Merrild / Reversible Tectonics

Reversible Tectonics

Author: Heidi Sørensen Merrild, Aarhus School of Architecture

Supervisor: Thomas Bo Jensen, Aarhus School of Architecture; Anders Christian Bregnballe, Aarhus School of Architecture

Research stage: initial doctoral stage

Category: Extended abstract

This research project seeks to create tectonic quality, being readable, and thereby creating clarity, not only in present tectonic but also in how it will allow architecture to adapt over time. The concept of tectonics covers an expanded understanding of 'construction technique'—aesthetic and artistic preferences by virtue of its familiarity with the concept of 'techne. 1 This is a challenge to the way we think about architecture today, where the architecture often becomes a flat canvas, unable to unfold tectonic layers. The tectonic becomes static and offers little ability for change, alteration and adaptation over time. Instead the research seeks to explore architecture, that engages and creates a connection to the world, a future that revolves around a gradual illumination of all the connections that are needed to preserve our existence.

The research strive towards an architecture as a continuous exchange with nature, being obliged to give something back, not only in architectural quality but also as objects and materials. The philosophy of nature and radicalism, points to the 'non-Anthropocene' aspect, where we must learn how to "be" ecological, a principal of the way we are connected to nature and ability to interact with 'the other', ie. other than man. This consciousness cannot take the form of knowledge within the conceptual framework of man, a Procrustean which sets boundaries, or an artificially invented measure towards creating sustainability. 2

By making things, giving them physical presence, and framing them from different contexts, architects are able to attain knowledge on many levels. The Italian philosopher, contemporary of Descartes, Giambattista Vico, posed the thought that “one can only know what one makes”. By making things, giving them physical presence, seeing them from different angles and framing them from difference contexts, architects are able to attain knowledge on many levels. The tinkerer breaks, disassembles, opens up something in order to see and understand its logic. Breaking can be revelatory. It can also be a creative if operates as critical removal, alteration or strategic demolition or disassemble. Set within this conceptual framework, the project starts from the disassembly and reassembly of a traditional Norwegian premodern house, a Nordlandslån3 The project seeks to learn about reversible tectonics by dismantling, replacing, repairing and reassemble the existing condition, made through a series of exercises. The project will eventually unfold and rethink the existing typological building and new additions in more contemporary architectural design in models and drawings.

The learnings from exploring this Nordlandslån, estimated to be 150 years old, moved, adapted and changed over time, talks about a craftmanship rooted in nature. The local natural grown spruce, reveals a slow growth in a harsh climate, giving it’s durability. The tectonic, is an example of optimal use not only in terms of recourse but also a understanding the local growth conditions and possibilities, using the geometry of trees in a natural way. The moss (Hylocomium splendens) grown in symbiosis with the tree, is used in the wooden connections, stacking and tightening the logs, and it also function as antiseptic material.

The Nordlandslån is built in layers, an understanding of lifetime span, durability and inherent values in the materials, using different techniques for different functions, only using the massive wood logs where the highest comfort is needed. The additive way of connecting the wooden units is done in an optimal and sharing way, knowing the local climate and living conditions. Its geometrical form and size and heavy roofing is defined by a understanding of wooden properties, context and gravity with no anchoring – just stacking and connecting. Traces of decay on the surface of the wood is mainly superficial, revealed when repairing and redoing pieces. The tectonic of this log house have been developed over hundreds of years, it seem to hold a certain rigidness to its system – one would have to know the system, being able to make qualified variations, changes and modifications.

Buildings come from nature, they are nature with a precise form. Concrete, stones and bricks are elements shaped through labor, artificial artifacts but they decay and can be left in nature as ruins or natural forms. Clay has been used for hundreds of years and is a resilient and reversible material and as a building material earth or clay has the lowest impact on the environment. The tree is a different living being anchored in the ground. Through its characteristics, the tree allows us to envision a new space of references. We find memory in motions, it captures, draws and encodes date from the surroundings. It has potential for growth (size, volume), respiration (carbon balance), flows(of sap) growth (photosynthesis) cohabitation (insects, organisms) and attachment (the earth) – a point of life.

Can we through the ADDITIVE, STACKING AND CONNECTING, values identified in the current exploration of a traditional Norwegian building, revitalize todays tectonics and create architecture as a second nature?

Concrete and bricks are ridged materials with a high impact on the environment, clay is resilient with a low impact, trees withhold a carbon balance. Skin, trees, soil and buildings are all sensitive to the effects of pollution and climate change – everything is connected by the climate. Can we define reversible tectonics with a carbon balance in mind?

The exhibition I’m currently setting up, offers very few answers and even more questions, at this early stage of the research. The aim is to share the Phd work in process and if possible identify potentials by critical assessments and open discussions. The work unfold the process of making, making things, giving them physical presence as mock-up 1:1 and models. It explores and learn about reversible tectonics by dismantling, replacing, repairing and reassemble existing conditions of a Nordlandslån in 1:1. The exhibition show how tectonic grows, deforms and exists within a range of variations with focus on the additive, stacking and connecting - materials, components and elements. This abstract including a presentation whish to unfold these 3 aspects as reversible tectonic, connecting to the “point of life” - a circular thinking.

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  1. (Greek for arts and crafts) (Martin Heidegger 1999)
  2. Timothy Morton The Ecological Thought. Harvard University Press. 2012 (p.28-33)
  3. Nordlandslån Beiarn, Salten Norway; The building type is housing and has a characteristically low upper floor with almost square windows just below the cornice. It is with minimally unnecessary details and most often without windows on the short sides, especially on the so-called weather side, the side that is most exposed to wind. Nordlandslån have been rebuilt, reassembled and redefined many times, often with a varying number of housing units within the building body. The tectonic of this historical knowledge and craft is often referred to as body, neck and head .