Emily Morentz

Jane Lea

Benjamin Porto

Benjamin Porto

Benjamin Porto

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Advanced Architecture Studio IV


Michelle Fornabai


The project of the studio will be the adaptation of the abandoned Hudson River State Hospital Kirkbride asylum and psychiatric gardens.

The studio proposes an intensive environment for research of emergent technologies and their reciprocal relation with the material conditions of constructing architecturally. Sensation provides a means of exploring the intersection between emergent technologies and design through a logic of bodily intuition. In displacing, amplifying, and recircuiting the sensory limits of the body to the spaces and objects that surround it, they provide an extended field for critically rethinking the relation between the technological and the material.

Non-coincidence in the relation between phenomena, sensation, and cognitive perception and will be examined in the construction of illusion to critically re-examine the legacies of phenomenology and Gestalt. Illusion, a distortion of sensory perception, is immanent in each of the senses. Subjective, experienced differently by different people, yet manifest materially and perhaps instinctually embodied, illusion is latent in both reality and representation, as well as in their reception. Arising from material phenomena and embodied perception, intertwining the conceptual with the material, illusion remains distinct from the immateriality of simulacra, and the abstraction of the idea. Simultaneously physiological and psychological, illusion is not an imitation (imitari/to imitate from imagin/akin to from image) but an incorporeal effect.

Through a close examination of neuropsychology, perceptual processing, and cognitive architectures, illusion will be reconsidered through the spatial disorders of the sensory modalites evinced by symptoms manifest in drawings, methods and models. By problematizing the figural in architecture, these investigations critique figuration successively as the creation of a figure, as a form or outine, as a representation through figures, and as an ornamentation of decorative repetitive figures. The notion of the figurative in art, that which is derived from real sources but not necessarily representational (ie. Francis Bacon), and in language, that which connotes rather than denotes, underlies these explorations. These investigations structure a critical reconsideration of ‘institution’ and its construction of the same (propre), self (propre) and normative(praxis) and disciplinary(praxis), which parallels the construction of identification, identity, behavior, and practice, respectively. Indeterminacy and improvisation, improbable figures, imperfection and incompleteness thus structure the studio programme.

Studio Program

I. Rorschach + Agnosia

By encouraging or evincing misapprehensions, misconception, and misrecognition of objects, the images produced by those with agnosia and for Rorschach testing critically interrogate the relationship between the part and the whole, through absorptions in detail, delusions of depth, excesses of texture and multiple orientations. Oscillating between abstraction and figuration, the material conditions of this conceptual production will be examined to explore and extend the delineation of the architectural object. The relations between legibility and conception, stimulus and cognition, intention and indeterminacy will be used to intensify drawing techniques within architectural production. Image as an exact likeness or semblance is displaced, simultaneously functioning as a tangible or visible incarnation yet as an illusory form or apparition. In constant re-drawings, reversals, and re-readings, and through the coincidence the plane of projection with the constructive act, such ‘working drawings’ may critically extend conventional architectural representation. Construction will be explored as constituted between intention and improvisation. Indeterminacy and inexactness, the illogical and the erroneous, constitute the normative as a fragile threshold at the limit of sense.

Camouflage + Mimicry

Illusion, from illudare “to mock at” or “play with,” conjures the mimic and the mock-up, which will be used to explore architectural modeling and materials research. Delusive, mock, imaginary, spurious, fabulous, or chimerical, the becomings vegetal, geological or imperceptible in animal camouflage and insect mimicry dismantle the notion of proper identity by blurring subject with object, figure with field, as noted by Callois and Deleuze. The illusive constitutes an imaginary, supplanting the original with an inventive ideality. Whether paranoid with precedents for practice in the paranoid-critical methods of Dali and Koolhaas, or schizophrenic with precedent in the textual practices of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, deceptive appearance, guile, imposture, and illusive behavior will be used to explore the relationship between material manifestation and conceptual invocation. Adaptation may be structural and/or behavioral, modifying of a whole or its parts to become fit for existence under altered conditions and environs. Complex relations between chance and cliche, probability and legibility, singularity and repetition, evolution and entropy will structure investigations in materials and manufacturing processes. In the production of sensual variations and qualitative differences rather than form or shape, the delineation of the architectural figure and its ground by contour will be interrogated. Allowing for improbable figures and multiple associations, such investigations may provide a greater indeterminacy of form and function, respectively.

II. Through the Looking Glass

Through reflection, distortion, doubling and the oblique, the figure of classical architecture will be displaced. Disorienting vision using its own techniques of orientation, illusion will be use to rework the cultural politics of spatial relations through the material limits of perspective drawing. Institutional hierarchies of space, rules for the production of functional rationales, and the constitution of the properly architectural will be reconsidered. As logics of order(s) and organization designed to make sense or constituting a common sense, they will be explored in the production of non-sense. Allusion, a figure of speech by which the rules of the game are supplanted by the paradox, portmanteau, tropes, parables and poetry, will be considered in conjunction with occupation and programme in adapting for re-use. Fallacies of perspective and wordplays require the multiple and materially excessive, circulating meaning through associative qualitities--tints and tain of sensation and expression. Intertwining the intelligible with the sensible, they complicate the inherence of presence, place and properties. In mirages, specters, phantasms and phenomenal doubles, perceived reality is illusory but the perceptual image produced is real.

