Architects are increasingly faced with shrinking influence, often only designing the building skin or an individual tenant improvement, but not necessarily both and not at the same time. As a result, modernist desires for a direct connection between interior space and the exterior envelope can no longer be controlled by a single architect and the concept of a unified architectural project no longer has primary relevance to contemporary construction processes. This has led many architects to focus on architecture as a manipulation of surfaces as a relevant means for design and construction today.
What is interesting to me is how a reduction of scope – studying a single surface – has revealed new possibilities for design exploration. The exterior building skin need no longer be limited to a line separating inside from outside. Instead a surface can be analyzed as thickened, layered planes with depth and complexity that expands and contracts as necessary to include one or multiple (and perhaps even contradictory) systems.
How architects begin to wrestle with the appearance of this outermost layer can become a compelling story of its own. Forward 209 reveals approaches by contemporary (and a few historic) architects as they grapple with the question of ornament.