Archaic modalities directly inform my research on contemporary building production. Rome provides prime examples of the material and energy systems that are the basis of my design research, practice, and teaching. There are two interrelated aspects of this research that would be central to my work in Rome: next-use and thermally active surfaces. The first of these is evident in the recurrent use and durability of Rome’s building stock: a palimpsest of ecological re-sources and social uses. The second is evident in the canonical thermally active surface, the hypocaustum of Roman baths and villas.
Romehas some of the most sustainable, integrated buildings in the world. This is not on account of many decades of exuberant, high-tech buildings but rather a pervasive and persistent practice of durability and re-use over many centuries. In Rome, the ecological and economic amortization of the low-embodied energy and low-operational energy of its building stock divided by the generations it has served through the millennia strikes a sharp contrast with a contemporary, high-tech building that will serve a limited population for thirty to, perhaps, a hundred years. When this amortization is coupled with its correlate—the cultural and social dividends of those resources over respective periods—the basis and value of multiple forms of sustainability is evident. In this way, I admire both the formal permutations of Rome and its material ecology with equal, convergent interest. Ultimately, the qualities of life that these buildings engender and integrate over time is at the root of this topic: Rome is a formal project less evident in any one isolated act as much as an evolving set of urban structures and ecological dynamics. Whereas re-use involves, and is limited to, the reclamation and repurposing of existing buildings, next-use ultimately points towards a more active evaluation of existing conditions for current and future constructions. Next-use requires novel thermodynamic imagination of existing resources and future demands, the strategic amplification of existing physical and cultural amenities, fitness with multivariate cultural and ecological dynamics, the integration of new and archaic modes of construction and energy systems, and rich, if not restrained, interventions in the built environment to realize buildings that will continue to serve multiple generations through next-uses; a mongrel of archaic habits of mind and contemporary resource conditions. Whether it is the successive re-occupations of the Capitoline Hill or the Janiculum Hill, the characteristically Roman plundering of materials and ornament, or as-yet unknown examples of next-uses that are as poignant as they are innocuous, I will seek and document compelling examples of next-use as part of my research of this inherently Roman sensibility; a bricolage of thermo-, social, cultural, and ecological dynamics.
Thermally active surfaces
Departing from the seemingly innocuous question “Why do we heat and cool buildings with air?” this body of research focuses on thermally active surfaces. A thermally active surface building uses the surfaces, structure, and mass of a building to heat and cool the building with water and radiant transfer rather than air. In doing so, this technique initiates a cascading set of effects for the design and construction of robust, low-energy buildings. It uses radically less energy on account of a few very basic physiological and thermodynamic properties and reinvests the fabric of the building—architecture—with more poignant roles. In short, it is a more sensible means of building: more responsive the body and its systems as well as more sound, ecologically rational means to build. Thermally active surfaces will be to the twenty-first century what air conditioning was to the twentieth century.
Although an air-based system, the thermally active Roman hypocaust system is the archaic antecedent of this technique. This Roman system is uncannily related to the massive material strategies of contemporary thermally active strategies. As with next-use, I am ultimately interested in the formal potential of the massive material and energy systems enabled by this technique as the means towards more sound material and energy practices in the new millennium. This research also reflects a deep personal bias for the formal effects and performance of mass in contemporary architectures. Roman mass looms large in this research.
Thermally active surfaces + next-use
These two techniques, next-use and thermally active surfaces, merge in my current research and practice in contemporary design. They engender new ambitions for the formal, professional, economic and ecological life of architecture. The impetus of this work involves novel physiological and thermodynamic correspondences between a body and building, cultural formations only associated with durability and evolution, and the qualities of life embedded in urban materialisms: fundamentally formal endeavors in my view. Aspects of this thinking are evident in recently constructed projects such as a chapel/studio building in Colorado; its massive, perdurable wood walls are thermally active and its precisely vague planning supports multiple uses over time. Other book and building projects more directly advance the role of thermally active surfaces.
In Rome, the remains of archaic modes and materials coupled with the sustained use of other transformative dynamics that are central to the cultural and social life of Rome collectively point towards a materialism of Rome’s corpus and, equally, what Foucault described as the ‘materialism of the incorporeal.’ These materialisms would be at the core of my preoccupations in Rome. Time in Rome would allow me to look back as I look forward in this research and elaborate my work on the simultaneously archaic and contemporary modes of these related energy and construction techniques. I will analyze the role of these two techniques fundamental to the evolution, use, and qualities of life of Rome and that will be fundamental to the evolution, use, and qualities of life of material and energy systems in the twenty-first century in architecture.
Architect and Professor of Architecture. Born Denver, Colorado, 1976. Currently lives, practices, and teaches in Boston, MA.