Gray Areas

“Our objective is to search for adaptable, flexible, soft formal languages that lead to new ways of claiming, inhabiting, humanizing spaces found in the edges, gaps, and in-between spaces. In contrast to the typical sequence of starting with the largest allowed volume on the site and subdividing into smaller volumes, we will shift our attention to the smallest possible unit of space to be aggregated. We will be looking for opportunities to invert interior and exterior, blend mass and void, superimpose program activities, expand and flatten spatial depths. Through these spatial explorations, themes pertinent to sanctuary, immigration, and identity will be given architectural expressions.”

Excerpt from syllabus Spring 2018

Student Description of Project Intent:

“The primary goal of the building is to convey the quiet invitation that is expressed through a series of screens defining layered boundaries of spatial progression. The building is comprised of a Buddhist Temple, Meditation Center, and a Community Center. The programmatic arrangement has an ongoing undulation of interior to exterior progression that is defined by the screen element.

The screen is the entity which hints at a suggested threshold that engages in the sound, smell, and sight of the visitor’s curiosity. This allows the visitor to either decide to be a participant or a spectator depending on their comfort level.”

The student initiated the design process with a personal narrative about his own immigrant identity, with labels such as Japanese-American and Buddhist that categorized him as “other” growing up in a small, largely Caucasian community in Northern California. He noted that the presentation of the Buddhist religion in his community was based on the audience’s level of familiarity with the practice of the religion. Rituals and nomenclature were modified so as not to appear too foreign to the “American” audience. For example, the Buddhist temple was referred to as “church” and the rituals practiced in entering (removing shoes) and inhabiting the worship space (kneeling on the floor) were omitted. In addition, to accommodate those to whom the rituals of worship felt still too foreign, an adjacent room with a window looking into the main worship space was provided so that the proceedings could be seen without actually being a part of the service.

Taking cues from this precedent, architectural boundaries are created through layering of screens suggesting multiple thresholds without delineating a singular boundary. The inserted Gray Areas act as transitional spaces or circulation spaces between Buddhist Temple and Community Center program elements. Program activities that are directly related to the practice of Buddhism, such as sermons, chants, and meditations are separated from other program activities through screens that accommodate varying levels of visual, acoustic, and spatial connections. The Gray Areas make possible individualized calibrating of encounters with the rituals of a religious service so that they may be experienced as a cultural spectacle.


The program proposal in this student project was driven by the student’s own experiences of growing up in the multicultural environment of Hawaii, where dance as a cultural expression was freely available to those from diverse backgrounds. More so than the static identifiers of ethnicity or countries of origin, the desire to learn and perform the various forms of Pacific Islander dances such as the Hula, forged the bonds within a community, especially among second generation immigrants with heritages other than that of Hawaiian. The Hula, similar to other forms of dance, was a way of storytelling that was used to preserve the Hawaiian people’s history and cultural values. Once banned for several decades, the Hula is now a part of the curriculum in school districts in Hawaii and continues to be an important contributor to contemporary Hawaiian culture.

Noting the opportunities for personalization in the choreography and performance of the dance, the student sought to highlight the creative process of dance choreography. Program activities are categorized into “structured” or “improvised” as a way to place an emphasis on the improvisational use of the spaces just outside of rehearsal rooms or classrooms. These “break out” spaces accommodate spur of the moment sharing and testing of ideas during the creative process. In these creative moments, identities are explored and activated.

The informal “improvised” spaces are aggregated into a network of circulation spaces with stepped seating areas and dance floors. The resulting formal language is highly fragmented and spatially porous to encourage impromptu performances to be seen from multiple vantage points within the building. The constellation of Gray Areas in the “improvised” spaces allows richly sensorial encounters with dance as a process of synthesis between individual and group identities.

Fig 45 Agonoy, Kathleen model 02 cmyk
Fig 46 Agonoy, Kathleen model 03 cmyk