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ON PAPER // Reciprocity between Architecture and Environment

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This paper outlines and discusses a number of pedagogical strategies developed for a recent First Year Introductory Design Studio at Cornell University's Department of Architecture. The global climate and resource crises are calling for paradigm shifts in the way we design, build, and manage our physical environment. Importantly, those paradigm shifts also fundamentally challenge the way we teach architecture. The studio aimed to introduce students to the issues, elements, processes and interdependencies of both sustainability (environment, climate, politics) and architectural design (geometry, materiality, form, structure). A total of five assignments and their results are presented in this paper, historically contextualized, and pedagogically analyzed. Each of the exercises incrementally introduced new architectural concepts related to environment, body, material, culture, landscape, spatial tectonics, and representation. As the semester progressed, project narratives were layered, expanding a student's understanding of architecture as a complex and playful set of abstracted, reciprocal-geometric, proportional, formal, performative, constructed and natural-relationships.
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2021 ACSA/EAAE Teachers Conference: Curriculum for Climate Agency: Design (in)Acon 1
Keywords: pedagogy, first-year architectural design,
environment, abstracon, paper
This paper outlines and discusses a number of pedagogi-
cal strategies developed for a recent First Year Introductory
Design Studio at Cornell University’s Department of
Architecture. The global climate and resource crises are
calling for paradigm shis in the way we design, build,
and manage our physical environment. Importantly, those
paradigm shis also fundamentally challenge the way we
teach architecture. The studio aimed to introduce students
to the issues, elements, processes and interdependencies
of both sustainability (environment, climate, polics) and
architectural design (geometry, materiality, form, structure).
A total of ve assignments and their results are presented
in this paper, historically contextualized, and pedagogically
analyzed. Each of the exercises incrementally introduced
new architectural concepts related to environment, body,
material, culture, landscape, spaal tectonics, and represen-
taon. As the semester progressed, project narraves were
layered, expanding a student’s understanding of architecture
as a complex and playful set of abstracted, reciprocal – geo-
metric, proporonal, formal, performave, constructed and
natural – relaonships.
INTRODUCTION
The global climate and resource crises are calling for paradigm
shis in the way we design, build, and manage our physical
environment [1, 2]. Importantly, those paradigm shis also
fundamentally challenge the way we teach architecture. This
paper outlines and discusses a number of novel pedagogical
strategies developed for the Fall 2020 First Year Design Studio
at the Department of Architecture at Cornell University, aim-
ing to introduce students to the fundamental issues, elements,
processes and interdependencies of both sustainability (envi-
ronment, climate, polics) and architectural design (geometry,
materiality, form, structure).
The studio ON PAPER // On the Reciprocity of Bodies and
Spaces, the Intangible and the In-Between [3] aimed to chal-
lenge our understanding of paper, engaging it both in theory
and pracce, as medium and material, as mediator and actor.
Throughout the semester, paper created the foundaon and
constuted the common thread which we used to dissect
architecture, pedagogy, and spaal exploraon while train-
ing the skills, methods and tools of the discipline. In this
context, paper can be understood as a praccal and widely
available resource that is easy to manipulate with basic tools,
either at home or at school, which constuted an essenal
logiscal requirement in Fall 2020 during the global COVID-19
pandemic [4].
ON PA PER
Paper is both representaonal and representaon, something
it has in common with architecture. On the one hand, paper
can be understood as a blank medium and neutral receptacle
for ideas. On the other hand, however, paper itself is indubi-
tably also a material with unique properes and not nearly as
neutral or characterless as one might assume at rst glance.
In addion, paper has the ability to capture and develop an
idea, as well as visualize it to a broader audience: in wring,
in drawing, or in prinng. While paper is oen merely the tool
or plaorm, it is yet never neutral. As such, paper is inherently
programmable – both physically and theorecally – and can
carry enormous spaal agency and cultural relevance.
Naturally, one may assume that architecture has a long history
of engagement with paper as the material provides an ideal
medium to draw or theorize upon [5]. However, what we sll
regard today as the natural occupaon of an ‘architect’ – the
act of making drawings on paper – is in fact a fairly recent
invenon. Before the Renaissance, the architect was a master
builder, a crasperson guiding the on-site construcon of proj-
ects in collaboraon with stone masons or carpenters. Since
then – in theory, an architect is a person who creates drawings
of projects on paper, which someone else would build. Today’s
architect however is more than that: Through the emergence
of new technologies and material exploraons – far exceeding
the shi from physical to digital paper – as well as a growing
social and environmental awareness, our understanding and
the role of an architect is beginning to shi yet again [6, 7].
