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Seeing Space Design Seminar Syllabus

"Seeing Space" Class #1 | Seeing space as memory

Some of the most powerful, yet some of the most deeply hidden, archetypal ideas for space that we each own are in memory, particularly early childhood memories. These memories can be seen as mental constructs, spaces that often come highly detailed with many sensory aspects (color, light, smell, sound, etc.) Perhaps they continue to influence how you see and think about space as an adult. Consider a memory as a saved moment of personal and original perception (sensory memory space) or a saved idea of symbolic importance (conceptual memory space).


Search for strong and important memories of place from your childhood. Go back in time as far as you can. Search for another memory of place from the last four years. Perhaps they are strongly related or not at all. Make a three dimensional model, drawing or movie of each memory focusing on all the richness that each memory evokes as well as how the two memories are connected, similar or different, consistent or unique.

Class #2 | Seeing space in two and three dimensions: shape and volume

  • A definition for ‘space/object’ = space is ‘stuff’ and has materiality and density even though it is a little less dense than most objects that reside in space.
  • Adjacencies: definition of adjacent = nearby, having a common endpoint or border, immediately preceding or following.
  • Juxtapostions: definition of juxtapose = to place side by side, also unexpected combinations of colors, shapes and ideas.
  • Two and three-dimensional space can be defined and revealed by edge alone with no information about what is contained within the edges.
  • What makes an edge; does it even exist in a specific sense? Are there actually lines in the universe?
  • Edge can be seen as a boundary which is defined as: a ‘fixed’ limit or extent.
  • The coastline of England is infinitely long.
  • Where and in what ways does one thing end and another begin?
  • Edge as a zone where one finds a gradual change of color, light, reflectivity, texture, shadow, clarity, density, etc.
  • Edge conditions change as adjacencies and juxtapositions change; a red space/object by itself, a red space/object next to a blue one, a blue space/object against a blue or red background.
  • Consider the tyranny of orthogonals and the box
  • Two and three-dimensional spaces can be dramatically defined by changes in size, shape and scale from adjacent spaces.
  • Positive and negative space and background and foreground as revealing edges.
  • How to get something for nothing: the ‘free’ space/object between two space/objects.
  • Balance: it does not depend on equality, mirror symmetry or similarity (Monet’s red dots).
  • Class exercise: a scavenger hunt for edges, adjacencies and juxtapositions within the architectural school.


Create a three dimensional space/object with a 20’ dimension in at least two directions. Make the space/object as distinct and defined as possible, but with edges and boundaries as indistinct and implied as possible. You may use adjacencies and juxtapositions with other space/objects for some or all of your edge conditions. Any medium for the presentation is OK.

Class #3 | Seeing space and the fourth dimension; choreographing space as movement in time

  • The speed of light and the universe: looking into the past; seeing the edge of the universe, or not; other interesting thoughts about light and space and time.
  • Entropy: buildings are always falling down; the precarious state of the gardens of Versailles; the college pathway system; other thoughts about order, chaos and time.
  • Architectural drawings are for flatlanders. Do these 2D diagrams ever really adequately describe 3D space?
  • Burma Shave signs, midwestern cornfields and the passing automobile: concept and order revealed in time
  • Does 3D space (volume) even exist without the component of time? If your eye was perfectly still at its particular height above the ground plane and you looked in one direction only, would 3D space be revealed?
  • Buildings can be considered to be static forms of choreography, often allowing minimal freedom of movement. Consider the Berlin Holocaust Memorial as a good example of this.
  • When an empty site evolves into a building (with parking lot), consider the new control on that site over the movement of pedestrians, cars, sun, water, wind and other climatic effects, etc.
  • Buildings shape and organize horizontal and vertical movement, and as they do they force and/or allow a changing perspective on all surfaces.
  • Consider a “moment” as a 1) perception of space in a 2) given interval of time while moving at a 3) given speed. That moment can be a design motif. String the moments together is a certain way and you have a complete spatial composition or choreography. If the moments are fractals of the complete composition, then the design is holistic in terms of time.
  • Making a notional diagrammatic system of moments as the “drawing” for choreographing architecture.
  • Referencing these ideas to music.


Create your own personal notational system. Use that system to 1) re-choreograph the main architectural school axis according to your own vision or 2) choreograph a part or all of your thesis project. Then, using any medium or format you wish, present a version of the physical design that your choreography diagrammatically describes.

