Proximate Encounters
Genealogies of the Column

Date:   Spring 2015
Course:  Research Studio
Institution:  UCLA M Arch I
Critic:  Heather Roberge

Through this year long Research Studio, an in-depth study of the column  was undertaken to investigate it's significance as a spatial marker.  In response to extensive research on topologies and spatial arrays, a design project for an Arts and Architecture Library was formulated that explored the column’s capacity for a dual reading.

Trans-historical Genealogy of the Column

In order to distill the formal and conceptual implications of the column, this Research Studio collectively constructed a trans-historical genealogy of the column that included over 200 case-studies spanning 16 historical periods.  Data compiled during the research phase of the project mapped case studies in relation to one another according to historical period, column type, and column array.  The survey of historical periods also included a series of contemporary Japanese projects that the research studio visited with the support of a Charles Moore Traveling Grant.

Following the completion of the data mapping, each student constructed a unique genealogy of the column by connecting the theoretical work of key historical cases to one another in order to formulate a thesis. The thesis text, in turn, laid the conceptual foundation for a design technique each student developed through their proposals for a 75,000 sq ft arts and architecture library.


Research performed in collaboration with: Heather Roberge, Maria Sviridova, Kim Daul, Julie Ehrlich, Jacob Bloom, Yuan Dong, Ji Qu, and Emma Price.


The Column as a Spatial Event at the Villa Savoye

With the arrival of Modernism came a renewed awareness of space and an experimentation with compositional devices that affected its perception. Unburdened by ornament, abstracted architectural elements such as the column became a means by which an architect author was able to shape a distinct spatial experience. As an important structural and compositional device, the column presents itself during this historical period as having the capacity to oscillate between frame and figure—operating as both an entity absorbed in the array and an object.

For the architect Le Corbusier, the piloti in particular became a device by which to carry out a highly scripted spatial agenda.  At the Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier employs the piloti to mark, direct and contain space.  From the exterior of the Villa Savoye, the perception of a regular three-dimensional array is communicated by a series of columns expressed in elevation that hold up a the hovering house volume..  A closer inspection of the plan, however, reveals that out of a total of twenty-five “would-be” columns (a 5 x 5 grid) only two interior columns mark the original three-dimensional array.  Within the building interior Le Corbusier intentionally distorts the structural grid moving or adding columns with the ambition to direct individuals through a highly scripted promenade architectural.

Though the structural grid at the Villa Savoye does not pre-determine specific places in plan it does aid in the identification of spaces. This is made evident in instances where Le Corbusier moves columns off-grid, for example, defining a space occupied by the central ramp or, in an another example, where a column picks up the corner of a stair. Le Corbusier reasserts the figural qualities of the column when he detaches columns from the wall, for example, in the master bedroom and bathroom and again at ground level when two columns foreground the main entrance. 

The column, thus, at the Villa Savoye is presented both as a highly abstract structural entity in service of a spatial array, as well as an object with distinct figural qualities that are made explicit by the way it negotiates locally specific contexts. Le Corbusier calls attention to the column through its placement; more specifically, at the Villa Savoye, the column might be described as presenting itself as set apart, proximate, fused or absorbed in relation to interior elements.


Arts and Architecture Library Design

The column’s capacity for a dual reading—specifically, it's ability to oscillate between a distinct figure and an abstract entity absorbed within the array, informs the this design proposal for a library.  While the columns in the design are identical in profile and arranged in three regular arrays, a number of asymmetrical episodes are, in fact, produced as columns negotiate interior elements in highly specific and local manners.  

Three different gridded arrays set up spatial sequence that allows program to be broken up and disbursed across the site. First, three tight orthogonal 15 ft column arrays are located on the site and define zones for the primary collections, administrative spaces, and vertical circulation. Adjacent, a looser 30 ft perimeter array defines larger flexible meeting areas.  Finally, a third 21 ft array distributed along a diagonal (45 degrees) stitches together the remaining interstitial interior zones.  Here, walls and vertical circulation take full advantage of the free plan and, on the ground floor, form broad sweeping arcs that frame alternating tight and loose spaces. Though columns are rarely removed and do not deviate from the underlying grids, interior elements such as walls, furniture, stairs fluctuate in their proximity to columns allowing for the reading of columns to oscillate between distinct figures or elements absorbed within the array.  

Local asymmetries are also produced as individual columns navigate wall partitions on the lower level and deep beams on the upper mezzanine level of the library. Walls and beams are intentionally offset to one side of the structural grid privileging a reading of the columns to one side of the planar element.  Additional asymmetries are recorded as columns are characteristically pinched, fused, framed or swerved by interior partitions and deep beams as they navigate the arrays.