Once more with feeling, once more with facts. In Design, see how Chicago architect Paul Preissner, principal of Qua'virarch, feels his way to project design—atmosphere before arithmetic. In Work, we explore how Mississippi State University's landscape-architecture students are using facts, history, and logic for a master-planning exercise to rebuild a 75-mile stretch of the battered Gulf Coast. To see how other universities are engaged in the region's planning process, visit


Qua'virarch: Psychologies of space

Paul Preissner, AIA, principal of Chicago-based architecture and urban design firm Qua'virarch, certainly has the gene for the mechanics of design: His father and two brothers are all engineers. But his take on the process and practice is much less calculated than theirs—he values atmosphere and intuition above precision and defined environments. In fact, Preissner teaches a class to advanced visual studies students at the Art Institute of Chicago using horror films as vehicles to understanding the psychology of space—how scary movies use atmosphere to dissolve the boundaries between the viewer and the screen. He then has students explore advanced software techniques to produce new atmospheres that dissolve the boundaries between surface, structure, ornamentation, and effect. "Of course, you don't view architecture the way you would a painting or a film," says Preissner, "but horror movies have a certain necessity and risk that gets you to intuitively see spaces in a different way."

Preissner founded Qua'virarch ("It's just a made-up word," he says) in Los Angeles three years ago, after stints working as a design architect for Kyodo Sekkei Architects in Osaka, Japan; as a senior designer at Eisenman Architects and at Philip Johnson's office, in New York City; and as a junior architect and project architect, respectively, in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's and Wood-Zapata's Chicago offices. He says he learned a lot from the firms he worked for, as well as from the cities he worked in. "Living in Osaka and New York City gave me a love for condensed living and networked systems," he says.

Preissner's work also reflects his love for spaces that are more about intuitive feeling than rationalized geometry. His interior project for Chicago's Aguasal, a flotation center that offers visitors time in sensory-deprivation tanks to experience the benefits of weightlessness, seems right up his alley. Preissner was asked to transform the center's interior to create the impression of a nonconfining space. The architect produced flowing patterns of blue-tinted, molded-fiberglass panels below the ceiling, adding to the heightened sensory awareness visitors experience after spending time in the tanks.

Another project, a competition entry for the expansion of the West End Bridge in Pittsburgh, has Preissner proposing a steel braid across the river with pedestrian bridge, bicycle path, and periodically spaced observation bubbles. When com-

Portmanteau, West End Bridge, Pittsburgh, 2006 competition (ongoing)

Portmanteau is a proposal for a

steel pedestrian bridge with a bicycle path and periodically spaced observation bubbles to allow for city and river-life reflection.

AguaSal, Chicago, 2005

The ceiling of this flotation center and spa was created with 74 cast, tinted-fiberglass panels, arranged and mounted to add to the heightened sensory awareness that comes from time spent in sensory-deprivation tanks, which AguaSal specializes in. The panels have the appearance of flowing water, without beginning or end.

Asian Culture Center, Gwangju, South Korea, unbuilt

This proposal calls for the efforts of a group of artists, interior designers, and architectural teams to compose a building system based on its cultural content/program.

National Library of Mexico, Jalisco, Guadalajara, unbuilt

The intricate exterior structure of this proposed public library would exemplify the complex activities within. The building would provide a warehouse of learning and a public social center housing an abundance of media.

pleted, the bridge will close the loop in the trails around Pittsburgh's three rivers. Preissner's design "has neither a beginning nor an end," he says, "and it lives in a moment of passion and emotion." For Preissner, inspiration comes from emotion. "I don't think of my work as sculpture," he says, "but I am inspired by the work of immersive artists like Matthew Barney. I understand the realisms architects have to face," he says, "and restraint is okay, because it pushes you, but ideally I appreciate less obvious environments—grittier, less defined. A torn edge is more interesting than a clean-cut edge."

With Qua'virarch projects in the works, Preissner also teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago and at SCI-Arc, in Los Angeles, as well as Chicago's Art Institute. In addition, he is writing a book about the emotional aspects of space. "It's about the ability of architecture to create new feelings," he says, "and how this is done not through a sculptural process, but through expert directing of material. Architecture is essentially choreography, after all." Ingrid Spencer

For more photos and projects by Qua'virarch, visit


Students take on the damaged Gulf Coast

Universities near the battered Gulf Coast region and beyond have directed the focus of their architecture, landscape, design, and planning departments on the real-life lessons to be gained by efforts to rebuild the area. At Mississippi State University (MSU) in late January, more than 200 landscape-architecture students, armed with maps and photographs, targeted a 75-mile stretch of the Gulf Coast as part of a master-planning study aimed at reviving coastal communities pummeled by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The weeklong project, led by volunteers from international landscape-architecture firm Design Workshop, provided students with a rare glimpse into the professional challenges of rebuilding a natural-disaster zone. "For many students, this is the first time they have engaged in a planning project of this scale," says Jeremiah Dumas, a landscape architect with the firm.

Project leaders selected a site spanning three coastal counties in Mississippi and including an existing rail line located five blocks inland and running parallel to the shore. They then divided students into teams of 10, tasking each with a 6-by-6-mile section of the project.

In preparation for the project, the students spent time sifting through case studies and analyzing the effects of other major storms, such as Hurricane

Gulfport, Mississippi's Mayor Brent Warr with a student team (above). Design Workshop partner Todd Johnson (right).

Andrew. Their goal was to devise a sustainable plan that could serve as a model for redevelopment efforts in the region.

"It was a really good opportunity to mingle with design professionals and see where their thoughts were coming from," says Brian Suarez, a landscape-architecture student at MSU.

"The students took a pretty radical stance," says Dumas. According to him, the storm surge leveled large sections of the site—basically everything south of the rail line. But rather than rebuild in the devastated area, the students chose to relocate the coastal communities inland and cluster them around the existing rail line, so as to protect them from future storms. The relocation would also help revive the shore's natural marshlands— a move that could save the local government millions of dollars in beachfront upkeep, says Dumas.

While the study was originally intended as a planning exercise, some speakers who visited the students' presentation, including Gulfport, Mississippi's Mayor Brent Warr, were "thoroughly impressed," Dumas said. "People want to move back, and developers are there wanting to buy land," he says. "Decisions have to be made quickly, and the region is in need of these types of planning efforts." Christina Rogers

For more information on Mississippi State University's Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts and others, go to

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