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ARIA Studies Mid-Century Schools

An integrated studio of Third and Fourth year Interior Architecture students studied two mid-century schools in Montgomery, Alabama this summer. Built in the 1950s, Bellingrath Middle School and Davis Elementary School are surprisingly similar buildings—both planned around a central courtyard. The intimate connection between inside and outside was imagined as a test case to re-innovate this ubiquitous but undervalued building type. The studio—INSIDE | OUTSIDE—proposed 21st century learning environments enriched by luminous, acoustic, and thermal variety. The studio and accompanying courses in Research, History/Theory and Professional Practice were led by Rebecca O’Neal Dagg, Matt Hall, Kevin Moore and Sheri Schumacher.

View the students' gallery of work:

Focusing on environmental variety, students traveled to Los Angeles to study the work of Richard Neutra. Students also visited buildings and interiors from an extraordinary list of designers including Rudolf Schindler, Pierre Koenig, Louis Kahn, Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, and Rafael Moneo.

Richard Neutra helped transform architecture in Southern California by fusing modern building technology, interiors, and landscape design into a holistic aesthetic experience. Neutra merged inside and outside by designing landscapes, furniture, lighting, and inventing new combinations of diverse materials. Rather than traditionally comfortable rooms, Neutra created pleasurably intense and diverse environments. As a result, his practice is a unique model for Interior Architecture.

In Survival Through Design (1954), Neutra claimed: “One fact already stands out in the total scene of mixed design considerations: a 'timeless,' static sort of design concerned with space alone will be an error. In the instance of a classroom it became clear what air flow reckoned in time must do for living beings who themselves are physiological clocks also operating in time. Our kind of ticking is the pulsing of our blood, our breathing or inhalation-exhalation cycle, and all the many rhythmical processes that go on simultaneously within our bodies. It is through these processes—much in need of accommodation in suitable space-time—that we live and survive.”

Underlying Neutra’s description of a mutable space-time is a rather provocative assertion: the manner in which architecture might be envisioned has little to do with how it is seen or read as a tectonic artifact. Aligning buildings with a physiological understanding of our bodies, Neutra explained architecture as a pulsing and unfolding thermodynamic experience.

The trip to Los Angeles allowed students to understand this dynamic experience as a physical encounter that falls outside of published drawings and photographs. As a result, design studies focused on anticipating environmental variety through unfolded elevations refolded into large immersive models. This unfolding and refolding process help loosen clear distinctions between inside and outside. An exhibit of student work from the studio was on display in the Dudley Commons Gallery in August and September.