Most consider the making of buildings to be an additive
process—and indeed it usually is. It is the layering of
multiple materials and systems that, together, construct
the completed edifice. However, when a work is concep-
tually conceived as a monolithic volume, the resulting
mass transcends the thinness of these layers.
Paradoxically, a sense of massiveness can be most evident in conditions of apparent
And though buildings tend to be thought of
as massive if they are very large, a sense of
mass in and of itself does not necessarily
suggest scale. Mass is the distinct presence
of volumetric density.
The pyramids of Egypt are masses that
convey solidity and impenetrability.
Embedded within their cores are the inner
sanctums of the pharaohs for whom they
were built. Here, mass is both a literal volume
of stacked blocks of stone and a symbolic
one of impenetrability and longevity. The
secret passage through which the mummy
was transported is conceptually understood
as an excavation within this mass—a negative
space that is conceived through the removal
of mass.
A sense of mass is achieved by the relentless
repetition or aggregation of material or
volume that subsequently transcend their
individual incrementalism in favor of a
monolithic surface or volume. Yet, conceptually,
mass is conceived as a solid form, from which
spaces have been subsequently “carved.”
A sense of mass is exaggerated by the
repetition and accumulation of elements that
are known to possess considerable mass—as in
a pile of stones or bricks or a stacking of logs.
the seeming fragility of each
material component. It
stands as a monumental
testament of the absence of
those structures devastated
by disaster and of the
presence of (vanishing)
construction traditions.
The spaces that are defined
between these piers are read
as the primary spatial voids.
At another scale, bands of
compressed gneiss produce a
monolithic mass of material
concrete poured atop the
rubble. The abstracted urban
monolith references the
town’s physical past and
embedded within the masses
that construct the ghosted
streets is the physical
detritus of imagined
The walls of Wang Shu and
Lu Wenyu’s 2008 Ningbo
Historic Museum in Ningbo
China are constructed of
bricks and tiles recycled from
local buildings. A delicate
imbalance is achieved
between the massive form
with its tilting surfaces and
In Peter Zumthor’s Thermal
Baths in Vals, Switzerland,
mass is achieved at two
distinct scales. A series of
(often occupiable) piers in
spatial dialogue with one
another together construct
mass at the building scale.
Alberto Burri’s Cretto—a land
art installation in Gibellina,
Sicily—is conceived as a
memorial to the victims of
the 1968 earthquake that
destroyed the town. Here, the
wreckage was amassed back
into the blocks by which the
town had originally been
organized and a blanket of
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