Reflections: Design Forum XIII

BLUR: The Shifting Boundaries between Art, Technology, and Architecture… and why they matter for the practice of the future.

Virginia Design Forum XIII | April 6-7, 2018 | Taubman Museum of Art

By Ed Ford, AIA

It was, as Michael Gibson reminded us, the thirteenth such occasion since the first Design Forum held in Hot Springs in 1994, a series of events that has brought us a widely diverse group of presenters in its 24-year history. This year’s theme was BLUR, in this case the blurring of boundaries between disciplines. At a time when art’s traditional connection to architecture seems to be waning in some quarters, it gratifying to see it was very much alive in the work presented in Roanoke. Jack Davis’s Introduction elaborated on the theme by reminding us of an old argument — Richards Serra’s contention that architecture can never be art and Harry Seidler’s belief that it cannot be anything else. All of this year’s presenters are involved in redefining, erasing and transgressing the definitions of and boundaries of architecture, art, design and science — of those things which we call disciplines, which as Jack defined them, are those things that require craft, skill, and philosophy.

An important connection was made later in the program by Doris Kim Sung who reminded us that as Maurice Merleau-Ponty said, we learn through experience and not intellect, and the interplay of the perceptual and the “real” was a repeating theme over the course of the Forum. Much of the work dealt with creative tensions between real space and perceived space or the idea of space at all. But while much of the work both in ideological origin and execution is both driven and inspired by the current acceleration of technological change, many saw their work growing out of longstanding art traditions that they were extending into the digital realm. Many presenters began their careers in other disciplines, often traditional ones, whose outlook had informed their architectural work. Space and form defined by light was a common theme, but at the same time, some of the most compelling projects were made from traditional materials and the work presented ranged from forms of pure light to meticulously joined wood to apparently jointless masonry structures.


Eric Howeler

Eric Höweler, AIA, of Höweler + Yoon Architecture, Harvard GSD

Eric Höweler in his keynote explained that he sees his firm as working across media — trespassing and bootlegging — defining architecture in the broadest of media. Much of their work deals with public space but Eric notes, “the notion of public and private has been fundamentally altered by a technologically expanded sense of commons that extends across media formats and channels,” Times Square being an obvious example.

Their most interactive project and least conventional in terms of the traditional tools of architecture is probably “Swing Time,” an interactive playscape in a park near the Boston Convention Center that takes the classic park swing into new territory. It is composed of twenty illuminated ring-shaped swings, large circular halos made of welded polypropylene with internal LED lighting controllers that change the illumination depending on the frequency and intensity of their movement. When stationary they emit a soft constant light. When the swings are moving the colors change from color and increase in intensity.

At the same time, some of their most compelling projects proved to be the least digital, such as a reinterpretation of the Chinese courtyard typology-the Skycourts housing and office complex in Chengdu, China, and the beautifully contrasting Corten and stone walls of the exterior.

The Collier Memorial is also executed in more conventional architecture materials but used in a technologiacally innovative way. The Memorial marks the site on MIT’s campus where a police officer was killed in the aftermath of the 2013 Marathon bombing. The Memorial, formed by a series of interlocking walls, takes the form of both a star and an open hand embodying the concept of “strength through unity.” It is composed of thirty-two blocks of granite that form a five-way stone vault. Each block supports the other to create a covered space.  A mortarless, zero-tolerance stone structure, it requires the perfect joinery of thirty-two stone blocks to transfer loads in pure compression from stone to stone.


Doris Kim Sung

Doris Kim Sung, dO|Su Studio Architecture, University of Southern California, 

While Doris is very much an artist, her education began with the study of biology and her process is based on her understanding of the biological world, such as the ways termite mounds accommodate themselves to thermal changes. Her work is very much focused on materials, what she calls “Metal that Breathes” or more broadly “Taming Smart Materials to Behave.” Her current focus is on thermal bimetals, a material that expands and contracts with temperature swings — the basic principle of a thermostat. Her work includes multiple iterations of these small units in multiple types of assemblies that can be used as sun shades, privacy screens and ventilation systems that change automatically with temperature, light and other climate variations without the use of electricity. Despite the mechanical characteristics of these devices, she sees them in an organic way — what she calls the skin of architecture. This typically takes the form of various curtain wall configurations in combination with glass, but other projects go beyond the building skin to become free standing structures-crustaceans. “Bloom,” an installation at the Materials and Application Gallery in Los Angeles is a large freestanding vortex composed of hyperbolic paraboloids. It is also constructed of smart thermobimetal and as the sun heats the surface it opens to ventilates that areas of the shell.


