Page B2.2 . 09 November 2011                     
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    Tuning a Building at KieranTimberlake


    Change is clearly essential to numerous areas of professional concern, from issues of energy to contracts. Do we take an incremental approach to adjusting our discipline, or do we demand radical and sudden changes to institutionalized thinking processes? If we think of the choice as one of tuning, we can hold on to the fundamental and centuries-old values of the profession while developing new approaches to practice.

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    An example of tuning in KieranTimberlake's office is their commitment to research — constantly asking, "How can we do better?" Research into technical detailing — their work with pressure-equalized wall construction, for example — has been important since the early days of their practice.

    At that time, this method of wall construction, common in Europe as a way of managing moisture infiltration, was rare in the United States. Today, rainscreen construction is commonplace in a variety of small and large buildings constructed from a wide range of materials.

    The centralization of research as a core disciplinary activity has taken on increased importance in KieranTimberlake's work since winning the inaugural Latrobe Prize in 2001. Their proposal for this prize focused on issues of efficiency, economy, and quality as aided by technology in the design and construction processes.

    Their research of design-to-production processes and assembly methods in the vehicle industries led to a redirection of attention to construction inefficiencies within the building industries.

    Prefabrication of building components and the compression of disparate systems into composite assemblies were some of the resulting adjustments within their own practice, not only in experimental provocations such as SmartWrap and the Cellophane House, but also in more conventional projects at Yale, Cornell, and Sidwell.

    In addition to the physical adjustments made to buildings, KieranTimberlake seeks to formalize an attitude of critical assessment as a means of intellectual tuning within their own practice. Currently, the office implements ISO-9001:2000 certification for the research, management, and delivery of architectural services as a sign of their commitment to ongoing critical analysis and change within the discipline.

    To manage tuning, one must be in control of measurement, and controlling measurement implies an awareness of relative tolerances. An important consideration is not to rely on a single measurement for problem definition, but to look at a question from multiple points of view.

    If an architect relies on a single performance factor, the data will be as contextless as the worst of architectural formalism — imagery and information without performance.

    Manipulating data requires sorting and managing large quantities of information; however, the measurement required for intelligent tuning is hardly neutral. To understand how to interpret data tolerances, one first needs to have initial intentions for which one is seeking verification or refutation. Architecture should never become static: it is in need of constant adjustment.

    Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake:
    Thoughts on Inquiry-Based Practice

    All aspects of our practice have been designed to support research, engendering a deeply rooted culture of inquiry. This culture is centered in and driven by a core group of collaborators: architect, environmental scientist, material scientist, and virtual and physical modelers, along with many outside our practice.

    This group assists in defining and supporting project-based research initiatives and the development of new products and processes. Questions are generated from anywhere within our practice and among clients and collaborators. Each architect in our shop shares this obligation to seek out, frame, and resolve research inquiries.

    There are two types of research queries: those that seek to influence form before it is designed and those that record its performance during and after construction. This later form of research is especially important as we seek to calibrate the tools used during design.

    Research questions range through the many ecologies of architecture: the natural environment, energy, social and learning structures, materials, existing building fabric, the economics of construction, and the processes of collaboration.

    Research is now, more than ever, the engine that drives our practice. It is the structure that enables us to realize architecture's ethical obligation toward ever-increasing levels of performance. What do we mean by architectural performance?

    Certainly the environment is a central driver in this obligation, but it is only one. Equally important is lessening the cost and time of design and construction while improving quality. Above all, the resulting form must become a holistic integrated architecture of desire, for without desire no form is sustainable.

    The ceremonial opening of a building is often the assumed end of our work. If architects were to conceive of this moment as yet another beginning, then research inquiry would be part of a continuous process in which we not only plan and build but monitor and learn from actual performance.

    In this vision, the building is a further locus for experimentation aimed at improving not only its performance but also that of architecture itself.

    Monitoring is a driver in the cycle of research. Once a prototype, or for that matter a building, is complete, the questions that gave rise to its forms need to be tested.

    The objective of monitoring is to verify or disprove assertions, but more typically we seek through analysis to develop new insight that can give rise to further learning and improvement. Planning and doing must be informed by rigorous monitoring and learning in order to advance.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Stephen Kieran, FAIA, and James Timberlake, FAIA, formed their architectural practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1984. They both received the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome (1980 and 1982, respectively) and have taught at a number of schools, including Yale, Princeton, the University of Washington, and the University of Texas at Austin. For the past decade they have taught a joint graduate research studio at the University of Pennsylvania. They are the inaugural recipients of the Benjamin Latrobe Fellowship for design research from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) College of Fellows, and have received more than a hundred awards for design excellence, including the 2008 AIA Architecture Firm Award and the 2010 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award.

    Karl Wallick, AIA, is an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Currently codirector of MW architecture, Wallick helped start the practice Drawing Dept in Ohio while teaching at the University of Cincinnati. Prior to teaching, he directed several projects for the research team at KieranTimberlake, including the SmartWrap exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the publication of reFabricating Architecture, and also worked on large institutional design projects for Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Sidwell Friends School.

    This article is excerpted from KieranTimberlake: Inquiry by Stephen Kieran, James Timberlake, and Karl Wallick, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, Rizzoli.



    ArchWeek Image

    To determine whether dew-point conditions were occurring inside the existing wall assemblies of Sage Bowers Hall, iButton sensors were installed in the wall at each of three depths, referred to by the firm as "shallow wall," "mid-wall," and "deep wall" locations.
    Photo: KieranTimberlake Extra Large Image

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    Equipment used in the building monitoring project.
    Photo: KieranTimberlake

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    Axonometric diagram showing the data-collecting sensors used in the Sage Bowers Hall monitoring program.
    Image: KieranTimberlake Extra Large Image

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    Two of the data-logging devices used in the Sage Bowers Hall building monitoring program.
    Photo: KieranTimberlake Extra Large Image

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    KieranTimberlake also studied the thermal performance of modified and unmodified window assemblies to assess their individual impacts on occupant comfort levels.
    Photo: KieranTimberlake Extra Large Image

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    Detail section drawings of modified and unmodified window assemblies with a thermal gradient overlay.
    Image: KieranTimberlake Extra Large Image

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    Plan diagram of Atwater Commons at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont. The ten gerunds noted are the topical themes of the book KieranTimberlake: Inquiry — bending, coupling, filtering, inserting, offsetting, outlining, overlapping, puncturing, reflecting, and tuning.
    Image: KieranTimberlake Extra Large Image

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    KieranTimberlake: Inquiry by Stephen Kieran, James Timberlake, and Karl Wallick. (Middlebury's Atwater Commons is pictured.)
    Image: Rizzoli Extra Large Image


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