Maxi Spina & Jia Gu / Spinagu

Los Angeles, CA, USA

August 2017


Maxi Spina / Spinagu Jia Gu / Spinagu


Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) (Exhibition organizer ) The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts (Funder) Formica Corporation (Sponsor) Jared White, Eastbridge Studio (Fabrication Assistance) Ravyn Crabtree / Spinagu (Fabrication Coordinator) Rishab Jain / Spinagu ( Fabrication Coordinator) Brandon Youndt, Sci-Arc Digital Fabrication Lab (Fabrication Consultant)


Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc)


Joshua White


The work explores the history and habits of representing an invisible condition of architecture: material thickness. Over time, architecture has produced a set of representational techniques to describe this unseen dimension of architecture. Alluded to in section, camouflaged in the figure-ground, and presented as a foil in the developable surface drawing, material thickness is an understudied architectural condition that has served as an elusive site for many acts of design. Thickness evades the elevation and hides out in the edges of projective drawing, and is often considered a mere inconvenience of the real within systems of representation. Yet material thickness is a constructive problem as much as it is a representational one. One assigns thickness when one begins to construct, when the object acquires the specificity of real materials. In our present day standards of construction, thickness has become synonymous with material offset due to the predominance of sheet material, as opposite to stereotomy, in which thickness is derived from subtraction and removal of mass. The condition of thickness — the necessity of thickness — carries no central import in any era of architecture, but still manages to circulate through different moments of architectural thinking. Its condition is linked to (but is not central to) the history of stereotomy and stone construction; in the emergence of new forms of architectural drawing (i.e. developed surface); and in the classic problem of the Doric order. Even in the Modernist obfuscation of solid form, it remains an unavoidable consideration in the Miesian corner and Kiesler’s endless surfaces. It is the consequence of architecture’s lack of medium-specificity, in its constant migration between the drawing, the picture plane, the screen, the tool path, the material, and the assembly. As such, thickness becomes a tectonic default rather than a techne to be designed. The project insists that thickness (material or otherwise) is not a-historical but in fact derives from a long history of architectural thinking around tools, technology, and techniques that informs and is informed by the act of design.


"Thick" is a research project and exhibition that explores material thickness as an active site of investigation. The project is the instantiation of an on-going research project by Maxi Spina and Jia Gu (of Spinagu) around the relationship between architectural instruments and architectural production. The research explores how thickness is itself a “deep” structure of design within the discursive spaces of descriptive geometry, digital tooling, material fabrication and construction. The project culminates with a two-month exhibition in the SCI-Arc gallery space, featuring new work by Maxi Spina and Jia Gu. The exhibition is spatial, operating within / between / through the literal walls of the gallery, as well as operational, producing a collection of fragments that explores the section as an operative act through which figuration and form emerge. Coupled with a catalogue and public discussion, the exhibition expands on the problems of material thickness through the topic of sections, ruins, fragments, constructions, figurations, simultaneity, and representation.


The project is not an enactment onto the built environment but an observation of how we construct environments through the mediated tools, instruments, and modes of viewing that accompany architectural labor. In today’s digital environment, thickness is an increasingly elusive condition in architectural design. As a term, thickness does not refer to the actual solidity of a material (as in the standardization of sheet material or thickness of marble), but a conceptual and material problem that sits (literally) at the edge of architectural thinking. In our contemporary milieu of digital software and environments, thickness has become mere afterthought. In modeling software such as Rhino or Maya, the digital model is infinitely thin. Its default property is a single line or algorithmic curve, and its “thickness” must be added. Here we begin to confront the limits of representation with its correspondent properties of material reality. As today’s softwares embed increasingly fluid commands to carry information between platforms, the capacity of thickness to serve as a critical problem in digital production has been obfuscated by output commands and mechanic fabrication. It only reappears in mechanic production, either in the surfaces of 3d printing or in the excavation of CNC milling. Thickness in digital modeling has become mere information. "Thick" attempts to investigate this peripheral role of material thickness by exploring how software, environments, and working habits are inflecting upon our very definition of materiality, and how we can work through these inflections in a creative and thoughtful way. For example, how one renders materiality onto objects, and assign properties to such materials, whether through UV mapping, bumps, or image mapping. As digital objects are gaining new properties and definitions, the project is interested in seeing how this can be brought back out to the physical environment, and what new working methods might evolve out of the literalness by which we translate our digital process into material and physical ones.