Architecture students to unveil “Ritual Space,” a new installation at Artpark

By David J. Hill

Published May 4, 2018

Freshman architecture students from the University at Buffalo are ready to unveil the wondrous wooden structures they created this semester, which will be on display at Artpark in Lewiston, New York.

The project, called Ritual Space, is the culmination of the year-long freshman design-build studio in UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. Members of the media and the public are invited to check out the installation during an opening reception at Artpark from 4-6 p.m. Monday, May 7. Visitors should enter Artpark via the upper entrance, off of Portage Road.

The installation is composed of 10 “ritual spaces” — each measuring 64 square feet with a maximum 10-foot height — that are grouped to form two ritual houses. Each structure captures one of five common daily activities, or rituals: gathering, food prep, eating, bathing and sleeping.

Ten small-scale models created during the fall semester were selected to be further developed for the final project. Students then worked in teams to refine each model, ultimately building larger scale structures that were installed on-site at Artpark this week.

“It’s really exciting. We’ve come so far from where we were earlier in the semester,” says Andrew Griffin, one of 88 students in the class. “We learned to keep pushing, to keep experimenting and building models, even if we weren’t sure if they were going to amount to anything. The whole process of going from concept to sketch to construction documents and the models was really beneficial.”

Karen Tashjian

“We’re trying to shift these young students from thinking about architecture as an object they design and then drop somewhere to thinking about how the body occupies space”

- Karen Tashjian, adjunct assistant professor of architecture

The freshman studio is led by Karen Tashjian, adjunct assistant professor of architecture, and Matthew Hume, clinical assistant professor of architecture. The course teaches students about principles in design and building in a way that rattles their preconceived notions about the discipline of architecture.

“We’re trying to shift these young students from thinking about architecture as an object they design and then drop somewhere to thinking about how the body occupies space, that we have an experience when we occupy a space,” says Tashjian.

That’s where the idea for “Ritual Space” originated. “We wanted to challenge the notion of the way we live and say we’re not just going to do a house and you need a kitchen and a dining room, etc., because then the students rely on what they know about those things and you get these very conforming spaces,” Tashjian adds.

Step inside freshman studio

Freshman studio faculty director Matt Hume documents life inside this year's first-year studio through the school's new "Studio Life" blog.

During the fall semester, students designed and created small wooden models that served as lessons in the key principles of material joinery and developing unique structural systems. There was a catch, though.

“We were very adamant about not using any metal fasteners,” says Hume, who has extensive construction experience. “The students weren’t allowed to use screws, either for their models or for the ritual spaces they worked on. It’s all 100 percent solid wood with no metal fasteners.”

In addition to building a beautiful project, the studio places great emphasis on developing supporting materials. Toward that end, each team had to create a set of construction documents, a video detailing the construction process, a written narrative and a variety of presentation drawings and diagrams using multiple mediums that encourage the students to further explore and experiment, as well as a series of study models.

“It gives the students a certain level of dexterity in how they represent their work,” Hume says of the emphasis on hybrid drawings. “As a designer, it’s helpful to be able to switch mediums if you’re feeling restricted by one, or if you feel more inspired by another medium.”

Students will present their work during a final studio review Monday morning in Crosby Hall on UB’s South Campus before heading to Artpark to formally unveil the project. As part of the review, each team also had to create a performance showing how the body engages with the structure they built.

The beautiful backdrop that Artpark affords only adds to the allure of the installation. “It’s a wonderful environment for their work to be situated in,” Hume says. “You have this amazing view of the Niagara River, the gorge, you can see Canada across the way.”

The project has already attracted plenty of attention this week as students were installing their structures on the site. “About 50 people, mostly dog walkers, stopped by the other day to check out what the students were doing,” Tashjian said.