Emerging Voices Lecture Series: DIGSAU & Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects

Last Thursday the Architectural League hosted the third in a series of lectures from the recipients of the 2013 Emerging Voices program. Selected for the promise they have shown in forging unique paths in architecture, the eight firms will be presenting lectures on their personal philosophies each Thursday this month. Last week’s lecture featured Luke Ogrydziak and Zoë Prillinger of Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects and Jules Dingle, Jeff Goldstein, Mark Sanderson, and James Unkefer of DIGSAU. In his introduction, Architectural League Vice President Paul Lewis highlighted both firms’ unique applications of "productive notions of imperfection and error" in their work.

DIGSAU describes themselves as a “14 person collaborative firm where all voices are heard.” Through the selective employment of high-tech manufacturing and low-tech construction, these voices yield projects that celebrate taking chances. The firm has been lucky enough to realize a wide range of projects, from institutional to private to the slightly bizarre.

One such off-beat project was the development of an ‘agrimobile’ to promote the Philly Farm Share. With just $300, the firm purchased a 1971 Bronco, gutted the engine, beheaded the upper half and filled the newly-formed vessel with dirt and corn. Unkefer says the “improvisational spirit of the project took it from static to something inspirational.” Moved from location to location around Philadelphia, it piqued the interest of many passersby.

Another left-of-center project DIGSAU undertook involved a secondary home for a client whose primary residence is an earthship (a passive house made of recycled materials) prone to flooding from the nearby river. The alternate home will serve as a sanctuary on rainy days. DIGSAU’s answer provided double reinforcement from rain—a raised house capable of floating on water with walls modeled after beaver dams.

From one aquatic site to the next, the group’s recently completed Iroko building at the Philadelphia Navy Yard is helping revitalize a once defunct area. Visiting the site, the firm noticed buildings dwarfed by the huge ghost ships no longer in use. Rather than mimicking architectural elements from these remnants, they used the building as a study in glass to help them stand out against the intimidating backdrop. The north façade puts forth an image whose closest naval resemblance is the sky’s blue reflection in its glass curtain wall. A mismatched scattering of abstracted windows on the south end completes the cool exterior. Indoors, the firm balanced the shell with warm locally sourced materials.

Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects approach projects with an eye towards research and the prospect for experimentation. The duo creates buildings with casual gestures while simultaneously exploring the utilization of space through geometric methods (a not-so-casual process). These research explorations take shape under two reoccurring themes: inconsistency and relaxation. While the "inconsistency" projects delve into the potential for freedom, "relaxation" undertakings explore variations of looseness.

For the construction of an exhibition space in San Francisco, OPA merged three reclaimed shipping containers to form a triangular tunnel. “One’s view is continually reframed” as you pass through the space, creating a heightened experience. An inefficient configuration of the containers maximizes the perimeter of the building. The open space left at the center creates a skylight and atrium suitable for the presentation of sculpture. The structure, dubbed Trikselion, was designed to leave as little impact on the site as possible; the containers are removable and can thus be reinstalled elsewhere.

OPA used perspective distortion to create the aptly named Parallax. A pavilion consisting of a box-like structure on the site, nearby vanishing points were located. At various locations on the site, one views the structure as larger or smaller than its actual size. Prillinger describes this visual manipulation as “deceptively simple.” The illusion provides yet another project by the pair creating an experience for the visitor.

Honighaus allowed another opportunity for OPA to visually toy with the visitor, but in a very different way. Neighborhood restrictions required the renovation of a client’s home to maintain its Edwardian façade, but inside the firm formed a contemporary dwelling centered on a geometric disruption at its core. The home’s envelope was simplified with a uniform paint job. A crumpled geometric roofline and a modified entry insinuate a modern center bubbling within, a theme carried on throughout the common spaces. Much of the existing rooms maintained their traditional style, providing further contrast to keep those passing through the space on their toes.

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