Exploring Volume and Light

All through my Architectural study, and in a lot of practice, I will be  trying to think of a concept for a space, trying to portray that idea, I’ll produce drawings that try to convey that space, make a model which is another attempt to reveal my design, but I will only ever be making representations. Until the building is finally built I can only try my best to show what I mean. I can never practice out ideas or plans on a life like 1:1 scale, it’s all just pen on paper, or a small card model.

That’s why this new University project I’m currently going through is so unique and valuable. Our studio space has been wiped of it’s tables, drawing boards and portfolios, to make way for over 400 cardboard boxes, which we as a class can manipulate to actually experience volume, space and light, on a human scale.

The structure is six boxes high, six deep, and varies between eleven and ten boxes wide. Once we’d built this huge volume, we began taking boxes away, creating tunnels, windows, heights, with light-wells and dead ends, it turned into a warm cocoon, a place people sat inside and sketched, drank tea, chatted. It was amazing how much it really felt like a building, the card is so dense that it looks so much more solid than it is, and when a box is removed to let light in, the depth of the window means the light entering is softer almost, giving the same effect as the windows in Ronchamp by Le corbusier.

The space developed into something quite moody and dark, not bathed in light, and obviously quite rugged, but I think the class as a whole wanted to try and achieve this. After finishing our spatial mapping of trees in an earlier assignment, an organic and earthy building seemed more appropriate than an expansive and cold, gap, or hall, in the middle of the boxes. The twists and tunnels within the structure are so much more enticing, the fact you need to crawl in before you can stand, all of this creates an atmosphere, all just from cardboard! From this project I’ve realised that Architecture is all about light, it’s light which makes a space one thing or another, and if manipulated right, it can change something so simple, into something so interesting.


Spatial mapping

Uni has started again, and our first project of the year has got my brain thinking finally for the first time since the summer holidays. This four week project is not at all what I had expected, but being challenged, and having to get my head around the difficulties of the project is what it’s all about.

The exercise is called Spatial Mapping, and in teams of roughly nine, we are required to survey, record, and accurately measure a portion of a tree in a park outside the University.

This quick sketch shows the park the tree is situated in, essentially ‘what the tree sees’.

My first reaction was ‘why are we measuring a tree?’, maybe yours was too, but upon studying the brief and having weekly tutorials, I can see completely why this is relevant to architecture.

This is the part of the tree our group selected. It had to have a level of detail to keep us engaged in the project, but not be too complicated so surveying it would be impossible. The point of surveying and measuring this part of the tree is that we as a group will be required to take this part of the tree, graphically map it out with plans, sections and elevations, so that when it is scaled up, it can become a landscape, capable of housing a building we will be designing in a later project. Detailed pictures help visualise how this root could become a landscape. The deep cut up the root could easily become a valley or river for example.

An overhanging cliff? A cave?

Cracks easily become ravines, whilst bumps can be hills or mountain ranges. It totally depends on how much you scale up your ‘landscape’ . Detailed measurements become vital so as to later create a realistic environment, and my team has opted to create a beautiful red wax mould, which records all the little details. Other groups have used resin or clay.



To get heights and such, we devised a system of 551 poles all stuck into a piece of polystyrene, which when pressed into the tree, moved all the poles into varying high points and low points, accurately mapping the contours of the tree, we are currently measuring all these poles, and from that, sections will be able to be drawn. We have also begun making contour maps, so that a 2:1 scale model can be made accurately.


Each member is to individually create a set of orthographic drawings, alongside a sketchbook full of general musings about the tree, its environment, interesting features, a survey, so that this ‘landscape’ becomes personal, known like the back of your hand, somewhere I will fully understand and appreciate when it comes the time to place a complementary structure on it.