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Christopher Law, "Density"

Design Studio II (ARC201)

Each student in ARC201 is required to pick a descriptive word, then use that word as the theme for a series of three design exercises, culminating in a design for a student centre for a site on the University of Toronto campus. Christopher's word was "density."

The semester's first assignment called for students to explore their word using only vertical surfaces and openings. Christopher attacked the problem by arranging rows of staples into vertical clusters. The resulting metallic forms are dense — but, by leaving space between the clusters, Christopher was able to create voids that could be used as program space:

A model of

As he prepared for his final project, Christopher studied the work of Kengo Kuma and Sou Fujimoto, Japanese architects known for using heavy materials to create structures with an appearance of lightness. Fujimoto's 2013 Serpentine Gallery pavilion, for instance, used steel bars to create a latticework building with an almost translucent appearance.

Christopher decided to aim for a similar outcome in his final project's design. He would use a thick latticework of wooden beams to create a structure that was incredibly dense — but also, paradoxically, airy and cloud-like in appearance.

Using rectangular wooden beams of different lengths, Chirstopher designed a cube-like volume. "It started off as a very dense grid structure," he says. "And then I carved out the parts that I thought could be used as spaces."

Section view of Christopher Law's building
Rendering of Christopher Law's building

Drawings of the exterior of Christopher's student centre.

By varying the size and arrangement of the structure's internal voids, Christopher was able to create study spaces with various levels of privacy. The building's ground floor and basement are its most public areas, with wide-open spaces suited to recreational gatherings. Above the ground floor are seven storeys of semi-private spaces, where the building's latticework is used to provide visual obstructions between different study areas. The wooden lattice is thickest on the building's top floors, where Christopher carved out some smaller spaces intended for individual study. All of these spaces are accessed by a series of staircases that wind through the building's core.

Section view of Christopher Law's building
Rendering of the interior of Christopher Law's building

Top: A section drawing of the student centre. Bottom: A rendering of one the centre's study spaces.

Although the building is a dense mesh of wood beams, the lattice arrangement makes it possible for daylight and air to permeate the walls. (Christopher didn't include windows or other protections from the elements.) In one sense, Christopher's student centre is a behemoth; in another sense, it's lighter than a breeze.

Instructor: Fiona Lim Tung