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Mean Detail Symposium

Knowlton Hall
March 31, 2017 - 1:45pm to April 1, 2017 - 5:00pm


Organized by Justin Diles, Knowlton School Assistant Professor of Architecture at The Ohio State University.

About the Symposium

Consider the following details. The labor-intensive plug welds, sanded flush, joining the 8 columns, 8 girders and numerous steel window frame components of the Farnsworth House. The omission of a column base and capital on the 22 pilotis of the Villa Savoye. The multiple, calibrated alloys used to construct the 480 formally identical perimeter columns of the original World Trade Center towers. The 46,960 extruded aluminum clips gripping only slightly fewer marble shingles on the elevations of Ohio State’s Knowlton Hall.

Each of these details could easily go unnoticed. Some are invisible, revealing themselves only in annotated construction drawings, specifications or with rigorous analysis. Others hide in plain sight through understated articulation or profuse repetition. All cases produce significant architectural consequences through their inconspicuous formulation, applying the principles of what this symposium positions as “mean detail.” Mean refers here to arithmetic mean: the measure of a central tendency in a set of elements. Detail, on the other hand, is used in a broader sense, encompassing any vital design feature of a project that significantly impacts its overall performance. Connecting the terms, Mean Detail charts a fresh course for evaluating architectural detail as it operates today in many advanced design practices. Going well beyond the historic examples above, current applications of mean detail employ a wider variety of strategies that disturb and extend how architecture is designed, realized and experienced.

Mean Detail serves as a two-day working session probing recent advances in the development of architectural detail. Drawing attention to current methods of design and construction, the event highlights an array of central tendencies operating across the work of the participants. These tendencies play out at multiple scales through many forms of mean detail, each producing an excess of consequence without (necessarily) resorting to an excess of geometry. Unlike recent theories of the detail that have concentrated on singular moments of connection or geometric superabundance, Mean Detail identifies approaches that are focused yet suffuse, all-over and often more discreet than discrete.

The conference looks to a diverse set of architects from the United States and Europe who are at the forefront of rethinking how detail operates. These experimental practices incorporate a broad web of fabrication and design methods. On the fabrication side, participants employ advanced composites, additive manufacturing and robotics; but also brickwork, metal meshes, nearly off-the-shelf curtain wall systems, analog production and thoroughly heterogeneous modes of making that resist easy classification. On the design side, composites-inspired approaches, like surface minimalism, share the terrain with practices employing “alien phenomenology” (OOO), virtual reality, seriality, post-minimalist perceptual play and even revitalized Postmodernism.

The conference will explore the implications of mean detail through four moderated panels. Rather than organize these panels around a series of contrived topics, participants with formally dissimilar practices are grouped by hidden affinities and, possibly, shared underlying central tendencies. Two architectural theorists will help explore these connections, expanding the panel conversations as respondents. Through targeted presentations, discussions and debates, the conference aims to uncover and assess the complex motivations driving current approaches to detail and the provocative consequences for architecture that result.


1:50 p.m.—Symposium Welcome and Introduction

2 p.m.—Panel 1
Moritz Doerstelmann, ICD Stuttgart
Catie Newll, Alibi Studio/University of Michigan
Güvenç Özel, Ozel Office/UCLA IDEAS
Moderator: Justin Diles, Ohio State
Respondent: Dora Epstein-Jones, A+D Architecture and Design Museum

4 p.m.—Break

4:15 p.m.—Panel 2
Ivan Bernal, Syracuse Architecture
Cristina Díaz Moreno, amid.cero9
Efrén Garcia Grinda, amid.cero9
Greg Lynn, Greg Lynn FORM/UCLA
Moderator: Ashley Schafer, Ohio State/PRAXIS
Respondent: Dora Epstein-Jones, A+D Architecture and Design Museum

6:30 p.m.—Symposium Reception


10:30 a.m.—Panel 3
Andrew Atwood, First Office/UC Berkeley
Kelly Bair, BairBalliet/University of Illinois Chicago
Kristy Balliet, BairBalliet/Ohio State/SCI-Arc
Job Floris, Monadnock
Sandor Naus, Monadnock 
Moderator: Curtis Roth, Ohio State
Respondent: José Aragüez, Columbia University

12:30 p.m.—Break

2 p.m.—Panel 4
Neil Denari, NMDA/UCLA
Florian Idenburg, SO - IL/Harvard University GSD
Michael Young, Young Ayata/Cooper Union 
Moderator: Andrew Cruse, Ohio State
Respondent: José Aragüez, Columbia University

4 p.m.—Panelist Roundtable/Closing Remarks


All events are free and open to the public.

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