On August 23, 1989 millions gathered on the streets across national borders to stand courageously beside one-another to affirm their right to civil nonviolent protest. A seemingly ordinary gesture—side-by-side, hands held—became elevated to symbolize the peaceful, unconquerable strength of the multitude. This desire was unique to the peoples of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania but is a message common to us all today.
We hope the Baltic Memorial may represent the collective bond each of us shares. That sitting on the edge of one of the capital city’s busiest streets, the project may stimulate attention and recognition for one of Europe’s pivotal cultural events. For us, the project is symbol, memory and place for a generation of new ideas.
We have used the challenge of the elongated site as a way of distributing three distinct forms, suggestive of three unique cultures. Each separate, but inextricably linked. These three load-bearing forms shelter between them a panelized glass dome, which houses at its center a public amphitheater and reflection pool. The three forms are independent on the ground level and house each of the project’s three main programs—exhibition space (40sqm), souvenir shop (20sqm) and cafe (30sqm). Each rises above the ground program and gradually come together at a height of 65 meters. Within, on the southwest side of the sunken amphitheater a gentle waterfall cascades into the reflection pool. Looking across the pool and waterfall, there is a strong visual connection to the Daugava River. All program is easily accessible through the open plan. A long display wall to the rear of the space is meant to act as compliment to the more in-depth stories within the exhibition space.
Part of our formal inspiration is the many recognizable spires of the city; with St. Peter’s and Riga Cathedral on either side of the site. The great height of the memorial and its tapered shape we hope will complement the existing skyline and be seen from every direction.
The Baltic Memorial should embody the powerful spirit that unites a people. Though we may be separated by perceived national, political, or religious boundaries we are united by more than sometimes we are aware.
A Common Place
Communities can grow from the smallest places. They emerge from a collective need, a most basic precept that together we can achieve something greater, something perhaps not possible alone. Our Tiny Home Community project seeks to explore the idea of community emerging within surprisingly small boundaries. The proposal seeks to use tiny architecture to foster a new ethos of shared engagement. But architecture in this sense is merely a scaffold. The dynamism, creativity and ultimate success of the project can only be found by properly serving the important and complex needs of its twelve inhabitants. In this sense, the project is designed to give as much dignity and opportunity to the twelve people who share it. Program ranges from private--the 12’ by 12’ unit; semi-public--the shared courtyard/garden; and public--the community building and front court. As such, the twelve units are divided into three identical clusters and these three micro-communities are anchored and oriented to Lenoir St by a long community building in which all public function is housed.
This organization grants three scales which range between complete autonomy and complete connection. The community building--which currently houses a kitchen, lounge, study room, laundry and public exhibition--is meant to act as the strongest connection to the city. We imagine that a variety of creative projects, carried out by the inhabitants, can occasionally be exhibited here. We feel this connection between the broader public and those struggling to adapt to it, is the crucial mission of the Tiny Home Community.
An extension of this mission is the generous distribution of gardens. Central to each cluster is a garden that can be easily divided into four patches. In addition, two patches have been set to the west and may be shared publicly for educational purposes.
Each living unit is derived from two basic plans--an entry level plan and loft unit plan. Though identical in plan, we chose to offer variety and distinction in the roofs of each. We thought that despite the modest scale and simple economy of means, the ability to grant individual character to each person's living environment was important. The arches are perhaps the boldest departure from the project brief. After much consideration and debate, we arrived at them because we felt that against the challenge of mobility and transience, it was important to propose something that lends a feeling of permanence and surprise to the project. We were inspired by the idea that this Tiny Community could come together cooperatively to make something with brick and mortar that might draw attention to the cause of the project, acting as a broad civic gesture and entry to the city.
This project seeks to rekindle the powerful legacy of the NY State Pavilion, by repurposing the original structure to create a suspended natural environment. Both this project and its predecessor share a view to our future. Today that means greater understanding of the complex ecosystems in which we live. Hanging Meadows will collect, organize and exhibit flora native to particular parts of the Northeastern US. This carefully crafted indoor topography that will feature experiences above and below grade with spectacular views of the city.
Matt and Kim had lived downtown in a one bedroom on the seventeenth floor for almost twenty years. Two years ago, while on a long weekend getaway visiting friends near Deception Pass, someone at dinner mentioned something about an old ruin sitting at the top of a hill near Whistle Lake. Oh yeah! I saw a picture of that on a blog, someone chimed in. Matt and Kim looked at each other with delight--a ruin!? Matt tried to find what they were talking about on Google maps, but it was too pixelated to confirm. He typed in ‘deception pass ruin’ and what he got was the same old black and white photo featured on several sites. Abbot’s Ruin, was one caption. Weird Landmarks! was another. It looked too good to be true. The next day, the two of them set out on foot to see if they could find anything.
