2015 Oberfield Memorial Lecture: Sanders Blurs the Virtual, Actually

For the 2015 Oberfield Memorial Lecture, Joel Sanders, AIA, presented works exhibiting two overlapping themes: 1) the impact of audio-vision and digital technology on everyday lives; and 2) championing cross-disciplinary collaborations, especially landscape. His designs show architecture and landscape blurring the divisions between the outside and inside, and interior design as the hinge between actual and virtual spaces. The former is the physical world, and the latter is the space of the Internet and projected spaces.

Sanders noted that fixed, immobile computers have increasingly given way to mobile technology that yields an environment of “distracted zombies.” Architects must design environments that remind one of actual physical space, while incorporating audio-visual virtual spaces. Libraries and academic spaces are prime contenders for this hybridization. Sanders’ Campbell Hall project at the University of Virginia provides acoustic bubbles where students plug in their media and sound cones keep the auditory field from filtering throughout the space. In the Julian Street Library in Princeton, the lounge and the studios abut, in color, material, and program. Conceived as a social space of quiet conversation and media connectivity, acoustics are designed to control auditory reflections.

While these projects address audio-visual spaces, Sanders also highlighted landscape as a device to blur interior and exterior space, most often with landscape architect Diana Balmori, FASLA. For Mix House, a provocative theoretical project, Sanders used parabolic-shaped windows at the front and back and a skylight to target sounds that can be mixed into a musical composition at the kitchen island-cum-DJ stand. Sanders contends that the human-versus-nature dialectic requires a more inclusive and complex approach. In Broadway Penthouse, landscape inhabits the apartment’s center as a skylight and living green wall – and an atrium where the water feature is the bathroom. In Bedford House, paving and landscaping weaves through the house into the backyard, where a security wall wraps the pool and a poolhouse emerges from pavers, based on color and material similarity.

A current project in Kushan, China, brings together the loose ends of media space and landscape by intermingling the two in a large-scale, mixed-use development for a publisher’s headquarters that features cultural spaces, a bookstore (print and digital), and a shopping mall. All of these spaces wrap and interpenetrate each other, including landscape that provides green roofs and water features.

Hayes Slade, AIA, co-chair of the Interiors Committee, summed it up best in her introduction: “Sanders is not easily categorized…he defies the siloed academic and the myopic practitioner.” This is certainly the case when crossing disciplines and intermingling interior and exterior spaces while incorporating the actual and virtual.

James Way, Assoc. AIA, Co-chair of the AIANY Marketing and Communications Committee and Marketing Manager at Morris Adjmi Architects, frequently contributes to eOculus.

Event: 2015 Oberfield Lecture: Joel Sanders: “Border Crossing: Architecture, Media, Landscape”
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.26.15
Speaker: Joel Sanders, AIA, Principal, JSA
Organized by: AIANY Interiors Committee
Sponsored by: ASLA NY, Gensler, WB Wood, Clipper Wall, Unilock