Tchochkes, Knick-Knacks and Near Models


Year: 2016
Project Team: Jonathan Rieke

Architects hang on to a lot of stuff. The architecture office is often an ontologically-hybrid space, existing somewhere between a dusty archive and an efficient workplace. Models sit on cluttered work-tables, drawings go from the printer to pin-up boards, to piles on desks, and myriads of sketches infill the remaining open space. This accumulation of production within the workplace forms a thin crust of physical information that frames the everyday activity of the designer. Apart from the occasional tidying up and reshuffling of the old for the new, the status of this stuff largely goes unquestioned with respect to its impact on the formal practices (management or design) of any given office.

As the residue of past processes, these formerly-operational objects work indirectly on the subjectivity of the designer: conveying an attitude rather than contributing to a working knowledge. In the same way that Aunt Wanda’s tchotchke cabinet engenders a certain atmosphere in her petit-bourgeois sitting room, the amalgamation of architectural Knick-Knacks contributes to a professional mise-en-scène within the workplace. The specificity of this scenography brackets the formal and conceptual domains of a given practice.

This project attempts to theorize and operationalize the role of architectural Tchotchkes within the space of architectural practice. By inserting the Tchotchke into the design process surrounding an otherwise straightforward office building, this thesis functions as a performance of the recursive effects that this disruptive insertion generates at all scales of design decision making.

This project was submitted in fulfillment of the thesis requirements for the M.Arch I Program at Harvard Graduate School of Design. It was awarded the James Templeton Kelley Prize in 2017 for best thesis project.