For about a week at the end of August 2016, the jury room of the Rice School of Architecture was home to an enigmatic installation: a house of timber and drywall built at half-scale and sliced open to show the interior. It was no ordinary house. Designed by Visiting Wortham Fellow Michelle Chang and titled “A,B 1:2,” the form was based on two alternative views of a cube superimposed upon each other. The idea came to Chang from an observation about the computer rendering process, which creates a deformed model that is never seen, an alternative version of whatever appears on the screen. What if that ephemeral phase were to become the basis of a building?
In 2014, Chang built a small-scale model based on this idea, called “House A,B.” The 2016 version, which is exactly 48 times larger, gave her the opportunity to really get a feel for the interior volumes and how daylight, pouring in through the jury room’s high clerestories, moves through the space. It also allowed her to explore some of the other quirks of digital models in built form, such as the way details and depth are created by varying levels of articulation. For example, on one side of a diagonal line running up the staircase, the edges of the treads are finished with paper forming a slight overhang; on the other side, they are unfinished — just 90-degree butt-joined sheetrock.
Throughout the installation, Chang left the construction raw, half-done. The drywall screws were visible, the joints and edges nakedly exposed. In part, it was a budgetary decision, but it also expressed her desire to register the building process, the tectonic quality of making. It was an intriguing choice, a reminder of the messy aspects of concrete reality, so unlike the smooth plastic realms of the mind and the computer.