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Charlotte Page's Unfolding Space | an architecture of moments

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It's tough out there for up-and-coming architects, so every so often Curbed will shine a spotlight on some of Chicago's architecture students and recent grads. (They're our future!) Know a young architect we should feature? Hit us up on the Curbed tipline.

Floating World Gallery will collaborate with architects Charlotte Page and Susan Conger-Austin to present Unfolding Space | an architecture of moments opening January 20, 2012 and running through February 17. This multimedia exhibition addresses the relationship between place and user. In our media-filled environment, education acts as a filter that helps us determine what is true. Yet each person's knowledge remains a personal assemblage of information. The student arranges pieces of information just as an occupant strings moments of architecture into a perceived space.

Charlotte considers 12 architectural elements described by a series of drawings, models, and projections viewed within an installation of white, translucent, cloth panels. Her work is complemented by an array of prints from the preeminent Japanese mezzotint artist Yozo Hamaguchi. Through the repetitive process of the mezzotint print, Hamaguchi's work shows the subjectivity of representation: no single print fully describes the plate but is rather an interpretation of it. As views and spaces contract and expand while moving within the installation, the visitors move between third-person observation and a conscious experience of their own perceptions. They come to realize that no one person knows the space entirely, but each person defines a fragment of space. Ultimately, as visitors move through this installation and view the work, they become aware of the uniqueness of their own experience.

Curbed: Just as we start every interview, what attracted you to Architecture?

Charlotte Page: I really became attracted to architecture the year after I graduated from college. I was feeling a bit unsatisfied with my job so I took an architectural drawing class on the weekends. Traveling to different sites around New York City and constructing them with a pencil I became more and more interested and decided I had to explore further.

Curbed: How was the transition to life in Chicago after being a lifetime Brooklynite? Especially having come from a non architecture background, what were your impressions, or better yet, preconceptions of our fair city?

CP: I was excited to come to Chicago and have the chance to explore another major city. I was intrigued by Chicago in particular, having been here a couple of times before since my brother went to school here. I didn't know what to expect exactly but the most interesting part of living in different cities for me is observing how people use them differently. It's something you can't really grasp until you have actually lived and participated in a city.

Curbed: You know its coming and I am apologizing in advance, but what is it like being a woman in the field of architecture?

CP: (Laughs) What's it like being a man in the field of architecture?

Curbed: Touché

Curbed: Your body of student work seems to have traveled a path less beaten, with a critical shift taking place in the last year of your program. Coincidentally you had taken part in a study abroad program in Paris to start that school year, what specifically caused this course correction into the abstract?

CP: I guess it is a path less beaten at a technical school. I don't think there was anything specific that caused this 'course correction.' I have always been fascinated by how people use and interact with a place—how physical design can influence social interaction. During the semester in Paris I was able to really focus on this problem. In studio I worked on a Building of Performance, a housing collective with a theater incorporated into the form. Inhabitants' roles would constantly change in relation to each other as they become performer or spectator. This focus carried over into my final project.

Curbed: And speaking of your final project, how did this foray into the psyche begin? Especially as an architecture student?

CP: My Master's project originated as a school. With the intent of delving beyond the built form, it became a question of what is a school? What is the idea of a school? What is its function? What is its relationship to society?

To begin this exploration, I decided to couple traditional education with an experiential form of learning: sailing. The aim of adding such physical inputs is to add perspective to the education environment. Education itself is the passing down of perspective, not truths or non truths, simply each country's, professor's, or student's subjective understanding of the truth based on their perceptions of reality. With sailing, the student is able to verify the lessons learned in the classroom through practical application. For example, abstract principles of math and physics may be put to use and better understood in what moves a sailboat.

The site of the project then became the meeting of land and water, or, more specifically, Manhattan and the Hudson River. This created an interesting dynamic between the two datums, land and water, and also, more conceptually, between the city and water.

The school itself could become an experiential learning environment that acts as a filter between the city, which is full of unedited information, and the water as a place where one may escape to corroborate information with experience. I broke down the school into 12 elements that interact to varying degrees with land and water and are designed to create conditions that highlight the subjective experience. For example, one element employs a ramp that lifts the user up and away from the datum of the city only to be confronted with the image of the city in a reflection. The city penetrates the school.

Curbed: Hold up. So if what teachers teach and what people experience is just one perspective, what is objective?

CP: That is the question. A single person's perspective is just one among many. Even a photograph, though sometimes taken to be objective, is not. I've developed a system of drawing that ranges from the most objective representation to the most subjective. The most objective representation gathers all points of view of the element and unfolds them into a single surface, eliminating the subject from the drawing. It represents all views at all moments in time rather than selecting one view at one moment.

In contrast, the most subjective representation unfolds a path through the element describing a space that the user would compose over time through memory and logic. Since the subjective experience is defined by both the physical place and temporal conditions, thoughts, and feelings of the user, these representations include images of the immediate surroundings as well as other thoughts and memories that infiltrate the user's experience of the place. The images are framed by the unfolded path since the user's thoughts are influenced by the physical environment even though they may be entirely separate from it.

Curbed: So how will this be read as a built exhibition?

CP: The exhibition will include a full-scale installation of translucent cloth panels that will help the visitors experience for themselves the ideas that are illustrated by the models and drawings.

Curbed: Sounds like this would be better understood in person.

CP: Most likely. Luckily the exhibit will be opening to the public in just a couple of weeks on Friday, January 20.

Curbed: We can't wait to check it out and inform our readers of our subjective perspective of your exhibition.

CP: You just need to come out on opening night.

Curbed: Sounds good Charlotte, thanks for speaking with us today, best of luck with the opening!

Charlotte received her Master of Architecture from IIT this past May. She is presently working on a public exhibit expanding on her Master's project work for which she won the Master's Project Award of Excellence at IIT.