The School of Architecture Unveils its 2023 Shelter Projects

Press Release

September 7, 2023

The School of Architecture, renowned for its distinctive pedagogy focused on Learning By Doing, Immersive Learning, and Material Experimentation within the rich landscape of the Arizona desert environment, is proud to showcase two design-build Shelter projects from this past Spring 2023 semester. These innovative structures demonstrate the school's commitment to experimental building practices in response to the direct environmental and cultural contexts that inform them.‍

Photo: Danii Lemaire

Each year, third-year TSOA M.Arch students produce an intensive design-build Thesis Shelter that they research, conceptualize, design, and construct over a period of three semesters. The Shelters at TSOA have been a tradition since the days of the Taliesin Fellowship in the 1930s and over the decades have taken various permanent and ephemeral forms and responses to the Shelter program legacy. Originally taking the forms of shepherd's tents composed of four low desert masonry walls sheltered by canvas roofs, the structures served as dwellings for apprentices and students for decades, creating relationships with natural environment of the desert over an extended time period.

In recent years the Shelter program itself has evolved in response to larger transformations taking place at the school, becoming a required component of the curriculum and platform for experimental building exploration starting in 2018. As a result of expanding academic goals tied to the Thesis program, the Shelters expanded on their typical format of dwelling, creating potentials such as public use, educational programming, and mobility. Since 2020, students began experimenting with these possibilities more than ever. As TSOA moves from Arcosanti to Cattle Track Arts Compound in Scottsdale, AZ, the accessibility to new partnerships, such creating housing prototypes with compressed earth block nonprofit Brick by Brick, will further expand the Shelter typology as not only a platform for experimentation, but one for explicit collaboration.

While distinct in their approaches, both new 2023 Shelters by Tristan Durham and Christopher Dela Pole use sheer white shading textiles as their primary material expression, creating a visual dialogue between the two projects and unique sites. Each engages a process of building with prefabricated parts, allowing for assembly to be more lightweight, collaborative, and inclusive.

Prosthetic Architecture

Tristan Durham

Advisors: Matthew Trzebiatowski (Thesis Coordinator), Daniel Ayat, Stephanie Lin

Image credit: Ryan Wenk

Tristan Durham’s 2023 build, Prosthetic Architecture, creates an intervention at Arcosanti’s Silt Slab, aiming to recover and augment a defunct pavillion’s design logic and function via a “prosthetic intervention” — the surgical augmentation of decaying buildings rooted in the belief that buildings are complex living entities capable of regeneration, extension, and incorporation.

Originally imagined as a satellite facility for the ceramics studio, then later used as a projection apparatus to cast shadow puppet shows on the adjacent cliffside, The Silt Slab pavilion now sits damaged and abandoned.

Image credit: Junior Fernandez
Image credit: Junior Fernandez

Nested within the original Silt Slab, the Silt Slab Cinema as a prosthetic takes the form of a temporary experimental cinema, materializing hidden historical and geometric rules while recovering and evolving the shadow puppet heritage through nighttime projections. The intervention resuscitates lost meanings and proposes new ones. Durham created a film, Desert Double Exposure, documenting the cinematic experience of the intervention.

Image credit: Ryan Wenk
Image credit: Ryan Wenk

The result is a mixture of archaeology and design: translucent white shade mesh echoes the Silt Slab’s lost enclosure, softly materializing the excavated volumes and uses, held up by a scaffolding system which samples the curious steel pipe grid affixed to the existing white frame. Like a ghost, it flexes in the wind, trapping the desert sun or artificial projections, never quite touching the ground.

Image credit: Stephanie Lin
Image credit: Stephanie Lin

All photos of Prosthetic Architecture by Tristan Durham

Careful Attention

Christopher Dela Pole

Advisors: Matthew Trzebiatowski (Thesis Coordinator), Patricia Healy McMeans, Emily Stover

Image credit: Danii Lemaire

Christopher Dela Pole’s Careful Attention is designed to play with perception and hold attention through the difficulty of discerning what is inside versus outside, volume versus void, and shadow versus surface, drawing the viewer closer and encouraging movement. The screen mesh surfaces both appear and disappear depending upon proximity, vantage point, time of day, weather, and position of being inside or outside. The aluminum frame likewise appears and disappears, projects and reflects, further pushing and pulling the object’s contiguous reading with its context.

Image credit: Danii Lemaire

All joints are miter-cut to create a closed corner condition and eliminate the need for square end fills or caps. This allows for a cleaner, more consistent form that allows the eye to continue to travel visually tracing the frame without interruption. The 2x2-in primary frame provides the necessary rigidity to achieve the long, unbraced spans required by the form. The longest span is nearly 18-ft unbraced. The secondary frame, which is both internal and external appears to be pushing in or past the primary frame. This secondary structure is composed of 1.5x1.5-in aluminum square tube.

Dela Pole prefabricated the entirety of the framing at TSOA’s new campus, Cattle Track Arts Compound. The frame was meticulously welded together before the entire structure was cut apart to accomodate the internal sleeving required for reassembly. This method of fabrication allowed Dela Pole to break the structure down into a lightweight kit of parts toward transportability and temporality. 

Image credit: Danii Lemaire

Once the structure was transported to its installation site at Arcosanti, it was reassembled using set screws to lock the sleeve joints in place. The addition of guy wires anchored to large surrounding boulder elements was used to resist lateral forces and torsion while softening focus on the object and defining a zone of temporary landscaping elements. The screen mesh is a heavy-duty white vinyl coated polyester in-situ, with the capacity for reuse. At Arcosanti, the structure became a recurring focal point of curiosity, gathering, and individual repose for TSOA and fellow Arcosanti community members.

Image credit: Danii Lemaire

After the structure’s first life at TSOA’s former Arcosanti campus, Dela Pole plans to reassemble Careful Attention at Cattle Track Arts Compound where it was prefabricated. He speaks of his time working at Cattle Track with owner Janie Ellis: “After a very impromptu visit with Janie when I showed her a concept model and some drawings on the back of my car, I was met with unbounded enthusiasm. TSOA provided the support I needed to ultimately discover the project, and Cattle Track Arts and Preservation generously lended shop space and tools to bring the idea from concept to fruition. Janie was a constant presence, always quick to point out when something was off or just right. I could not have completed my thesis build without her generosity, spirit of getting things done, and the supportive environment she has carved out among Scottsdale’s arts community. I can’t wait to see how TSOA and Cattle Track will continue to boost each others’ spirit as I experienced during my build.”

Says Dean Stephanie Lin: “The latest generation of Shelters harkens to the earliest materials and ephemerality of the original shepherd’s tents of Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprentices, while contributing reflections on the new contexts under which they were built. These projects show how transportable, inclusive building processes can be enacted within a complex environment of transition that is climatic, regional, and temporal. As the School itself embarks on the next phase of transition and forges its own new path, the Shelter program will undoubtedly evolve and shape this process in an exciting and meaningful way.”

Image credit: Danii Lemaire
Image credit: Christopher Dela Pole
Image credit: Danii Lemaire

All photos of Careful Attention by Christopher Dela Pole

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