Unit 04: Virtual Laboratory | Adaptation to Extreme Topography

Unit brief

“Various accounts of Empedocles’ death are given in ancient sources. His enemies said that his desire to be thought a god led him to throw himself into the crater of Mount Etna so that he might vanish from the world completely and thus lead men to believe he had achieved apotheosis. Unfortunately, the volcano defeated his design by throwing out one of the philosopher’s sandals.” 

Mount Etna and the volcanic area of North-Eastern Sicily has been capturing people’s imagination since ancient times and has throughout history not only been about fire and fury but also a popular travel destination.

Due to extensive seismic activity in the region the terrain is challenging, from the steep hill towns like Taormina, the majestic and fertile landscape of Mount Etna, to the Messina Straight to the Capo di Milazzo Sicily’s Northern point. Throughout history, buildings and infrastructure have been integrated into the extreme topography conditioned by the available building material, survey techniques and construction methods, where traditionally, civil engineering, infrastructure and architecture have become one and the same and it is this condition that Unit 04 would like to explore. Furthermore, Unit 04 is continuing its interest in 3D scanning, drone photography, Virtual Reality (VR) and game engine technology as augmented tools to engage more directly with the extreme topography and textural conditions of this complex context. We aim to deploy VR not only as an immersive representational opportunity, but also as a design apparatus permitting design experimentation using 3D painting inspired by Pablo Picasso’s experiments with light painting and 3D modelling and compositing in first-person view. The intent is to free the design of conventional scalar considerations challenging the projection and the projected image as the primary form of architectural representation.

Unit 04 strives for an architecture adapted to both the natural landscape, extreme topography, and the climate but with character and unique qualities springing from both design technique and a meticulous exploitation of the local volcanic and timber materials used in combination with emerging technology. The hybrid material condition, augmented by our proposed design technique, allows us to appropriate the complexity of our terrain and texture of the context in a different way. It aims to re-discover new grounds for architectural representation and design.

“Architectural features of true democratic ground-freedom would rise naturally from topography, which means that buildings would all take on the nature and character of the ground on which in endless variety they would stand and be component part.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

Split frame image of Picasso drawing on glass


Architecture MA

Jonas Lundberg
Andrew Grant
Nate Kolbe

Where Goulston Street
Room GS1-14
When Monday and Thursday