Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Assembling a Molectular Architecture

(Click here to download this handout as a PDF)

Assembling a molecular architecture

Tuesdays 9am – 1pm and 2pm-6pm; Thursdays 2pm-6pm
Adrian Blackwell
Office Hours: By appointment

Assembling a molecular architecture

no one has yet determined what the body can do…
Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics

Every relationship of forces constitutes a body--whether it is chemical, biological, social, or political.
Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy

Most older methods of communication, reflection and dialogue have dissolved in favor of an individualism and a solitude that are often synonymous with anxiety and neurosis. It is for this reason that I advocate – under the aegis of a new conjunction of environmental ecology, social ecology, and mental ecology – the invention of new collective assemblages of enunciation concerning the couple, the family, the school, the neighbourhood...
Felix Guattari, Remaking Social Practices

If bodies, individual or collective, are made through a specific combination of forces acting on formed and unformed materials, then a building is no different. In this studio we will be investigating psychological, micro-political, and environmental forces in order to consider their effects on building materials, people, and urban spaces. Our challenge is not to collapse the problem of architecture by designing a unitary organism, but rather to understand that each building operates at a non-finite number of interlinked scales from the molecular to the molar, from a grain of sand to the city. At each of these scales every piece of architecture participates in the construction of assemblages (mental, social, or ecological) which in turn produce different effects, connect to form larger compositions, or divide into parts, revealing smaller ones.

These relationships are inevitable, but what makes them function freely and what clogs them up? How can we design with these assemblages in mind and body?

In order to focus our investigations on these problems this studio will:

1. work with user-groups in the Weston / Mount Dennis neighborhood of Toronto, to develop a building which is useful to them and which reverberates with their desires, both responding to existing ones, and stimulating entirely new ones;

2. focus on essential and pleasurable programs for everyday life: a space for food production or distribution and another for music and dance;

3. build a 1:1 structure in order to experiment with possible relationships between materials, labour, and drawings;

4. read one book, A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in order to have something in common: a parallel theoretical investigation.

1. User-groups

We don't need an ethical committee of supposedly well-qualified wise men, but user-groups.
Gilles Deleuze – Control and Becoming

The distribution of the sensible reveals who can have a share in what is common to the community based on what they do and on the time and space in which that activity is performed.
Jacques Ranciere – The Politics of Aesthetics

This studio will follow from the investigations of the Toronto’s Urban Unconscious, a studio that I taught in 2006. This design research project focused on an area of Toronto’s urban fabric that suffers from both social and physical isolation from the rest of the city. The area that spans from Parkdale through Earlscourt and Mount Dennis, north along Weston Road and Jane, past Weston and up into Jane and Finch and Rexdale has a high concentration of low-income and new immigrant communities. We called this area the ‘western rail triangle,’ because it is roughly organized around and between two rail lines on the west side of the city and argued that this territory acts as Toronto’s ‘urban unconscious’, divided from other urban spaces by the railways, ravines, highways, and industrial fabric. Because it has not been targeted as a primary location for redevelopment, it remains largely beyond the research or proposals of urban planners and architects, and citizens who live in other neighbourhoods find few reasons to traverse it.

In the Toronto’s Urban Unconscious studio we worked with 1652 Keele Street, a local ‘community hub,’ which includes the Social Planning Council, the Community Action Resource Center, Somali and Hispanic immigrant organizations, Woman Abuse Council of Toronto and the For Youth Initative, to redesign the building they are working in, which they inherited from the city. In this studio we will work with these groups again to produce architecture that can help facilitiate their use of the exterior of the building and the surrounding urban fabric. We will collaborate to create new creative possibilities for architectural diagrams, programs and expressions. The neighbourhood sits along the historical industrial corridor of Toronto, and as a result much of the local economic base has been lost through de-industrialization. We will try to consider these changing forms of work, considering ways in which the creative power of the local residents’ new powers of creative and communicative labour can transform city space.

2. Programs

In conversation and collaboration with users in Mount Dennis and Keele / Rogers Road neighbourhoods, we will design and build one of two architectural projects:

a) Eating - You are what you eat

“Beyond Good and Evil, at least this does not mean: beyond good and bad.” The good is when a body directly compounds its relation to ours, and with all or part of its power, increases ours. A food, for example. For us, the bad is when a body decomposes our body’s relation, although it still combines with our parts, but in ways that do not correspond to our essence, as when a poison breaks down the blood. Hence good and bad have a primary, objective meaning, but one that is relative and partial: that which agrees with our nature or does not agree with it.
Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy

One group will develop infrastructure for the Emmett Avenue Community Gardens in Eglinton Flats. This could involve connections to and from high rise apartments and the gardens, a mobile device for transporting and sharing vegetables, or an eating area within the park. Detailed programs will be determined in collaboration with the Emmett Avenue Residents Association and other local gardeners.

b) Dancing – “How do you make yourself a body without organs?”

