Adam Mekies


Masters in Architecture and Urban Design Thesis Prize

Aggregate, Aggregation + Geotechnical Urbanism

Advised by Stephen Ervin

Aerial image of Boston Harbor with renderings of proposed barriers.
A “Scoring System” to visually describe and specify the virtual simulation and or bulk physical placement of wild materials.

Within the architectural engineering and construction industry we have developed diagrammatic representations and software translations of cultural patterns, extruded 2D cities, and built architecture of processed materials palettes. We are not yet able to diagrammatically compute the translation (intent to manifestation) of wild contexts and materials systems. This thesis seeks a hybrid software approach to the bulk manipulations of aggregate, somewhere between that of a wild randomization and a refined aesthetic.
By developing new software tools toward the aggregation of “wild” (i.e. rock, soils and organic matter) rather than “cultured” (cast-in-place concrete, steel beams, and pre-fabricated urbanism), we may not only achieve new opportunities in the ecological landscape definition of the terms, but also provide tooling for new forms of urban aggregate across more dynamic, and less predictable cultural conditions, so called geo-technical urbanism(s). This experimentation is applied conceptually to sea-level rise and coastal urbanism surrounding the Boston harbor.
Uses / Purposes:

  • Computability of Materials Systems
  • Pursuit of a “Wild” Aesthetic
  • Complex Environmental Contexts (Sea level rise, ecological infrastructure, informal settlement, and future ‘Wilds’)
Animation showing Piles. Merged Piles, Stacks, and Drifts.
Example diagrammatic simulations of the developed toolset of geotechnical primitives in controlling the potential bulk form and volume to be specified in a designed wild or aggregate materials system.

Diagram in blue and black on a white background.
Systems diagram of the properties and methods for deploying aggregate / geotechnical primitives as landform on site, illustrating the primary variables for control and modification through gravity, formwork, and mechanical modifications.

Animation of solid forms falling to the ground and breaking apart upon impact.
Simulation of the ridged body physics deployed through gaming and entertainment industry software, illustrating an aggregate volume crushed to specific construction specifications and deployed through gravity, achieving a simple gradient mound on site. Each bulk location of a specific aggregate specification representing a potential ‘load’ or ‘delivered’ quantity of material.

How might new geotechnical approaches to computing aggregate + aggregations of other ‘wild’ materials impact urban design?

How cultured or wild will our geotechnical infrastructure become? Can material systems automation assist in new ways of translating ideas, diagrams, and simulations for multi-$billion resilient infrastructure projects into reality?
As water levels rise throughout the world, more people are vulnerable to devastation. Among those are some of the poorest in the world, living in marginalized areas, geographically prone to flooding and weather-related destruction. Time, money, and priority constraints are major obstacles. While modular construction, mass-customization and systems automation are transforming building efficiency and architecture from the inside out, our exterior resilience infrastructure is being aggregated one rock at a time.
Without intervention, an estimated 300 million people around the world would be overcome by flooding by 2050. (Scott A. Kulp & Benjamin H. Strauss) Stakeholders consist of millions of citizens along a million miles of coastlines and vulnerable areas, all needing protection. This is but one challenge in our built environment dealing with a constant debate between a ‘Cultured’ or ‘Wild’ aggregate systems.

_ “Wild” : not of a manicured or predictable course
_ “Cultured” : grown or made under controlled conditions

Sketch drawing with shapes and text on a white background.
Preliminary sketch studies of the connection between cultural and wild aggregate systems, and questions surrounding the build-up of an aggregate coastline.

Rendering of room-sized polyhedron shapes dispersed along the shoreline.
Sectional study of an amphibious aggregation, questioning if urbanism is not just terrestrial or just aquatic but an amphibious hybrid? A city carried slowly, or barrier islands built up gradually in continuous movement through a combination of natural currents and designed intent.

An open laptop computer with a map of North America and a map of Massachusetts on the screen, and a group of polyhedron models sitting on the keyboard.
Diagrammatic and regional understandings of the applications of aggregate to the broader coastlines and cities beyond Boston as the initial case study of the toolset. Photo by Adam Mekies.

Aerial map of Boston Harbor.
Enlarged score for the deployment of bulk aggregate volumes within controlled ‘domains’ of the existing ecological and urban context. The planimetric representation is a direct reflection of the data driven three-dimensional model, allowing for rapid iteration of the design within its existing wild geotechnical conditions.

Rendering of birds-eye view of Boston Harbor with the following locations highlighted in red: Quincy, South Boston, Chelsea Creek/Suffolk Downs, Saugus, and Lynn.
Conceptual aerial sketch looking North West, illustrating the wild aggregation of a regionally integrated approach to Boston’s sea-level rise challenges. New cultural, ecological, and wild edges protect and become the geotechnical foundation to not only preserve but expand the existing Boston metropolitan.

A series of renderings of a section of shoreline.
Enlargement study in the applications of the regional score and geotechnical design software toolsets in a mixed-use coastal development context. The processes evolved in this thesis, combines cultural components, wild aggregate, and ecological systems simultaneously at site-scale and regional contexts to be iterated, documented, and resolved through the same virtual interface.

Simulations of tidal flux and coastal wave action can be studied in real-time, allowing the designer to review not only their topographic intent but the potential impact of natural systems in shifting the cultural and wild landscape over time.

A series of images of maps and renderings with the following headings: Ideation + Diagraming, Representation and Formgiving, Simulation + Implementation, Monitoring + Responding.
The thesis illustrates a toolset / process of working with aggregate across many applications in the geotechnical urban realm and has dramatically expedited the modeling and design potential for these complex material systems.