Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Writing as Architecture

This past Wintersession I co-taught a course called Writing as Architecture with Kevin Crouse (MArch Architecture 2018), in which we set out to examine how writing can be generative act in the process of architectural design. For many designers, writing—whether as notation, expressive verse, coda, or some other form—is a crucial aspect of architectural work. Publishing has always been an important part of architectural culture, too, and in fact now is a particularly exciting moment for writing at RISD, with several new or revived writing projects emerging within Architecture alone.

Our goal was to foster the development of each student’s own voice through reading and writing. We read and discussed major texts grouped into four categories: manifesto, fiction, essay, and dialogue. Students then inhabited each category/style in their own writing, some of which was later compiled in a class zine and performed in a reading at the Old Library.

Writing as Architecture student reading, February 6, 2017, Old Library.

Writing as Architecture student reading, February 6, 2017, Old Library.

Michael Ruffing and Tori Deutch, two graduate students in the class, conducted their dialogue by email, initially because time in class was so limited, and eventually, it seems, because writing turned out to be an especially productive way to talk about writing as architecture. They began by talking about how they arrived in the field, but ended up diverging into matters both closely and distantly related to architecture. As Kevin wrote to me in an email, “The architectural interview is analytical, much like drawing, model making, etc. Yet we interview to have a conversation, which is unique.”

There was no visual component to the course, so the hypothesis that students would use writing in their design processes remains untested. We sensed, however, that the initiation of space to write about, in, and through architecture deepened students’ design work, and we look forward to seeing where such efforts go next.—Zoë Ritts

 

SUBJECT: INTERV-YOU

On Jan 30, 2017 at 4:52 PM,
Michael Ruffing <mruffing@risd.edu> wrote:

Hi Tori

How are you doing? I would like to ask you a few questions about your work—architectural, design, writing, etc.—and to get to know a little more about your perspective. How does that sound?

lmk, Michael

On Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 1:13 PM,
Victoria Deutch <vdeutch@risd.edu> wrote:

hi Michael,

that sounds lovely. i look forward to receiving your questions.

tori

On Feb 1, 2017 at 1:20 PM,
Michael Ruffing <mruffing@risd.edu> wrote:

Excellent.

Before coming to RISD, you studied sustainability at the University of Florida. After your first term of design school, do you view or contextualize your prior studies in a new way?

And... going forward, what influence do you think your prior studies will have on your work here at RISD?

Michael

On Feb 3, 2017 at 12:18 PM,
Victoria Deutch <vdeutch@risd.edu> wrote:

hi michael --

coming from UF and the sustainability studies program to now being at RISD is quite a change. I was mostly dissatisfied with the apparent lack in applied and hands-on aspects of the sustainability studies program (besides a required internship during the final year of the program). i'm most happy with the difference in learning style i've found here at RISD.

i'm grateful about the opportunities i had at UF to learn outside of the classroom - volunteering for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012, volunteering in the local school system, helping start a community garden on campus. Coming of age in the community outside the four corners of UF - namely the city of Gainesville - gave me the opportunity to interact and observe various types of relationships at the community level.

The community-based tools I learned from my program will be the most useful now that i am studying architecture --- i often look back at what i learned from the community of Gainesville and attempt to apply this in my design. I want to frame spaces for people to interact, spaces which flow so naturally users may be unaware of lingering or passing through a designed space.

hope that answers your questions(s). -- tori

On Feb 4, 2017, at 2:34 PM,
Michael Ruffing <mruffing@risd.edu> wrote:

Could you provide an example of something you recall observing in a community in Gainesville—some event, interaction, peculiar pattern of behavior—and what influence that had on a piece of design work you’ve done? Or perhaps the influence it may have on a future work?

As ever, Michael

On Feb 5, 2017 at 11:04 AM,
Victoria Deutch <vdeutch@risd.edu> wrote:

Michael--

I used to do this bike race from Gainesville to the nearest beach in St. Augustine. A local bike shop hosted it and teams of 5 would stretch out across this 80 mile ride from inland yearning for the beach. My friends and I always did it jokingly and wouldn't take it too seriously - (maybe also because we weren't true Roadies and would never win).

This past semester in MODP, when we were asked to choose a ritual we would later use for the rest of our project(s), I picked this race.

