Höweler + Yoon : Architecture as Interface

The Helms Design Center hosted Eric Höweler and Meejin Yoon for a reception, lecture, and discussion in collaboration with the Cal Poly LA Metro Program in Architecture and Urban Design.

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Höweler + Yoon described submitting a design to a client in China that involved turning a packed, inverted pyramid space into an interpretation of the traditional Chinese house. All of the architects who submitted plans were rejected after their 1st iteration. The client insisted they channel "the Chinese feeling" and incorporate it into the design. The architects were given a Chinese poem to interpret as the building and they were taken to a mountaintop in Zhucheng Province for inspiration.


Through a packing exercise the Höweler + Yoon team developed a series of courtyards which framed a Chinese garden with living and work spaces nested closely together. After nine months the team was informed that not only had the program and site changed, but that construction was already underway. With a flurry of activity the team adapted its plans to fit the new site and its new use as a 60,000 square foot exhibition hall. Traditional Chinese bricks and small windows with flared surrounds made of Corten were used to stunning effect as the primary construction materials. Remarkably, one of the doors, described by Höweler as "an interlocking frame within a frame", was designed and fabricated in a week. This build highlighted how Höweler + Yoon adapt to last minute site changes and cultural idiosyncrasies, while underscoring the collaborative capabilities of the engineers and craftsmen they employ to fulfill their vision.


Höweler + Yoon’s masterful problem solving skills enable them to turn the very constraints imposed upon them into a creative force. The grey brick and the traditional Chinese masonry practice of a fixed east/west, north/south orientation applied to the exhibition hall, regardless of the geometry of the site, has been leveraged to mesmerizing effect. While right angles produce squared corners and smooth surfaces, oblique angles lend to the juxtaposition with a staggered, feathered, rough effect. With the masonry surface serving as a compass, Höweler + Yoon were able to delve further into the notion of architecture as user interface; as opposed to a place to be passively observed, maneuvered and inhabited.


Responding to a request for a residential high-rise, their team designed a staggered balcony for each apartment for privacy, and used an algorithmic packing logic where each floor was divided into ten equal parts, and the next floor eleven equal parts and so on.....An astonishing bowed, sculptural exterior effect materialized from the logic of the interior layout. While the design was not commissioned, the exercise gave Höweler + Yoon insight into how rules and relationships can affect outcomes of design; not unlike how rules are used in computer programming and scripting languages.



Höweler + Yoon have an acute interest in architecture as an information system. An outdoor sculpture project for the city of Boston enabled them to represent the twenty-one boroughs through data points in the city's 311 mobile reporting app. The sculpture tapped into the open source reporting system and broadcast the activity through a computer controlled lighting system. Another outdoor lighting project highlighted during the lecture was a project at the San Ysidro border between the U.S. and Mexico where they wanted to expand the number of entry lanes. Essentially a band of light spans the new twenty-six lane border crossing. As a car crosses the border a pulse of light is triggered, while multiple cars cause an ebb and flow of colliding pulses to spectacular effect. The practical effect was to give drivers a timeframe while waiting to cross the border.



Höweler + Yoon were commissioned to design the Sean Collier Memorial at M.I.T., commemorating the campus security officer who was killed during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers. The recurring themes "M.I.T. Strong" and "Boston Strong" led the team to choose a dome of varying sized granite blocks to signify strength and unity from diversity. The blocks weigh multiple tons and support each other through pure geometry and physics. The lengths to which the team went to build a fully compressive, solid block granite structure were fittingly heroic for such a memorial. They developed an applet to calculate the gravity loads of the granite blocks to ensure they stayed within the extraordinarily tight two millimeter tolerance threshold.



Höweler + Yoon’s process stretches beyond defining public and private space or how architecture affects boundaries and frames viewpoints. Rather their work explores how architecture shapes interfaces between spaces and the people interacting within those spaces. Höweler + Yoon embrace the fluidity of spaces by looking beyond architecture as static; and see it as an interface much like software with inputs and outputs, datasets, and by balancing technical functions with visual elements.