Systems- A Way of Thinking

The last blog is supposed to be on the last class, but I think that is better as a class overview because there is still a connection that needs to be drawn. Systems, like all of the third year fall semester classes in UVA’s School of Architecture, is really about a way of thinking. It’s introducing us to the ideas of thinking in the realm of natural systems. In this way, this class is a part philosophy, a part science, and, as an architecture class, a part art.

The third year set-up gives us different ways of designing. In CAAD, we learn to design through Electronic Tools. How many times has Earl Mark brought up that our current representational abilities allow us to design what could not be design before. Theory, teaches us a philosophical approach that we can use to design with respect to known ideas and world events. Systems, however teaches us the most basic design set, designing with respect to nature. We cover how to design with regard to natural light, how to design with natural climate control, like ventilation, and designing with regard to seasons. It’s a truly interesting set because it gives students lots of ways to look at their next design opportunity.

Kevin and Cary Burke lecture

The lecture from Kevin & Cary Burke was infuriating. They were very good at what they did, and knew how to apply the academic learning to practical results, but they had a very elitist view. They even admitted that there were those that had criticized the work of their Solstice House. However, they were told by more people that the design was strong so they went ahead and made it. They never talked about sitting down and trying to figure out why there were questions about the point of such a design. While I applaud the idea of saying this is my design and I’m sticking with it, I do believe that if your ideas are gathering critique there probably questions that haven’t been resolved, even in the built building.

These weren’t the most angering comments though. They commented that most clients needed to be taught what they wanted, this idea that intellectuals are the only ones that can have ideas is widespread, but its by far elitist. This was highlighted by earlier comments in the lecture that contractors were hard to deal with on green projects often saying, “I know all about this green stuff. I do LEED”. I’m sure that there was a contractor that said this, but there was this sense that they as the designer were the only ones who realized how important and what the idea was, and if that’s true, then you’ve built a bad building.

One last problem I had with the lecture, is they didn’t analyze data to find out what made their designs effective, they analyzed the data that came back on their houses to support beliefs they already held. Once again, its more than possible, probably even likely that their designs worked because of the reasons they thought they did, but this dismissal of the scientific method is at the least strange. Finally, there were contradictions in the lecture. Most notably when they talked about how great the Dutch were for “not romanticizing nature” then they talked of allowing nature to design which they called “non-willful design”. They did however, take strong stances. They said do the calculations by hand, so you’d have respect for them. They said to stand up for your ideas because if you’re not going to defend them no one else will. Those points are strong, I just wish they would’ve talked about working in collaboration a little more, instead of insisting they were right.

Malthus and Architecture?

The question answer period on the last class before thanksgiving quickly became a conversation on the state of things. Professor Sherman drew an exponential graph and limit graph on the board and we discussed ways of making the transformation easily. After class, I continued the conversation with him about the state of things.

The main point is that our current level of growth in population, wealth, etc. is not sustainable. Eventually, and our estimates were sooner rather than later, the world will meet its limit. Malthus came up with a slight twentieth century adjustment. World population will be rectified by famine, illness, or war, or will be excused due to new technologies.

So how does architecture fit in to this morbid picture. It is not our job to find a new technology to allow more population, it is just our job to make the transition to sustained levels instead of sustained growth as smooth as possible. We can do this by using less energy, as we approach that limit, and using less space. It is our job to make it okay to live in a constant world instead of the twentieth century growing world.

Peter Culley-Completeing the Cycle

The Peter Culley talk was highly illuminating of how to test standards. Peter Culley believed that his design for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts climate control was better than the standard. The standard had been so widely used, that he was forced to prove himself with scientific data. Not only was he successful, but he continued to prove the whole building scientifically even building a full size model of several of the pieces of the building in Pennsylvania and tested how they would respond in certain extreme circumstances.

His work on the VFMA aside, when he explained the story of I-40 in Memphis and how he wanted to memorialize the saving of a park and the unfinished highway, I was high skeptical. His design did exactly what I-40 would have done, carved out green space to make room for modernization. However, I believe I was wrong to question it. While the idea of inserting a museum into a mound which stood as a testament to the unfinished roundabouts and ultimately the unfinished I-40 is not one I would support while it was going up. Peter Culley did successfully complete the cycle while allowing the shape and grass of the mound to stand and inserting a cultural icon (a museum for a known Memphis photographer), into the place of a cultural victory.