When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom. Then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out as in the frenzy of dance halls and this wrong side out will be his real place.
Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings

One group will design and build a mobile stage that can be used by members of the 1652 Keele Street ‘community hub,’ with special emphasis placed on the For Youth Initiative, for music and dance events. When not in use, the structure will have to be easily moved. The challenge will be to rethink the ground plane of the entire site, using the mobility of the stage as a mechanism to reorganize the parking lot and the garden on Keele Street.

3. Building 1:1

In this studio we will build full size, following experiments in architectural education, such as the Rural Studio at Auburn University initiated by Samuel Mockabee and D.K. Ruth , the design/build studio at The University of Houston, the Miami University Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine and the Cranbrook Art School architecture department. By building at full scale we work across the distanced and hierarchical relationship that architects have with construction labour, while at the same time interrogating the relationship between virtuality of drawing and materiality of construction.

The studio will be focused on experimentation with materials, as a way to rethink architecture from the molecular level outwards. We will begin by selecting appropriate materials and breaking them down, to explore their constituent elements. These experiments will inform the development of material assemblies for the structures we are designing, as well as offer possible ordering structures for architecture at other scales.

All Materials used in the studio will be reused from other sites. We will focus on the relationship of the structures we build to the ‘environmental ecology’ of the city. We will consider the interaction between the building and its environment from the point of view of its constitution and its performance, the elements and forces that combine to form it and the forces and elements it expends and returns to its surroundings.

Some materials will be donated from Restore, Habitat for Humanity’s building materials recycling store. Other used or recycled materials, should be sourced by each group and donations should be negotiated with specific suppliers to individual groups.

4. Reading

The book is finished. It is a totality that the student holds in his hand, that he can span entirely with a glance. There is nothing the schoolmaster can hide from him, and nothing he can hide from the master’s gaze. The circle forbids cheating, and above all that great cheat: incapacity. I can’t, I don’t understand. There is nothing to understand. Everything is in the book. One has only to recount it – the form of each sign, the adventures of each sentence, the lesson of each volume.
Jacques Ranciere – The Ignorant Schoolmaster

No single text has been more influential on the practice of architecture over the last twenty years than Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, volume two of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated into English by Brian Massumi in 1987. Since its North American reception there have been two major interpretations of their work within Architectural education and practice, one primarily formal, and the emphasizing other operative dimensions of architecture.

The formal line of interpretation was intensified by Tom Conley’s 1993 translation of The Fold, which deals directly with both baroque architecture and the work of young architect, Bernard Cache. This work stimulated many new formal investigations in architectural practice. A Thousand Plateaus, which had already introduced the concept of the fold to English audiences augments this concept with a much more diverse palette of forms and formal strategies.

By the early 1990s, architects and landscape architects had already taken up a more sympathetic reading of A thousand Plateaus, as a practical tool to understand architecture as operational rather than representational, or signifying. In this trajectory Deleuze forms the foundation for the call for projective practice instead of critical theory in the work of Stan Allen, James Corner, Sanford Kwinter, Alejandro Zaero-Paolo and many others. For these architects the book’s emphasis on program and diagram unlocks a set of new tools for practice.

Despite the incredible influence the text has had on architectural education and practice few students or practitioners have read past the first chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, and as a result few are equipped to see the shortcomings of these interpretations, which ignore, evade or downplay its critical and political dimensions. Deleuze and Guattari’s two volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia offers a devastating critique of the power networks and micro-fascisms of contemporary capitalism, while offering a new way of thinking about solidarity and collectivity in a world that appears to be fracturing into dangerous individualisms. One political reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s work has been nurtured and extended through their interactions with Italian Workerists and Autonomists: Mario Tronti, Antonio Negri, Franco Bifo Berardi and others. This interpretation, which emphasizes the psychological and political, will be used within the studio as an important complement to the existing architectural readings of the book. The text will form an essential part of the studios ‘mental ecology.’


This course will allow students to experience full scale construction, in order to learn about the distance between drawing and building, and to consider the relation between architecture and its environment. It will introduce students to interactions with collective users, emphasizing the importance of collaboration with them. The studio will also provide a forum for the discussion of architectural ideas in relation to important concepts in contemporary theory. Most importantly the studio will offer students tools to interrelate environmental, social and mental ecologies at multiple scales within a single material project.