Class #4 | Seeing space as color

  • Color as a form of electromagnetic waves and color as a specific wave length.
  • Color as a result of absorption and or reflection
  • The visible spectrum: the visible light component from violet to red falls between a wide range of invisible radiation.
  • How the eye receives color: the retina and its cones and rods
  • Basic characteristics of color: hue, lightness or value and chroma.
  • Primary colors and secondary or complimentary colors in pigment and light.
  • Color by subtraction in pigment and color by addition in light.
  • Within a given color pigment, the aspects of shade, tint and tone.
  • Color and its relationship to constructed shapes and volume: inherent color, applied color and reflected color (light).
  • The problem of color as shape
  • Color as volume and space.


Select one color, being as specific as you can about hue, lightness and chroma. Create a color board of at least 12 examples of the color you have chosen from different places – in the architectural school, the town or anywhere else. Consider and note whether the color is inherent to a material or reflected as light. Consider aspects of shade, tint and tone. Consider whether the color is bound to shape or creates its own space.

Using just one or several aspects of the color you have researched: Create a design for a space approximately 20 feet in each direction - to scale with a scale representation of yourself in the design. The space can have a specific function if you choose. This space must be defined exclusively by color, no matter what materials are used. Complimentary or secondary color(s) can be used to enhance the effectiveness of your chosen color.

Class #5 | Seeing space as light

  • We really began our discussion of light last week in class #4. Color is a limited range of frequencies within the broad electromagnetic spectrum. That range from red to violet is visible light, that which humans have evolved to see.
  • All light comes from atoms. Discuss how atoms become excited and give off light at various frequencies (color)
  • Brief discussion of light as wave and as particle, the photon as a quantum of light
  • Light in our solar system, how the sun and the earth interact through light.
  • Reflection, refraction and absorption.
  • Transparency, translucency, opacity.
  • Solar light and electrical light.
  • Light as the big metaphor, especially when contrasted with the dark.
  • The psycho-dynamics of light and dark.
  • 3D Volume and 2D shape as revealed in light.


We will restrict this assignment to white light. Do a reconnaissance of light similar to the one in the assignment on color. Record 12 (min) examples of white light, either of various qualities and types of light or all of the same quality and type. Again, similar to last week’s assignment, design a space with a 20 foot defining dimension, that is composed solely of white light, using the results of your reconnaissance. Consider the juxtapositions of dark, the nature of edge conditions and movement in time as you articulate your space.

Class #6 | Seeing space as touch and texture

  • The cutaneous senses: touch, warmth, cold and pain
  • How we experience our environment in terms of touch
  • Conduction, convection and radiation
  • How touch and texture are different
  • Definition of texture includes: “disposition or manner of union of the particles of a substance” and “basic scheme or structure”
  • Touch and Texture as metaphor
  • Touch, Texture and scale in 2D (shape and surface) and 3D (volume)
  • The fractal approach to touch and texture.
  • Choreographing touch and texture in 4D (3D space + time).
  • Relating touch and texture to all the topics discussed to date.


You have two choices for this assignment: 1) Create a textural/touch installation somewhere in the architectural school. This would be a full scale experience and you can work solo or in teams of two. 2) Create a model, drawing, video, etc of a space with a 20 foot controlling dimension that is defined by touch and texture. Consider all topics discussed to date in your solution and feature one specific quality.

Class #7 | Seeing space as sound

  • Sound Waves: vibration, condensation and rarefaction in a medium; speed in air is 1,116’/sec related to density and compressibility of medium. No sound in outer space.
  • Frequency in Hertz, wavelength and pitch (highness and lowness of sound)
  • Intensity (amplitude), loudness and timbre
  • The Doppler effect; its apparent relation to pitch.
  • Reflection, refraction, diffraction of sound waves
  • Intensity of sound and decibels
  • Acoustics and reverberations and reverberation time; resonance and standing waves.
  • The ear and how the brain registers sound
  • Sound space as the arrangement and shape of single and multiple sounds
  • Sound space as revealed in time
  • 3D spaces (and buildings) as musical instruments. When a person experiences a 3D space (or building) music results.
  • Just as one can choreograph space and a building creates a dance, one can musically compose a space and a building creates a musical performance.


