Blurring the Lines Between Art and Architecture…


Narrative Museum – The African Experience in the Americas – Thesis Project (2000-2002)

This morning, I had the impulse to do something that  I know I would eventually do one day: revisit my thesis project.  In the future, I plan to rewrite the entire narrative of this project and how the concept behind it was developed, but for now, I just want to concentrate on two things; two comments completely unrelated, so I thought,  made by my professor at the time and one of the critiques at my final presentation.

Four years after getting my Bachelor of Science in Architecture, and working for a couple of architecture firms, I went back to school to get my professional degree. I went back because I knew that one day I would want to get licensed and I would not be able to do so without having done my thesis year.  I completed it in two years, and those were probably my most exciting years in school.  Two things however had an impact on me.  First my professor, who loved this project, told me that I needed to take that study abroad program to France the school was giving every summer. He was sure that I would enjoy it. When I told him that I had to work, his answer was: “Come on, live a little“.  And then there was one of the critiques at my final presentation who made it clear to me that he found my massing too rigid.  In a few words that the massing of the building did not do justice to the narrative.  It took me two years to stop thinking about his comment. (I know…)


Sketch 1 (Thesis Project Revisited – 2014)

This project was a narrative museum recounting the story of the African diaspora in the Americas.  The narrative was so beautiful and the spaces in the building used lightness and darkness to re-tell that story. The visitor was to experience this journey starting from the numerous kingdoms of Africa to the dark corners of the middle passage, to slavery in the New World, to the numerous fights for freedom, and the overcoming of adversities.  All of these experiences expressed through the use of different lighting techniques, the use of different shapes and by the spatial distribution of the numerous exhibit spaces.  Ultimately, the building was not about any particular time period, but about the journey itself and how the building was designed to influence the visitor’s experience.  I loved the concept behind this narrative museum so much that I knew, after that last comment, that I would revisit it one day and do it justice. I understood what these two comments were about. There was something very diverse and at times whimsical about the experience of the African diaspora in the Americas and to truly design something so profound you need to have lived and experienced so many things outside of your everyday routine.  Imagination only, sometimes cannot take you there.  About the rigid comment, I knew right away what he meant. There was in a sense too much order expressing something that was at times very chaotic, very brutal. If I wanted to express fragmentation, I could not be so timid in my attempt at expressing it.  My design needed to be bolder and more daring.

I studied architecture at a time when computers were slowly being introduced in school, meaning that to this day, I still need a pencil/pen to come up with ideas or to refine them. My five-month line study gave me the opportunity to first reconnect with my creativity, re-develop some good sketching habits and then learn to think like an artist first, and an architect second. It taught me how to see a building as a sculpture and to understand that some buildings needed to be chiseled out like an artist would chisel a sculpture out of wood, clay or stone.

sketch 2

Sketch 2 – (Thesis Project Revisited – 2014)

Eventually, I know that I will need to learn one or two of these 3-D computer programs that allow architects to really take their design to the next level, but for now I like to use some old fashion techniques to further develop my concept. Sketches 1 and 2 represent a more dynamic and free flowing representation of the massing of my narrative museum. This project will eventually  be included in my design portfolio and as I further develop the massing as well as the interior spaces I want my art to guide my architecture.  My goal is to ultimately blur the lines between art and architecture and by doing so, I know that I will find my true architectural style, my signature both as an architect and as an artist.