University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning
Raoul Wallenberg Studio, Winter 2013
critic: Alex MAYMIND (2012-13 Walter B. Sanders Fellow)
students: Ciera CLAYBORNE & Alexis STEWART; Phil LOCKWOOD & Ross KUCHIN; Stella DWIFARADEWI & Christopher BAIR; Jake HOLBROOK & Matt JONIEC.
Today mats are appearing everywhere. Whether seen as a counterpoint to the preoccupation with sculptural form or as what happens to architecture when it has to cover really large areas, no building type captures the predicaments of contemporary architecture more fully. The mat answers to the recurring calls for efficiency in land use, indeterminacy in size and shape, flexibility in building use and mixture in program.
. . . by mat building, as defined by Alison Smithson’s 1974 article, architects usually mean a building type that is low-rise and high-density, that is homogeneous in its layout, and that consists of a systematic repetition of a simple element such as a column, skylight, or modular room. The repetition provides the framework, both conceptual and spatial, for different possibilities of inhabitation. By virtue of its seemingly endless repetition, the building becomes an environment unto itself.
— Hashim Sarkis
The studio examined a genealogy of mat-buildings as a form of low-rise, high-density, multi-family housing. The project of mat-housing was considered as an alternative to the ubiquity of single- family homes that makes up much of contemporary suburban sprawl. Unlike more traditional row houses or the perimeter block, mat-housing typically does not conforms to the boundaries demarcated by an existing urban block but rather attempts to create a distinct urban environment with less clear edges. In contrast to the “American Dream” of home ownership (which is by now a cliché and near bygone of another era) we focused our efforts on the design of the contemporary domestic and collective sphere on a site in Brooklyn, NY.
Rather than understand mat- buildings and their related variations—fields, matrices, grounds, carpets, mounds, grids, and so on—as a particular building type, the studio work was based on an examination of canonical precedents as part of an architectural genealogy with specific characteristics and a common set of ambitions. This confrontation with existing ideas in architecture’s discourse framed the work of the studio, both literally and conceptually. The dominant technique for producing mats is based on systematic repetition of simple elements which create an environment onto itself. Therefore mat- buildings are less concerned with overall figure and form, but rather are governed by part-to-part, non-totalizing, semi-formless relationships which simultaneously engage issues of infrastructure, landscape, and context in addition to architectural and urban concerns. Other key qualities of mat-buildings to consider are the following: the ambiguous definition of the mat-building relative to the urban context, degree of internal variation and repetition based on the systematic organization of the parts, the exchange between voids and their boundaries, the relationship between the larger urban grid and its effect on the conceptual framework of the mat, and the tension between horizontal expansiveness and vertical compression.