Transcript of Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti's concluding statement of the marcosandmarjan workshop at Tunghai University at the Conference, TADA Centre, Taichung Taiwan (09.04.08)

Marcos Cruz, Marjan Colletti (marcosandmarjan) 2008

Published in The Journal Architectural Dimensions, Journal of Design & Theory, Taiwan.

To summarise some of the ideas about this workshop, I would like to start pointing out a key aspect of our work methodology, which is our inside-out approach to architecture. We started by questioning the conceptual complexity of each project from within, whilst later confronting it with the urban and cultural surrounding environment. This doesn’t mean that we always favoured the inside over the outside, neglecting, for instances, the formal, operative and even performative presence of buildings in the city. But the initial focus on the inside gave each student the opportunity to develop the programmatic potential of each project independently of site and context, at the same time exploring the internal inhabitable dimension of their architecture – which I personally understand as an interfacial condition between body and urban/natural landscape. Hence, while discussing the progress of each design, we, as tutors, worked on the overall urban strategy that embraced the increasingly complex, diverse and also changing nature of our contemporary cities. This ‘Inside-out Urbanism’ in which each individual building was designed prior to the general layout allowed the creation of an architectural vision imbued with a variety and detail that common urban plans often lack.

I was conscious that it was difficult for students to develop their work without knowing what the overall strategy was going to be. In fact, I personally was keen in exploring their initial state of disorientation. I believe that this challenged them to create work that was more original, and, above all, the result of their own design-intuition. As the German artist Joseph Beuys has once argued, intuition is a higher level of rationality, an expression that fits very well in this context. For an experimental and non-prescriptive urban-design process like the one set up in this workshop - where we linked computational generated form with programmatic and experiential qualities of architecture - we were keen on avoiding the usual excessive analytical and deterministic approach that is common in urban design. Here, our main role as teachers was to give students confidence in their intuition, while giving them motivation to develop their own design eccentricities, which in turn were informing our design composed of a multitude of different gestures, shifting programmes, inhabitable scenarious, etc. all in all a deliberately people-centric proposal.

One of the critiques that I heard from students was that they simply did not have sufficient time to mature their own work, primarily because they had to start doing group work. This was due to the fact that we aimed for a final proposal, which could just be achieve without the effort of everybody working together from a certain point onwards. Some students had to stop their own work in order to help others, which in some cases was slightly unjust, requiring from our part as tutors a lot of social engineering in the group. However, this was necessary to achieve our target in such a short period of time. It was obvious that some projects had more of an impact others, but this didn’t mean that they were necessarily better. It was a matter of convenience that made us giving certain work more relevance in the final proposal. What in my opinion is essential in the end is that each project was thought as a process of seeding from which new ideas could be grown and hopefully taken by each individual beyond the realm of this workshop.

In the first days we were getting slightly frustrated that everybody seemed to produce very slowly. Many students were thinking a lot without engaging in any design work. This made our job very difficult, because we were relying on their output to generate the overall plan. I am convinced that a fundamental part of this type of learning process is to compel students to materialise their ideas quicker and more efficiently. There is no point spending a long time thinking about something when, in most cases, it either won't happen or might simply not be as interesting as one initially thought. On the contrary, the most successful projects were the ones that had a quicker design output from the start, allowing for more dialogue and feedback, and also time to refine the complex nature of their design.

