between us

Morpholio is launched

Recently I was introduced to the Morpholio Project which was created by some of my friends and colleagues. To use their words, ““The Morpholio Project is first and foremost an experiment in distributed intelligence and putting as much feedback as possible into the design process.” At its heart the project is a global experiment exploring device culture is changing our design process. It has ambitious goals and hopes to truly reimagine the portfolio as a design utility, globalize critique and create a horizontal platform for collaboration.

The Morphoilio Project finally opened to the public last week and they have requested that I get my most talented friends to join in.  I hope you share it with everyone.

Below is the press release, so you can read more.  You will need to join via the app to fully use it or via web to create an account.

Please send this around to everyone you know in the design fields or related media.

Press Release:

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Make an Account via Web:

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An Idea of Architecture (2) – Focusing on the Fundamentals (An Afterthought on Bronowski’s Film)

Machu Picchu

Restoration of Parthenon

“Architecture appears on all objects.”

Our seminar’s recent viewing of the film The Grain in the Stone of Dr. Jacob Bronowski’s documentary series The Ascent of Men has reminded me about the fundamentals of architecture. By introducing the material characters1 of stone and its application in masonry structure of Inca civilization, Bronowski leads us a historical tour from ancient Greece to the high Gothic era. The comparison and development of the Greek post-lintel system, Roman round arch and Gothic pointed arch with buttress is a lucid analysis about how men construct their monumental structures. The process (evolution) from straight beam to round arch and then from round arch to pointed arch with buttress reveals the improvement of men’s understanding of the material. Each steps of structural development is an endeavor of cumulating our rational understanding of mathematics and physics as well as the empirical experience of engineering and construction. The built results, (the Parthenon, the Pantheon, the Reims Cathedral, etc.) are monumental and autonomous. Despite their religious and political significance, they are monumental because they are built to challenge the limits of the materials; they are autonomous because their forms demonstrate the understanding of the physical characters of the materials and the very honest ways of construction.

The complexity of contemporary architecture requires architect to understand the characters of the project and its context (physical, cultural, political, economical, environmental, etc.).  As I have mentioned in the previous blog piece, I am always interested in searching for answers about “how does one approach and design a contextual and autonomous project so that it can formally better serve its function and convey its embedded cultural, philosophical, spiritual, political, artistic and scientific concepts to people?” What are the fundamental characters (or the keyed parameters) about each project? What are the driving forces that lead us to generate the forms? How can the form be contextual (localized) and autonomous?

The whole world is under the process of globalization. From the food that we eat, to the furniture that we use, a lot of them can be found on the other side of the world. When we skim through an architecture magazine of today, we can see many projects that are so alike. The characters of vernacular is diminishing. How can they be not diminishing? Our construction techniques, design software, and building materials are all similar. As an individual, we know that each one of us is different from others. Can we still find the ways to design each building so that it is unique and autonomous to its context. If we can, I believe we are getting closer to the “timeless way” of building described by Christopher Alexander2. Since what we use in design and construction are similar, maybe it is the time for us to investigate in the earlier stage of architecture, its design process. Can the architecture of design process act as a Cartesian coordinate system to inform us the fundamentals of the project so that we don’t get lost in the labyrinth of creation?

Louis Khan once said, “A great building must begin with the unmeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable.” Focusing on the fundamentals of the design process may be is an alternative way to re-think architecture.

"Structure of Thought" by Mike + Doug Starn

1. Stone is strong for compression and weak for tension.

2. More information can be referred to Alexander’s books The Timeless Way of Building and The Pattern Language.

An Idea of Architecture (1) – A Search for the Architecture of Design Process

Architecture has been among the most important types of man-made entities that can reflect people’s daily lives and beliefs since early human history.  These structures serve their functions and convey various concepts by their forms, spaces, and materials. In the past two decades, ease of access to information, building materials and construction technologies makes architects’ designs increasingly similar to each other. Many architectural projects, particularly those in developing countries, are underdeveloped or they are superficial imitations of other projects without much consideration for their unique contexts and design parameters. Being an architectural designer, I always ask myself a very fundamental question about architectural practice: how does one approach and design a contextual and autonomous project so that it can formally better serve its function and convey its embedded cultural, philosophical, spiritual, political, artistic and scientific concepts to people? As in any historical periods, there are outstanding projects in different regions around the world. However, as one may realize, many contemporary buildings have fallen into the following categories:

1. They are the products of random and arbitrary designs whose original concepts come from occasional or improvisatory ideas (Figure 1).

2. They lack formal connections to the past, or the formal connections to their vernacular cultures.

3. They could have been more appropriate built solutions if the design teams and clients understood the projects’ contextual parameters and constraints more comprehensively.

4. The application of computer-aided design software seems to be used in a computer-orientated way instead of a humanistic way. This category is particularly applicable to projects that are designed and modeled in 3D software, which has certain capabilities and advantages in achieving some formal design tasks. Therefore, projects that are derived from this type of software are formally similar. Since designers spend much of their time on searching for solutions in 3D models within the software, they sometimes neglect people’s collective experience about form, space, materials and their embedded semiotics of architecture.

Figure 1. A Multifunctional Building In China

Architecture is the result of collaboration. If the architects, their clients and other related people know the projects’ context, design parameters and historical settings better (Figures 2 & 3), the building projects that fell into these categories could be improved and became better built works. Giving that each architecture project has a series of design problems based on its unique requirements and constraints at the beginning of its design process, is there a rational and systematic graphical method to draw and record the design process? If the creation of architecture is not only about the final built work, but also about the generative process; this Systematic Drawing of the Design Process (SDDP) is aiming to represent the complex and interrelated relationship between design parameters, ideas, decisions, and procedures of the collaborative work of architecture (Figure 4).

