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ADS5: Ambiguous Architecture

Tutors: Max Kahlen & Christopher Dyvik

ADS5 will explore an architecture that transcends function, an architecture that removes the comfort of the pre-defined space and instead becomes a landscape to discover. This architecture is not multifunctional, but about a presence with the ability for different readings. It is about ambiguity.

This ambiguity is ambitious, it is real and precise and yet simultaneously vague, intangible and unclear. It is rooted in a careful composition and articulation of structure, form, materiality, object, furniture, scale, place and infrastructure – a process that questions every spatial element we know but yet must also disassociate from our preconceptions of these very known typologies. 

‘Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees’. [1]

The interest in ambiguity is two-fold. The first and most obvious is a rather pragmatic consideration: technology, software, capitalism and an increasingly cosmopolitan mindset change our life-styles rapidly, such that during its life-span, buildings will face many changes in function and use. This state of flux makes the building typologies as we know them obsolete, asking for an architecture much less defined by its particular function and instead with the potential to be re-appropriated. Can we understand typology through space rather than use? This problem is not new. Many others have already explored the discrepancy between form and function and yet it remains the fundamental driver of processes of design and evaluation of success.

The second reason is an interest in the very architecture itself, in composition and order of space and its relationship to the environment and us. If ambiguity begins to disconnect form from function it introduces a level of uncertainty. Reasoning in practical and economical terms becomes irrelevant, instead it introduces a process of abstraction and decontextualisation. Similarly to abstract art it draws the attention to form and its internal rational. It sets the ground for a more intuitive discourse around the architectural elements, their literal characteristic, their form, size, proportion, about light, orientation, material, and everything that ‘makes’ a place in the absence of function. A discourse about form. But this ambiguity also questions the relationship of these forms to the immediate environment and us. While the unresolved, even uncanny nature of the ambiguous can be uncomfortable, it introduces an openness. It has the potential for an architecture that is perceived as a landscape, an undetermined territory, in which we need to find our place. It is this act of inhabiting – first seeing, discovering and than re-appropriating space – through which this landscape can expose our multitude of desires. While it elevates the things we surround us with and introduces a different awareness of those very objects, it also affects the relationship to the immediate context – does the architecture take advantage of the nature or nature of the architecture?

In the search for ambiguity, it is almost impossible to remove ourselves from biases and to design without any purpose in mind. You always see a ‘thing’ with an unconscious experience, context in mind, but again, if done so in the most literal way, this might reveal more about us, our culture, our architecture.

Loop_ Installation Czech and Slovak Pavilion_ 53rd Venice Biennale (2009)_ Roman Ondák
Loop, Installation Czech and Slovak Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale, Roman Ondák 2009


This year the students’ pProjects will address these questions and discourses through precise building proposals situated within the rural landscape. If virtual networks make distances relative and the density of the city becomes overwhelming it seems to make sense that we leave the city behind in search for a different, maybe even more diverse context. We will investigate conditions of the rural landscape from assumed wilderness to preserved natural reserves, agricultural landscapes, logistical centres, public services and manufacturing. ‘The countryside is now the frontline of transformation’, as Rem Koolhaas puts it. Our idea is not necessarily to go back to our roots, the authentic or natural, but to use of this highly complex, manicured and sometimes even forgotten landscape as a counter force to develop ideas for an architecture that transcends function, an architecture that questions routines and opens up to different life-styles. If ambiguity begins to disconnect the architectural form from function, what remains is it’s essential purpose to provide shelter from the environment – not to protect from the wilderness, or to stand in opposition to nature, but more interestingly, to work with the climatic condition of the context, an architecture that sustains within a seasonal landscape.

Virtual Reality Screenshot, 2017, Dyvik Kahlen
Virtual Reality Screenshot, Dyvik Kahlen 2017


As a way to approach an ambiguous architecture we will begin by looking at one of the most specific and most common programs: domesticity. Collectively we will analyse a series of built and unbuilt private dwellings from the 17th century to modernity as a source to learn and understand spatial concepts in relation to a life-style. Following Robin Evans text ‘Figures, Doors, Passages’ we will look at the evolution of the residence in Europe from the 16th to the 19th century, a gradual transition from a domestic architecture defined by a matrix of rooms to an architecture defined by the corridor and the individual cell – a transition from a ‘society which feeds on carnality, which recognises the body as the person, and in which gregariousness is habitual’ to a ‘society that finds carnality distasteful, which sees the body as a vessel of mind and spirit, and in which privacy is habitual’. Are we discovering ‘the existentialist house’, on guard against modern technology, away from the metropolis, a house around a central fireplace protected from the environment? Or is it a positivist house, seduced by modern technology and the idea of material happiness? A machine for living as a caricature of the space of modernity? [2]

Projects will adopt spatial concepts in order to then abstract and undo domesticity strategically in search of a basis for an ambiguous architecture. Avoiding metaphors, diagrams and stories, our reading will try and overcome preconceptions with the ambition to describe the obvious, to investigate the architecture itself. We will try to uncover the underlying spatial logic, formal vocabulary and the relationship between inside and outside. The threshold between the civilised, private, protected interior and the ‘natural’ wild exterior. 

In his text Robin Evans argues through a comparison between the perspective, a literal investigation of the image, and the plan, an analytic drawing. ADS5 will engage a design process that alternates between an equally contrasting set of representations. On the one side we will use the plan as most simple representation of form and order, a tool to itemise every discovery. On the other side we will use the 3D model to represent space in Virtual Reality and in rendering. Virtual Reality is the most literal way to experience an unbuilt architecture in its entirety; it allows us to perceive the architecture as landscape through which we can walk as intuitively as our eyes allow. What might be clear in plan, might not be clear in space, and vice versa. It moves our attention from the abstraction of form to a sense of place. The movement through space removes focus and challenges an intuitive perception. The image, in contrast, is based on the selection of a precise perspective. It idealises and reduces the project into one still life. If we argue that technology changes our life-style, we need to embrace its tools.

Site plan, Museum Insel Hombroich (1990-2015)
Site plan, Museum Insel Hombroich, 1990-2015

[1] Title of Lawrence Weschler book about Robert Irwin.

[2] ‘The Good Life’ by Inaki Abalos

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