Thesis presentation by Jedidiah

I "defended" my thesis on June 6. Everything went relatively well and now (presto!) I am officially an Arkitekt. Scary. Anyways, you can view the entire presentation that I gave on that auspicious day HERE.

It is big so it may take a couple minutes to fire up. Please let me know if you find any bugs or have trouble with viewing/navigating.

Questions and/or comments are welcome and encouraged!

Thanks for your interest,


Grids, grids, grids by Jedidiah

I spent some time yesterday trying to determine the right grid size for the aforementioned roof structure that I am working on for the Marsa Open Centre.  I made a series of 1:50 models that helped to show how various grid sizes might relate to the human body (that is, if the human body was completely bright orange). The first series of models present a piece of the grid at 4 different sizes (4 x 4 m, 3 x 3 m, 2 x 2 m, and 1.5 x 1.5 m respectively) completely out of context just to get a sense of their size in relation to the 1:50 human.  The dimensions were chosen based on the idea that the members could be easily cut from standard lengths of structural steel (6, 9, 12 m) without wastage and were of a size that could be handled by 2 or 3 people.

I then inserted the best candidates (the 2 and 3 metre grids) into my 1:50 model of the entrance courtyard to see how they felt on the site and the types of spaces they created.  I wanted to decide on 2 grid sizes: a small one for outdoor gathering spaces and a large one that could span existing buildings and have greater structural possibilities.  I tested the small grid options in the courtyard space.

3 x 3 m grid option in context

2 x 2 grid option in context

As you may be able to see from the photos, it looks as if the 2 metre grid is a bit constricting while the 3 metre grid allows for more interesting spatial experiences and fits better in the courtyard.  However, these first impressions might change.

Finally, I used the 2 metre grid option in my 1:100 site model (thus making the 2 metre grid a 4 metre grid).  In this context it would be acting as both a roof and also a structural system for hanging the community centre bridge and other rooms.

I was worried that the 4 metre grid might feel too large but it actually seemed to fit rather well in this context.

Recent developments by Jedidiah

I had a critique last week which was a chance to get some feedback on my recent work. Prior to the critique I had been focussed on developing the large community centre building which also bridges the canal. I had mainly been working on a 1:100 sketch model of the building (photos of which I will post eventually), attempting to work out both how it might be constructed and the layout of its internal program. In previous models of the building it became clear that the roof would be a major element of the design. A large, expressive roof could unify the diverse program of the community centre as well as collect much-needed rainwater for use on the site and provide shade to the vicinity around the building. As one of the main elements of the community centre was to be a library then control and modulation of interior light would be very important so a well-designed roof structure could also help with this.

I then realized that the roof could also do much of the structural work needed in order for the building to bridge the canal and "float" above the existing site buildings. I developed a model where the the inhabited part of the community centre would hang from the roof structure. The roof was constructed using a Vierendeel grid system which would provide the strong structure necessary to hang the building aloft, many opportunities for light penetration, as well as the possibility of housing all services within the roof structure. I also thought that this system would allow for flexibility in the placement of structural columns and therefore flexibility in the space below.

In addition, a Vierendeel grid would allow for flexibility in the use of materials. A Vierendeel truss is not by nature a materially efficient structure but it can be constructed from almost any material and from standard components.

The images below show some of the first representations of the community centre building hanging from the roof structure.


The story so far (a potential future history of the Marsa Open Centre) by Jedidiah

In the fall of 2011, a small public library was established at the Marsa Open Centre. The library was constructed in the former space of a Somali-food restaurant within the Centre. The operations of this restaurant were combined with another Somali restaurant also on the site but a cafe counter remains at the new library where coffee and tea is served to the patrons. At the same time as the work on the library was done, a public courtyard was constructed directly inside the entrance to the Centre. This shaded, quiet space with ample seating, linked the entrance to the MOC to the new library. The courtyard acted as a transitional zone between the MOC and the outside community. It created the possibility for the residents of Centre and people from the outside community to meet in a comfortable, safe, and positive environment. From the courtyard they could choose to access the library, directly adjacent along a colonnade, or visit the rest of the Centre.

As time went on and the library became more and more successful it began to outgrow the single room in which it was housed and demands for a larger facility with expanded services grew. Since the construction of the library was designed to be completely reversible, it was easy to adapt its function from that of the main library to a resource Centre for MOC residents. It was decided that a completely new building would be constructed that would house the main library functions as well as classrooms and a job centre. It would be called the "Marsa Community Centre" (MCC).