Nathan King

Nathan King, Lead Research Strategist at the Autodesk BUILD Space

 Nathan King is well known to many of us from his pioneering robotics work during his time at Virginia Tech in projects such as the “Breathe Wall.” Nathan’s primary focus at present is his work as lead Research Strategist at the Autodesk BUILD Space. He began his career as a painter and his work, however technologically driven, still informed by a painter’s sensibility. To him, a brush and a robot are both tools. Much of his work employs traditional materials — wood and steel — but with radical fabrication techniques, particularly robotics. The Lo-Fab (locally fabricated), Pavilion on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, Massachusetts was created by Virginia Tech faculty and students working with the MASS Design Group. It is a robotically fabricated structure something like a dome that requires a variety of tapered wood struts and multi-flanged steel connectors. It is a project that demonstrates not just the technical sophistication of robotics, but that it is a technology that can be used not just to hide joints but to beautifully articulate them.


David Freeland

David Freeland, FreelandBuck, Los Angeles, Sci Arc 

Like Nathan and Rafik, David sees his firm’s work grounded in certain traditional art forms, an extension of the trompe-l’oeil spaces of history such as the ceiling of the church of St. Ignatius in Rome. This however is only one aspect of the blurring of the real and the representational in their work. Also like Rafik and Eric, they work with light and illusion but in a far more literal way, exploring the boundaries of the two-dimensional and three-dimensional as well as blurring scales and types of representation in the process.  David notes that, “The Renaissance tradition of Trompe l’oeil ceilings uses the illusionary depth of perspective to project what is not there; a dome that was never built or an attic filled with angels.” All of their work is representative, but with varying levels of representation.

Their offices for Hungry Man Productions is a project closer to traditional architecture — a series of cubicles that creates an environment and flexible working configurations. Some of the cubicles are functional. Some are purely representational. They are filled with furniture, some of which is also real and some of which that is not.

“Out of the Picture” is their proposed installation for the MoMA 2018 PS 1, Young Architects Program Competition. The streets and facades of Long Island City surrounding the PS1 courtyard are both literally and scenographically projected on to a series of vertical surfaces in the courtyard.

Parallax Gap” is their competition-winning installation at the Smithsonian and makes the strongest connection to the great illusionist ceilings of historyThe installation is a “ceiling” hung in the Grand Salon of the Renwick Gallery.  It is a collage of domed, coffered and beamed roofs of familiar American buildings-from Federal Hall in New York to the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco-in greatly reduced size, are color printed onto plastic but are also given real three-dimensional configurations.


Refik Anadol

Refik Anadol, Director UCLA Department of Design Media Arts

Refik Anadol is a media artist and a recipient of a Microsoft Research’s Best Vision Award. Refik brings his boundless energy and enthusiasm to a self-invented profession that defies categorization. It is architecture but it is architecture of light and images. But Refik is, in his own way, a traditionalist. Like others he sees his work connected to the traditions of art, in this case modernist ones — to James Turrell, Dan Flavin, and the Light + Space movement of the 1970s — and the influence of Turrell is apparent in his “Cube” project.

Much of Rafik’s current work involves what he calls “Making data visible” by means of parametric data sculptures. The lobby of an SOM office building in San Francisco is the location of his “SF data” project a 40-foot-wide screen with constantly changing images-a series of “data sculptures” based on a publicly-available data. He explains, “Through sensors, databases, information is collect on the city: sound, light, air quality, acoustics, human movement, ecological dimensions, social preferences. The installation uses the public dataset, as well as social network data, which are translated into images. Often, this materializes as trompe-l’œil illusions that play with the depth of the screen.” Some images architecture-specific. Some are quite concrete. Others are nebulous.

His most conspicuous and most ambitious work is his sound light/video/installation at Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Music is converted into digital imagery, breaking the art/ architecture boundaries in a number of ways. “The dynamic visual program uses custom-built algorithmic sound analysis to listen and respond to the music in real time, using architecture as a canvas and light as a material. Additionally, the movements of the conductor, are captured by Microsoft Kinect hardware and 3-D depth camera analysis to inform the visuals displayed.”

Doris Kim Sung, David Freeland, Refik Anadol, Nathan King

We closed with a Panel Discussion speculating on the variety of ways designers can cross these boundaries whether in theoretical or practical realms.


Design Forum 2018 is a Wrap!

Design Forum XIII: BLUR was held April 6-7, 2018 at the Taubman Museum in Roanoke. Attendees enjoyed presentations from Eric Höweler, Doris Kim Sung, Nathan King, David Freeland and Refik Anadol. Thank you to those who attended!