So, in this context it was important to allow students to be completely submerged in their work – some of them spending days simply cutting and pasting tiny laser-cut pieces onto their small ornamental models – and, on the other hand, to encourage moments of critical distance through group discussions in which each project was analysed as part of the whole. The used method is what I call propositional analysis - a way in which analytic thinking is achieved through the means of design. With this method we avoided spending a long time self-indulging in discussions and observations without becoming propositional. For me, the critical understanding of site, programme, language, and technique was very much the result of an empirical process that ultimately aimed for an unpredictable, yet powerful design output. Even though the final model is still in progress, it is also sufficiently conclusive to be used as an analytical tool for further design developments, and even applied to other projects. The presented work is, in fact, a vision that was generated like a puzzle of lots of little invented settings, which were put together according to this overall design strategy that we evolved during the workshop. I am certain that after having been through this process many students were surprised about the amount of work produced, and wondered how the final model came together so quickly and unexpectedly. I also remember when, two days before the exhibition, we were asked to show an external visitor around the workshop, and we felt quite embarrassed that little more than a few small maquetes were visible at that moment. But now it is all lying there, finished, which clearly shows that in such a fast process the last ‘ten seconds’ are of seminal importance. It is often here that key decisions are made and where we give our previous design ideas a fundamental tweak that makes the work become clear and exceed our initial expectations. In other words, the process is not just a matter of continuous production, as I mentioned before, but also of pursuit and ultimate persistence. This is what is so extraordinary, having created a breeding-ground of ideas which were shaped and put together in the last moment by so many different individual seeds. These now allow for a more extended debate about the implications of an Expo in Taichung, and even a discussion about contemporary design altogether.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that out of our last workshop at Feng Chia University in 2005, a number of students have been doing very well in their careers. One already built a pretty beautiful teahouse here in Taiwan, two others got several international awards for their diploma work, and others are being pretty successful with their post-graduate studies. I like to think that this will also happen after this workshop. I hope that everybody found this event not just an enriching learning process, but also an energising exercise that will stimulate their future. Against the idea that architects have to wait until after their studies to create influential design, I believe that students today, should be in the position of achieving noteworthy and even provocative work while still studying. So, this workshop was thought to be a vital stimulus to each individual ambition, simultaneously being a way in which innovative ideas can be generated that challenges the architectural practice out there.

The purpose of the workshop was to launch a general debate on the potential and fundamental role of the Shuinan airport area in the future development of Taichung. As this large area was recently acquired by the local authority, this land’s future expansion should be open to the public. As it offers a unique opportunity for the city to engage the population in the decision making for this area, this event too should allow the visitors to express their views on the workshop’s proposal, and, most of all, state their opinions about the development of the area as a whole. Hence a blog is being launched in which also your opinions will be gathered (

On a particular area of the site we proposed an international Exhibition (Taichung-EXPO 2015) with the theme DESIGN & IDENTITY. The Expo is thought to promote the potential role of Taiwan as a leading centre of design in Asia, as well as regenerate part of the previous airport area with a series of public buildings/infrastructures that reinforce the cultural strength and identity of Taichung. In conversations, more and more students voiced their opinions on site and program, and we came to the conclusion that this Expo should be used by the most successful and representative Taiwanese industries as a window to the world showing their research and visions of the future - consequently, the Expo would to a large extend be sponsored by these industries, instead of spending large public funds as in other similar events. Also, each proposed building has two programs, one for the Expo period and the other suggesting the forthcoming use after the Expo, such as research facilities for the local universities, an ecological centre, several exhibition spaces, a multipurpose hall, housing, and entertainment.

Retrospectively, I can reveal that from the very start of the workshop our ambition was never to finish this project. Although the exhibition here at the Tada Centre fulfils our initial plan – and hopefully the organisers' wishes - this will remain an unfinished project for an unfinished site. This proposed plan has to be understood as a work-in-progress experiment and not as a final design proposition. It is the result of a collective endeavour in which each individual building is designed prior to the general layout. Such an approach allows the creation of an architectural vision imbued with a variety and detail that common urban plans lack. As we have realised during the last week, such an important urban development cannot really be solved by a single, frozen, non-adaptive design project. In fact, there were many ideas and considerations which popped up during the workshop that would need a much more intense study to really be thoroughly investigated. Yet such a convoluted condition of ambiguity, of undefinedness – in terms of use, size, time, politics -provides a very fertile ground for architectural and urban speculations. To embrace such a condition for a workshop was hence an ideal, albeit dangerous, strategy: nothing taken for granted, nothing guaranteed...

