Duality and Colonization

Hello all,

For Wednesday’s assignment, each group in our studio (Nick’s studio B) had to write an essay describing the concept behind of fence shelter designs. I know not everyone gets to thoroughly examine each project, so here is our group’s essay along with some pictures of our structural model. Ask one of us if you have any questions.

Kairavi, Anika, Liz, Kim, Robin

Duality and Colonization

Inscribed in the pages of his poignant manuscript, The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton states that buildings and structures “speak of democracy or aristocracy, openness or arrogance, welcome or threat, a sympathy for the future or a hankering for the past.” Tangible symbols that illuminate ideals and represent society as a whole, buildings serve a multiplicity of purposes. Whether they are erected simply for shelter and safety, to showcase the latest technological breakthrough at a world fair, or to grandly display the wealth accumulated by a particular individual or corporation, a building, and at a more fundamental level, architecture, is designed to leave a physical imprint of certain principles upon the earth. Within the context of the fence shelter, a keynote idea encompassing the project is the notion of colonization and ownership, or as de Botton phrases it, aristocracy.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a colony is “ body of people living in a new territory but retaining ties with the parent state.” Typically, the term colony or colonize arouses images of a wooden ship loaded with rations and firearms landing on foreign and savage shores, people embarking on a journey and opening a new page in their history. However, when speaking of colonizing on the Carnegie Mellon campus, one is, certainly, referring to the act of “taking the fence.” A long-standing tradition, the fence passes ownership during the hours of the moon, flaunting a fresh coat of paint every few days when an eager group of bright-eyed students claims the bloated railing. Providing shelter for these overnight guests poses a unique set of parameters: basic refuge, opportunities to rest, spaces to interact with crowds, and the ability to assert dominance and clearly display their message.

Honing in on the revelation of colonization, our structure incorporates a cantilevered platform hovering directly above the fence. This raised dais allows for a slightly more private resting space with higher spatial hierarchy than the enclosed ground floor, structural incorporation of the fence, and, most significantly, a prominent exhibition of “who’s” message or event is decorated on the exterior of the sculpture. By having an elevated display case, the structure clearly promotes the notion of ownership and appropriation over the fence, a parallel of the main purpose of the sculpture. In his powerful manifesto, Experiencing Architecture, Steen Eiler Rasmussen writes that rather than having empty ideals determine architecture, “the entire community tool part in forming the dwellings and implements.” This idea, not so different from Gaston Bachelard’s writings that find relief in architecture being shaped from experience rather than abstract concepts, presents itself in our structure through its incorporation of public and private space. Although situated in an exceedingly public site of gravel on campus, the fence structure should not only allow for peaceful rest, achievable through a ground level, enclosed space, but also interaction with other students, founded in an overhanging cantilever and sloped wall. Pushing this initiative further, a moving wall is proposed along this pseudo-pulpit. Attached with hinges, this wall would morph from a vertical and closed pose to an open floor available for occupation. As architectural theorist K. Michael Hays writes, “an open space, fluid in its interior development and spilling toward its exterior, must be judged superior to a compartmentalized boxed space.” Bestowing the structure with the dual opportunity to have an enclosed space or a public platform, this adjustable wall promotes an effortless translation from private resting and study quarters to a fluid semi-public space. Moreover, fostering the concept of dual purposes, a proposed wall will be slanted at an angle to allow for movement up the side of the structure. While still providing refuge to those occupying the interior of the edifice, the wall, not unlike Snøhetta’s opera house in Oslo, promotes a place for social gathering and complete interaction with the building.

Despite notions of imperialism and colonization disappearing within the past several centuries, the initiative within the context of architecture creates notions of spatial hierarchy and ownership. Intertwined with proposals of dual purposed walls and opportunities for communal and private space, our fence structure aims to not only incorporate the fence itself, but also the campus community as a whole.


Bachelard, Gaston. “The Poetics of Space.” New York: Orion, 1964.

de Botton, Alain. “The Architecture of Happiness.” New York: Random House, Inc., 2006.

Hays, K. Michael. “Architecture Theory Since 1968.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

Rasmussen, Steen Eiler. “Experiencing Architecture.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1964.


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One Comment on “Duality and Colonization”

  1. Nick says:

    Now the challenge is to make something from what you’ve written; you’ve done a good job in laying your proposition out. Believe in what you write and have the shelter validate it. As per our chat Wednesday after class, we saw how the latest iteration did not manifest some of the ideas you write about. Does what you’ve done declare ownership or represent colonization? So keep going, don’t stop…

    And as always, think about the hierarchy of parts–structure, skin, circulation, storage, sleep.


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