Kimball Kaiser @ Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan M.Arch 2G, Thesis Studio
‘Super’is borrowed from Supergraphics,the term that classifies the super-scaled, two dimensional geometries that began appearing on walls, floors, and ceilings in the 1960’s and 1970’s. These stripes, numbers, words, and arrows were applied to existing architecture after the fact to achieve optical effects. These results were often accomplished by disregarding architectural planes, betraying corners, and visually masking form with pattern. In these instances, Supergraphics had much more in common with Op Art and it’s older sibling Razzle Dazzle Camouflage.
‘Livery’ is the term used by designers for the specific set of colors and graphics wrapped on products such as automotive vehicles, trains, and airplanes. These graphics directly respond to three dimensional form by requirement, and are often used to accentuate form by being administered in a manner corresponding to geometry piece by piece. The livery design process is considerate and precise. Whether or not the graphic jumps a joint or highlights it, wraps an edge or gets cut short, traces openings or folds them into color, the design of a livery quickly requires a magnitude of thoughtfulness.
‘SuperLivery‘as a conglomeration of the two terms begins to describe an argument and conceptual attitude for the graphic treatment of architectural surfaces. For example, the graphic as a design element should be specifically attached to an architectural form rather than be applied as an afterthought. The graphic is as equal in detail and material to any other component of architectural design. The process to achieve these results requires a SuperLiveryto sometimes supersede form and become an autonomous compositional device – one in which form and graphic are designed in tandem, or use a process that privileges the graphic to be the conceptual driver for architecture, letting the SuperLiverybe the skeleton in which form fills in the blanks.
This project and study is executed through the design of three separate train stations each with different requirements in scale and program. The first station is a simple street car stop that mainly shapes a canopy for shelter, using a process that balances design moves through a juggling of form and graphic, while maintaining a shared autonomy.
The second train station represents a regional transportation station with enclosure and simple programmatic elements. Stop Two is designed through the first attempts of leading a process driven completely through the manipulations of an independent SuperLivery. Folding, cutting, and stretching of the graphic determine openings and the sequestering of volume as form begins to be developed through the graphic surfaces. Questions of mass, thickness, and transparency are decided after the graphic condition of the SuperLiveryexists, making opportunities for the rest of the architectural equation to fill in and negotiate different remaining circumstances.
The last stop represents the largest, inner city station. Stop Three continues with a graphic first process, and controls all global design moves of the station, confirming the equal instantiation of the graphic’s presence as equal to any other architectural component.
Models, drawings, and material studies are developed as carefully considered artifacts, not only to prove their own importance to the separate representational strategies of the project, but also because of the one-to-one scale study of the project. SuperLivery’s contributions also aim to be at the level of the architectural detail, as the design philosophy of the project requires the graphic to be an equal component of the construction assembly, especially in design with the reveal or the fastener for example.
What prompted the project?
The project is my terminal thesis project and was spawned from research in the treatments of architectural surfaces. The context for the argument arises out of studies into the often forgotten and sometimes shamed, Postmodern Supergraphic project. In addition, there was a great amount of time invested into the studies of different design disciplines’ approaches to 2-dimensional graphics meeting 3-dimensional objects. These related fields include graphic design, product design, industrial design, and automotive design to name a few. The techniques for wraps on race cars, liveries on airplanes, and the folding procedures for product packaging were all considered in terms of technology, technique, and conceptually when this project was started.
What architecture case studies did you loot to for inspiration and as research?
A wide variety of architectural case studies were sought out for source material. This includes the Supergraphic works of the 60’s and 70’s that were often done in collaboration with graphic designers. Specifically in these cases the works of Barbara Stauffacher, primarily with Charles Moore at the Sea Ranch and Minoru Takeyama’s Ichiban-kan and Niban-kan in collaboration with artist Kiyoshi Awazu. Also, the cases for Venturi Scott Brown Supergraphics were studied and the early, uniquely painted projects of Eric Owen Moss. In terms of more contemporary surface graphic strategies were the Herzog and de Meuron fritted glass projects and also the graphic projects of OMA in collaboration with the graphic design firm 2×4, specifically the IIT Student Center. Lastly, the later works of Neil Denari Architects and the “tattooed” projects of Tom Wiscombe.
What was your work process in terms of research, project development and final product?
The work process for the project was insistent on always having multiple irons in the fire. Studies and research went hand in hand with working on physical and digital models. Sketch designs could often be done directly after a reading or even in the middle of one. Application of research into the actual design was always sought out throughout the project. Towards the end of the project, studies were done through the large constructs themselves, whether those were small build projects, material studies, or actually developing an intelligence about the application of graphic to surface.
What means and mediums did you use to develop the project? How important were test models and sketches in the process?
The main mediums that involved new study in the course of the project were often done in a physical sense rather than digitally and involved the serious study of cut, adhesive backed vinyl graphics and different hydropainting painting techniques. Physical modeling played a large part in the process and outcomes of this project. Building was always used to keep a momentum going throughout the course of the project. Testing through modeling made the developments of certain aspects of the project viable as often a proof of concept, because while the project is mainly about a graphic condition that guides the design at the largest scale, the project is also about developing the graphic to be integrated into the architecture at the smallest scale. Meaning, often these modeling studies were concerned with showing how the graphic attitude of the project was developed at even the scale of the architectural detail in the manner of a graphic tectonic.
What defined the final mediums through which you articulate the project?
The physical project deliverables were meant to be just as consistent with the thesis of the project as the architecture itself. The pedestals for the architectural model and the frame of the drawings of the project became just as crucial of a design project. Both use assemblies with the graphic in the same way the actual architecture does, as another means of displaying a 1-to-1 scale example of the project’s accomplishments. The drawings were also meant to be a statement in the way they act as a hybrid between a designed artifact and printed matter, as project presentation in architecture schools has often shifted from the printed sheet on the wall to a screen monitor with a slideshow. Here, the drawing professes its value in being physically present as it is combined with separated layers of information, resisting something that could be easily mimicked through a digital display.
What is your take on colour? What role does this play within your project?
I personally believe color to be one of the trickier aspects of architectural design. Architects often design poorly with color using it only as an afterthought to a design or as a system of codification, see Sylia Lavin’s, “What Color is it Now?”. Color in SuperLivery’s world is meant to be skillfully used in the active design of the architecture, but on another note also in coordination with each other in the hopes of color schemes that are often expertly used in the branding and work of graphic designers. Color is treated as an important part of iconography, but also mood and aura with affectual visual displays.
What tools did you use? how did these shape and inform the project and its output?
Many digital tools were used that are now commonplace for all architectural students. However, fabrication tools like the CNC Die Cutter were key for the research and work into adhesive backed vinyl and were absolutely crucial to the output of this project. Discovering ways of crafting these graphic conditions was crucial to the project’s results, and could be something worthwhile in the realm of using these technologies in practice.
Are you interested in exploring this ‘theme/method’ further’?
I am absolutely interested in continuing to develop this method of designing. Any chance to see how this design methodology would actually participate out in the world would be welcome. A further study of the principles of this project might actually be best served by doing a redesign of an existing architecture, testing how much design agency can actually be held through the implementation of a primarily graphic addition or reconfiguration.
Kimball Kaiser is an architectural designer originally from Montana currently involved in research and teaching at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. Kimball holds a B.A. in Environmental Design from Montana State University where he graduated with Highest Honors and an M.Arch from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan where he was recognized for his thesis SuperLivery. Kimball has practiced professionally in Montana, in Detroit with JE-LE, and in Los Angeles with Wes Jones at Jones,Partners:Architecture.