We would also like to take this opportunity to again thank our sponsors who made this event possible:

College of William and Mary, Art & Art History
Clark Nexsen
University of Virginia School of Architecture
Moseley Architects
Ascent Engineering Group, Inc.
Mark S. Orling, AIA
Skanksa USA Building
Pella Windows of Virginia
HBA Architecture + Interior Design
Virginia Tech School of Architecture & Design
Forrester Construction
RMF Engineering
Dunbar Milby Williams Pittman & Vaughan
Reader & Swartz Architects, P.C.
PMA Architecture
AIA Central Virginia
Pyrok, Inc.
Shade & Wise, Inc.
Gulf Seaboard General Contractors, Inc.
AIA Northern Virginia
The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Hays + Ewing Design Studio
LKH Architects

And the AIA Virginia Design Committee members:

C. Michael Gibson, AIA
Andrea Quilici, AIA
Camilo Bearman, AIA
Jack Davis, FAIA
Ed Ford, AIA
Allison Ewing, AIA
Mark Orling, AIA
Matthew Pearson, AIA
Edwin J. Pease, AIA
Rob Reis, AIA
Roberto Ventura

Design Forum XIII Less Than One Month Away

Design Forum XIII is now less than a month away, and we couldn’t be more excited. Space is limited, so be sure to register here today to secure your spot.

Presentations from Eric Höweler, Doris Kim Sung, Nathan King, David Freeland and Refik Anadol will offer insight into how we can utilize the ever growing and changing resources that expand the limits of design. We invite you to join us as we ask: Is it art? Is it architecture? Does it matter?

Visit the Design Forum page to learn more about this year’s speakers, program, sponsors, and venue.

Earn up to 6.5 AIA/CES learning units. (Tour participants earn 1 additional learning unit)

Design Forum Keynote Announced

Eric Höweler, AIA, LEED AP

With Design Forum XIII less than two months away, AIA Virginia is excited to announce Eric Höweler, AIA, LEED AP of Höweler + Yoon as this year’s keynote speaker.

Early Bird rate runs through March 2 — register today and save!

Design Forum XIII will showcase dynamic figures in art and architecture who have embraced the blurring of lines between the disciplines. We invite you to join us as we ask: is it art? is it architecture? does it matter?

Visit the Design Forum page to learn more about this year’s speakers, program, sponsors and venue.

Earn up to 6.5 AIA/CES learning units. (Tour participants earn 1 additional learning unit)

Design Forum Registration Open

Virginia Design Forum XIII | April 6-7, 2018 | Taubman Museum of Art

As boundaries blur between traditional art/architecture and mechanical assembly and reproduction, it is essential that we stop to assess the way in which this changes the creative process, the built environment, and the profession altogether. This year’s Design Forum XIII: BLUR will explore the way in which technologies are reshaping the boundaries between experiential, art and architecture, creating new links between artists and architects and enabling the exchange of ideas and techniques in new ways.

Registration for the Design Forum XIII is now open>>

Visit our Design Forum page for more on this year’s schedule, sponsors and venue.

The Design Forum two-day conference will showcase dynamic figures in art and architecture who have embraced the blurring of lines between the disciplines. Presentations from Eric Höweler, Doris Kim Sung, Nathan King, David Freeland and Refik Anadol, among others, will offer insight into how we can utilize the ever growing and changing resources that expand the limits of design.

With the Taubman Museum for Art, southwestern Virginia’s preeminent art museum, as the venue and Virginia Tech right around the corner, the location will undoubtedly serve to inspire us as we explore the intersections of art, architecture, and technology.
Participants can earn up to 7.5 AIA/CES learning units.


Eric Höweler

Eric Höweler AIA, LEED AP (b. Cali, Colombia) is a registered architect with more than 20 years of experience in practice. He received a Bachelor of Architecture and a Masters of Architecture from Cornell University. He is currently Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Prior to forming Höweler + Yoon Architecture, Eric was a Senior Designer at Diller + Scofidio where he worked on the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and the Juilliard School/ Lincoln Center in New York. As an Associate Principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, Eric acted as the senior designer on the 118 story ICC Tower in Hong Kong

GSD Talks | Technologies of Design: Eric Höweler


Doris Kim Sung

© Anna Hållams

After receiving her B.A. at Princeton University and M.Arch. at Columbia University, Doris Sung worked in various offices in cities across the U.S. before arriving in Los Angeles in 2001.  She developed her research focus while teaching at University of Southern California (USC), the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), University of Colorado and the Catholic University of America.  In 1999, she opened dO|Su Studio Architecture and soon received many AIA and ASID awards for her work, including the prestigious accolades of AIA Young-Designer-of-the-Year, ACSA Faculty Design Award, R+D Honorable Mention from Architect Magazine and [next idea] award from ARS Electronica.  Currently, she is working on developing smart thermobimetals and other shape-memory alloys, unfamiliar materials to architecture, as new materials for the “third” skin (the first is human flesh, the second clothing and the third architecture).  Its ability to curl when heated allows the building skin to respond for purposes of sun-shading, self-ventilating, shape-changing and structure-prestressing.  Her work has been funded by the national AIA Upjohn Initiative, Arnold W. Brunner Grant, Graham Foundation Grant, Architectural Guild Award and USC ASHSS and URAP Awards.

