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Harvard Graduate School of Design / Completed 2003

This study began as Bryan Young’s thesis project with Advisor Hashim Sarkis and an independent research proposal with Professor Joe MacDonald at the Harvard GSD in 2002-03. The research and design project were awarded the James Templeton Kelley Thesis Prize.

Initially this research sought to critique the execution of diagrams relative to specific buildings in which the conceptual design and physical artifact were the manifestation of constructing the two-dimensional diagram through a direct translation of extrusion. While the condition of a privileged section contributing to a building’s image was in no way a new or entirely problematic proposition (Villa Baizeau by Le Corbusier, 1930), in the early 2000s it became a widespread “move” that prioritized a graphic image over considerations of perception and experience as well as more complex translations of form and surface from the two-dimensional cut. As this research continued, there was less of an interest or relevancy in positioning the exercises against already dated monuments; instead, the inquiry focused on the sectional cut and possible projections that might emerge through a process of decoding or motivating the cut. It is not a coincidence that this occurs at a moment in which plans and sections are increasingly the result of secondary slices through digital models that have been molded from outside-in, rather than prioritized frames or clips that serve to control more thoughtful spatial deviations.

The research phase for the thesis project appropriated the graphics, organizational strategies, and spatial sequences of “primitive” video games as means to examine alternate spatial projections and perception within the context of contemporary architectural production. The following video game exercises focus upon the moment in which spatial information is extracted (and understood) from the two-dimensional surface – the diagram – and transformed into a three-dimensional architectural condition.

The static two-dimensional graphics of these video games clearly communicate a familiar diagrammatic space. The cognitive convention a designer employs to read these graphics is extrusion. However, with these early video games, game play and user interaction allow for “hidden” readings of depth and form, spatial translations that are distinct and even contrary to pure extrusion. This is the result of any number of spatial malfunctions that might occur during game play. These glitches are both accidental (the result of the primitive technology) and designed (programmed to promote activity). Responding to the glitch, the studies catalog the following formal procedures: cascade, separation, looping, overlap, bending, rotation, realignment, stratification, multiplication, wrapping, stamping, nesting and scaling. The cataloging of these procedures provides the architectural foundation for the morphological studies of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.

Video game graphics are reductive of the spatial parameters they map in a way that allows multiple three-dimensional configurations to be generated depending upon how the diagram is activated. For example, the final 3D proposals for Donkey Kong and Pac-Man can be traced back to the 2D diagram, yet these are only two possible solutions among several unrealized alternatives. It is impossible to anticipate the results without following the operations suggested by the diagram. In addition, even a small reordering of the sequence would lead to other configurations.