The MCC would create an entirely new main entrance to the MOC that would make access to the Centre easier and more visible to the outside community. The building itself would bridge the canal at the centre of the site and hover over top of the existing classrooms on the main yard. This yard would be developed simultaneously into a vibrant public space, a "central plaza" for the MOC. The "Market Yard" would take advantage of its position at the heart of the MOC surrounded by restaurants, shops, housing, and the new community centre. Infrastructure (shade, tables, seating) for a marketplace would be constructed to support an already burgeoning desire for entrepreneurial support among the MOC residents. It would be the main outdoor meeting place between MOC residents and the Marsa community.

The MCC building would be a highly visible symbol of the new outward-looking spirit of the MOC. It would act as a bridge both across the canal into the Centre and between cultures. The MCC was conceived as a long public corridor under a beautiful rainwater-harvesting and shade-providing roof that would link together its functions. The MCC was laid out as a series of public and community spaces (classrooms and meeting rooms) off the corridor that would gradually draw the users further along its length and toward the Market Yard at the heart of the Centre. As in the previous courtyard and library sequence, people entering the MCC were greeted with a welcoming, sociable space: a grand staircase with large, deep steps for sitting, reading, waiting for a friend, or watching a street performance at the base of the stairs. The steps further up contained public computers and magazines for browsing.

As the MOC grew in diversity of functions and users, it became necessary to develop method of way-finding in order to make the possible routes through the site more understandable and to identify particular programme. Three colours were chosen that would be applied to the three main functions of the MOC: housing, community services, and public gathering spaces (including restaurants and commerce). Pathways would also be clearly marked in their own colour in order to facilitate flow throughout the Centre.

Marsa Community Centre by Jedidiah

The sketch below shows in a very diagrammatic way some early ideas for the interior volumes of the community centre building that will bridge the canal at the Marsa Open Centre.  The sequence as you enter the building from the street (bottom right) might go something like this: You enter a tall space with a terrace of large stairs rising up directly ahead of you.  The lower terraces are empty and some people are sitting on them like they would on amphitheatre seating.  The upper terraces have desks and computers on them facing the street.  A stair to the right of the terracing brings you up about 4 or 5 metres to a second level.  The view opens up to the left towards the harbour and to the right down the canal toward the hills.  This space is a reading room with bookshelves on one wall directly in front of you.  The hallway (in brown) leads you past a series of rooms on the left that seem to contain meeting rooms and classrooms.  A spiral stair at the end of the building leads you down into the grounds of the Marsa Open Centre.  Alternatively, there is access to the roof of the building that the community centre rests on where there is a garden and seating overlooking the Centre.

Site planning by Jedidiah

The drawing above shows all of the public, outdoor space in black - as positive space.  It is important that all of the public spaces (paths, yards, gardens, etc) are positively shaped, meaning that everything is intentional, each space is a strong focal point, there are no leftover spaces, there is a good sense of enclosure, well-defined boundaries, and a natural rhythm of passing from one space to another.

For the above site plan I liberally and enthusiastically made use of Gerd Arntz' wonderful "Isotype symbols" (colours slightly altered by yours truly).  Not sure if that was against the law but oh well...

As close to a "concept" as you are going to get... by Jedidiah

I made these lists (based on the writings of Christopher Alexander) in order to help me organize the spaces and volumes in my overall vision for the site plan of the Marsa Open Centre. The first is basically a list of all the components that will make up the Centre and give it life; "the building blocks" of the project.  The second list is made up of the features that already exist on the site.  Alexander writes that "the crux of the problem of making the site plan lies in the task of reconciling the two systems of centers - that means finding a new structure which unfolds from the existing wholeness, and which then embodies the centers of the pattern language within the centers that exist on the site." (Alexander, 174)

The following post will show the results of the process of site planning that began with and tried to embody the ideals of the list below.

The centers of the Marsa Open Centre

A) As defined by the pattern language (needs)

The yards >  The site is made up of a series of public yards (or plazas) that define transitional/meeting spaces >  Each yard is defined by a particular theme and addresses a particular programmatic requirement >  The housing yard is the only one that is mainly for MOC  residents and it is therefore the most private >  Each yard has seating in the shade and gardens

The framing buildings >  The yards are surrounded by buildings that support the  theme of that yard and provide amenities >  There is always a place for eating >  Multistorey buildings typically have public facilites on the  ground floor and housing above

The canal street >  The yards along the canal are linked by the most public of  streets which is broad, shaded, slightly raised and has seating  along the canal wall