Metal that breathes | Doris Kim Sung | TEDxUSC


Nathan King 

Nathan King is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech and has taught at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) and The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). With a background in Studio Arts and Art History, Nathan holds Masters Degrees in Industrial Design and Architecture. He earned a Doctor of Design from the Harvard GSD where he was a founding member of the Design Robotics Group with a focus on computational workflows and Additive Manufacturing and Automation in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industries. Beyond academia, King is the Director of Research at MASS Design Group, where he collaborates on the development and deployment of innovative building technologies, medical devices, and evaluation methods for global application in resource-limited settings. He consults on the development of research facilities, programs, and software to support the exploration of emerging opportunities surrounding technological innovation in art, architecture, design, and education.

Process Matters | Nathan King | TEDxVirginiaTech


David Freeland

©2018 SCI-Arc

David Freeland is a licensed architect in the State of California and has been principal at FreelandBuck in Los Angeles since 2010. With over 15 years of experience practicing architecture, he has worked on award-winning residential, commercial, urban and institutional projects with FreelandBuck as well as Michael Maltzan Architecture, Roger Sherman Architecture and Urban Design, RES4, and AGPS. He is a frequent collaborator with developers and planners with a focus on projects in Los Angeles including his public prize-winning entry for the 2006 Prop-X competition.
David is a faculty member at Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-ARC) in Los Angeles and has taught design studios at UCLA and USC. From 2006-2012 he was faculty at Woodbury University where he was instrumental in the design of the digital fabrication lab. He is a graduate of University of Virginia and the UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design where he received his Masters of Architecture.

Creators: Giant Glitch Architecture Illusions Overtake the Smithsonian


Refik Anadol

Refik Anadol is a media artist and director born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1985. Currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He is a lecturer and visiting researcher in UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts.

He is working in the fields of site-specific public art with parametric data sculpture and live audio/visual performance with an immersive installation. His works particularly explore the space among digital and physical entities by creating a hybrid relationship between architecture and media arts. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles in Media Arts, Master of Fine Arts from Istanbul Bilgi University in Visual Communication Design as well as Bachelors of Arts with summa cum laude in Photography and Video. Co-founder and Creative director at Antilop.

He has been given awards, residencies and has served as a guest lecturer. He is the recipient of a number of awards, prizes including Microsoft Research’s Best Vision Award, German Design Award, UCLA Art+Architecture Moss Award, University of California Institute for Research in the Arts Award, SEGD Global Design Award and Google’s Art and Machine Intelligence Artist Residency Award. His site-specific audio/visual performances have been seen in Walt Disney Concert Hall (USA), Hammer Museum (USA), International Digital Arts Biennial Montreal (Canada), Ars Electronica Festival (Austria), l’Usine | Genève (Switzerland), Arc De Triomf (Spain), Zollverein | SANAA’s School of Design Building (Germany), santralistanbul Contemporary Art Center (Turkey), Outdoor Vision Festival SantaFe New Mexico (USA), Istanbul Design Biennial (Turkey), Sydney City Art (Australia), Lichtrouten (Germany).

Dezeen: Refik Anadol’s Infinity installation at SXSW immerses visitors in patterns of light


The 2018 Virginia Design Forum is sponsored by:



Moseley Architects

Ascent Engineering Group, Inc.

Dunbar Milby Williams Pitman Vaughan
Reader & Swartz Architects

Become a sponsor for Design Forum XIII and enjoy many benefits. Contact Judy Cheadle, for more information.

Design Forum XIII Comes to Roanoke









We will be in Roanoke April 6-7, 2018 with an exciting lineup of speakers and activities. Doris Kim Sung, Eric Howeler, David Freeland, Nathan King, and Refik Anadol will all be talking about how the boundaries between Art, Technology, and Architecture are blurring. Join us at the Taubman Museum of Art to hear from these amazing speakers and get a behind the scenes tour of one of Southwest Virginia’s most awarded buildings.

Tickets will go on sale in January.

Become a sponsor for Design Forum XIII and enjoy many benefits. Contact Judy Cheadle, for more information.