In a lot of ways, the study of architecture is the study of the most ancient manifestations of human culture. Architecture’s knack for encapsulating fashion, design, and other creative trends stems largely from its need to stay relevant. When formal education systems first began, the typology of the school had to be invented. Similarly, the desire for organized healthcare systems created a need for the typology of the hospital. As society progresses and its values change, architecture adapts to these changes. For the purpose of scalability, these adaptations become typologies. Over time, these types become outdated, fall into disuse, and risk becoming extinct — all dependent on how society chooses to reframe its desires.
Volume64, an online design platform created by a group of grad students, is pushing the boundaries of different typologies while critiquing the desires of society that architecture normally acquiesces to. Who better to spearhead this initiative than future architects, who will soon be asked (if they have not been already) to reimagine architecture in lieu of this disruptive moment in history.
A crowdsourced effort between several academic institutions, Volume64 is comprised of students from the Bartlett School of Architecture, Architectural Association (AA), Edinburgh School of Architecture, and even a few students from other countries. Together, they strive to better understand architecture through three dimensional drawings, each one a form of cubic criticism of design and culture. Each proposal falls somewhere between homework for architecture school and a personal journey to educate oneself, without the pressures of academia and professional practice hovering over them.
Each cube represents a 64-cubic-meter space, regardless of its being interior, exterior, real, or abstract. The cube drawings are modular yet radical. Students experiment with animated GIFs, collages, and graphic designs. The exercise is part three-dimensional drawing, part conceptual diagram, but it should always reframe architectural and cultural notions of specific typologies. Together, the students have already produced over 70 drawings. As of May 2018, they have also worked on 11 briefs, challenging the concept of common spaces like vestibules and libraries.
The group’s “Restaurant in a Church” brief explored the relationship between food and religion. As it is, events like the Last Supper and the practice of communion already show how important the notion of eating together can be to religion. One group of students conceived of a restaurant for the hearing impaired in the steeple of a church, where patrons would be able to feel the vibration of the bell without being hurt by the immense sound of its ring.
Another student came up with a cube filled with vegetation to represent the concept of urban farming. As a counterbalance to traditional farms outside major cities becoming part of the urban sprawl, the idea of bringing the farm to the city (though not a new one) is seen as something that could be done on such a large scale that it could eventually become ubiquitous.
The issues of consumerism and visual clutter in urban centers are explored by “Substation,” a proposal by a student from the AA. More specifically, the proposal challenges the idea of infrastructure as something that has to be hidden and proposes the use of advertising to make it more visible. The idea here is that urbanites would rather look at ads than blank industrial walls.
“The Traveling Studio” pushes the concept of work being more fluid and telecommunicated than it has been in the past, putting the workspace inside a moving train. Since the process of an artist’s work is often hidden from the public, only the complete work is seen. With a traveling studio, however, the public would be able to see the work as the artist moves from city to city, inspiring onlookers with its constantly changing context.
The loss of the present is explored through the “Waiting Room,” a place where presence is always mediated by technology. More specifically, the proposal questions the practice of checking in with social media and engaging with technology instead of appreciating the present. A meal can still be enjoyed without broadcasting your experience on social media, and a sunset can still look awesome when observed with the naked eye rather than a camera lens.
Even though Volume64 is mostly a lark, it is still a cubic criticism of topics such as the influence of technology, media, and mass consumption on our lives. The site’s proposals challenge the meaning of spaces and raise questions. What is an office in a world where work can be done from anywhere? What is a school in a world of online learning? Such questions force us to both reconsider society’s constant need for more and get creative with spaces that already exist in a sustainable way.