The Tectonics of Comfort | PhD thesis

This research focuses on architecture and urban design that consider both environmental and fabrication technologies. More specifically, this practice-based PhD thesis considers thermal comfort from an architectural, aesthetic, and socio-cultural perspective. Architectural envelopment and comfort are here explored as multi-dimensional qualities of inhabitable space, place, and the environment.

Following the theories of Gottfried Semper, the research explores building as a form of dressing. Both clothing and building are adaptable environmental modifiers critical in the fabrication of thermal comfort. In addition, shadows emerge as temporal architectural phenomena with textile-like qualities, and the external envelope becomes a soft and modifiable ‘textile’ tectonic material. Semi-outdoor and intermediate spaces can become the places where thermal comfort is generated.

The writings and built projects of Bernard Rudofsky, the avant-garde modernist and advocate of vernacular architecture, help to further Semper’s concept of a textile tectonic. Rudofsky promoted human comfort in architecture beyond socially accepted norms of the time. For Rudofsky exemplary spaces were buildings and urban settings with ambiguous external boundaries, such as the patio house, the urban arcade and the Japanese house-garden, all of which relate to ideas of comfort. Furthermore, Rudofsky’s own built work features shadows with soft boundaries and playful textures.

The thesis also draws from original archival research into the Cedric Price Fonds at the Canadian Centre of Architecture (CCA) Montreal, Canada. Price’s work concerns the ephemeral and temporary architectural spaces. One project in particular, The Generator, involves a careful study of shaded and temporary spaces to provide comfort in a semi-outdoor configuration.

The project Weaving Shadows relates to designing with shadows a topic explored in ancient architectures from across cultures and civilisations. It regards a small summer house located in Greece, forms part of this thesis. The project involved the design and fabrication of a 1:1 prototype.  The design features a permeable and movable metallic envelope, a textile-like patterned surface. As shadows move during the course of the day, the house becomes a nomadic living environment. The project was designed and built using digital CAD/CAM technologies. The tectonic arrangements of semi-enclosed spaces suggest a possible sustainable future for architecture where the boundaries between exterior and interior are negotiable, and bodies can freely inhabit both sides of the architectural fabric.

The Tectonics of Comfort
Type: PhD by Architectural Design
University: UCL The Bartlett School of Architecture
Title of thesis: Seamless Architecture | The Tectonics of Comfort
Dates: 2008 – present (part-time)
Supervisors: Dr. Marjan Colletti and Prof. Stephen Gage
Photos: Mariana Bisti