The bridges >  Bridges branch off the canal street and provide an entrance to each of the yards from across the canal >  The bridges are the links between the MOC and Marsa

Market street >  The main street of commerce and public life >  It follows the edge of the main housing building from the  entrance yard to the housing yard (the entire length of the site,  N-S)

Main street (working title) >  This street connects the more public yards near the canal with  the housing yard at the back of the site. >  It has a mixture of facilites related more towards MOC  residents. >  Mainstreet intersects with the market street at the entrance to  the housing yard where there is a community garden The triangle and olive mill >  This piece of land in the middle of the canal is a sunny public garden and the tranistional space between Marsa and the MOC.   It has a small olive oil mill run by migrants and Maltese

The yards in detail >  The entrance yard is the first place of welcome for the center. It is very public and provides a link between the small library and the entrance.  The entrance yard will become a more quiet place  when the main entrance shifts to the market yard in the  future >  The market yard is the largest yard and the heart of public life  at the MOC.  It is where the Maltese and asylum seekers will  have the most interaction.  It consists of a shaded outdoor  marketplace, a mosque, a canal promenade, and a stormwater  treatment wetland >  The recreation yard has the football pitch as its focal point.  It  is surrounded by mostly recreational facilities but also a  transitional building that links it with the housing yard. >  The housing yard is the most private yard.  It is surrounded by  housing and communal facilities for more permanent MOC resi dents as well as housing for women and families

B)  As defined by thephysical site

The canal >  A place for sitting and coming into contact with the water,  canal defines the MOC’s Western side.   The canal connects the  public yards

The wall >  The wall that separates the MOC from the government yards to  the East and South defines the site on these sides.  It is well- oriented for vertical planting

The factory tower >  This 3-storey tower is on the MOC site but is part of the  goverment yards.  It provides a way to separate the more public  activies of the market yard from the more private housing yard

The bowl >  This slight concave hollow in the land slopes toward the canal  in the market yard.  It is a natural place for biological treatment  of runoff and helps to define the yard as a communal gathering place

The triangle >  This is the most "green" place in the MOC and most appropriate  for larger-scale agriculture


Alexander, Christopher.  The Nature of Order, Book 3:  A Vision of a Living World.  Berkley, California:  The Center for Environmental Structure, 2005.

Why build, Part II by Jedidiah

Drawing, modelling, and babbling on endlessly about their ideas are some things that architects do.  However, one of the things that they used to do is building and it is this aspect of architecture that is severely neglected in the education and profession today.  I might elaborate on that statement in a later post but for now I will just say that I would like to incorporate the act of making and building into my thesis in a very direct way by attempting to actually build a piece of my project.  This means testing my ideas at full-scale in Copenhagen and then building the thing in Malta at the Marsa Open Centre. I decided that the thing that I would build would be one of the fragments I mentioned in Part I.  This was not at all a completely arbitrary decision.  Each of these fragments could be a starting point for the future development of the Marsa Open Centre.  One of these small fragments could embody the ideas and spirit of my larger vision and inspire that vision to eventually happen.

Of course, I could choose to design the fragment as a completely hypothetical project it as I will do with a larger scheme for the Marsa Open Centre.  Designing for projects that will never be built is what we are encouraged to do throughout architecture school.  However, this way of working without restrictions and ignoring the realities that come with designing a project that might actually be constructed seem to be ways of avoiding accountability and responsibility.  Working at 1:1 also gives you an understanding of the space you are creating and the effect it will have on the people it is for.  I felt that if I worked as if I was designing a piece of the Marsa Open Centre that could actually be built it would also help me to ground my project firmly in reality - a stated goal of my thesis.  Designing a small project that could be built with the assistance of people at the Centre and from the Maltese community would also embody the goals of my thesis in miniature.

Finally, it seemed that for my project, due to its highly social orientation, the best way to actually test my ideas and at the same time have a positive impact on the lives of the migrants at the Centre would be to build something for them and with them.  I settled on a new entrance courtyard and one-room library as the fragments that I would design to be built.  This decision was partly based on the fact that an NGO called Get Up Stand Up that I spoke to in Malta mentioned that they had funding to build such a library at the Centre.  The courtyard, situated just outside, would connect the library to the entrance of the Centre and to the outside world.

Since this initial choice of "fragments" I have been informed by Get Up Stand Up that architecture students in Malta will be designing the library space.  I will continue to design my own proposal for a library as well but my focus for a project that will potentially be constructed will be the courtyard.  At this point I have begun to model some very early ideas for the courtyard and library and I have submitted a proposal to the head of the Centre.