Rotterdam Study Abroad Studio Option: Elements of Architecture

Instructors: Rem Koolhaas / Stephan Trüby / AMO

Ambition: Following two semesters of work by GSD students on architectural elements – the door, the floor, the ceiling, the roof, the façade etc. – the Fall 2013 Rotterdam Studio, composed of a new generation of students, is the final and most intensive phase of research, content production, editing, and concept design for the exhibition “Elements of Architecture” at the 2014 Venice Biennale of Architecture.

The studio is a masterclass in real exhibition making, encompassing the full range of creative endeavor: it requires academic rigor and original research – many of the elements, like the balcony, have not been properly theorized in architectural history; it requires spatial invention and hands-on testing for the development of the exhibition’s design; it requires editorial and rhetorical precision for the expression of new-found architectural knowledge in the form of the exhibition catalogue; and it requires diplomatic creativity and organization for a complex production taking place on an international stage.

The new students who will work in Rotterdam in the Fall will ideally be paired with former GSD students who took the studio last year. Former students and new students will collaborate on the enormous amount of work that will have to be achieved during the semester, ensuring the continuity of this important new body of knowledge. Fall 2013 students will be encouraged to continue the effort beyond the semester and work on the final execution of the Biennale and its installation in 2014.

“Elements of Architecture”, Central Pavilion, Venice Biennale of Architecture 2014

The exhibition will explore the inevitable elements of all architecture used by any architect, anywhere, anytime: the door, the floor, the ceiling, the corridor, the hearth, the partition wall, the toilet… Each room in the Central Pavilion will be devoted to an investigation of the cultural and architectural history of a particular element – from the technical to the prosaic to the semiotic.

From the Renaissance onwards, the discourse on architecture was largely based on the definition and analysis of architectural elements. Alberti’s six elements (locality, area, compartition, wall, roof, and opening; 1452), Gottfried Semper’s four elements (hearth, roof, enclosure, mound; 1851) and Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture (pilotis, free facade, open plan, long window, roof garden; 1928) were all, in varying degrees, efforts to analyse the history of buildings. But since the globalization of modern architecture in the second half of the 20th century, the possibility of an elemental systematization of architecture has been largely ignored.

Elements that used to be the speciality of architects – the ceiling and the window, but also even the façade – have become devices, ceded to more advanced technological domains. But despite the attempts of parametric architecture to merge formerly distinct categories like roof, wall, and window into a continuous architectural surface, the fundamental elements of architecture endure, albeit in sometimes radically different forms.

By looking at the evolution of architectural elements across all cultures, the exhibition will avoid the Eurocentrism that still characterises architectural discourse, generating a fresh understanding of the richness of architecture’s fundamental repertoire, apparently so exhausted today…