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Readymade Architecture


Readymade is a concept at once seemingly compatible with and inapplicable to architecture. On the one hand, the preponderance of architecture is constituted by buildings that can be interpreted to embody the requisite ordinariness associated with found objects. Building types are composed of unauthored forms and materials that are manipulated to varying degrees of specificity or distinction. On the other hand, architecture’s context, whether the city or the countryside, does not act explicitly as a venue of legitimation. Architecture is not contained within an institution against which it can launch a legible critique.


The studio researches the tropes and formal devices of the readymade in art, and explores strategies with which to operate analogously in architecture. In lieu of iconoclasm within the museum context, is it possible for architecture to appropriate not only the devices but also the critical agency of the artistic readymade?

Unlike most of architecture, Readymade Architecture is not already readymade. It intensifies and thematizes that which defines it as such. It is non-compositional, prefigured, displaced, an assault of the logic of type, sequence, tectonics, urban space, the way the building meets the ground, etc. It has to have an immediacy. It is about the fact of the encounter with the building. Though its production may involve a peculiar process, it is not about expressing the history or process of its making. The arbitrariness of form is at once unmasked and dissimulated by readymade architecture. No two types are simultaneously as predetermined and arbitrarily formed as towers and houses are, both of which produce the urban field within which they produce architectural exceptions.

Readymade Arch

Section 1

Section 2


Readymade, defined by André Breton and Paul Éluard in 1938 is “an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist”. Once selected, the object is disassociated from its customary context and function by repositioning, reorientation, scaling, material substitution and other displacement strategies.

The readymade artist’s most radical act was the recontextualization of the found object in the most venerated institution of cultural legitimation, the museum. There, the readymade performed an iconoclastic function. It defied authorship and the museologically based definition of art as a predominately visual work, wrought from the hands of a creative artist and imbued with the meanings and value, the distinction and originality verified by the signature.

Richard Serra Concept

Inspired by Richard Serra’s early sculpture - notably through the relationships between members within the art piece. The concept behind both Readymade house and tower are originated from his sculpture. This sculpture is composed with three inter-dependent elements including not only the rectangular metal plate, but the wall and the floor as well. The methodology of creating such an equilibrium force system within the forms is the concept behind the readymade architecture. 




Many of Richard Serra’s sculptures emphasize on the property of self-supporting and the weight and nature of the materials. This sculpture shown on the left is arranged so that weight and gravity balance a steel plate, four-square-foot large, one and a half inches thick, leaning against the wall and supported by the floor. Although it appears the metal plate to be the only artificial piece in this art work, the gallery floor and wall inevitably become indispensable members of the sculpture. Here, the wall performs a reaction force against the metal plate which prevents the plate from falling. This force is used out of the traditional functions of a wall. In another word, the artist here involved these two elements from the gallery into his art work, which pulls the gallery from its traditional role into this new context; and meanwhile re-functionalises those elements as parts of his sculpture. This series of actions endow the piece some similarities as readymade art. It also becomes the inspiration of the readymade architecture.

Richard Serra Concept







Anchor 1
Readymade Tower

Readymade House

Readymade Architecture

The Fountain  - Marcel Duchamp

Readymade Tower Model

Richard Serra Sculpture

Readymade Tower Rendering

Readymade Tower Rendering

Primitive Geometries

Contiguity Between Geometries

Transformation to Architecture

Land within a Block

Alternative Massing

Context Airrights

Connecting Disconnected Lands

Project Information:

Harvard GSD Spring 2016 Option Studio | Prof. Prescott Scott Cohen
Individual Project | Design: Ping Lu

Equilibrium force system within the sculpture

The readymade house is a practice of reproducing the readymade architecture in a smaller scale with this typical methodology inspired from Richard Serra’s sculpture.

The essence of this design stays in the contiguity and autonomy of forms, and the functionalization and contextualization of the entity. The bottom of the readymade house touches and follows the sloping roof of the existing house. One of the overlapping corners between the existing house and the readymade house perfectly covers the two structural members integrated within one wall of the existing house. These two structural pieces and the sloped beam together support the readymade house, which forms the equilibrium force system similar to Richard Serra’s sculpture. The functionalization and contextualization of the forms then endow the entity the property of readymade architecture.

readymade housemodel

The design was developed around a series of primitive and autonomous geometries that together form an equilibrium force system as the one from Richard Serra sculpture. The readymade tower is consisted of four parts, a high tower as a regular office, a small leaning tower as a college campus, a spiral tower as a hotel and a small box as the college library. The essence of the design lays in the autonomy and the contiguity of the four elements, and the functionalization and contextualization of the entity. The forms of the three towers are dependent to each other. Among those three, none of the forms are influenced by others. The spiral tower develops from large to small with its own periodical cycle. The high office tower has small extrusions spiraling up from the bottom. The form of the leaning tower is not affected by the other two forms. 

Instead of protruding into another forms, the contact points between forms are all contiguous. The periodical planar surface of the spiral tower could coincidentally holding the small box. The Small box is leaning towards the green tower with the exact same angle. This creates a large touching area with the potential to become the path for circulating between the two objects. The small box touches the high tower on two of its periodical extrusions on the body. 

The readymade tower is the result from functionalization and contextualization of the composition of the forms.

The urban definition of readymade tower brings a new logic of design to create connection between separated lands. With pieces of non-connecting lands such as shown from the diagram. One possible alternative solution could lead to the construction of three independent towers without connection between them. The solution following the readymade tower would be realized with connecting all the buildings with more space in the air. In the City of New York, this would be legal when air rights of surrounding buildings are purchased. In addition, with the readymade tower language, similar buildings could be very quickly reproduced with the surrounding buildings contact.

Upper: Readymade house form diagram 

Lower: Readymade house first fl plans and second fl plans (from left to right)

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