suckerPUNCH: Describe your project.
Clark THENHAUS / Endemic: A Project Four Domes Nowhere in the Middle implicates the four middles of America, a spatial paradox of locating centers within boundaries by marking these remote, pastoral points with freestanding domes atop earthen mounds. . . .
Composed with spheres, cones, and cylinders, the Four Domes focus typological concerns not through an exhaustive survey, but by speculating on alternative form-types in contexts generally unfamiliar with domes. Disembodying these domes from an institutional underfoot allows them to be characterized by formal, spatial, and scenographic qualities rather than through the predetermined lens of a cultural or political institution. In other words, the biopsy of the dome from an institutional affiliation alleviates predetermined cultural associations, thereby emphasizing the material and spatial qualities of architectural form. One may recall the Roofless Church by Phillip Johnson or Sol Lewitt’s Stacked Domes as precedents. The intention, then, is to reconvene discussions on this longstanding archetype with discernible histories, organizational tendencies, and spatial qualities in order to speculate on alternative possibilities in contemporary architectural work. Each of the Four Domes borrows from a traditional plan type of domes—centralized, cruciform, linear, or informal—but achieves an outward address that is not immediately associated to its conventional plan organization; nor are they immediately recognized as domes. This delay is due in part to the compositional kit of parts—spheres, cones, and cylinders—that are, on their own, familiar and nameable forms. (Some might even say generic forms.) The familiarity with these nameable parts is precisely what frustrates the clear reading of the whole when they are arranged into aggregate compositions of domes. The aggregation of these nameable, generic parts fosters unnameable wholes freed from singular identities in favor of multiple associations—typological or otherwise. While the archetype, a dome, can be understood by virtue of its formal and spatial qualities, the figure of the whole cannot be so easily classified. In other words, generic parts would initially seem to suggest an ease of legibility, yet their relative position in the whole frustrates the clear association of the whole. From this, five qualities can be identified for the domes that, in total, account for what may be termed Generic Originals: 1) Visual oscillations between legible parts and unfamiliar wholes; 2) Contextual de-concealing (reveals something of context as a figure); 3) Cleavages & clefts as exterior articulations; 4) Orientation without frontality; and 5) Typological allusions and formal associations.
The way centers relate to peripheries is a spatial paradox, particularly at the scale of a nation. In the United States, four primary middles of America (± 6 in total) can be identified. There are two geographic middles depending on whether or not one includes Alaska and Hawaii, same for the geodetic middles, and one middle for Google maps and GoogleEarth if one uses a PC, and different middle 181 miles away if one uses a Mac. While the overall ramifications of this may be minor, the geographic oddity is compelling enough to celebrate and incentivize as a contextual medium for architectural problems. It should be noted that the context of these American middles do not in themselves substantiate or offer relevant contingencies for architectural form to correspond with or derive techniques from; rather, the inverse is a more intriguing possibility, in which these pastoral middles are conceptually reauthored by the introduction of the domes. Context is contingent on its architectural introductions, not the inverse. At each of these American middles, along with the domes, a hill is proposed. These hills produce an interiority generally not experienced in domes by lifting one vertically, into the volumetric center of the dome. Thus, these hills are differentiated from the inherited topography and shift the common interior experience of a dome from one of looking up at to one of being more fully contained within.
The materiality of the domes and hills considers material realism and temporality in architectural representation. Textural patina, shingles, gilding, and gilded stripes borrow from precedents yet speculate on material in relation to seasonal and durational change. The textural patina introduces material variations to a formal symmetry that places the dome somewhere in the distant, yet undefinable future. The gilded dome appears still wet from rainfall, as if captured in the immediate present; the striped dome appears pristine in its model, suggesting it has yet to be built, while its rendering suggests a future in which the dome’s white finish has decidedly aged; the shingled dome appears at the cusp of old age, like the first signs of grey hair in an otherwise chocolate pelt. Overall, the materiality of the domes introduces a mild confusion as to whether they are historic domes or futuristic ones. This has nothing to do with romanticizing the effects of weather, but rather tests ideas of material realism at the scale of the architectural model as a way to disturb otherwise easily identified timelines. The hills below the domes operate on a more cyclical time scale—that of the seasonal. Spring, summer, fall, and winter mounds introduce seasonal temporalities that offer the stabilizing effects of time.
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This work is currently on exhibit at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, The New School for Design in New York City as part of the 2015 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers. Special thanks to the Architectural League of New York and Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning at the University of Michigan for support, and to those individuals whose efforts in fabrication and installation are greatly appreciated, including Katie Donahue, Tyler Smith, Alexandra Bernetich, Nate Wesseldyk, and Ethan Walker (photo credits).