Graduate Architecture

Posted October 8, 2018
  • Miguel Abaunza and Insung Hwang’s design for Parafictional Objects, a graduate architecture seminar taught by Kutan Ayata

  • The painting that inspired Abaunza and Hwang’s design, by Dutch artist Pieter Claezs (1597-1661)

Future Architects Find Inspiration in Dutch Still-Life Painting

For architect Kutan Ayata, 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings are particularly intriguing. In fact, the compositions—depicting so-called “everyday objects,” such as jars, containers, musical instruments, fruits, and even lobsters, typically displayed on tables—are the basis of his seminar Parafictional Objects, which he teaches at PennDesign.

“In these paintings, there are all kinds of other stuff you would not suspect their reality of coexisting at the same time,” he says. “But if you just think about it, of course, this is a purely fictional construct of these things existing together. It’s kind of an act of abstraction, which is depicted as a plausible reality.”

When constructing imagery in architecture, Ayata insists, “We go through similar processes.”

In the elective seminar, which Ayata, a senior lecturer, has taught for the past four years, he challenges second- and third-year graduate architecture students to imagine fictional histories by choosing an object from one of the Dutch paintings, extracting it, 3D modeling it, reconfiguring it, rendering it back into the painting, and fabricating it. Once the digital objects are fabricated, Ayata says, students treat them to hide the materiality of their fabrication. What is presented, then, is an object where it’s unclear to viewers what it’s made of, what period it belongs to, or from what material it emerged.

Lastly, students are asked to generate narratives explaining their products’ existence.

“They in some way need to bridge this fictional history for the object; how this object ended up here,” he says. “It helps hone their skills in terms of controlling their intentions, their aesthetics, and hold control of the narrative itself.”

The idea of the project, Ayata says, is to get students to rehearse their representation, fabrication, and design skills outside of the context of architectural constraints. In doing so, they’re advancing their 3D modeling, texture mapping, rendering, hand finishing, and storytelling.

Designed to evoke curiosity, some of the works of Ayata’s former students will find a new audience at the PennDesign Awards in New York City on October 15, when they will be featured as part of the tablescapes. The event kicks off Lead by Design, the School’s ambitious new fundraising campaign. Works by Ayata’s 10-year-old Brooklyn-based firm, Young & Ayata, will be on display, too: Base Flowers, for example, is a 3D printed vessel for cut flowers that can be re-positioned, bringing attention to the conjoined vases that make up the whole.

Ayata, who plans to attend the event, says it’s an “ideal situation” for the fabrications to seem as simple as table décor—at first.

“But, then, I think, as people sit, they will discover the oddities, a strangeness in them, to evoke some kind of curiosity to start a conversation,” he says. “If that conversation is not very stable about how that object can be pinned down to a specific time period and genre, then I think it becomes a productive inquiry about how reality around us can be understood in an alternative manner, in this case, through a single object. On a larger scale, this is, indeed, an aesthetic argument for architecture as the background of our everyday reality.”