Assignment 5-Mechanical Systems within my project

The main things to note in the full section are wind angles, wanted light conditions, site conditions and the full stack effect. The wind angles, shown in dark teal, are mostly coming from the west and north. To the east, there is a park on the other side of Tenth Avenue which makes the wind blowing at the front of the building, the Tenth Avenue side very slow, because it has a lot of room to spread out. The west side of the building creates a narrow alley running along the building as a result of the Highline. This wind is forced in a singular direction there and can pick up some speed. The north wind is where I’m really letting it work for me. Twenty-eighth street becomes a funnel channeling the wind across the side of my building (which is 102 feet long as opposed to the front which is only 25 feet). I’m hoping to capture this wind as a ventilation tactic that I will speak more about with the smaller section.

The wanted light conditions for each space were remarkably different when I really thought about it. In the store, the first floor, I wanted a bright central corridor with the bags floating just out of the bright light, the idea being that a customer would easily be able to look at multiple bags. If he/she decided there was one they liked, they could pick it up and examine it in the brighter light. In this way, all of the bags are on display while keeping an air of mystery. The second floor, in this cut is a meeting space, it is also a bathroom, but the bathroom wants similar lighting as the meeting space. The importance for the meeting space is even light, it doesn’t need the direct sunlight as much as the workshops or store. The third floor is outside, and its large enough that it gets a good deal of both direct and indirect light, I was happy with its natural condition. The fourth floor, like the sixth floor, is a workshop. It needs bright, even light. This is perhaps the hardest condition in the building. I want everything that a visiting artist does to be seen by those in attendance, and it want to shine. The artist studios should also be bright and even, though their importance is less than the workshops because no one but the individual artist should see it. The next floor in this cut is a meeting room, though it also includes offices, they have the same lighting conditions as before. The final floor is an apartment which the lighting needs to be even and a little brighter than the meeting room needs to be.

The site conditions can be noticed here. Though this is a corner site facing north, it is actually unbelievable attached to direct sunlight. Of course, this means its also connected to diffused even northern light. However, there is one sight condition that it is important to point out. The solid black line not connected to my building is a building that runs up against the southern side of my building for about the first third of the length of the building. Though this takes away really any ability to get to natural light on that wall, the space is used for vertical egress in my building plan and the other wall has access to that even northern light.

Though, ventilation will be shown in more depth, it is important to point out the full view of the stack effect in this building. The red column in the section is a foot wide but goes the entire length of the building and all the way up to carry warm air out of the spaces. Finally, it is important to see that the workshops do not let in natural ventilation (the blue arrows). This is because they are not susceptible to breezes, even minor ones which may distract the artists. These floors will have to be completely climate controlled unnaturally (mechanically).

This is a section of the first floor store. This drawing illustrates the points of ventilation, mechanical climate control, material selection, and lighting. In the issue of ventilation, we see that there is an opening in the Northern Facade to allow in air. The idea being that in the summer, the air will come in quickly and cool with a cross wind. During the winter, it can be closed ans the vertical line that sits above the opening can be put to several levels to speed up the air or close the access completely. On the other side of the room, we see a large connection to that southern face of the building where the hot air will exit the room and be carried all the way up the before mentioned stack.

Any addition climate control will be done from the floor. Hot air rises, and allowing it to come from the floor just makes sense as it heats the people inside the building while rising.The cooling at floor level is expected to cool surfaces that are in contact with it, but it also requires peoples movement to carry the cool air up, similar to the climate control design at the Virginia Museum Of Fine Arts.

My material selection is actually fairly muted. There were few choices to make, and I tried to make them to construct a very simple but still comfortable living area. First the guards, as are the rails which though unimportant to the comfort of the building are an important to the concept of the building, on the mechanical lighting are stainless steel intended to redirect the light towards the ceiling. The glass, shown at its correct thickness of .5 inches a sheet, will form the outside layers of the facade. The ceiling will be a white material that diffuses the light and allows it to travel back down as a lighted surface instead of just overhead lighting.

