Tallinn, Estonia / 2015

Presented at the 2015 Tallinn Biennale, this prototype examines the disciplinary status of the joint in composite construction. The history of the joint is one of culture before it is one of technology and industry; building in little pieces of material always mirrors the human scale and the realm of human-sized things. The size and cuts of shingles, bricks, stones, and panels comfort and allow even giant buildings to be metered and grasped. In the composite age, construction will be tied to things much larger-- and smaller-- than our bodies.

Strange Scale Effects

Polymer-based composites offer opportunities to create scale-ambiguity by decoupling the human form and all-too-familiar tectonic articulation. Composites enable the possibility of near seamlessness, however, such removal of all tectonic expression and cultural signs from surfaces is disturbingly Modernist, in the exclusion of ornament detail and all forms of rustication as a sign of resistance to the past. If based on a different ethos, the revolution of composite construction will be more productive. Rather than erasing tectonic articulation simply because we can, it is time for architects to theorize unsettling approaches that take full advantage of the latent fictions and beguiling scale-indeterminacies achievable with composites.

Drawing on History

This prototype considers contemporary joining techniques that draw from the historical traditions of Japanese wood joinery and medieval textile seam work. Japanese joinery is based on friction-fit connections, which are not assembled with hardware, but rather through the complex figuration of the edge or end of a piece of material. The imperative of this friction-fit joint—as in this prototype—is to eliminate mineral materials (nails and other hardware) while still creating structural continuity. The aesthetics of these joints is in no way reducible to structure since there is always an excess of connection within a single joint. Similarly, the goal of medieval textile seam work and stitching is to functionally join two pieces of fabric together; the figuration of the seam itself is crucial and always exceeds it functional agency. Stitching joins things not by erasing boundaries, but by celebrating them.


Based on surface rather than vector structure, composite construction lends itself to puzzle-pieced and friction-fit supercomponents at large scale. It is critical for the prototype to maximize surface continuity between components, yet still allow parts to be read as such, each with their own shape and life. Because of the lightweight construction method—milled bead-foam wrapped in 1/16” glass weave and resin—the 1:1 scale of each supercomponent can be 50’x50’ and be built in an aircraft hangar and flown with sky-cranes to the construction site.

Client: Tallinn Biennale 2015
Type: Prototype