Miesunderstandings Topic Studio

Term / Course:
Spring 2015

This studio focused on the role of representation in understanding and generating an architectural project. A “representation” is something (a picture, a drawing, or text) that can be used to “stand in” for something else. As architects the drawings, models, and other descriptors we create are “stand ins” for real objects, but these “representations” are themselves also real things. Representations are also the means (the process) with which we conceive of the thing that “stands in” for a built project. The strangeness of a “representation” is that it is the tool used to conceive of an object before it exists, it is a means of communicating an idea about an object that has been imagined, and it is used as a symbol for a physical object that already exists. 

Architectural representations, given their reductive and diagrammatic nature, allow us to conceptually understand different aspects of a building – a model may tell us something about volume, a diagram may explain functional relationships, an isometric may tell us something about true scale, a perspective may tell us something about a project’s perceived relationship to its context. The “style” of a representation is also charged with meaning, how we draw or model a project tells us something about our philosophical and conceptual affinities, what precedents we looked at, and the period and place that we are in. Every line on a page is significant and carries weight.

In this studio students were asked to analyze a known building by the architect Mies van der Rohe and then tasked with transforming and reimagining said building. Each set of transformations was connected to a particular representational strategy being investigated that week. Transformations were accumulative, meaning that the starting point each week was the design made the previous week. Architects were invited every week to give a lecture on each representational strategy being studied.

1. Projections, the oblique and the fold. Lecture Mitchell de Jarnett

2. Models, solids & Boolean operations. Lecture by Katrin Terstegen

3. Narrative drawings and program. Lecture by Jimenez Lai

4. Exploded drawings, shapes and curves. Lecture by Bryan Cantley

5. Perspective, scale and the human subject. Lecture by Sasha Ortenberg


The final project asked students to use these investigations to create a new Visitor Center and approach experience for the iconic Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Illinois.

Many thanks to the following architectural critics for participating in reviews of student work:

Bob Alexander, Frank Clementi, Mark Ericson, Wendy Gilmartin, Wonne Ickx, Mitchell de Jarnett, Hunter Knight, Jimenez Lai, Ilaria Mazzoleni, Alex Pang, Mohamed Sharif, and Katrin Terstegen.