The husband and wife team of MATTER Architecture Practice, Alfred Zollinger and Sandra Wheeler, was a 2008 YAP finalist with Delightoscope, a project that simultaneously considered the pragmatics of structure and shade as well as the decadence of Edenic pleasure.

Interview with MATTER Architecture Practice

Alfred Zollinger and Sandra Wheeler, MATTER Architecture Practice: CAD became universal at the time when we were in school at the Cranbook Academy of Art. We had just missed being in that first group of people who really began to explore digital tools as they became available. We had a real interest in geometry and science back then, but we were computer illiterate. That’s just the reality of our practice. It might be a generational thing but it’s also how we choose to work. I didn’t go into architecture to sit in front of a television. We think with our hands and look for ways in either fabrication or material strategies to create complex forms with very simple means.

We’ve always been interested in material behavior. Ten years ago it really was a discussion of fabrication possibilities. In some ways this material aspect is being lost in education now and we see that when people apply to come work with us! It’s been replaced by work created with these amazing software tools, which surely allow for envisioning new forms but then maybe people also start to lose the ability to think in terms of gravitational force. Force is a big part of the type of experiments that we set up. We don’t reject the digital but I don’t think we could have used it to figure this project out. It’s really dependant on the material behavior—the agricultural shade cloth. We chose the material first and the form came out of it.

The name of the project, Delightoscope, came from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. We looked for inspiration in gardens and growth to refer to edenic or pleasure spaces. Then we looked at pragmatics like shade and structure, deciding on an aggregate strategy and material, the shade cloth, which comes in many colors and is typically used to grow plants without pesticides.

How do you distribute this shading over a large span? That question came from looking at previous entries. In previous years, people talked a lot about shade but we felt like they never really provided it. Our understanding was also different from other entries because we accepted the circumstances of the project as its limits, accepting the problem of covering a huge area with a miniscule budget, building it with a non-professional crew without renting any heavy machinery. So really it became: What can we do to create a shaded surface area such that each piece only takes two people to lift it?

We didn’t break with the typical program of the project, and that was the brilliance of the winning project that year by WORKac. They thought about an alternate program, whereas our entry was more about an architectonic strategy and providing the relief from the sun. Our reference to the “green dialogue” which was very topical that year, and still is, was in the use of materials, but WORKac went much further by bringing that discussion into a reconsideration of the program. We knew that we were up against some steep competition as soon as we saw they were on the shortlist.