The mechanical overhead lighting was just discussed, so I will touch on the natural lighting here. The natural lighting is shown as it is above with the furthest the direct sunlight reaches in the year (solar noon on the winter solstice) as a purple line, and the least amount of direct sunlight at noon in the year (solar noon on the summer solstice) as a green line. As we can see, the summer light does not reach that far into the building while the winter completely encompasses it. During the summer, the store will rely heavily on the indirect light from the Northern Facade.

Light-noticed by absence?

It was, however intentionally, the most memorable moment of Systems lecture so far. Professor Sherman turned off the lights and showed us how our eyes adjusted to being in a dark room lit only by small lights of shut computers and the projection screen that had been reflected in from another classroom. Immediately, we felt the people around us more clearly, as he warned us we would. Slowly, our eyes adjusted to give us a desaturated view of the classroom, as a shadow Professor Sherman paced and lectured. It wasn’t long after this, that we were told of the inaccuracies of modern day lighting techniques.

His take on florescent lights as a representation of cloudy day is one I will agree with. He is also right, that we most regularly notice light in areas such as churches that are very selective in what light they let through. However, I disagree about the usefulness of this as a technique to architecture noticed (it is also defended in Daylight Design of buildings as sculpting with light). There is a reason it is used so sparingly and tied so strongly to churches. In our living room, we don’t want a single beam of light brighter than the rest traveling along a wall (I know, the skylight in my parent’s house in Richmond proves that) it doesn’t have to reach the level of glare to be annoying or distracting if we are going about other daily tasks. For a church, it makes sense, as our eyes adjust as if its a bright room and it leaves dark corners that look majestic and holy, but as a concept for a home, shop, or even a lecture hall like the one by Louis Kahn we discussed in class, it strikes me as frankly distracting.

Maybe, the mark of a good design in a home, studio, or shop, is one where light goes unnoticed. In studio, we notice the deflected light we are getting from the windows on the North Facade of Campbell Hall only when a cloud rolls by, and we generally think we have more than enough light to see (assuming its not night, where, as I mentioned earlier, I agree with Professor Sherman, that the overhead light is not effective). From where I stand, light should be treated the same way as temperature within a house. We should use as much as we can naturally to offset the energy costs of lighting the space artificially.

System’s Resiliency tested by war.

The idea of systems theory seems complex and somewhat like guesswork, but generals have long understood systems without realizing it. It has been common practice to push internal systems to test their resilience since the battle at Marathon, where the Greek soldier ran the first marathon to inform the city that they had won the battle, so that the city would know that an incoming naval attack was going to have no land reinforcements. Since that date though, infrastructural systems have changed. No longer do we run marathons to deliver messages and supplies, as a long line of infrastructural systems stands between that and the common day internet and plane duo that can send messages within a minute and supplies within a day to anywhere on the globe.

The Romans were famous for their vast infrastructure which constructed roads from their capital city to the far outreaches of their territory. The idea was that troops could be quickly assembled and marched from Rome to anywhere that caused trouble with fairly limited opportunity to be ambushed. It was a system with great resiliency, though it also cost a great amount. Julius Caesar during his campaign in Gaul famously crossed the Rhine River into German lands decided there was nothing there and left. What was so marvelous about this crossing is his engineers, traveling with the troops, quickly constructed a bridge that Caesar destroyed when he decided not to extend his campaign. If Caesar was not going to use his infrastructure to cross the Rhine, he didn’t want to leave it for someone else to.

Since the Romans, roads for feet and chariots have lost their usefulness. Imagine how much longer it would take to reach the other side of the United States with only messages delivered personally. It took months for people to cross to California in 1849 across the Oregon Trail, and that system had little resilience. Assuming good weather, plenty of supplies, and a strong knowledge of where they were headed, which were rare enough by themselves, the long journey left the traveler’s family vulnerable to bandits who would often take the opportunity to replenish their own supplies. As a result, a new system of transportation was arranged which has only begun to be outdated in the last half century.

