‘Theatricality And Absorption In The History Of The Image’
Dan Marty & Tess McNamara
Today, San Francisco’s Mission District is considered a ‘war zone’ of gentrification, with a corresponding housing crisis more severe than that of the city at large. This proposal for 30 sites of housing in the Mission’s vacant North East corner is a live-work, communal housing typology with a flexibility and gradient of shared space that accommodates families, artists, and small business owners from across the Mission.
A warehouse plinth, held at a contextual 20’, adapts to the irregular shape of each site, and houses the ‘work’ functions of the community. Housing towers are arrayed on top of this plinth, comprised of stacked villas of eight single room units, or four two-room units—a switch enabled by internal circulation between corner rooms. The proposal provides an alternative to exclusionary gentrification by offering a communal model for both new and existing Mission residents, affording them the opportunity to live together in communal working and domestic space.
Who influences you graphically?
Once we constructed the base of each image, we found ourselves turning to the urban and domestic landscapes of Edward Hopper, Jeffrey Smart, and David Hockney for graphic reference. The abstraction and composition used by this group of painters, their playful color palettes and often surreal depictions of regular life, helped us to imagine what the world of our project might look like—how it might come to life through color and texture and materiality.
What parameters defined the construction of the images and specific views?
The construction of each image was designed to advance our argument about the communal living and working spaces of the project. Through image, we sought to represent the most significant drivers of the project: the collective work space, the communal domestic space, and the urban form. In constructing these images we were mindful of Michael Fried’s dichotomy of theatricality and absorption in the history of the image. The theatrical image addresses the beholder, but absorption can be employed by constructing the image as if the beholder isn’t there—focusing on a moment, a corner, or a piece of domestic life.
To understand this dichotomy, we looked at the banal painting of Vilhelm Hammershoi, in which experience is conveyed through focusing on the most unremarkable features of life. We referenced the precision of the dispassionate photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher, the frontality and flatness of Edouard Manet, and the abstraction of the suburban photographs of Lewis Baltz. Through the precise construction of each image, by avoiding the theatrical and instead focusing on the banal, we tried to absorb the beholder into the world of the project.
What was your process in terms of concept development in relation to the production of images?
The architecture of the project, the walls and floors and stairs, were designed through plan and axonometric sketches, followed by the construction of images to design details and to consider materiality. As we produced the images, we constantly referenced the communes of San Francisco that we visited, before we started designing, to understand the current housing crisis in the city. As questions arose about how to illustrate domesticity and how to portray communality, we mined our photographs of these real-life places for answers and inspiration. In these photographs, we found tiki torches and teapots, meditation cushions and cactus collections, piles of paper and miscellaneous mugs—all of which we tried to include in our images in order to accurately depict the messy and energetic spaces of communal living and working.
To what extend and how has the work of Pier Vittorio and Dogma influenced the aesthetic language of the project?
Because Pier Vittorio was the critic of the studio, we were of course influenced by his work. But the influence and guidance he asserted were less aesthetic and more about how to be precise in the construction of images and drawings. Pier Vittorio pushed us to consider how each image might advance the argument of the project, and how they might show, above all else, how people might actually live and work in the housing we designed. He consistently pushed us to mine our surroundings for information, to see how people used the collective spaces of our studio, or our apartments as a reference for our images.
What is your take on the square format?
The square format was a constraint we embraced for every drawing in order to create a body of work by the whole studio. We compiled all of our work and research into a book titled Did Someone Say Typology?, which examined the history of housing typologies in San Francisco, and included the studio’s eight projects that each proposed a collective housing alternative to address the city’s housing crisis. This studio was the third in a series of studios at Yale taught by Pier Vittorio on the subject of communal housing in San Francisco, and the work of all three studios will be combined into one book to be published by Black Square next year. This book will also be square, though hopefully in format only.
Daniel Marty graduated from the Yale School of Architecture M.Arch I program this year and holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Michigan. He has previously worked in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Design Group and in New York at Abruzzo Bodziak Architects.
Tess McNamara is a fourth-year dual degree candidate at the Yale School of Architecture and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, in the M.Arch I and M.E.M programs respectively. She holds a B.A. in Architecture from Princeton University, and has worked for Guy Nordenson and Associates, and WXY Studio in New York.