You have three choices for this assignment: 1) Create a musical composition complete with “sheet music” of a 3D space. Consider the texture of the experience, the edge conditions, beginnings and endings and the important element of time. Present the composition either on an instrument or as a recording. 2) Create a drawing, model, etc. of a sound space with a specific human program and with a clear description and visual representation of the components that create, shape and control sound. 3) Create a sound installation somewhere in the school that replaces, alters or enhances an existing space. You may work solo or in teams of two.

Seeing space as taste and smell

  • Taste and smell may be the most powerful keys to the memories of spaces and places in our lives. A unique space in our memory might have intense color, texture and scale, but its smell or a specific taste experience is what made the space enduring, magical or important.
  • Taste and smell can by themselves alone define or evoke their own shapes and spaces. A particular taste or smell can, like light or texture, have thresholds, beginnings and endings, edge conditions and shape.
  • Of course, taste and smell operate like everything else we have discussed; little objects move through space, physically interact with our bodies and then are turned into electrical impulses that our brains interpret.

Class #8 | Seeing space as intellectual concept: symbol, icon, metaphor

  • To date, we have been talking about the tools used to design and make sensory spaces, spaces that we experience and create with our bodies (through touch, sight, sound, etc.). We will now add intellectual and conceptual tools that allow us to create or consider space from the realm of pure ideas.
  • Icon is defined: a pictorial representation or a sign (graphic symbol) whose form suggests its meaning.
  • Symbol is defined: a token of identity, something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, etc., a visible sign of something invisible, an object or act representing something in the unconscious mind (having cultural significance) and the capacity to excite or objectify a response.
  • Metaphor is defined: a figure of speech (or in our case, a space) where one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. It seems to me that buildings and places can be “like” anything and evoke non-building images and references.
  • Icon and symbol, even metaphor, can be a legitimate part of the program of a building or space, perhaps a holistic idea that is repeated as fractals throughout the piece.
  • Icon symbol and metaphor can also be interpreted as diagrams for composition and a holistic idea that can repeat fractals throughout a piece.


Each student will be paired randomly with another. Each group of two will share with each other a program including aspects of their life, goals, personality, favorite things, etc. Each student then creates a “monument” for their partner based on the concepts of icon, symbol and metaphor. The site can be in any configuration, climate or geography when relevant to the program. Any medium or process can be used for the design with emphasis on its importance to the design solution. The medium is the message and the medium is symbolic.

Class #9 | Seeing space as language: nouns, verbs and grammar

  • This topic is closely related to seeing space as icon, symbol and metaphor. Just as structure and space can communicate an idea or concept iconically, they can also be “read” like a book or magazine. The narrative is visually expressed in a hierarchy of functional and non-functional elements, the “grammar” of the structure. For example, each façade of a building could be seen as a chapter in a book (the “book” being the entire building). The exterior expression of the vertical and horizontal organization of rooms or spaces on the inside can be seen as paragraphs or sentences, window and doors as words, nouns and verbs in those paragraphs. Smaller details and elements can be interpreted as letters in those words.
  • The physical elements of a building including features such as the patterns and type of surface materials, expressive mechanical and structural elements and roof forms all together embellish and fill out a story.
  • The narrative could be considered fiction or non-fiction, historic tome, perhaps memoir or autobiography or just a clever short story.
  • Just as a good holistically conceived building continues to work as and experience even as it is broken down fractally to smaller and smaller defining elements, a building will be a good read if there is consistent and clear visual grammar.
  • Perhaps the logic of the narrative composition is interrupted by a curse, a shout or even a scream. Like good writing, these interjections have to be carefully placed and not overused.
  • The language on the outside of a building may or may not tell the story of what is happening inside the building. It may tell a story that is impossible to experience on the inside or it may be the first chapter of the novel that continues to unfold inside.
  • At what point in space and time do you as an architect want to begin to engage, to hook, your reader?


Redesign the front façade of the architectural school using a new grammar that tells the story of the school and its program. The new façade should communicate something both to the non-architect passer by and to the architectural student who enters the building every day. You are free to redo the façade with no restrictions other than the existing width of the elevation. Each person in the class should include at a minimum, one ¼” scale elevation drawing in color. I would like to put them all up in a row and see what they all have to say together.