III. Beyond Reason

Encompassing both romanticism and rationallism, Gothic Revival Architecture is situated between stylistic ornamentation and an artificial ‘pictoresque,’ and the ‘iron gothic’ of Violet Le Duc, whose structural logics supplant the non-ornamental functions of ornament. Revival adapts by rewriting as new form, and remains distinct from re-use, restoration or renovation. Such adaptation requires a close consideration of methods for modifying conventional construction methods and structural logics, and requires an exploration of emergent materials and manufacture that extend material performance. Conventional practices of salvaging details, fixtures and finishes--parts which constitute the architectural at scale of the detail, structural component, material module—or retaining structure or exterior facades while gutting interiors—which constitute an architectural ‘whole,’ will be reconsidered. Materials such as aggregates, composites, laminates, and methods that would allow the physical adaptation old materials in new construction are constitutive of partiality/wholeness at multiple scales, engendering new relations between ornament and structure, style and substance.


From follies, grottoes and labrynths to Gaudi’s Parc Guell, the tension between the romantic and the rational intertwines affect and expression. Sublime, seductive, and irrational, they are conventionally posited in western disciplines to offer similitude in the correspondences of pathetic fallacy, or difference as the fantastic other in the binary construction of the properly symbolic. The studio will examine the intertwining of states of mind and atmospheric phenomena as related to non-western aesthetics of the imperfect, impermanent or incomplete which force a circulation of meaning across geography, location and/or time.

Program Outline

The Hudson River State Hospital Kirkbride in Poughkeepsie, NJ was completed in1871 by Frederick Clarke Withers, with grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. The first significant example of the high Victorian Gothic style applied to institutional construction in the United States, Kirkbride institutions were massive structures designed to provide sanctuary to patients through a sense of grandeur that would aid in their recovery. Late-nineteenth century Gothic Revival, the building form itself was meant to have a curative effect, providing enough space and tranquility to foster recovery-- a healthy environment conveying a sense of respectable decorum. The typical floor plan, with long rambling wings and rooms arranged ‘in echelon’ (staggered so each connecting building still receives light and air) was meant to promote privacy and comfort for patients. ‘A special apparatus for the care of lunacy,” as Kirkbride wrote, in secluded areas within expansive grounds which should be “highly improved and tastefully ornamented.’ The Hudson River State Hospital, built on a hill overlooking the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, NJ was built on land donated by the Rockefellers, with a boathouse on the Hudson River and a nine-hole golf course with clubhouse.

More than 300 Kirkbrides have been built, many by the best architects of the day. By 1900 the notion of ‘building as cure’ was largely discredited, and in the following decades these large, imposing Victorian-Era government projects and their surrounding grounds became too expensive to maintain. By the 1950’s, stories of deplorable conditions and patient abuses had blunted the majesty of the hospitals. Kirkbrides designed to accommodate 250 patients eventually were crammed with 10 times that many or more. What had been conceived as spas for the mentally ill--through overcrowding and neglect, into dark, dank, claustrophobic places where patients were locked up and restrained in straitjackets. Many Kirkbride Plan asylums still stand, abandoned, neglected and vandalized.

The New York State Office of Mental Health has completely vacated the building. The structure’s long-abandoned extensive wings have continued to deteriorate and are in need of stabilization, rehabilitation and reuse. The relatively good condition of the exterior belies the dramatic and profound interior damage caused by years of decay. ‘Trees grow straight through the roof, windows, and walls. Brickwork is crumbling and sagging. There are drapes still hanging in broken windows…is completely encased in poison ivy and blackberry brambles.’ The transfer of the hospital to a private company, Hudson Heritage LLC is complete, and the company plans to rehabilitate the complex as a mixed use real estate development project in conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, using the Federal historic rehabilitation tax incentive program. “The successful rehabilitation of the building for a compatible new use is imperative for the preservation of this Landmark.”--National Park Service, National Historic Landmarks Program.

Hudson River State Hospital: Inventory of Historically Significant Properties, Town of Poughkeepsie, NJ
Building 11: Married Employees Building
Building 12: Five-Family Staff Building
Building 25: Pavilion-Patients' Shelter
Building 27: Garage
Building 28: Catholic Chapel
Building 29: Gardner's Cottage
Building 29: Staff House
Building 33: Powerhouse and Machine Shop
Building 35: Library
Building 35: Protestant Chapel
Building 37: Electrical Shop and Storage
Building 38: Amusement Hall
Building 40: Storehouse and Cold Storage
Building 41: Firehouse
Building 42: Blacksmith
Building 43: Carpenter Shop and Gas House
Building 45: Mortuary and Lab
Building 50: Laundry and Tailor Shop
Building 59: Superintendent's Residence 1
Building 61: Staff House #10
Building 67: Infirmary/Brookside
Building 68: Staff Apartment #3
Building 69: Nurses' Home
Building 86: Staff Residence
Building 110: Storage
Building 166: Old Police Station

1 “Mental Health Matters: Monument to Failure,” Signs of the Times, April 2005.
2 Kirkbride Buildings, Hudson River State Hospital, kirkbridebuildings.com
3 Kirkbride Plan, as defined by Wikipedia
4 Kirkbride Plan, as defined by Wikipedia
5 “Mental Health Matters: Monument to Failure,” Signs of the Times, April 2005.
6 Kirkbride Plan, as defined by Wikipedia
7 “Mental Health Matters: Monument to Failure,” Signs of the Times, April 2005.
8 Kirkbride Plan, as defined by Wikipedia
9 “Mental Health Matters: Monument to Failure,” Signs of the Times, April 2005.
Hudson River State Hospital, Main Building, National Historic Landmarks Program, National Park Service.

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