Page B1.2 . 30 April 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Building Department
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Architectural Weaving


Although the joint is normally an event of such physical consequence that it dominates our perception, in a densely woven form, the joint is transformed into a recessive contributor to the overall appearance of surface and shape.

Weaving, however can never be completely closed; it always has space between its strands. While the woven surface separates and contains, it breathes and connects. it is a scrim, a screen that is at once space and surface, Never quite a membrane, but part joint, part surface, part volume, part system, weaving is unique in architecture in being simultaneously open and closed.

Weaving Systems

The association of weaving with volume and system carries the craft into the deepest structures and largest scales of current architecture and urbanism. The integration of a large number of operating systems into buildings is a problem of relatively recent origin.

Indoor plumbing has been common for less than 150 years; widespread electrification and elevators for vertical transportation are little more than a century old; air-conditioning and fire-suppression systems were novelties less than 75 years ago, and today, emergency power, door operators, and security, voice, and data transmission are part of the onslaught of systems that course through our buildings.

The fundamental process and manner of conceiving architecture, however, has changed little. We still tend to organize program and space long before we integrate systems.

Rock Hall, Temple University

What is the depth of the imitative versus the authentic? One is a fictive invention, and the other is a fiction derived from necessity. In Rock Hall, an auditorium of the Esther Boyer College of Music at Temple University, we use the idea of the room as a musical instrument; the depth of the sound box is represented in the depth of the weave.

The metaphor is one of tectonic reality and is drawn from the program. The acoustical requirement of 50 percent absorptive and 50 percent reflective surfaces led to a proscenium that exploits the depth and lightness offered by flat panels. It is a solution that balances the question of imitation versus invention.

The strands in this textile are typically six-inch- (15-centimeter-) wide plywood strips with a two-foot- (60-centimeter-) wide central panel. During design, we built a full-scale panel with a small millworker to test the ability of the plywood to bend and for the necessity of fasteners at points of overlap. An adjustable metal superstructure supports the woven wood panels.

The Shipley School

In our shop, there are no matters of lesser importance. At this new middle school, architecture is structure. It is fire protection, it is codes, it is equipment. It is all design. These systems are inseparable and intrinsic to the problem of designing a school. They are part of the education of children.

Weaving provides a way to navigate what goes over and what goes under. We turn systems engineers into architects, and they turn us into engineers. Sometimes the engineers like the role reversal. Sometimes they go kicking and screaming into the world of woven systems.

We have to trace every pipe and duct. We have to know how large it is, what it is made of, and how it turns. In this small building section, below a balcony walkway, all the building trades had to come to know and work with each other, while coinhabiting three feet four inches (102 centimeters) of common real estate. If one is not willing to become a mechanic, one should not become an architectural weaver.

Sterling Law School, Yale University

We love direct challenges from our architectural ancestors. The blunter the challenge, the better. Our addition for the Sterling Law School Dining Hall comes squarely up against the stone walls and elaborate windows of James Gamble Rogers's 1930s structure.

We sought direct competition with the original wrought-iron metalwork by using stainless-steel and bronze rods and straps, but the new gates in no way cancel the stone craft against which they are juxtaposed. The old stone carving and the new metal gates, while of different ages, are equal crafts.

The fabricator really rose to the task. Consider that every pair of bends in the stainless-steel bar out, then back to vertical again had to be made in precisely the right location so as to intersect the 3/4-inch (19-millimeter) bronze bar where the buttonhead fastener, passing through a predrilled hole, would lie flat against it. When asked what he had worked on before these gates, he replied, "Something for the space shuttle."

Viewed in relation to contemporary architecture, weaving is a conceptual and physical armature that accommodates the differential life spans of buildings and urban systems.

At the same time that weaving provides for separation and the differential removal and replacement of elements, it composes and organizes single strands of material into a deliberately visual artifact, insisting upon repetition and pattern in its placement as purpose is translated into orderly artifice. Weaving celebrates the realization that permanence is no longer a prospect nor even a desire of architecture.

Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake are principals of the Philadelphia firm KieranTimberlake Associates.

This article is excerpted from Manual: The Architecture of KieranTimberlake, copyright 2002, available from Princeton Architectural Press and at



ArchWeek Image

Various building systems are woven together compactly in the Shipley School designed by KieranTimberlake Associates.
Photo: Catherine Tighe

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Mechanical tray section at the Shipley School shows tight integration of services and trades.
Image: KieranTimberlake Associates

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Plan view of the weave of building systems at the Shipley School.
Image: KieranTimberlake Associates

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Weaving modern metal and stone with historic metal and stone at the Sterling Law School at Yale University.
Photo: Barry Halkin

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Precision metalwork was needed to make the pieces weave together.
Photo: Barry Halkin

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Gate elevation and section at Sterling Law School.
Image: KieranTimberlake Associates

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Manual: The Architecture of KieranTimberlake.
Photo: Barry Halkin


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