Paper as a medium and vessel for abstract architectural
exploraon plays a historically signicant role in modernist
architectural pedagogy and the beginning of this studio fol-
lowed its modernist predecessors. The rst series of exercises
loosely borrowed and appropriated pedagogical strategies
developed by Josef Albers in his Vorkurs at the Bauhaus [8],
ON PAPER // Reciprocity between Architecture and Environment
FELIX HEISEL
Circular Construcon Lab, Cornell AAP, Cornell University
SASA ZIVKOVIC
Roboc Construcon Lab, Cornell AAP, Cornell University
2ON PAPER // Reciprocity between Architecture and Environment
which themselves are based on the work of Friedrich Fröbel [9]
and Japanese Origami tradions [10]. However, the exercises
aimed to drascally augment abstract-geometric and ana-
lycal “Bauhausian” invesgaons and digital paper-folding
exploraons [11] by imbuing assignments with new crical nar-
raves about the environment and its phenomena for creave
exploraon and analycal reecon. Later exercises drama-
cally challenged paper as a physical building material, asking
students to reinvent paper and its material characteriscs
from the ground up. The nal exercises of the studio focused
on paper as a medium for abstracted architectural represen-
taon and translaon of design ideas. Together, those three
main paper methodologies formed a collecve repertoire of
crical tools and design strategies which oer students a wide
range of conceptual approaches for future design exploraon.
ON RECIPROCITY
We prefer to think of architecture as a reciprocal system of
ANDs …. and of layered narraves. Reciprocity is “the quality
or state of being reciprocal”, in other words being of “mutual
dependence, acon, or inuence [12]. As a concept, reciproc-
ity is of great importance to the studio, architecture in general,
and the way we act and interact with society and our environ-
ment. One interesng aspect about reciprocity is its constantly
implied simultaneity. Mutual dependence is dened not by
linear relaonships (rst this, then that) but by simultaneous
relaonships (this/that and – at the same me: that/this). The
tle of the studio speaks about the reciprocity of Bodies and
Spaces, the Intangible and the In-Between. Architecture lives
through its reciprocity with intangibles and the in-between. A
material comes to life through light and shade. Its interacon
with energies and the forces of nature creates pana, gradi-
ents and readability. Built thresholds such as walls, windows,
doors, screens or building skins comprise a zone where dier-
ent spaal, environmental, thermal, or polical systems collide
and interact. These in-betweens oen exhibit specic spaal
qualies and properes – they can be thick or thin, massive or
light, porous or closed, transparent or opaque.
During the semester, each student chose two postcards ran-
domly: the rst, an Intangible (Wind, Scent, Cold, Heat, Sound,
Shade, Light or Vapor), the second a Tangible (Smooth, Viscous,
Spongy, Fluy, Granular, Thorny, Cracked or Rough). The stu-
dents were encouraged to use these terms as both inspiraon
and client, while working towards posive and benecial archi-
tectural soluons of ltraon, mediaon and reciprocity.
STUDIO STRUCTURE
The structure of the semester addressed bodies, spaces,
intangibles and the in-between through 5 assignments in
changing combinaons and on various scales. As the semes-
ter progressed, project narraves were layered, expanding
a student’s understanding of architecture as a complex set
of abstracted, reciprocal relaonships. Incrementally, each
Figure 1. Screenshot of the studio tumblr page displaying the assignment structure and student work of Assignment 1
2021 ACSA/EAAE Teachers Conference: Curriculum for Climate Agency: Design (in)Acon 3
exercise introduced new architectural concepts related to
environment, body, material, culture, landscape, spaal tec-
tonics, and representaon – developing from a cut and folded
piece of paper that engages an environmental condion to an
architectural-scale spaal intervenon in the nal exercise. In
addion, the exercises are designed to incrementally develop
skills in model building and drawing representaon.
INTANGIBLE_SURFACE
Assignment 1 playfully introduced the noon of environment
and performance: ulizing origami and kirigami techniques,
students manipulated a planar sheet of paper into a complex
and performave surface. Kirigami constutes a variaon
of the more well-known Japanese Origami (from ori “fold-
ing”, and kami “paper”) which was rst documented in the
Edo Period (1603–1867) [10]. In contrast to origami, kirigami
allows the cung and folding of a single piece of paper to cre-
ate spaal objects. The addion of environmental forces in
the form of the intangibles introduced new design objecves
that address environmental performance. The goal was to
manipulate the surface of a piece of paper in order to react,
enforce, block, shield, direct, control, augment, enhance, or
confuse the intangible. Restricted by the size and properes
of the sheet of paper, the nal projects resulted in “thick”
2- dime nsi o nal sur faces with di s nct pa ern s and ge omet r ies.
