The Cooper Union
School of Architecture

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Professors David Gersten, Anne Romme, Anthony Titus, and Suzan Wines

This year we took a turn, a plunge, we tried something new, Boats. But let's begin where we began, The Shop.

The Studio began in the school’s wood and metal shop. Each student chose a tool or machine and they learned it: what it did and how it did it. Then, they drew it. First they drew full-scale sections of the tool in its motionless state. Then they drew the tools ‘turned on,’ capturing them in the act of cutting, drilling, or sanding. Next the body was introduced and the students drew the figure using the tool. Looking at the particular choreography of the tool, material and body, the students discovered a spatial triptych and within that a fourth figure, a syntactical ghost between the three. An idea came into view; that the tools are hovering between the human and the non-human, that each tool is a link between a material, a task, and the human physiognomy. The teeth on the table saw blade are responding to the nature of wood, while the height of the table is responding to the figure standing before it, the tool is mediating the exchange. The shop itself is a material-syntactical treatise on the nature of this exchange. 

Then we analyzed the forces of the tools. With great help from Professor Elizabeth O’Donnell the students calculated the forces acting upon each tool in use, including; Live Load, Dead Load, and Moment. They traced the loads of the tool to the ground (or floor) of the shop, and modeled the force vectors of the tool in use indicating tension, compression and moment arm. We quickly realized that while revealing many unseen things, the architectural structural analysis was limited with regard to the dynamic forces of the tools. We then worked with Professor Abbott from the School of Engineering, who generously helped the students analyze the dynamic forces of the tools. The students calculated torque, moment of inertia and accelerations, as well as friction, heat, and the sound of the tools.*

Locating the forces of the tools in the horizon between air and water, these studies led to a re-invention of the ‘force system’ of the tool into an «inhabitable navigational tool,» a boat. The class went to the Webb Institute for Naval Architecture and spent an intense day learning the basics of displacement and buoyancy: «center of buoyancy,» «center of gravity,» and the «Meta Center» (which is best understood in the transition between sitting in a rocking chair and standing up on a rocking chair).

With the construction of our first site, the water tank, we began to experiment empirically with displacement and buoyancy. It was somehow like drawing in water with substance. Each cut in a material would result in a new displacement and consequently a new buoyancy and relation to the horizon. The voids cut into the ‘site’ (water) constantly shifted, they were temporal voids, it was unpredictable and wonderfully difficult.

Within this dynamic condition the students invented new programs for boats. We have boats for Emergency Surgery, Painting Studios, War Refugees, Composers, Writers, Echoes, even a Bird Refuge. It is something like changing the scale of the hands, pushing and pulling the tools, and reinventing them as inhabitants within boats. The question is about reciprocity of force and reaction as well as human exchange, human buoyancy, what holds us up externally and internally.

We then took this community of boats to the site of Governors Island to work with the dialogue of land and sea. In groups, we pursued the program of community, nomadic and static. Each group and individual student developed a programmatic, spatial and structural principle within his or her site. The formation of the community was organic; there were no requirements for collaboration other then a shared site and participation within a shared program of community. The students determined what forms of reciprocity would be constructed between them. Through the many interventions a position emerged, an ethic, a material imagination of the social contract. As Charles Olsen said of Herman Melville; «He was a beginner interested in beginnings...»

* The students began by determining a suitable coordinate system, including a rotational axis if needed, for finding the torques, and motion of the tool. Then they determined the moment of inertia about the rotational axis, and the mass. Using free-body diagrams (magnitude and direction) of physical contact or gravity the students calculated the torques resulting from these forces using the coordinate system and determined F=ma and T=IA. If motion was present, they determined the corresponding linear and angular acceleration. If not, they determine the «missing» forces and torques based on a=A=0. (T = torque, I = moment of inertia, A = angular acceleration)