Week 1 - January 8, 10
Matters of Urbanism – data collection
Thursday 2-4pm - Discussion: Introduction: Rhizome, 3.

Week 2 – January 15, 17
Matters of Urbanism – mappings
Tuesday 4-6pm - Discussion: 1914: One or Several Wolves? 26.
Thursday 2-6pm – Review: Matters of Urbanism

Week 3 – January 22, 24
Matters of material – collecting samples
Thursday 4-6pm - Discussion: 10,000 B.C.: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?), 39.

Week 4 – January 29, 31
Matters of material – testing materials
Tuesday 4-6pm - Discussion: A Thousand Plateaus, November 20, 1923: Postulates of Linguistics, 75.
Thursday 2-6pm – Review: Matters of material

Week 5 – February 5, 7
Matters of bodies - program
Thursday 4-6pm - Discussion: 587 B.C.--A.D. 70: On Several Regimes of Signs, 111.

Week 6 – February 12, 14
Matters of bodies - diagram
Tuesday 4-6pm - Discussion: November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs? 149.
Thursday 2-6pm – Review: Matters of bodies

Reading week - February 18-22

Week 7 – February 26, 28
Material assemblies - elements
Tuesday 4-6pm - Discussion: Year Zero: Faciality, 167.
Thursday 4-6pm - Discussion: 1874: Three Novellas, or "What Happened?” 192 .

Week 8 – March 4, 6
Material assemblies - systems
Tuesday 4-6pm - Discussion: 1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity, 208
Thursday 2-6pm – Review: Material assemblies

Week 9 – March 11, 13
Assembling a molecular architecture 1:1
Thursday 2-6pm – Discussion: 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible..., 232.

Week 10 – March 18, 20
Assembling a molecular architecture 1:1
Thursday 4-6pm - Discussion: 1837: Of the Refrain, 310.

Week 11 – March 25, 27
Assembling a molecular architecture 1:1
Tuesday 4-6pm – Progress Review
Thursday 4-6pm - Discussion: 1227: Treatise on Nomadology:--The War Machine, 351.

Week 12 – April 1, 3
Assembling a molecular architecture 1:1
Thursday 4-6pm - Discussion: 7000 B.C.: Apparatus of Capture, 424
Week 13 – April 8, 10
Assembling a molecular architecture 1:1
Tuesday 4-6pm - Discussion: 1440: The Smooth and the Striated, 474
Final Review – Date To Be Confirmed

There is only one project for the term: to build a structure to accommodate a specific program, but this project will be divided into 5 sections:

Material investigations - 35% of the course grade (designated as follows):
Section 1: Matters of urbanism – due January 17 - 10%
Section 2: Matters of material due January 31 - 10%
Section 3: Matters of bodies due February 14 - 15%

Assemblages - 50% of the course grade (designated as follows):
Section 4: Material assemblies - due March 6 - 10%
Section 5: Assembling a molecular architecture - 40%

Three written presentations on readings (500 words each) - 15% of the course grade (designated as follows):
1. Discussion introduction 5%
2. Glossary of terms 5%
3. 3-5 questions, each at a different scale 5%

The studio grade includes a growth factor through the various studio projects and involvement in the studio.

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with the Graduate Grading and Evaluation Practices Policy (and how that policy is interpreted and applied in this Faculty). The University of Toronto, School of Graduate Studies, 2007 – 2008 Calendar, pages 36 to 41 explains that policy in detail.

University of Toronto code of Behaviour on Academic Matters states that "It shall be an offence for a student knowingly: to represent as one's own any idea or expression of an idea or work of another in any academic examination or term test or in connection with any other form of academic work, i.e., to commit plagiarism."

For accepted methods of standard documentation formats, including electronic citation of internet sources please see the U of T writing website at: http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/document.html#elec

The full Code of Behaviour regulations could be found from consulting


As well as the al&d writing support, please see English Language and writing support at University of Toronto: http://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/english/ and
http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/advise.html. Students have commented that they found the latter address extremely helpful for writing term papers.

The following are also useful:
Sylvan Barnett, A Short Guide to Writing About Art. 5-7th edition (New York: Harper-Collins, 1997)
William Strunk Jr., E.B. White. The Elements of Style (New York: MacMillan Publishing)


All assignments are due in class at the specified time and date. Any work submitted after the due date will be penalized at a rate of 10% per week. In the case of illness or other special circumstance, notification should be given to the instructors and the Program Office as soon as possible and before the deadline in question. Late work submitted after the final day of classes, April 11, 2008 is not acceptable without prior written permission from the Program Director.


The final due date for course work is at 3.00 pm on April 11, 2008.


Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987)

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