The surfaces generated unique spaal qualies and were
abstractly linked to environmental parameters as predeter-
mined by the intangibles. Pedagogically, this assignment also
served as a general introducon to drawing and model mak-
ing. Students were encouraged to draw on their paper before
folding it, creang hybrid representaons between model and
drawing, while connuously improving skills and cra through
a series of iterave studies. Figure 1 shows exemplary student
work produced during Assignment 1.
DISTANCE_IN-BETWEEN
Assignment 2 asked students to analyze, draw and construct
the negave spaces in between human bodies, and to study
the inuence of intangibles on these bodies and spaces.
Students from the Cornell Department of Performing and
Media Arts presented a socially distanced dance performance
– specically rehearsed for the design brief of this exercise (see
Figure 2). Ad mie dly, dan cing with a pa r t ner, while 6 apa r t , is
somewhat new and possibly awkward. However, seen from an
architectural viewpoint, it allowed for a new perspecve – not
of the dancers, but of the space in-bet ween.
During the performance, the students were asked to carefully
study the space that is created between the bodies of the
dancers. Based on their analysis, students abstracted two-
dimensional studies into a three-dimensional form, aiming to
characterize the constantly moving space through specic or
characterisc instances, and merging these characterisc ele-
ments into a new representave spaal form.
In a second step, students were asked to involve their intan-
gibles into the study of the in-between space. While it might
have seemed hard to actually ‘see’ the Intangible, it yet existed
and had an impact on the performance. Quesons asked
included: How do you represent and imagine the intangible in
a se ries of qui c k draw ings? Ca n you dr aw the in-bet ween spa ce
through observing the intangible only? How might the intangi-
ble and the in -between spa ce engage in a danc e of their own?
The assignment expanded the student’s skill set from creang
a hybrid model-drawing representaon to a fully 3-dimen-
sional folded paper model that is informed by observaonal
sketches. In this exercise, drawing and model operated side
by side, informing each other reciprocally on a conceptual
Figure 2. Aerial shot and close up of the dance performance on the Cornell Ar ts Quad following social distancing regulaons.
Image Credit: Sasa Zivkovic, Felix Heisel
4ON PAPER // Reciprocity between Architecture and Environment
level and more directly on a praccal level as the drawing also
served as a fabricaon template and diagram for the paper
model that could be unrolled into a at sheet.
MATERIAL_BODY
During the rst four weeks of the semester we treated paper
politely. Too politely! In the rst two assignments, students
designed with paper. Assignment 03 asked our students to
design the paper itself. The goal of this exercise was to move
material out of its “comfort zone” and, through rigorous exper-
imentaon, develop a material system in its own right. The
assignment argued for material as an acve parcipant in the
design process: materials are perpetually invented, designed,
re-designed, fabricated, or augmented, challenging the very
nature of the material, its structural and chemical composi-
on, economic business models and most oen aesthecs.
Pedagogically, the instructors aimed to stress that very few
things are ever a given or unchangeable. Materials can be
invented, re-invented, and fundamentally challenged in any
architectural project.
Based on assigned hapc qualies (Tangibles: uy, spongy,
rough, cracked, thorny, granular, smooth, viscous), students
were asked to manipulate the materiality of paper and its
composion of maer with the goal to invesgate, react to,
and enforce the many physical and aesthec qualies paper
might have. The resulng paper-based material systems
created playful dialogues between performance, geom-
etry, propor on, material, structure, and design concept.
Students dissected paper from the ground up, studying ber
composion, paper assembly, and various materially-informed
joinery methods. Figure 3 shows representave student work
from Assignment 3.
BODY_APPLICATION
The material systems from Assignment 3 were then trans-
lated into applicaons that interact with the body and the
Intangibles in Assignment 4. Students used their material
system as a starng point to design a wearable device that
mediates, lters, augments, controls, and/or protects from
their intangible. While all previous exploraons were devoid
of context, this assignment introduced the human body as site
and context, and as an important actor to the design process.
The parcular pairings of tangible and intangible naturally and
conceptually aected this site selecon process. The device
had to be an object made from paper, and display performa-
ve and/ or reacve qualies to the body’s movement.
