The Conversation Series
Transcripts of recordings between Michael Rotondi and colleagues in architecture and academia,
taken from video meetings. The dialogue has been lightly edited for text format.
With Prof. Max Underwood, Architect and Presidents Professor at Arizona State University
October 1, 2020
Max Underwood : So how is your studio?
Michael Rotondi : Studio is good. There's a number of interesting things that pop up that used to be conceptual issues, but now you can actually see that they're really experiential issues. Students have no sense of scale.
MU : Exactly.
MR : So the environments, they'll make a valley that's 1000 miles long, but they don't know it until you try walking through it, and it looks like you're not moving. I said, ‘Hey – is something wrong here? I think my avatar is broken.’ And Nels goes, ‘What do you mean?’ I said ‘I'm not moving.’ He said, ‘You know why?’ And then he tells me about the scale. And he tells everybody. ‘OK, you gotta think about that..’ And then we basically gave a five-minute talk on scale.
MU : Yeah, it's interesting what catches them up.
MR : I know. I’ll say, ‘Wow, how big is this?’ And then I could see another avatar in the distance that looks like an ant. I go ‘holy shit -- you guys have to now have a gradient of spaces, and a gradient of scales of spaces.’ And they ask to elaborate on that, and so we explain that. And now time, and scale, and space, and light, -- you know all of that stuff.
MU : The generative essences.
MR : Yeah. And then there's a couple of people that are dealing with the melting ice caps, so it's a drowned world. So the trees and the grass they had above ground before, now that they’re 400 feet below the surface of the water, are still green – grass and trees.
MU : Oh, interesting.
MR : And they didn't ever think of what grows underwater. I said, ‘you know why grass is green?’ And somebody goes, ‘why?’ And I said, ‘Does anybody here know?’ And then somebody goes, ‘I think it's sunlight, isn't it?’ I go, ‘Yeah, sunlight. Does sunlight get down 400 feet?’ And they said, ‘yeah it does – look!’ And I said, ‘No, this is the computer. Of course, sunlight gets down 400 feet in the computer.’ And then Nels puts up on the screen what it looks like 400 feet down at the bottom of the ocean. So inadvertently, we're starting to talk about things.
MU : The nice thing is that they're getting immersed in their work. They're suddenly going, ‘Oh now I know what it's like to be here.’ So, the things that they think abstractly about is really immersing them in this. And that's key to what you're doing.
MR : Yeah – their research is coming out of the rules that they're creating, and then the stories are beginning to emerge out of the world that they're creating.
And the ones that are dealing with air, they're basically making these worlds 1000 feet off the ground, because Nels did these trees that go up for like a kilometer.
MU : The ultimate rain forest.
MR : It took us a couple of sessions to tell them ‘No, it looks like you're building stuff that's on the ground. You can't do that.’ So yesterday, we're talking about how might a tree begin to transform itself, the limbs and the branches, in order to make bridges, in order to make platforms, in order to make a shelter? And then maybe there's a whole other world of creatures that are up there.
MU : Or how does a worm take a piece of a leaf and curl it up to make shelter?
MR : But then they'll make these spirals that go around the tree, that are made from the tree, and it’s really narrow, so I'm intensely trying to stay on it. You know it's like driving up a car ramp in a garage but you can hold the steering wheel? I'm trying to control the mouse and my fingers at the same time, because if I fall off it's a whole other exercise to get back up to where I was, if I fall 1000 feet to the ground.