Both of them would tell you they are obsessed with ruins. Matt’s studies in medieval history and their walking tour of Europe after graduation only fueled this little obsession. But if you exclude Detroit, America felt to Matt and Kim relatively barren of that kind of history. Aside from the occasional barn or water tower, the American landscape felt almost entirely free of such intense physical reminders of the past. That's what made their little adventure feel so exciting.
After a couple miles, on Miller road they met a lady walking her dog and asked if she had heard of Abbots Ruin. Oh yes! she said. They looked at each other in disbelief. Just keep going and up near the next sharp bend, look for a little trail on the right. Follow the trail about two hundred feet until you get to a clearing, she said. Down near the bottom of the field, before you hit the tree line, you should see what remains of an old barn.
Ten minutes later they arrived at what was left of the structure. Though the top quarter had collapsed in on itself and the bottom half was obscured by a deep layer of forest plants, they had never seen a structure so beautiful. It seemed to have no context and they later learned it was the incomplete creation of a local farmer named Charles Abbot. Apparently Abbot was obsessed with Piranesi and spent his final years building a folly on the northwest corner of his farm.
That was two years ago. In the intervening time, Matt and Kim came to find the land around Abbot’s Ruin was for sale. They bought it several months later. By the end of the following summer, after hiring an architect and engineer to imagine how they could complete Abbot’s dream and adapt the existing structure to be their home, construction was complete.
Today, they still live together, but now about an hour outside the city. Matt works for a small college as a historian, specializing in European medieval history and Kim works as an environmental engineer for an engineering company downtown. Their goal, to the engineers permanent consternation, was to live as high as they could above the ground. The house is spread between private spaces inside the tower and shared spaces within a modern pitched-roof single-level truss structure supported by the tower.
Abbots Ruin, circa 1910
Department for the Preservation of Prehistories HQ
Founded in 2050 on the site of an ancient hill--the Aterian mound--containing with it a complex of caves and some of the earliest traces of Upper Paleolithic gathering, the Department for the Preservation of Prehistories emerged from a need to preserve articles of prehistoric culture, while merging with the urban condition around it.
Speculated to once be the site of a flourishing Late Archaic urban society (900–950 CE) it is thought to have ceased regular ritual function and to have been abandoned by the mid-thirteenth century. This partially human-made earthen mound stood in isolation for hundreds of years housing little understood archaeological fragments of an early society. Over time, as the city grew, the site sat with increasing precariousness, steadily encroached first by suburban settlement, then by mid-rise exurban development and eventually, by mid-century, at the very center of urban life. The decade long battle to preserve the integrity of the site brought to light many strategies--Historic Landmark status, followed by UNESCO World Heritage listing, followed by a savings and loan crisis, which forced the foreclosure and sale of a handful of treasured national sites. Over the years, as the Department's mission has grown and its portfolio with it, we’ve organically become the hybrid organization you see today.
The Department currently employs approximately twelve thousand people worldwide, over eight thousand of which come to work each day at our HQ. The physical infrastructure of our current headquarters mirrors our broader mission--that preservation is not separation, but is the spirit of lively renewal and re-use; enhanced and imbued by contemporary culture. Our gradual construction program over the last thirty years has seen the steady expansion into the Aterian mound of new public programs, new attractions and more ambitious public educational initiatives. Expansion into the mound has been a very cautious process, driven primarily by a need to grant access to the original caverns, while adding public programs. Built around and in direct connection with the Mound is a 64-story tower housing the majority of department personnel. In addition to administration and documentation of projects around the globe, the tower contains state-of-the-art laboratories, microscopy and imaging facilities.
This lighthouse project is both an effort to protect the memory of the 32 lost souls of the Costa Concordia disaster, while reaffirming the most fundamental role of the lighthouse as vital safeguard against the unpredictable forces of nature. In this sense, this project must reckon with the concept of impermanence; both the fleeting nature of memory itself and the unpredictability of nature.
The project starts with the discovery of a small existing ruin on the peninsula as a way of connecting with the forgotten histories of the site itself. This existing structure is connected to the water, following a desire to cast the lighthouse on the threshold between land and sea; closest to the site of the Costa Concordia wreck.
The tall conic exterior of the project is meant to act as a legible symbol to travellers both from sea and from land. Inside the lighthouse sits a rock at the center of the memorial. This large rock is intended as physical re-creation of the rock that brought the ship to its tragic end. On the rock is a plaque with the 32 names. The memorial room itself is markedly different from the exterior. It is irregular, with large eroded stone volumes that stretch to an oculus 67 meters above. This room is open to the sea just outside.