Humans have been augmenng their bodies to mediate
the eect of their environments since the very beginning of
human development – from performave clothing to cer-
emonial wardrobes. Students were introduced to a range
of precedents that illustrate the spaal and environmental
relaonship between clothing and bodies. For example, cloth-
ing might help to prevent the body from losing or gaining too
much heat, to protect it from rain or wind, impact or view. A
walking sck might help with balancing its weight, or extend
its reach. Medical improvements in the past centuries have
allowed humans to replace or augment elements of our bodies,
react to and/ or communicate with technological applicaons.
Figure 3: Representave student work from Assignment 3.
Image Credit: Ann Ren, Ziyan Jiang, Landon Hale, Omar Leon-Mora, Jonah Ginsburg.
2021 ACSA/EAAE Teachers Conference: Curriculum for Climate Agency: Design (in)Acon 5
Some of these augmentaons are purely praccal while oth-
ers constute a form of cultural expression. Ceremonial masks
and ceremonial clothing, for example, are used in a variety
of contexts to convey ritual narraves and dene cultural
identy. The assignment however specically asked for a
device or a performave applicaon based on a reciprocal
relaonship between body and Intangible. Students rst ana-
lyzed their paper system and intangible/ tangible in order to
help determine its best placement in the context of a body.
Through a series of iterave studies, students developed a
wide range of conceptual approaches towards interacons
between material system, “site”, and spaal expression of
environmental performance. Figure 4 displays representave
student work from Assignment 4.
INTANGIBLE_SPACE_IN-BETWEEN
In the nal assignment, students were asked to design a small
shelter, providing protecon from or augmenng their
intangible for a maximum of three people. It was not a home or
house, nor did it not provide amenies or supplies. The small
shelter was to be a direct derivave of earlier exploraons and
design research. Assignment 5 aimed to combine the lessons
from the semester spaally, structurally, and systemacally.
The resulng shelter designs create abstracted connecons
to the environment, expressed through geometry, material
arculaon, and spaal conguraon. The architecture aims
to communicate its conceptual intent formally and spaally,
arculang connecons to the intangible forces that shape
our environment as well as our human intervenons. The
projects explored spaal ordering systems based on emer-
gent behaviors and oen chose to amplify environmental
condions such as wind, light, or sound. Through abstracon,
the projects aimed to develop a crical atude or argument
towards reciprocal relaonships between architecture and
the environment. Figure 5 shows representave student work
from Assignment 5.
ON DESIGN EDUCATION
The global climate and resource crises are calling for paradigm
shis in the way we design, build, and manage our physical
environment. These shis require us to develop a new under-
standing of the issues, elements and processes of both
intangibles (environment, climate, polics) and in-betweens
(materiality, connecons) in connecons to body, space and
architecture. They require a benecial reciprocity of all these
aspec ts, today and over me - and the rst year curriculum is,
in our opinion, just the right moment to begin the conversaon
about these complexies of the discipline.
Figure 4: Representave student work from Assignment 4.
Image credit: Idil Derman, Jack Mieszkalski, Isabella Beencour t, Dana Zou , Ella Brindle, Susan Cook, Jessica Kim
6ON PAPER // Reciprocity between Architecture and Environment
The described 5 assignments incrementally introduced new
architectural concepts related to environment, body, material,
culture, landscape, spaal tectonics, and representaon. As
the semester progressed, the project narraves were layered
and expanded our students’ understanding of architecture
as a complex and playful set of abstracted, reciprocal – geo-
metric, proporonal, formal, performave, constructed and
natural – relaonships.
For our students, this rst semester represented the begin-
ning of a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture curriculum at
Cornell University that will gradually broaden opportunies
to explore architecture’s myriad bodies, spaces, intangibles
and in-betweens. We hope that the described approach
establishes the necessary conceptual tools and foundaons
for our students to engage deep-rooted and holisc quesons
of architectural sustainability through the lens of design, by
enco ura ging curiosi t y, observaon, cr ic ism and the formula-
on of quesons through architectural design methodologies.
And we hope that the studio laid the technical and conceptual
foundaon to act upon architecture as a complex and expres-
sive interplay of broad mechanisms and environmental forces.
Figure 5: Representave student work of Assignment 5. Image Credit: Ziyan Jiang.
