Stitch it Together

Deanna Baris, Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning

Collaborators: Robert Adams, Associate Professor, Taubman & Stamps; Dawn Gilpin, Lecturer IV, Taubman; Glenn Wilcox, Associate Professor, Taubman; Ken Kalchik, Manager, Taubman College Woodshop; Carly Lowe, Woodshop Staff, Taubman College Woodshop; Dora Bartilotti, Feminist and Multimedia Artist Founder, MediaLabMX, Mexico City

Stitch it Together takes an interdisciplinary approach to the architectural thesis by drawing heavily from textile production and technology, with an eye towards map-making, ecology, and architecture. The production of textiles is a cornerstone of human agency in the built environment.

Textiles are a critical site of individual control, one where function meets craft and cultural knowledge. I’m interested in engaging Mexico City’s rich cultural legacy of weaving and textile production and have been working with a textile artist located in Mexico City, Karla Belinda Amezcua.

Network technologies connect resources across physical space and encompass a wide range of systems from digital networks like the Internet to mycelium and tree networks. These complex, distributed systems challenge binary notions of space and emphasize the value of interconnection.

The thesis takes a multiscalar approach to borders and walls through 4 phases of design and arts research. First, at the smallest scale, I plan to fabricate a series of looms and weavings. In addition to exploring questions of surface, materiality, and texture, this work will help facilitate skill building in weaving and woodworking.

Next, I will develop a series of interactive digital maps that will consider the regional landscape of materials and networks that connect the US and Mexico. Though the geopolitical border presents as a binary bisecting line, the reality is that these two countries are intricately connected by ecology, migration flows, water, transportation networks, and digital infrastructure.

This phase will also allow room to develop alternative styles of cartographic representation, making use of interactivity and ease of changeability facilitated by digital media. At the building scale, I will design a small scale structure (ie. house, pavilion) that uses soft materials and speculative tectonics to challenge normative wall construction. The walls of this structure will be tactile, occupiable, and adjustable by its occupants.

Finally, straddling the physical and digital worlds at the scale of furniture, I will build a custom Wi-Fi router using a raspberry pi. A router serves as the digital wall of a network, enabling internet traffic to enter and exit while performing the essential transformation of digital signals from electrical pulses to airborne waves.

Traditional routers are clunky, neutral, plastic objects that most people pay to rent every month from Wi-Fi companies and hide in unobtrusive locations. The designed router (and accompanying instructional booklet) will be a decorative piece that celebrates the role of infrastructure in the built environment, encouraging customization and fostering knowledge. Time permitting, I will incorporate an augmented reality component to create a visual depiction of the internet traffic flowing in and out of a given space.

Stitch it Together draws from an abundance of architectural theory on border and wall conditions. Rem Koolhaas’s Elements of Architecture dedicates an entire chapter to the wall with its fundamental dual role in both providing structure and establishing separation between spaces.

In After the City, Lars Lerup writes about the doublespace of the wall at the Parthenon, which appears to be solid yet becomes occupiable. The space of the border is also tightly coupled to techniques of spatial control of the grid, with its roots in Spanish colonial urban planning and Jefferson’s grid applied to the western United States through the Land Ordinance of 1785. Other key references include Gottfried Semper, Annie Albers, Lina Bo Bardi and Eileen Gray.

This thesis continues a legacy of existing work that complicates and challenges the solidity of walls and borders. The Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao has done significant work at the site of the US-Mexico Border. Her article Where Is The Border? as well as the combined exhibition and studio she ran entitled Two Sides of the Border deal with the complex nature of the border as both a signified and physical wall.

She writes about the role of cartography as a non-neutral tool, one that establishes national identity and has the potential for constructing alternative collective imaginaries. Bilbao talks about collaging as a representational strategy for challenging traditional cartographic practices and re-imaging border zones as regional networks rather than two distinct areas separated by a wall.

Much has also been written and designed about the misuse of the wall, both at the scale of the building and the scale of the border wall. KVA Architects looks at the hollow stud wall, intended as a polymorphic site of infrastructure with gaps that can be re-understood as a site of design opportunity.

In political context, Eyal Weizman’s piece Walking Through Walls: Soldiers as Architects in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict describes IDF military tactics through which soldiers occupy the walls of Palestinian homes in a dispersed surveillance warfare. In a political piece located at the US-Mexico Border, architect Ronald Rael installed a temporary hot pink seesaw through the gaps of the border wall, bringing a sense of playfulness to a site of intense surveillance and violence.

This project is a 1-year thesis within the Taubman College architecture graduate program, with a final presentation exhibition in late April. The fall semester seminar was dedicated to research and conceptual development of the project. As a studio, we spent a week (January 27th – February 4th) on a group site trip to Mexico City for research and material sourcing.

Work is already underway on several phases of the work. I have already completed 2 looms in the weaving series. I have also begun research into building a router and testing out software options for digital mapping. The scope of any digital mapping work that may require additional collaborators is planned to be completed by the end of February.

The project will be presented at Taubman College in late April, and there will be a public exhibition of thesis work on display at the Taubman College Research Annex through next summer. The work is also planned to be featured at MediaLabMX in Mexico City in September 2024. The exhibition includes an engaging and interactive multimedia presentation, with physical textiles, drawings, books, and allied digital media.