More importantly, ambiguity is an intrinsic element to the ever changing morphology of the discipline of architecture: what we are as architects, and what architecture is as a profession, are key factors to consider. I truly believe that ambiguity, blurriness, softness, convolution, are key to the development of the discipline. What I mean is that contemporary urban and architectural problems can only be addressed by an adaptive, flexible, mutable 'discipline' of architecture; and here I mean both the training/teaching, as well as the rigour that comes with it. This is what a pedagogic curriculum is about: the definition and adaptation of what 'discipline' is and how it can be taught. Surely we have tried here, with the workshop students and all the supporting local teaching staff (by the way a big thank you to you) to initiate debate on these issues.

What I have noticed during the last week, and from some of the comments made by the students on our teaching methodology, is that here in Taiwan, as in many – most – part of the world, architecture is still very much seen as mechanics. That is, you need to understand the common process and then you follow it. Our approach was - that's the way we teach also our Bartlett and Westminster students - less mechanistic and more of an inside-out approach, initiating the project by each individual's observations, sensibilities and skills...

By the way, I have observed that many students did not have any digital skills when they started the workshop, but that they quickly learned how to manoeuvre around CAD programs in order to catch up with some of their more computer-literate colleagues. This is, on the one hand, good: it means that students here are as eager and talented as anywhere else. On the other hand, I find it curious, to say the least, that Taiwan – a major protagonist in developing digital technologies, and as we have heard also eager to become the design centre of Asia – does not pursue with more intensity, and discipline..., digital design and digital theory. You have the industry, the creative people, the talent, the skills; but somehow that seems not to be enough to produce an adequate environment for state of the art academic digital infrastructures – the labs, the workshops, the machines – and a digital curriculum – courses, research programs, knowledge transfer. If not here, where else? I wonder: how come the industry is further ahead than academia? Why in this country? Why almost everywhere actually?

...But back to the inside-out approach already mentioned, which deployed a multiplicity of individual starting points which were then extrapolated into a larger scale. In a sense, the process combined two development trajectories. On the one hand, it consisted in the rigorous coming to terms with ambiguity towards control: extrapolating individual observations towards a common strategic agenda and social proposal. In other words: from one towards many. This is a general attitude that I, we, firmly believe in. On the other hand, the urban and social implications of the project and the site demanded an opposite trajectory, i.e. from many to one. All the many initial considerations and languages had to be brought together into a single proposal, which you can see materialised in the final laser cut model. This process of interpolation is included in the term I often use: 'Convolution', which I have explained in my two lectures. In urban terms, I believe that digital (but not only) convolution can provide an alternative to what is usually pursued as parametricism, by which urban values are achieved by starting from, for example, geometric singularity and extrapolated into multiplicity/modulations/ambiguity via parametric cohesion. What I identify as 'Urban Convolution' on the other hand, starts from multiplicity/modulations/ambiguity and works towards singularity of language via convoluted cohesion. This process of interpolation, I prefer intrapolation (as opposed to extrapolation), was achieved during this workshop through 1) our architectural and urban master planning – yes we reserved the right to overrule individual decisions... - 2) the 2D and 3D CAD techniques and 3) the digital fabrication and manufacturing technologies, i.e. laser cutting.

To loop back to the initial comments on undefinedness and ambiguity – the installation and workshop as a whole is the result of great teamwork: students, teachers, manufacturers, sponsors, us. This is yet another way to show how complex the discipline, the multi-discipline of architecture is and how important communication and knowledge-transfer is. There is no single author, copyright issues will be quite ambiguous; nonetheless: yes, we do take the responsibility for the project, as we have had an influence on the singular and the conjoint design projects. No, we did not have in mind a predefined shape, a specific aesthetic, or a clear strategy. We knew that 30 students would have a better knowledge of the local political and social problems than the two of us. But yes, we attempted to provide the discipline and the rigour to master what contemporary architecture boils down to: complexity, performance, strategy...