ENDNOTES
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Stuga rt, Ger many: Fra unhofe r IRB Ve rla g, 2021
2. Circular Construcon Lab, 2021. hp://ccl.aap.cornell.edu.
3. Heisel, Felix, Isabel Branas, Iris Xiaoxue Ma and Sas a Zivkovi c. On Paper:
PL ATE B1 _20 f. Ithaca: Cornell University, 2021. hps://aap.cornell.edu/
plate-publicaon.
4. Nec essita ted by the p andemi c, th e Fall 2020 d esign st udio was cond ucted in a
hybrid f orm at both in -pers on in Itha ca, N Y and remo tel y fro m the resp ecve
home oces of our student’s around the glo be. Thanks to our reso urceful and
pas sio nate teac hing ass ociate s for maki ng th is forma t wor k so su ccessful ly
and en thusiasc ally: El ias Benn e, Isa Br anas, Oo nagh Dav is, Iris X iaoxue M a,
and Todd Petrie.
5. Carpo, Mar io. Architecture in the age of prinng: orali ty, wring, typog ra-
phy, and printed ima ges in the history of archi tectural theory. Cambridge:
MIT Press , 2001.
6. Car po, Mari o (ed.) . The digi tal turn in architecture 19 92-2012. New Yo rk: John
Wil ey & So ns, 2013.
7. Carpo, Mar io. The second digital turn: design beyond intelligence. Cambridge:
MIT Pres s, 2017.
8. Fos ter, Hal, Tere nce A. Se nter, Hau la Mo hol y-Nag y, Nichol as Fox Webe r, and
Michael White. Al bers and Moholy-N agy: From the Bauhaus to the New Wor ld.
New Ha ven: Yale Un iversi ty Pres s, 2006 .
9. Froebel, Friedrich. “Pedagogics of the Kindergarten”. In: Internaonal
Educaon Serie s. Volume XXX . Edited by William T. Harris, 1899.
10. Hato ri, Kosh iro. “Histo ry of Ori gami in th e Eas t and the Wes t before
Interfusion.” In Origami 5, 2011.
11. Greg Lynn (ed.). AD: Fol ding in architecture ( Vol. 102). Academy
Edions Limited, 1993.
12. Mer ria m-Webst er.com Dico nary, s.v. “r ecipro city,” ac cesse d Aug ust 7, 2021,
hps://www.merriam-webster.com/diconary/reciprocity.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Book
Full-text available
Wie können wir zukünftige Bauaufgaben sozial, ökonomisch und ökologisch bewältigen, um unserer gesellschaftlichen Verantwortung gerecht zu werden? Dieser wichtigen Frage widmet sich dieser Leitfaden. Dem linearen Wirtschaftsmodell und damit der Vernichtung von Ressourcen steht die Idee geschlossener Stoffkreisläufe, neuartig konzipierter Konstruktionen und (Rück-) Bautechnologien sowie innovativer, kreislauforientierter Geschäftsmodelle entgegen. Die gebaute Umwelt muss als Materiallager verstanden und für die einfache Entnahme von Baumaterialien geplant werden. Internationale Experten beleuchten aus ganz unterschiedlichen Blickwinkeln und anhand zukunftsweisender Projektbeispiele, wie den Herausforderungen einer Kreislaufwirtschaft mit ganz neuen methodischen Ansätzen begegnet werden kann. Eine Sammlung ausgewählter Materialbeispiele zeigt die besondere Ästhetik und Wertigkeit von wiederverwendeten und -verwerteten Baustoffen und Bauteilen. Der Einstieg in eine vollständige Kreislaufwirtschaft muss zum zentralen und gemeinsamen Ziel unserer Gesellschaft werden. Dieses Buch zeigt mögliche Wege zu einer kreislaufgerechten Bauwirtschaft auf.
On Paper: PLATE B1_20f
  • Felix Heisel
  • Isabel Branas
  • Iris Xiaoxue Ma
  • Sasa Zivkovic
Heisel, Felix, Isabel Branas, Iris Xiaoxue Ma and Sasa Zivkovic. On Paper: PLATE B1_20f. Ithaca: Cornell University, 2021. https://aap.cornell.edu/ plate-publication.
The digital turn in architecture 1992-2012
  • Mario Carpo
Carpo, Mario (ed.). The digital turn in architecture 1992-2012. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
Pedagogics of the Kindergarten
  • Friedrich Froebel
Froebel, Friedrich. "Pedagogics of the Kindergarten". In: International Education Series. Volume XXX. Edited by William T. Harris, 1899.
com Dictionary, s.v. "reciprocity
  • Merriam-Webster
Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. "reciprocity," accessed August 7, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reciprocity.