Conjured from a mythological past, one of Gottfried Semper’s Four Elements of Architecture was the mound. Unlike Semper’s civilizational hypothesis, the mound for us was a simple starting point for the project. Our goal was to make a collection of objects that would each express some kind of formal tendency in relation to a mound.
Each object is a tiny 6” x 6” speculation organized into a nine-square grid with an original, untouched mound at the center. The mound in the middle is a degree zero, with each successive gesture framed in relation to the thing itself.
Course of Empire
What could lead a guy to be so devoted to ancient edifices, to a world long gone? What was it about the pull of that far-away time that he couldn’t stop thinking about? It’s 1743, you’re 23 years old and your name is Giovanni Battista Piranesi. By any other standard we’d consider what you’re doing to be completely and utterly mad. It’s obsessed, you’re obsessed Giovanni. We never see you, you’re hunkered in this room all day long.. you’re a grown man and you’re obsessed with the past. What about the present, the world outside, your family?!
That's what we imagine his brother saying to him, or maybe a friend or parent. You’re nuts dude, you gotta look outside every now and then.. there’s an actual world out there just as exciting, just as challenging as these imaginary marvel's you undertake. The house is filling up with etchings. They’re everywhere! We cannot walk in a straight line in the hallway upstairs. What are we gonna do with all these plates? They’re beautiful, but we need to find them a home somewhere. And those acids, you really must open a window. It stinks in here Gio!
He had been sitting in his room around the clock for the past two years. The memory of him playing freely like the rest of his friends had long become remote. A young artist devoted not to paints or frescos, oh no; no, the young Piranesi commits himself to the most painstaking form of artistic expression imaginable.. etchings! At first blush not the method that lends itself to volume. And yet, despite the laborious process, he left behind thousands of plates in all sizes. They combine to form the most phantasmagorical collection of snapshots into antiquity the world has ever seen. Most of his days were devoted to taking road trips far outside Venice, measuring ruins for hours in piedes and braccios under the hot sun. Days spent documenting by campfire, piecing together clues from a world one and half thousand years before. Then returning home to the Floating City with a vast catalog of obscure knowledge, only to disappear to his room for days, but for the occasional meal.
We’ll never know what motivated such feverish exploration of the past. But not just the past. To explore, capture and recreate in what is obviously a fictional, idealized new context. Did he merely wish to reawaken people's imaginations to these powerful artifacts strewn along the countryside? Did he suffer from an excess of compassion for old dead things? What was the object of reaching back through Greco-Roman memory to the origins of Rome, to the classical influences of Greek culture? The stuffed corpus of work offers no simple answers. But it is not just a collection of preservation arguments or nostalgic re-awakenings, it is the harmony of nature and civilization writ large.
He was not alone in his devotion to capriccios (caper, prank, whim, caprice). The tradition had started a hundred years before. Alessandro Salucci’s and Viviano Codazzi’s vedutas were painted depictions set on rediscovering the origins of the city through fantasy. Each time to revivify these sleeping decrepit structures, and plant them like visual memes, back into general consciousness. Whether an etching, oil on canvas or coal scratchings on a cravat, the taproot discovered in each work is the basis of all architectural memory. These recreations are the built world's visual archetypes. The places from whence all this other stuff comes.
The Tomb of the Metelli (shown top left) is a particular oddball. Simultaneously huge, yet small, this resting place for the remains of the Family of Metelli seems like it wants to up and float away when you’re not looking. Piranesi captured its maintenance with whimsical staffage (small human figures). Ruefully, in an inscription at its base, he describes ‘This noble tomb was stripped not only of most of its magnificent ornaments, but still of any other marble that covered it.’ Once the marble was gone, all that remained was brick, mortar and the skeletal remains of the once-noble family. Today you can find the lumpen mass along the side of the Appian Way (shown bottom left). It is a stunning thirty foot tall remnant with no place to be. Consigned to a permanent non-place between the fault lines of civilizations. This sight may make Piranesi pretty sad, it did us.
Just as the capriccios of these Masters allow erstwhile civilizational moments to be passed on through time, often with fantastical juxtaposition, we want to see the Tomb of Metelli take a new journey. Today, the enduring civilizational artifacts are infrastructural in nature. Machines have remade our landscape. Cars have facilitated this peculiar transformation of the places we live. Unlike the Republic of Venice during the early modern period, utility is now the governing principle of civilization. Course of Empire extends through five meditations. Each a small effort to recast the present. And so, a Tomb carrying the remains of a once-noble family, will travel through a world they would consider fantastical beyond comprehension. Is there a better place to continue Piranesi’s obscure fascinations?