In the Fall of 2003, the Center’s director, requested the help of the School of Architecture in designing a storage system to aid in organizing donations; however, as a result of several visits to the site–a city block full of sprawled and disconnected structures–the students and faculty observed a terrible contradiction: while the Center’s mission is “Giving People Back Their God-Given Dignity,” the physical environment and facilities were depressing, coarse, and spiritually degrading. After an initial master plan the students immediate began building small installations which eventually led to several large scale projects.
The designers began with the “blank-face” of a typical metal building. Their task was to give the building a “face”- expression and life. The design process utilized the 3D modeling software “Viz” to project a conceptual grid across the existing building and add, subtract and multiply “plug-in” elements into the grid. Digital modeling allowed the student designers to fine-tune the proportions and “push-pull” relief of elements in the grid. The fabrication process capitalized on the grid as a free, generative system. As in all hands-on making, improvisation became not only a necessity but an asset allowing the design to expand and contract relative to constructability, time and budget. The result is a fabrication which is both façade and machine. Unlike the traditional notion of “façade” as mask, the fabrication reveals the metal building behind. Like Brunelleschi’s perspective machine, the fabrication measures and gives proportion to an otherwise scaleless building. Its grid of galvanized pipes extends across the face, mapping the building’s surface, while becoming an armature for a fabric canopy, fiber-cement skin, plant wall and signage. The combination of shadows, well-articulated proportions and sympathetic and contrasting materials attempts to make vivid the once ordinary experience of entering the building. The façade was completed over eight works at a cost of $3,717.76.