Figure 2. A Sketch of the Logical Relationship between Human and Architecture

Figure 3. The Relationship Between Human and Architecture Based on Differernt Human and Non-human Factors

Figure 4. A Simple Relational Framework of a Typical Project

The SDDP is the visual representation of the design process. Indeed, this representation or documentation is invisibly imbedded into the subconscious creative process of every architectural practice. If the architect can constantly update the project’s SDDP, it can help themselves to be more self-critical about their design. Furthermore, as the SDDP can break down the design process and design parameters by a logical framework of inter-relation, it can enhance the mutual understanding between architects, consultant teams, contractors and the clients. This logical framework of design parameters and information can expand and focus on certain parameters based on the project teams’ interaction during design development. This blog piece is a starting point for myself to brainstorm about my graduate thesis of developing a graphical/virtual drawing of the architecture of design process. I believe this drawing of collecting, recording, learning, analyzing, informing, representing, selecting and creating processes of architecture can help to develop a project from concept sketches to construction documents, and from the massing of the overall form to the detailing of joints. Therefore, we can anticipate that the built work will be a better piece of architecture.

Beyond the Lathe: Investigations In the Baroque and Digital Fabrication – 3

This is the third set of study of San Carlo. The drawings are a representation of the quarter dome surface unroll and its coffer pattern transformation. The last two drawings are trying to show the possible ways of CNC fabrication.

Quarter Dome Surface Unrolled

Movement of Quarter Dome Two Stages Unrolled

Coffer Pattern Study

Quarter Dome Two Stages Unrolled

Division of the New Artifact

Diagram of CNC Milling

An Idea of Emotion – Gratitude to Our Education

Six months ago, when I was trying to make a decision on selecting the architecture school for graduate study, I chose the Cooper Union, an renowned institution with a vision of providing its whole student body full scholarship for higher education. I have always been grateful to the education that I have received since I was a little child. Having the opportunity to learn is the second most important thing in my life. Education is not free and we should not take it for granted. Even when our parents were teaching me to speak my first word, they were working hard in their jobs in order to make a living for our family. Therefore, we should be grateful to the high quality free education that we have at the Cooper Union.

The recent announcement about the school’s substantial deficit and the possibility of charging students tuition should not surprise anyone. We are living in a time that the global economy condition is at risk and nobody wants to take the responsibility of working out the problems. Before the academy year started, I already asked myself how was it possible for the Cooper Union to remain tuition free? President Bharucha had mentioned that charging tuition will be the last resource to save the school from the annual $26 million dollar deficit. Chairman of the board of Trustees Mr. Mark Epstein had pointed out that the “problem is a systemic deficit, nobody, no one person’s fault… we made an investment in a lot of students that are now alumni, and only 20% of them donate back to the school so I think that is a failed investment as far as that’s’ concerned for development.” Whether his address is true or false, we should be first feel grateful to what we have been granted.  Our gratitude to Mr. Cooper and his family, as well as our gratitude to all related people who made CU great and possible should be the foundation for us to maintain a school-wide unity with good spirit. This unity should be built by students, faculty, administrative staff, alumni and trustees. Our energy and discussion should be focused on how to face the situation and solve the problem. As a member of the Cooper Union, below are some of the ideas that came across my mind:

  1. Provide more continuing education courses for the public in summer and winter breaks.
  2. Develop a system that helps students (both undergraduate and graduate) to find internships and require them to contribute a certain percent of their internship income to the school.
  3. The eight floor lounge of the foundation building should be rent out as a café.
  4. Further enhance the connection with our alumni. Financial information should be more transparent so that our alumni can know the needs of our school.
  5. Develop an outreach teaching program which the senior CU students can teach in high schools during weekends, summer or winter breaks. This program can help preparing prospective high school students in the field of arts, architecture and engineering. In this case, senior students can gain teaching experience as well as income. Their partial income should be also donated to CU for its own sustainable development.

As part of the Cooper Union community, feeling grateful is the first step toward helping our school going through this difficult time. We, the former and current students of the institution, who were all selected based on merit, shall act as one living body to carry on Mr. Cooper’s trust and belief: “I trust that the students of this institution will do something to bear back the mighty torrent of evils now pressing on the world. I trust that here they will learn to overcome the evils of life with kindness and affection. I trust that here they will find that all true greatness consists in using all the powers they possess to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them; and in this way to become really great by becoming the servant of all”. CU students should serve our institution with heartfelt gratitude so that we can contribute and continue the institution to provide high quality free education to the future generations.

Beyond the Lathe: Investigations In the Baroque and Digital Fabrication – 2

This is the second set of study for the San Carlo. I was trying to learn from an intrinsic logic of the Baroque church. The study emphasizes on two aspect of the oval dome: dome shape and dome coffer pattern.

The intention is to experiment on an alternative form with Borromini’s logic for fabrication.

Logical Framework of Study

Unrolled Oval Dome

Unrolled Oval Dome

Dome Pattern Study

Dome Pattern Development

Alternative Dome

Beyond the Lathe: Investigations In the Baroque and Digital Fabrication – 1

This semester I have the opportunity of taking Professor James Lowder’s course: ” Beyond the Lathe: Investigations in the Baroque and Digital Fabrication”.  The class puts an emphasis on how the construction and fabrication techniques/methods of the Baroque time has helped the development of realizing the Baroque architectonic forms. My case study is on Francesco Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1638~1646) in Rome.

The following drawings are the first set of study for analyzing the Baroque church.