Summer Architecture Studio
Summer is often a quieter time in the School of Architecture, when students take the opportunity to travel, work at internships or rest up for the coming school year. However, this year 15 undergraduate architecture students in our fast track program are spending their summer in the Shattuck Hall studios, moving through both architecture studio couses in a single term. Their current studio class is Architecture 281, a Design Fundamentals Studio course focused exclusively on the North Portland neighborhood of St. Johns. Waste has been a theme in St. Johns for years. A long and contentious relationship with the city of Portland, a history of productive industry, the troubling effects of industrial pollution, and Portland's distribution of its own waste to this area for decades all make this area a rich subject for the class.
"We chose St. Johns' Cathedral Park, a former dump, as our site, in which students have focused on the meanings of dirt," said Assistant Professor Nora Wendl, who is co-teaching the class with Assistant Professor Juan Heredia.
"Dirt is 'matter out of place,' according to Mary Douglas, but it is also full of rich potential," said Wendl. "The students began by mapping evidence of 'dirt' in their Manuals of Architectural Possibility--mapping everything from perceptions of crime vs. actual incidents in the area, waste (past, present, and future), dust and other air pollutants, and the relationship between public utility poles and community notices."
"Next, the students produced full-scale, site-specific constructions that were intended to measure, record, or amplify a site-based phenomena. The purpose of this full-scale construction, the Portable Recording Device, is to allow students to build at a full scale in a site-specific installation that will then be affected by the environmental and cultural conditions of the site. In other words, they are making an intimate form of architecture, on a scale that they can build and manage. This second project lends itself to architectural questions: What materials can sustain themselves on the site? What connections are most stable? How will this amplify or augment a societal perception or physical condition of the site? How will the public interact with this? How will I install it and leave no trace?"
One of the goals of our design fundamentals pedagogy in the School of Architecture at Portland State University is the critical importance of searching out the oblique approach to a design problem. Ecologists argue that if you want to understand what innovates a culture, look at the edges--where species thrive and survive by adaptation and influence of other adjacent cultures. In this studio, the edges of St. Johns provided rich fodder for questioning what architecture (defined for this class as full-scale, built, site-specific constructions) could do with "dirt," or matter out of place.