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Cross Contamination

Project by Saul Kim & Marianna Girgenti

Advisor: Jenny Wu

Oyler Wu Collaborative, Partner
LACE by Jenny Wu, Founder

SCI-Arc Undergraduate Thesis 2019
Legaria, Mexico City

Awarded Merit Undergraduate Thesis Prize
Featured on
Exhibited at SCI-Arc Spring Show 2019



The thesis is an exploration of cross-contamination of layers in architecture and how this affects the boundary between two territories. Regular building conventions follow layering systems that are congruent to one another. When the layers are extruded in an unconventional manner, the inner layer becomes the outer layer and vice versa.

    “I catagorized three types of fits in architecture. The perfect fit, loose fit and tight fit. They are expressions of conformity between parts. First type is ‘perfect fit’ and it can be seen in Crown Hall by Mies van der Rohe. There is the mass in the shape of a box, and the structure that wraps around it. They are designed to fit into one another perfectly. This probably applies to 99% of the buildings out there, where parts conform to one another.


The second type is ‘loose fit’. Eric Moss talks about this Helmet Head in his book Gnostic architecture, where normally a helmet is designed to fit a human head inside. But in this sculpture, the inner object does not conform to the shape of the helmet. There is space between the two objects that has varying tension. But somehow, there are moments between the two objects, the alignment at the bottom, and the positioning of openings, they somehow speak of one another. Meaning that there is partial conformity, which makes them contradictory, but seem like one.


The last type is ‘tight fit’. In the model of nordic pavilion at Expo ‘70, two elastic massing are fit under a roof that is shorter than their combined height. So it requires the two massing to forcefully change their form, in order to fit. And this allows us to perceive architectural form to be something malleable and flexible, that can interact with its surroundings in a more intimate way, as they need to recognize and react to the existence of one another.


Of course among the three, I was more interested in the two, that falls under the category of misfit. But I was wondering if I can push the idea of conformity further, by allowing the layers to cross one another’s discipline breaking the layering convention.. And that investigation was titled Cross Contamination.”


Because the site is the U.S. Embassy located in Mexico City. The project challenges the typology of an embassy by removing the walls on the perimeter of the site and bringing the host country inside of the building. The White layers define Mexican territory which contains all the public programs within the building, while the grey layers define american territory which mainly contains
private office space. The cross contamination of layers forces the two territories to coexist within the same building, negotiating the spaces that belong to the United States, Mexico, both or neither.


The ambiguity of these spaces is experienced by being able to stand on the ground of one country while being bounded by the walls of another. These both and neither spaces, serve as a figural, habitable boundary. If we think of a typical embassy, the boundary between two territories is an implied line that is simply crossed to move from country A to country B. In the case of the neither space within the building, we are creating a habitable boundary that serves as mediating ground for the two territories. The broken walls intersect with one another to blur the reading of where the actual boundary lies.

    "It was important that the technique of space making from the idea of cross contamination, benefit the program that relates to the project. In order to apply the same technique to a highly specific program and site, the design language had changed drastically from the study model which was much more simple and direct. But what truly mattered was the application of technique to a different formal and programmatic context, which was probably the biggest challenge in the project."

1/8th scale sectional model on track

Saul Kim / Cross Contamination - Exploded Axon

Exploded Axon revealing the gradual change in conformity

Saul Kim / Cross Contamination - Section

Section showing cross contamination and the ambiguous division of territory

Axon chunk of the moment of cross contamination

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