Understanding And Interpretation In Architecture

Bicycle Assembly Building Section
A Bicycle Craft Facility
A Space For Assembly Sketch
A Space For Design Sketch
Bicycle Assembly Skylights
A Legacy Of Structure
Bicycle Assembly Space
Bicycle Exhibition Space
Bicycle Exhibition Wall Section
A Column Of Bicycle Assembly
Site Plan Metaphor Of Connection
Bicycle Exhibition Building Section

Primary Author

  • Alexander Cheng


  • Virginia Tech


  • Hilary Bryon (Associate Professor)


  • Jack Davis


The city is a site forever in progress. In the metropolis, architects are always working from something to ground the work in its place. The site is what Ernesto Rogers, on the topic of architectural context, calls the "preesistenze ambientali," or the surrounding pre-existences. Rogers writes that, “to consider l’ambiente means to consider history...To understand history is essential for the formation of the architect, since he must be able to insert his own work into the preesistenze ambientali and to take it dialectically, into account.” The site then, offers fragments of material history and immaterial constraints that can be harnessed by the architect to generate architecture and deepen the meaning of the urban project. The selected site is located at the eastern terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The project finds connection across the banks of Lock Number Two at the terminus of the canal in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. The site is rooted in a robust legacy of constructive knowledge with an attention to material and formal craft at the scale of the human body. The site is connected with archaic and contemporary understandings of architecture, and provides a framework to demonstrate various levels of architectural interpretation. A bicycle is a prime example of how different pieces of knowledge can come together to make a useful and beautiful contribution to civilization. The same is done in architecture. A bicycle craft facility is a contemporary program that taps into ways of making that is traced through various points in history.

Project Statement

Architects never work with a tabula rasa. We always work from something, towards something. So, a question: how do we interpret, draw from, and presence architecture relative to a collective, yet particular understanding within the art of building? Understanding is a grounding of knowledge. It relies upon substantive works with essential traces of architectural knowledge passed on through millennia, thus allowing us to build upon the collective knowledge of building. Interpretation is a particular reading of a work of substance, with one’s thinking projected upon, or drawing from, another’s understanding towards a means of building. Interpretation challenges past works and ideas, and allows one to attain another position of architectural understanding.

Project Description

The spatial and tectonic questions of bicycle craft seek to test the relationship between understanding and interpretation in architecture through three building programs: Assembly, Design, and Exhibition, and are connected to each other through a flat bicycle track - a datum line in the urban landscape that resembles a metaphor of two bicycle chains finding connection with each other. Vittorio Gregotti, on the topic of nature and architecture, once said that, “Before a support was transformed into a column, a roof into a pediment, and stone heaped upon stone, man put stone on the ground in order to recognize place in the midst of the unknown universe and thereby measure and modify it.” To Gregotti’s point of measure and modification, a horizontal line as a datum contrasts with, and therefore reveals the particular qualities of the site topography, the surrounding city, and the historic canal. The bicycle track is a horizontal datum line that reveals the 36 foot slope of the site, and as a result, connects all three buildings in three different means of spatial interaction: at the base of the exhibition space, the core of the design space, and the rooftop of the assembly space. The track is the primary means for the city to gain a spatial, tectonic, and material understanding of bicycle craft and architecture, and how the two draw from each other to craft the urban environment in which they exist.

Bicycle Assembly Building Section