I ended up finding an old video of my friends and I racing, and used this to track our movement throughout the race (who was in front blocking the wind, who was in 2nd-5th position?).

I created this notation, which almost reads like music, I've been told:

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 3.14.31 PM.png

And later I used this ritual to design a Space where this ritual could take place. This became the pvd Bike House, where a bike path, bike shop, and bike hostel combine into one Meeting Place.

This project was really fun because having a background in cycling (touring, commuting, racing, mechanic, advocate), made the design that much simpler. I could think back on various experiences I had working in a bike shop vs. touring city to city/state to state by bike vs. getting hosted through a forum for traveling cyclists, and let that influence my design.

Perhaps it was also an exercise on how Memories can affect your decisions of the Future?

Gainesville was the catalyst for me to fall into cycling, and with all the right people + resources -- community -- cycling became part of my lifestyle.

--tori

On Feb 5, 2017, at 3:48 PM,
Michael Ruffing <mruffing@risd.edu> wrote:

Very cool, Tori!

Thanks for sharing that. I think the strongest art and design comes about when the artist/designer is able to engage with personal experiences of their present and past. It’s great that you got to tap into your interest in cycling during your first design studio here at RISD.

On a side note, have you been active with RISD’s student cycling club? If you haven’t and are interested, I could try to put you in touch with some- one on the team.

So, in your last message, I notice that you capitalized the mid-sentence word ‘space,’ and this nicely segues right into the next questions I wanted to ask you about your work. A common thread through your writing work this winter has been a practice of accenting certain words within sentences with this capitalization. What does this accenting mean to you? What do you think this accenting might mean to a reader?

Michael

On Feb 5, 2017 at 5:35 PM,
Victoria Deutch <vdeutch@risd.edu> wrote:

Michael--

I've actually grown away from racing but I have tentative plans to start riding with them in the fall.

On Capitalization: (tldr: trying to imply Bigger significance to a word or idea).

I only just began playing with Capitalization the beginning of this year, so I think my writing in Writing as Architecture* is somewhat of an experiment and Breaking from the traditional writ- ing style I've followed for most of my life.

Currently, I have not discovered oneTruthful understanding of my capitalization, except to imply Bigger significance to a word or idea (much as I have applied bigger significance in the previous sentence toTruthful and Bigger).

Through this process I have become more interested in exploring new styles of writing and deconstructing the Usual sentence: capitalized beginning word followed by a string of coherent thought(s) and capped or Stopped by a period (.)

I'm beginning to see spaces between how we organize and present our Thoughts and Ideas (in the written form), and perhaps this is only a surface level understanding by implying significance with capitalized words (so far).

I first began to notice reinterpretations of writing and rules of writing in the poetry of e.e. cummings. The poem “You are tired (I think)” is my favorite --- it's been hung up in every room I've lived in since high school.

Nobody, Sleep, and Only Flower are capitalized in this poem. I think the capitalization of Nobody is the most successful and provocative. I always stop there and think about Nobody. He also uses punctuation to slow down or quicken the pace of the reader - i think that's incredible.

• • • 

SUBJECT: A SIMPLE DIALOGUE

On Feb 1, 2017, at 2:58 PM,
Victoria Deutch <vdeutch@risd.edu> wrote:

hello Michael!

I would like to ask you a few questions Re: Architecture over the next few days.

what do you think?? i await your response, tori

On Feb 1, 2017, at 9:25 PM,
Michael Ruffing <mruffing@risd.edu> wrote:

Yes, absolutely! I hope I can give interesting responses. :/

Michael

On Feb 2, 2017, at 7:41 PM,
Victoria Deutch <vdeutch@risd.edu> wrote:

Michael --

we talked a bit in person about where we're from and what it's like going to school here in Rhode Island.

coming from a rural area to now studying architecture in a small city, how has your upbringing shaped your perceptions of the built environment, especially at the city scale?

-- tori

On Feb 4, 2017, at 10:47 AM,
Michael Ruffing <mruffing@risd.edu> wrote:

Tori

That’s a really interesting question, and it’s one that I, oddly, have not really thought on before. It’s true I grew up in a very rural area.The nearest neighbors were a good half mile to mile away from my childhood home.The landscape was flat and primarily open crop fields with patches of undisturbed woodlands spotted about.The first city I lived in was Cincinnati, where I was a college student, and I suppose what was most striking to me was the density of humanity that came along with an urban fabric. In the absence of the density of faunal and floral life, that I was used to, came a relative richness in cultural diversity.

