From Wall to Skin. The Archaeology of Membrane Architecture

Research Project | Department of Architecture & Urban Studies | Polytechnic University of Milan

Complementing my long-standing interest in concepts of spatial and corporeal envelopment, this project seeks to mine the genealogies of the membrane theme in architecture as a concept that exceeded the theoretical terrain and permeated the realms of architectural materiality, performance and agency as well. Combining cross-disciplinary theories, scientific findings and design case study analysis, it therefore assesses the role of the membrane notion in fostering new explorations in cogent architectural discourses, such as the ones on the equilibrium between inside and outside (Schwellenräume), the definition of interiority and the quest for environmental regulation. As we breathe the surrounding air through our membranous bodies, the architectural envelope has been similarly depicted as a porous, breathing organism – c omprised of fabric, vegetation or water – and this analogy, from within an era of constant negotiation between building, body and overall environment, calls for further investigation.

More precisely, the objective of this project is centered around three principal poles: it seeks to retrace the emergence of modernity through the lens of membranous materialities; to stimulate a rethinking of the relationship between architectural and organic membranes; and to reconstruct a theory of membrane succession with reference to both interior and exterior spatialities. For membrane is a theme that corresponds to various disciplines, a coherent understanding of its relation to the realm of spatial design will not only contribute to the field of history and theory of architecture, but it will also inform historians of alternative disciplines, namely of technology, design and the arts. A thorough knowledge of the associations between the built object and the membrane notion does not only anticipate forthcoming design phenomena, but also dynamic collaborations between architecture, the social and biological sciences. It is thus expected that through the main deliverables of the project, this study will not only offer the academic community a deeper understanding of the membranous skin of architecture, but also open the path for new disciplinary definitions and exchanges.