Collector Collection Collective

-RISD BArch Thesis Project-


The collector amasses to understand and transform the self. The collection signifies a collective set of characteristics with which the collector attempts to assimilate. The Is-ness of things becomes the Am-ness of self. This thesis dwells on the deep entanglement between objects, spaces, and people. Pedagogically, this thesis attempts to address the epistemological role of model-making in architecture.

The collector is both the design narrative of the architecture and the meta-narrative of the thesis:

Design Narrative - There are four collector protagonists in this thesis. They are from Virginia Woolf’s Solid Objects, Italo Calvino’s Collection of Sand,  Kendra Greene’s The Stone Collector, and Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season. The texts provide detailed descriptions of the inhabitants, their collected objects, and the interactions between them. These narratives condition the intuition during the design process.

Meta Narrative - The architect is the collector, designing is collecting, and process models are objects of the collection that will induce a collective spatial identity.

Physical model making is central to this thesis. Models are made intuitively in response to the text and as abstractions of the collections. The ambiguity of scale and boundary of the objects invites people to make new associations and dwell in a field of possibilities. Serendipitous moments that occur during the making are caught when models accumulate. As these subtle tendencies inform the defining characteristic of each space, the properties of the models begin to behave as stand-ins for actual material constructions. The architecture slowly emerges in the push-and-pull between the abstract order of the model and the material affordances of reality.

In short, the architect embodies the collector, and the collector projects himself onto the collection. One shift from “dwelling in an object” to “dwelling in a space”. This chain of relationships establishes subjective oneness between objects, spaces, and people.

The Four Collectors 

These four projects were worked on simultaneously. The models at the end of each page  are the latest models for each narrative. They are not “final” models that mark the end of each process but are simply the latest stage it has arrived at on the last day of thesis. Each has arrived at a slightly different place:

*Click on the images to enter each collection


Lump House Lump House

Sand House

Stone House

Kaleidoscope House

The Fifth Collector

Collecting is about the impulsive search and the mindless wander, which nurtures the substrate upon which architecture propositions grow. On the other hand, the emergence of architecture requires organization and reasoning. In the process of distilling each collection into an essential model that could hold the collective characteristics of the objects, the fifth collector (the architect) notices his tendency to draw lines on his model materials, like applying an abstract grain. It was as if I was trying to create a new piece of matter, a new substance.

Merriam Webster defines “substance” as: “Physical material from which something is made or which has discrete existence”. Like a piece of wood when it breaks, the grains influence the direction of the rupture. Ruptures activate the receded grains and reveal “space” within the dense mass. The discreteness or the is-ness of the material partially lies within these grains.

In my design process, collecting searches for the set of conditions that will be encoded into the grain. The abstract grains dictate the transformation of the mass. These multiscalar grains can organize the overall spatial logic and can inform subtle details of the space.

The term for “grain” in Chinese is 纹理 (wén lǐ). 纹 means “lines” or “veins”, 理 can be translated into “reason”, “sifting”, “organizing”, or “truth”. In a similar way, these drawings I have made in parallel to my thesis also searches for space by sifting through a dense field of lines. The ordered lines substantiates the smooth and meaningless surfaces. Perhaps this is where the fifth collector dwells, within the deep grains that constitutes matter. 

*Link to Thesis Book
*To view all models in chronological order, click here

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