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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning


A little late but finally found some time from all the fun work and travel to post this… A couple weeks ago, we had Pablo Castro, co-founder (along with Jennifer Lee) of OBRA Architects, discuss his ways of not only designing architecture but also defining architecture. The lecture, which he appropriately titled Hexameter, was divided into six categories, with each category (a sort commandment or law followed) defining the prominent focus of the projects he discussed. The first category, or law, he stated was SELF. The OBRA project related to self – Villa of Captured Distance – located in Inner Mongolia, China, was part of the Ordos 100 project, a development of one hundred villas each designed by a separate architect, with the whole project curated by Ai Wei Wei. The Villa of Captured Distance embodied the idea of self because it played with not only looking at the whole (in this case the other 99 villas) in relation to oneself but also introspection.

Villa of Captured Distance

After SELF comes PLACE, or the idea of site specificity. Casa En La Finca, or House of Multiple Horizons, the OBRA project tied to PLACE, is set in an orchard in the Andes Mountains of San Juan, Argentina. The law of PLACE is prominent in the design of the spaces of this project, which are devised around the existing placement of the orchard trees.

Casa En La Finca (House of Multiple Horizons)

The third category Castro defined was SPACE. In their Centrifugal Villa, OBRA used the idea of designing space by working around a space, hollowing out the villa center and composing program and landscape around this central point.

Centrifugal Villa
Interior Shot Centrifugal Villa

Next in this series is FORM, an idea that is evident in the Oxymoron Pavilion created for the Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism in Shenzhen, China. Castro described this project as “an un-monumental monument,” where this monumental form was created with un-monumental material, generating the idea of giving significance to everyday things through form and materiality.

Oxymoron Pavilion

Following FORM is LIGHT, a category OBRA played with in their BEATFUSE! Project, which was the winner of the 2006 MOMA PS1 Young Architects Program. BEATFUSE! uses mesh of polypropylene stretched over a digitally fabricated frame to filter light and define the main public space of the program.


The final law of Hexameter is TIME and OBRA introduced narrative to capture time in their Freedom Park Museum in Pretoria, South Africa. The bulba shaped museum, which reflects the shape of the Bulba tree (a container historically used as graves by the people of the community), follows a sequence to freedom from apartheid as one ascended the interior spaces, producing a living monument.

Freedom Park Museum
Freedom Park Museum Interior

Though these categories are concepts we deal with on a daily basis within the design process, it is always enlightening to see how others define and use them within their own work.

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