When the railroad was invented, it meant a spike in how quickly messages and supplies could be delivered. The new system was faster and safer than the previous system of horse and buggy. A full railroad was unlikely to be stopped and robbed by a single person and could make journeys in what seemed like a blink of an eye. Granted the system was not as resilient as was noticed when railroads were put in the American Midwest where an entire train could be stopped by a single cow that wandered onto the tracks. However, a device names a cow pusher was designed to force wayward cows off the tracks without causing damage to the train. Very quickly, the railroad became the way to send supplies and messages in battle.

Rail however was less resilient than hand delivered messages as the United States Civil War proved. Rail cars could be disrupted before they ever left the station and entire rail lines could be put out of commission for entire wars. The campaign that has come to be known as Sherman’s March proved this. Major General Sherman marched from Georgia to Savannah with the plan of disrupting systems in the south. He set his sights specifically on two systems, the crop rotation cycle and our old friend the infrastructural system. He disrupted crop rotational cycles for what he believed was a short term, by burning the crops that were in the ground. He disrupted the infrastructural system twisting existing railroad tracks which caused so much damage that repairing the South’s rail lines was an issue even after the Civil War.

After the Civil War, northern residents rushed into the South so quickly the south named them carpet baggers, a derogatory term. Most of them were taking part or looking for jobs in the massive program known as Reconstruction. The goal of this program was rebuilding the South in general, though it was the mangled rail lines that gave a lot of the work. As the story goes, the Northerners were so hated that the South made a deal allowing Rutherford B. Hayes to be president as long as Reconstruction ended and the Northerners go back north.

Railroads effect on the speed in which something could be delivered made them signs of a modern nation. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman Empire had been nicknamed the Sick Man of Europe following a war with the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, a powerhouse in Europe and several other wars with smaller Balkan states, all of which resulting in the loss of Ottoman territory. The Ottoman sultan was determined to bring the country into the modern age, but here he hit a snag. The Empire’s economy was based on war and expansion. There was no means for taking a census and the odds of levying an effective tax code without an accurate count of who should be paying seemed low. Still, an effective rail line may show Europe that the Ottoman’s were headed in the right direction. So, “the Hijaz Railway commenced in 1900” “designed to link Damascus with Medina and Mecca”1.

The Hijaz Railway may have been a huge success under different circumstances. In fact, “in the course of eight years the Turks had put down 808 miles of rail”1, but a world crisis loomed in the near horizon. It almost immediately began to turn a profit and looked as if it would become a mainstay of the Ottoman Empire for years to come. “Just after it was built in 1908, the Hijaz railway was transporting as many as 300,000 pilgrims south each year”2. This success was short lived as “the last through train from Damascus to Medina ran in April 1918”3.

In 1914, the First World War broke out over Austrian-Hungarian interests in the Balkan. After, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia Russia declared war on Austria-Hungry causing Germany to declare war on Russian which then forced France to declare war on Germany. It did not take long for the whole of Europe to be swallowed into war. The Ottoman Empire was not immediately thrust into the war and remained impartial for a while. However, interest in their aid from Germany and fear that if the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers the Russian navy would be useless, had Germany and France vying for support from the Ottoman Empire. Finally, a blunder from the French in which the Ottomans heard them say that Ottoman aid would be a detriment not an aid in the war effort ending in the Ottoman Empire joining the Central Powers. For a little while, it looked as though this may be the key to regaining some of the Empire’s former glory. Soon, however, it became apparent that Austria-Hungary was only interested in the war along their Southern border, leaving Germany to hold off both France and Russian on their own. Germany then turned to the Ottomans as the key to the war, hoping they would take some attention by attacking Russia and territorial holdings, specifically the Suez Canal (though owned by France, this was another key component to the infrastructure of transport of Britain), of Great Britain and France.