I also remember having this gut-level feeling of something like worry about all the pavement and how each building came right up to the next one with hardly any break of hard material. It seemed so foreign to me. It seemed like a sort of virus spreading over the land, choking it. I had a vague worry about all the earth below the paved surfaces that had been blocked off from its natural context.

After having lived in a handful of cities for some years, I would say I still have this underlying sense that the city is somehow hard and lifeless, materially speaking. While walking the brick and concrete sidewalks day after day, I sometimes yearn to feel something softer under foot.

On Feb 5, 2017, at 10:37 AM,
Victoria Deutch <vdeutch@risd.edu> wrote:

Michael--

I loved your descriptions. They seem so vivid to me, almost as if I can look closer at all this

concrete jungle around us and wonder how the land is. I can relate to your experience moving into bigger cities as well - once I moved to Providence I realized how much Nature I was fortunate enough to have access to in and around Gainesville - all the parks, farms, springs, really just a patch of grass to kick my shoes off and sit on for a while under some oak trees.

I wonder if it has to be these extremes, though. Can cities still provide access to Nature? I wonder if there is something Design can do better - if architects and landscape architects work together to create spaces that are not just concrete or just a grassy place to sit.

what do you think?? --tori

On Feb 5, 2017, at 11:56 AM,
Michael Ruffing <mruffing@risd.edu> wrote:

I think the easy answer is to say yes, that there can be a designed solution to the polarization
of natural space versus hard/built space, but the more difficult answer—and the more pragmatic, in my opinion—is to say that the solution is very complex and entails the engagement of disciplines far wider than just designers.

Why is there so much pavement in cities? I would say it’s to provide a durable substrate for high density, multi-mode transportation systems. Why is there not more green space in urban centers?

I would argue that it’s because the land of urban centers is invariably of very high value, and, in
a loosely-regulated capitalistic economy, this high-valued land will always be used to yield profit potentials.Trees, unfortunately, do not grow money. As society builds frameworks of transportation, economy, etc. within which to operate, these frameworks build inertia, and it becomes more and more difficult to go against the current.

Michael

On Feb 5, 2017, at 9:53 PM,
Victoria Deutch <vdeutch@risd.edu> wrote:

Michael--

I agree. People of various disciplines become accustomed to their own distinct ways of thinking; collaboration between a wide number of fields would best be able to approach this Conversation.

This is leading away a bit from our current topic, however:

We had spoken in person a bit about your growing interest in linguistics and cognitive science, and you also wrote a piece for our class + the publication about language and use of language. How has this interest grown and what are your plans to pursue this field? How is this related/ unrelated to your studies in architecture since undergrad?

--tori

On Feb 6, 2017, at 9:24 AM,
Michael Ruffing <mruffing@risd.edu> wrote:

Good morning Tori

Yes, so I have sort of been haphazardly nurturing this interest between linguistics and cognitive science for some years now. It all started when I was in college. In addition to my architecture

degree, I obtained a minor in anthropology, and, of the anthropology courses I took, I was most drawn to those on linguistics and language. By the time I was applying to graduate schools, my interest in this realm had began to crystalize around the study of consciousness and of how meaning is constructed. I chose to come to RISD in part due to its partnership with Brown University, and I have been taking elective coursework within the Cognitive, Linguistics, and Psychological Sciences Department at Brown over the past few years.

I have been trying to figure out how I should further pursue this interest, but the truth is that I am still not sure.There is so much inertia behind my pursuit of practicing architecture, and it’s daunt- ing to imagine starting over at the bottom of a field. Another reason for my indecision is that, currently, my interest really does span a large range of topics. I rather enjoy the freedom of un- institutionalized study, at my own pace, moving from topic to topic as I see fit—an intellectual dérive, if you will.

Personally, I do not have any desire for my stud- ies in consciousness to be related to my design work. As of now, the way I study consciousness simply has no application in design. I suspect many would love to argue against me on that, immediately appealing to some point regarding phenomenology in architecture. I find this to be a rather shallow application of what there is to be gained by understanding consciousness.

Any artist or designer is invariably bringing their unique perspective to the work, whether intentional or not.

Michael

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