In my final first-year studio class, I was given a two part assignment: to create a studio for an artist, and an adjacent residential building for five disciples. I chose Richard Serra, best known for his curved steel sculptures of immense scale. The location of the site is Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, PA, between the Schuylkill river and the biking trails alongside Kelly Drive.

You may notice the site plan resembles a leaf (the studio) and a flower (the residences), connected by a stem (pathways). This was entirely unintentional; I only realized it after I finished this project!




Richard Serra's room-sized steel sculptures require a warehouse or naval yard for their construction, but Serra designs them using smaller scale lead models. (I was also required to keep this building under 1,000 square feet!) Serra also does a great deal of drawing; often it isn't directly related to his sculptures (nor is it as publicized). In any case, my goal was to create a studio to accommodate both of these activities. Since this building's location is somewhat isolated, I also wanted a restroom and an area to eat, with a refrigerator and a table or bar.

One can approach the building from the Schuylkill River Trail and enter through the front, or walk around the building to the river-facing rear entrance. The building is split into two levels connected and divided by a staircase. The upper and lower levels are for model-making and drawing, respectively. The restroom is at the bottom of the steps, directly under the upper level.

Click on an image below to enlarge it:



Below is the design process I went through to make this over the course of 10 weeks:



I started with the most utilitarian design possible. On the left of the plan is an area for Serra to build models, and on the right is space for drawing. The small room at the top right is a restroom.


Sculpting requires more room than drawing, so to differentiate the spaces I raised the ceiling upwards at that end of the building. I also began adding curves to the model to mimic some of the aesthetics of Serra's work. One motif here is a ")ƒ(" shape between the windows on the walls, as well as on the roof.


As seen in the plan view, the positions of the walls were shifted, resulting in enclosed areas near the entrances. Thus, one is enveloped as they walk into the building, as is the case with many of Serra's sculptures.


I decided to exaggerate the shift of the walls as far as possible. To divide the space further, I moved the restroom into the middle. Although this created an interesting interior space, it eliminated the exterior enclosures; this was one of the main reasons I abandoned this iteration of the design.


Based on feedback from my midterm critique, I made several additions to the third iteration. First, I added a wall alongside the curved pathway which leads to the back entrance. I also extended one of the main walls out a bit into the landscape; this was meant to be a whimsical gesture. Notice, I did keep the restroom from the fourth iteration.


In the final design, the building has been split into two levels, taking advantage of the sloped ground condition. The two distinct spaces are connected (and divided) by a staircase at the center, which also allows access to the underground restroom.



The second part of my assignment called for a residential building for five aspiring disciples to live near the studio of the artist I selected (Richard Serra). I was required to include bedrooms, restrooms, a kitchen, and common living space, and the building needed to be under 1600 square feet. Instead of starting with function and adding form, as I did with the studio, for this building I went in the opposite direction, basing the design on an actual Richard Serra sculpture (Cycle, 2010).

Cycle is made from three S curves; my original intention was to create a pentagonal version of the design with five bedrooms surrounding a central area. This left little room for anything else, so I divided three of the outer circular spaces in half. The bedrooms are smaller (and have "Jack-and-Jill" style bathrooms), but I managed to fit far more into the design than I originally thought possible. The smaller personal restrooms can fit a toilet and a sink, so I have a larger restroom area where a bathtub or shower could be placed. I'm particularly fond of how this design is half-submerged into the ground; one of the exits has a longer staircase to accommodate this.