I would often ask myself what architecture and the architect can do without. What are the limits that we as designers are willing to push our work in search of discovery and exploration? Our field is comprised of various methodologies for working and at what point can we alter those, become nomadic, intentional, and submerse ourselves within an experiment. Perhaps as architects we are granted the opportunity to roll up our sleeves, test the spaces we create, test environments that cannot be declared as sites, challenge the given condition, and go to the ends of the earth to do so.

Certainly mankind has evolved and adapted to create a utopian outlook for the environments we are able to produce. The splendor of architecture manifests itself in the glory of the constructed building. Dubai, Las Vegas, Shanghai, and New York City can be called upon as headlines for our growing interest in creating the perfect city, past and present. Dubai, rendered with its uncanny iridescent sky, a mall with indoor ski slopes, and a skyscraper with amenity floors that can stack taller than most high rises, exemplifies our demand for architecture to insulate itself from climate and participation with the natural environment. Shanghai is a city within a city, two times the population of New York City, with door to door, floor to floor, and tunnel to tunnel service that generates a dense fabric, constantly sheltering one from the smog lingering in the morning air. Buildings within buildings and cities within cities, outer rings becoming central business districts, and people being allocated to single footprint. We have no relationship to these spaces, they are transitory, formulated to create interaction between inhabitants; architecture becomes the elephant, lingering behind them, unsure of when to interact.

As architects and designers of inhabitable spaces we should challenge this pre-determined notion of definitive site, place, and occupiable space. Architects should become explorers of new possibilities, not just within our complex digital models, or parametric scripts but in the world of sites and opportunity for investigation. We can use the process of exploration and making to study the transformation of how our designs are derived through the development of actualizing. This would require buildings to become artifacts and recordings of each step of the testing and occupation process to establish a record for how these spaces were constructed and inhabited. Attention should be channeled to a clear understand of how the design transitions once situated in the world, and documented for others to understand. I believe this begins to redefine the role of the architect. Perhaps the architect is the explorer, designer, contractor, contracted, builder, curator of site, and occupant; relying on all contingencies to provide the barest form of shelter as a way to test the processes that we are accustom to within the practice of architecture. For me this is a practice that demands the architect’s inhabitation and design accountability, in an attempt to formulate a relationship with the spaces we create and places we declare sited.

Six different climate zones are located throughout the world; Polar, Temperate, Arid, Tropical, Mediterranean, and Mountainous. People have settled in nearly all of these climate zones, with exception to the extremes. Extreme Polar, Arid, Tropical, and Mountainous have proved to be unaccommodating to human occupation. These are areas of the world that are studied, deemed uninhabitable, and left untouched by mankind. Despite what the media portrays about these locations, I believe architects can exploit these inhospitable environments and take advantage of the extreme conditions to create living quarters that can define a new architectural typology. Not to make another proposal for a housing development, restaurant, or shopping center, but simply to study and reference our processes for actualizing and offer the barest form of architecture to the unclaimed sites of the world.

This project is working to create a practice about designing, inhabiting, bonding, understanding, exploring, and attempting. Acknowledging traditional architecture and architectural projects, yet shifting scale, seeking the unwanted, and going to the extreme as way to utilize the process of making as an investigation to our profession. Unquestionably, characterizing the architect as a tool of their own trade, to challenge preconceptions about location, site, climate, and the definition of our built environment. This is a practice that requires the architect puts their shelter on their back and travels to the unknown.”

MAKE SURE TO CHECK OUT HIS BLOG @ http://abletoinhabit.com/
Also a great article about his adventure @ www.annarbor.com

All Images via and Text via  Andrew McCarthy

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