Knots and Nurbs: Relational Spaces in Variable Fields

Digital still from Hyderabad, India excerpted from video to study changing perspectival views.

Legibility of constructed space is largely based on relationships internal to a work, relationships that can be read or understood through the terms of the construct itself. Components are set in relation to one another, marking purpose and intent, shaping space through their interactions within a field. It is through numerous iterations, constant study and revision, that the beginning design student learns to both discern these relationships and create them anew. The proximities of various motivating intentions and corresponding constructs are measured and evaluated.

These generative acts and their associated cognitive fields retain a somewhat artificial clarity in part by excluding or repressing surrounding chatter: contrary systems of meaning, non-spatial interruptions, field vibrations, interference, noise, and blur.

Contemporary experience, however, is marked by nonlinear, nonsequential, multivalent interferences, operating within and shaping dispersed incongruent networks. Information courses through and around us, at once connecting us and separating us from the local topographies we inhabit. We find ourselves occupying an alternative terrain, one where simultaneity subverts and collapses spatial dimensions. The concept of time, which gave such definition to 20th century experience, has been vanquished by go-go digitalisms. Today is the now. In the language of ubiquitous text messaging: “GGN L8R”

Fringe and center alike, the urban condition has been transformed through this change. It has become “a space of spontaneous self-organization and emergence, it is inherently dynamic, connected, interactive, a messy assemblage of networks, systems, ecologies, all competing with and contaminating, each other” (1). It is marked by fluid discontinuity and dissonance, producing new seams and tears for occupation. It creates spaces of movement, shaped primarily—and in some instances, solely—by their propensity for change. We occupy these in-between spaces: evolving ambiguities marked by episodes of clarity, connection, or coincidence.

The critical challenge for the design student occurs when they attempt to bridge between the absolute precision of legible constructs and these somewhat chaotic, unstable, and variable terrains. It requires a way of looking, thinking and making that neither romanticizes the noise nor obliterates it through foreign orders, redaction, or idealized abstractions.

This paper will be centered on precisely this moment in design education, where the discipline of architecture is introduced to students not as an abstract concept but as a way of working. The work of a second year design studio serves as a vehicle to consider specific ways of making this transition, offering ranges of formal and conceptual responses to the problems of scale and habitation. Ideas of narrative, program, and itinerary are derived from traditional cinema, while YouTube videos from Hyderabad, India provide excerpted urbanisms for investigation and occupation.

Sequential exercises introduce spatial studies, mappings, and interwoven assemblages building the one in and through the other. Considering the urban site as a sectional slice of fields in flux, constructs negotiate moving grounds and referential fields, while allowing for occupation and legibility.

This paper was presented at the 25th National Conference of the Beginning Design Student, Baton Rouge LA, 12-14 March 2009.


  1. Furján, Helene. “Cities of Complexity.” Models: 306090 11. Ed. Emily Abruzzo , Eric Ellingsen , and Jonathan D. Solomon. New York: PA Press, 2008, 52.