Point of Departure
Seeking collaborative research opportunities across the University of Kentucky campus, our team formed to focus on local issues with broader impact. We soon realized that we needed to reimagine our urban campus through a strategic acupuncture - a series of interactive, networked, didactic, and iconic structures that would be an outward expression of the campus’s commitment to sustainability and living laboratories to communicate these ideas to its occupants.
A typical shelter has a singular function: a place to wait for buses. They are designed for this purpose with no regard to context. A soulless kit of parts whose banal design regresses from the environment and exacerbates what can be a poor transit experience. To add value to the user’s experience we must change their perception by jolting them out of everyday rituals, making one present, and consciously aware of their environment. The architectural object provides this necessary jolt. It uses a bold silhouette with a metallic finish to stand out against its context while simultaneously using smooth surfaces to blend the form visually with the newly articulated ground of the campus quad (formal mimicry). This unexpected discovery opens the occupants to the environment and ideally produces secondary questions and exploration. In this context, camouflage is conceptually employed to further reveal the objects more subtle relationship to the landscape via surface textures, 2d patterns, and living patterns in the plantings as a means of producing a new connectivity. Through these simultaneously direct and subtle layers, the design engages the campus community in a process of discovery by strategically leveraging form and pattern, object and context, site and campus to produce conflicting legibility across multiple scales – calling the occupant to explore and ask further questions. It is designed with precise intent but leaves its meaning open to the occupant's own insights.
Beyond the formal mimicry of the roof mentioned before, the geometry smoothly translates other types of performance into a single body. The top is tuned to maximize solar exposure while also controlling water run-off and collection. The edges at moments reinforce site boundaries and micro-relationships while also visually minimizing the structure's mass. The underbelly is formed to provide structural stiffness and imply spatial zones of occupation related to types of social interaction and isolation within a public transit system. In combination with the furnishings, the underbelly produces a series of spatial thresholds that inform social microclimates and increase an individual occupant’s choices and comfort. At a macro-scale, the project attempts to address the performance of a building type (often overlooked because of its diminutive scale and banality) as a means through which to critique how we build in urban environments to produce positive impacts at multiple scales.
The structure and site link campus master planning concepts of “Enhanced User Experience Through Communication and Technology,” with sustainable transit and energy production creating event spaces (internal and external) not often associated with transit shelters. Through this placemaking strategy, the project attempts to expand the definition of performance beyond that which can be quantified, appealing to qualities of one’s experience. Once users are engaged, the shelter becomes a gateway to an educational experience about how small things can make a big difference.
 Neil Leach, Camouflage (The MIT Press, 2006), 240.