Ark: Pursuing qualities of relation through a provisional compositional taxonomy by Michael Davis

View the complete dissertation


The vehicle for this doctoral research is Ark, an architectural practice that, having passed through the AADRL in London, has been returned to New Zealand and the particular lineage of modernist tectonics from which it stems.

The research responds to problems that emerged through encounters with two different modes of architectural education: one at the University of Auckland, and the other at the Architectural Association in London. Priority in the design studio at the University of Auckland between 1990 and 1994 was given to a kind of architectural composition that consisted of parts set in relation to other parts, an approach seen here as typical of work in the field of ‘modernist tectonics’. There was little discussion in the studio of the design process that brought parts and relations into being, nor was there discussion of the importance of practices of making, despite the attention given to beautifully made drawings and models.

On the other hand, at the Architectural Association’s Design Research Laboratory (AADRL) between 2001 and 2003 focus fell on the design process. It foregrounded making with a range of media at different scales in the development of ‘geometric/material systems’. These systems were deployed in ways that underlined their capacity for constant adaptation. Design outcomes were just particular configurations of a system at a moment in a continual design process. In the time since, work of this nature has been deemed to belong to the field of ‘parametricism’.

This research questions and explores whether these two emphases – respectively, the composition of tectonic parts and the ongoing process of formation – can be reconciled within the one approach to architectural design. The enquiry progresses through the deployment of a compositional taxonomy that reflects on five of Ark’s design projects. It sets out to identify compositional characteristics inherent in the projects through which a dialogue between the tectonic and parametric might be established.

The dissertation articulates a story of the work, the research and the practice through two volumes. Ark: A Provisional Compositional Taxonomy presents generalised diagrams about Ark’s compositional taxonomy followed by documentation of each project on the terms it establishes. Ark: Pursuing Qualities of Relation is a discussion of design process that reflects on the five projects and the compositional taxonomy itself. The dissertation is accompanied by a video recording titled Ark: pursuing qualities of relation through a provisional compositional taxonomy. It records an exhibition of Ark’s work and its presentation to show how each field is informing the other at this stage in the life of the practice.

Year: 2014
Examiners: Prof Anthony Burke, Prof Stephen Neille, Dr Alex Selenitsch  Supervisors: Assoc Professor Pia Ednie-Brown, Mr Brent Allpress, Professor Peter Downton


Share this artefact