Class #10 | Seeing space through fantasy and imagination: starting with the impossible

  • Fantasy has historically been very important as a way to move cultures forward. It can threaten the status quo, but is quite necessary keep a society fluid and evolving.
  • While fantastical thought may provoke positive and negative reactions as it challenges the norm, it is an important tool for artists and designers.
  • Consider that we are conditioned all of our lives to see the world in certain ways. The very strong influences come from family, community, our local, national and global cultures. As individuals, we may or may not have been supported or encouraged to think or act differently from those around us. Our ideas as designers and artists emerge in many ways out of this conditioning. What do we do with an idea that not only is brand new but doesn’t seem to fit with the familiar world? It can be a very useful tool.
  • How is this tool, an ‘unconditioned’ idea to be used? You can reject it and return to more secure status quo ideas. Or, you can use it to advance your world a step or two beyond the status quo. Set the familiar aside for a moment, not to be abandoned, and give the idea a visual form, a pure, uncompromized form. Let it live in its own reality - perhaps way beyond the status quo - while you examine it without prejudice. You may begin to creatively compromise, economize, streamline the pure form, respond to all those realistic and necessary outside forces, until it can take its new place a couple of steps ahead of the status quo. The tool worked for you.
  • Using a process of open minded and creative thinking and self-awareness, I believe that there is no idea, no concept that cannot be achieved in visual form. It is easy to create such solutions in the realm of pure art, but is also possible to imagine anything and reduce it to a buildable, budget conscious solution in functional context – such as architecture.


I’m your client. I want a meditation space (16’ x 16’) on my 14 acres of Vermont land (8 open meadow and 6 wooded). I want it to float above the ground plane and be invisible. Sometimes, I want to be able to see out in all directions including up and other times I don’t want to be able to see out at all. Sometimes I want it to function like an open air platform. Other times it should be a warm winter recluse. I want to be able to move it around my site, at least once or twice every ten years. I have the budget of a school teacher. Create a design that can be built with today’s technology.

Class #11 | Seeing space using chance, automatic thought and random action

  • Chance and other random processes in design may be used to support out-of-the-box thought and its resulting solutions.
  • Control (certainly too much of it) can sometimes get in the way of creative thought and innovation.
  • Automatic Thought is introduced here as similar to the way that Automatic Writing is defined: ‘writing produced without conscious intention as if of telepathic or spiritualistic origin. Automatic thought may be similar to stream of consciousness, daydreaming and lead eventually to personal originality.
  • Logical thought suggests that it leads to inevitability and predictability. Random thoughts, ideas and decisions may conversely lead to the surprising and the unpredictable.
  • As artists, certainly as architects, we may struggle with rationality and control of the design process. We may think that we’re in control. We may think we are required to be in control. We want credit for our authorship, for our originality, which must, of course, result from our own guided and focused intent and control over things. We might be putting too much emphasis on or belief in control as a necessary skill.
  • How does ‘letting go’ of the need for control work in the design process? When you’re at a dead end in your efforts to solve a problem, sometimes switching to an entirely different problem or walking away from it for a while will break the logjam. Letting go of something allows your creative intellect the space and the freedom to hand you the solution.
  • Using chance in the design process may bring forth and present solutions that you suddenly recognize as the very same ones that have been lurking deep in your mind, imprisoned by your need for control of process.
  • Decisions by chance may become a door to another level of reality, a place full of unexpected and unique opportunities
  • Discuss Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings and do one as a class exercise.


Design a 16 foot cube cabin in a Vermont meadow. The program includes one open space for weekend getaway living. Each student designs one part of the cabin independently. They may not show other class members what they are doing until class next week. The parts are: 1) floor plan, 2) north wall interior, 3) east wall interior, 4) south wall interior, 5) west wall interior, 6) north wall exterior, 7) east wall interior, 8) south wall interior, 9) west wall interior, 10) roof and 11) site plan. Each student will randomly receive the number of the part they will be designing. All parts are drawn at ½” scale.

The site plan is 70’ x 70’ The roof can be any shape atop the 16’ high walls. Each student shall work out the design of their particular part in a place, in a technique and at a time that is as different as possible from their normal process at school. All parts may be presented in black and white or color but the design of each part should relate in some way to the topics discussed to date in this class. For example, and elevation could be based on a strategy using color and sound. Each part must be presented in cardboard, cut out at the edge of its shape. The class will assemble the cabin and all decisions about continuity and integration of the parts will be handled by a flip of the coin.





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