Britain was ready however, having detached an early regiment to Egypt in the case that the Ottomans joined the Central Powers. Under the command of Colonel T.E. Lawrence, this regiment marched up through the Sinai Peninsula and persuaded many Arabs, who were considered of lower rank in Ottoman society then the Turkish population to join their ranks. Soon, the British had persuaded the Sharif of Mecca to join their cause, and though his troops were somewhat limited, his flag among the British was a huge a hit to the Ottoman cause. As he traveled further up the coast, T.E. Lawrence settled at the Hijaz. Then, the tracks took heavy damage. “Following the Allied capture of Aqaba, many Turkish locomotives and many miles of track were destroyed; traveling on the railway became an uncertain adventure; civilian traffic languished and with the termination of hostilities, ceased altogether.”1 Colonel Lawrence’s troops dynamited the tracks so frequently that the vein that ran supplies from the Northern Ottoman Empire to the Southern was severed. Though, Syed Tanvir Wasti does remind us that the Ottoman still controlled the southern tracks.3

The Hijaz Railway was never fully repaired. Owing mostly to the separation of a vast amount of Ottoman lands at the end of the war to France and Britain as territories, the Rail line did not run through a single country but several, which made repairs require international cooperation. In fact, the Ottoman Empire itself was doomed to fall soon after the war as the Turkish revolution, a war fought mainly against Greece, culminated in the creation of the Republic of Turkey, which took over the remaining Ottoman lands, in 1933.

Still, there is talk of repairing the Hijaz today and adding to it. “The Amman’s latest grand vision… sees Jordan as the centre-piece of a modern regional railway network”2.  This “vision”, as Laura Haynes calls it, is a sort of spine that attaches to the Hijaz but sprouts out to areas such as Cairo and Baghdad. However, the “project remains at an extremely elementary stage”2. The Hijaz Railway Company itself has been forced to cancel many of its recent trips as there is so little interest.

Today, our infrastructure system is a little bit different. Today we rely on the internet to send messages and planes, or cars if they’re local, to send supplies to troops. Planes and cars are by far more resilient than rail traffic. For one thing, they must be attacked while in transit, and they can only be attacked one at a time. However, internet and phone lines, are by far less resilient. Lines can be cut, satellites can be blocked and even wireless internet can be easily brought down. Also, both phones and internet can be seen or heard by an outside observer that the sender nor the receiver know is there, though this is a less a question of resiliency. Once again, we choose speed and comfort over resiliency, though in times of war, this could be understood, even if the system is going to come under fire.

source for photo:

source for photo:

source for photo:

In the above photos, we see the original plan for the Hijaz Raliway. It was meant to travel from Damascus to Medina. In the second photo damage done to the Hijaz by Colonel Lawrence and his troops is apparent. Finally in the bottom photo, a Turkis engine still sits in Saudi Arabia were it was no doubt derailed.


The above images are a comparison of the major wars that America fought between the Revolutionary war and World War II (it does not include the Babary Wars, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish American War, because I felt that the trend was most apparent through the major wars.The top shows the Revolutionary war were the transit system was limited to boats and horses. All notes had to be hand delivered, and the timing was off. Between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the battle of New Orleans, which has been called the greatest battle of the War of 1812, was fought two weeks after the war ended, because neither general knew that the war was over. In the Civil War, railroads ran through the country as a spine. Battles could stretch out a little bit, but it still took a long time for messages and supplies to be delivered, so battles were still fairly close to home. In the First World War, again rail was the line of travel, biplanes existed but they were useless for delivering supplies and in combat, though there are a few bizarre stories of men throwing grenades out of biplanes. Finally, by the time of World War II, war could be global. There is a reason there is no photo encompassing the range of World War II above, because the entire World was affected. This was largely because people, supplies, and messages could reach far away places relatively quickly by plane. This ability for global war has only increased since the invention of the internet.


1) Lockyer, Norman. “Reactivation of the Hijaz Railway, Saudi Arabia.” Nature (London). 208. no. 5017 (1965): 1262.

2) Haynes, Laura. “Reviving The Legend..” Middle East Economic Digest. 49. no. 12 (2005): 49-50.

3) Wasti, Syed Tanvir. “Muhammad Inshaullah and the Hijaz Railway..” Middle Eastern Studies. 34. no. 2 (1998): 60.