Towards a Revised Approach to Designing From the Outside In: Contextualizing the Preliminary Proposal for the Fourth Addition to Bard College Library
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Before creating the new, architects are faced with the existing. An enormous oak tree might be within the bounds of the site you’ve been hired to build a house on. Do you cut it down, or leave it? A tall brick building might be next door. Do you imitate its scale, its materiality, its style, or do you create something that looks entirely different?
These kinds of questions, while perhaps always fundamental to architecture, were especially pertinent in mid-to-late-twentieth century debates surrounding “context” as architects like Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown challenged the conventions of “orthodox” Modern architecture. “Frank Lloyd Wright said architects should design from the inside out,” said Venturi in his 1991 acceptance speech for the Pritzker Architecture Prize. “But we now accept within our more complex view of things, as we acknowledge context as an important determinant of design, that we design from the inside out and the outside in.” But what constitutes the “outside?” And what did designing “from the outside in” mean to Robert Venturi?
Using their 1990 addition at Bard College Library as a case study, the first part of this thesis investigates what “designing from the outside in” might have meant for Venturi, and, specifically, examines how his ideas about context in architecture intersected with the literal orchestration of movement of bodies through space. Beyond writing in the traditional essay format, I present a series of diagrams, images, and other architectural forms of representation alongside written commentary to communicate various findings of this research, the most striking being the extent to which the existing context — both inside and out — is physically inaccessible.
Plans to create a fourth addition to the library have been expressed publicly in Bard’s 2017 Masterplan. The masterplan expresses needs for updates to circulation on campus in general, but does not integrate that into its brief for the “library expansion project”; its only mention of the circulatory needs of the building are expressed in terribly brief terms: “Pedestrian access from existing building. Reconfigured dock.” Yet it is clear that this site is an important node of the largely inaccessible network of paths with too-steep gradients and uneven surfaces. The brief for the project would better be framed in the following way: The fourth addition should consider both that there is pressure from the library to expand “inside-out.” And: That this site is also a nexus of circulation outside and around.
In reinterpreting Venturi’s claim that architects “design from the inside out and outside in,” the ensuing conceptual design proposal attempts to address both the needs of the library in its expansion and the needs of its surrounding context, where the surrounding context is understood primarily as a network of inaccessible paths of circulation. Whereas the existing building has restricted movement due to its controlled points of entry and exit — in part by Venturi’s aesthetic intention, and in part by nature of it being a library which attempts to keep books secure — in my scheme for the fourth addition, myriad points of entry and exit blur the line between route and goal; one could go from “A” to “B,” but also from “C” to “E” and “F” back to “A” — all while following a playful network of accessible infrastructure that aims to open up new possibilities for the way human beings with various abilities relate to space.
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Galloway, Aidan, "Towards a Revised Approach to Designing From the Outside In: Contextualizing the Preliminary Proposal for the Fourth Addition to Bard College Library" (2022). Senior Projects Fall 2022. 3.
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