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Wabi Sabi Grotto

Invited Distinguished Professor:

Barry Wark. Biophile


Gabriel Esquivel,  Studio Professor

Texas A&M University


Team: Shane Bugni, Olga Kedya, Jeremy Grail, Aaron Keller, Joel Oelze.



Our project focuses and explores ideas of metal materiality and the machine with reference to  anthropocentric and ecological events that redefined the object's material natural state.  Through this constant state of becoming, cultural issues are explored regarding the machine and how it both affects and it is affected by the physical environment. The different material conditions demonstrate their natural state being altered by these processes, while also altering the cultural and aesthetic qualities around them.




References - The Lloyd building in London that shows the anthropocentric aesthetic of fetishization of the machine as it willfully avoids the natural state we are exploring in our proposal, mechanical and electrical systems in the Shard by Zaha Hadid were also referenced, exposed infrastructure of cities and urban contexts, anthropocentric artifacts, such as railroads, working as machines.  High tech vs rusty ancient machine aesthetic - contrast

The grotto is an artifact that by design displays a natural state, operating between object and garden. This can begin to act as a shift from an anthropocentric position to an ecocentric one. The grotto serves as a bridge or transition in the integration of non-humans in a built environment. The recreation of this condition within our project achieves a permissible condition of coexistence between human and non-humans. The video attempts to showcase this by featuring shots from both a human and non-human perspective.

A world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" in nature.


Some of our initial explorations were looking at the conditions of grottos. We started to emulate these in some of our initial explorations. Our main interests were into stalagmites, stalactites. We were interested in how these conditions create aesthetics of ancientness and we can use some more eroded or weathered textured surfaces in the interior conditions, and the cave-like typological qualities of grottos to achieve this type of aesthetics.


In our previous individual explorations, we began experimenting with cavernous objects populated with stalagmites that emulate grotto conditions, as well as more of explicitly man-made objects exploring artificiality and striations. Our primary focus was on the mereology of parts, the condition of an object being wrapped in objects, and the notion of synecdoche when the parts infer the whole that existed previously or is yet to occur. For this project, we wanted to pursue some of these conditions with the context of an urban building.


In the shift from Anthropocene to ecocentrism, we have designed moments of coexistence that manifest themselves in the close-up conditions such as the striations, slopes, cracks, and pockets on the exterior surfaces. In certain moments, the rose gold metal seam performs like the Japanese technique of kintsugi; it highlights the role of time, weathering, and imperfections within the life of the artifact.


In others, the parts are juxtaposed without a seam to create a gradient between a natural and artifactual aesthetic which are distinguished by their materiality. On the exterior - elements create conditions insp. by the urban cliff hypothesis, that begins to address the non-humans on both the building and city scale.


Our project displays the ability of the non-human to be implemented into a site and propagate within a controlled region. By working with parts in various stages of their perceived natural state, the ambiguity about the overall figure of the building can be created. This makes the building more challenging to be immediately perceived by a human, and begins to raise questions about its other inhabitants, who would be able to perceive the building, and the forces that shaped it (whether as a result of human or non-human agencies), In particular, the positioning of the grotto environment set beneath allows for the casting of light into the lower interior from the structure above, joining the two.


Elevations: Altogether, our building explores ancientness as an aesthetic condition that creates an environment allowing the coexistence of human and non-human. The building is composed of fragments that vary depending on their location, perceived age, material, and the extent to which they display their natural state (staining, impurities and cracks that are inhabited by plants, seeds, and non-human organisms) joined by rose gold metal fissures. The Fissures within the building act as channels for water to run down to the grotto, which fosters growth of vegetation and serves as a point of entry for other microorganisms, promoting coexistence between humans and non-humans within the structure.


Focusing on the non-human, our parts display fractured continuity, broken in places by fissures, crevices, and angled elements that also aid in the traversion of water deposits. Light designation is another important element in the formation of our parts, taking advantage of vertical striations to create a series of thin windows to allow the casting light into the grotto environment below. Throughout the building, there are spaces containing qualities pertaining to both the human and non-human, as well as a mix in coexistence, found in the grottos, fissures and orthogonal spaces.


Working with the exterior form and their vertical striations to create a series of thin window openings allows for light to cast into the interior of the building and propagate plant growth. The grotto condition on the ceilings begin to blur the line of natural and artifactual. Through our development of the grotto, it allows us to design a building and urban condition that benefits and is inhabited by Humans and non-humans. On the street level there are a series of crevices and cavities that collect water and deposit it into the grotto. There are entrances that begin to gesture people in and under the ground at the human scale


There are also some, specifically tailored in favor of non-human conditions, like the light wells, window openings, Fissure and breaks in the building and ground. Our proposal integrates the building into the ground and bridges over the grotto. Referencing the Italian Garden and the paradigm of villa and garden. This aims to blur the urban edge and building silhouette to raise the question what architecture is and what is nature in the context of the city. This creates the strange conditions where the building is sometimes seen as grotto/ground/artifact.


Going into the ground, we wanted to take advantage of the notion of the grotto as something designed specifically for the interaction of humans with non-humans. As one enters the building underground, the metal becomes inhabitable in its transitions into familiar human spaces such as the staircases and balustrades - to the non-human spaces in the grotto itself. It highlights the natural state of materials as well by acting as a border between the material in its natural state versus a polished, maintained, artificial.


Altogether, by exploring the ambiguity between the object and garden, natural and artificial, we have created the conditions of coexistence between human and non-human.


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