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The Architecture Of Flow



Our world is in a constant state of flow, channeling people, nature, weather and energy. Yet the architectural discourse remains focused on comfort and stability, creating an environmentally detached and hermetically enclosed built world.

The aim of this thesis is to find an architectural response to the way we build – by treating nature, specifically water as something more than just a background or an obstacle; to design not just next to it but with it.

The following paper shares the discoveries gained through this endeavor.

This project was created as a part of 2nd and final year of Master Degree at Auckland University. 

Tutor: Julie Stout

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This thesis theorises architecture as a product of shifting identities, rather than creating a hermetic and changeless built form. It identifies the complex condition of flow constantly channelling people, nature, weather and energy, and the condition of change that transforms all things through time.

Henri Bergson defines flow as an ‘irreducible flux of becoming’; a continuous force to which people and space are subject, and through which they express themselves and evolve.[1] This project addresses flow as an ideological concept and an inspiration for the design composition.

By asserting that space is always being produced through time, architecture is framed as an interdisciplinary discourse of variable flows. Architecture is subject to those ongoing transformations and emergencies and should be designed with regard to them. A building created under these conditions can become a spatial continuum that engages, changes, moves and flows, influenced by the effects of time, nature and events.

The design is influenced by the flow found in Oceanic constructions, where it is a force that enacts transformations, both interior and exterior, and where site and space are rendered as temporal rather than spatial conditions. While Western studies create a distinction between architecture (figure) and ground (space), Pacific cultures treat both land and water as a fluid and protean space upon which we dwell. This dissertation aims to embrace those ideologies to create a major water structure in the Firth of Thames that merges with its constantly changing environment. Liquifying the boundaries between land and water, architecture and nature, interior and exterior, floor and roof, architecture becomes one with its surroundings. Rather than a hermetic building, it becomes a space in-between, a fluid and discontinuous built form that transforms through time and tide.

The architecture created will be both interactive and performative, representing ongoing change and disrupting the traditional concerns of stasis and spatial stability of the Western culture, where:

“…enclosing boundaries become thresholds, space opens up, sounds and scents drift, inhabitants move and energies stream as architecture performs the ceaseless flux of life”.

Amanda Yates, Oceanic Spaces of Flow, 79



In order to create architecture fitting to its surroundings, a research of the site and its ecology is crucial. The images show samples gathered at the site that were rescaled and transformed becoming representations of architecture.

The goal of this experiment was to manifest a way of designing not only with nature but from it.



One of the first people to actually study the form and anatomy of water was Leonardo da Vinci in the 1500s. He described water as the “vehicle of nature” (vetturale di natura), indispensable to all living things. His studies were far from superficial, as they focused not only on the surface and reflections but also the motion of waves, currents, swirls, eddies and vortices.

Following da Vinci's approach I aimed to study the order and rhythm of water flow in order to use it as a design tool for architecture. The goal was to understand the environment (water), and not to try to restrain or imitate it.

By forcing water into different movements then pouring melted wax inside, a series of dynamic models was created. The models represent, in the most literal way, the various movements of water and became a series that allowed the study of their geometry, repeatability, density and transparency. They seem to capture movement, and in this way become perfect representations of flow.





Following the outcomes of the research and using flow models as a basis for the composition, a plan of the structure was created. The irregular, fluid design interacts between art and environmental science, questioning the conventional approach to architecture. The space created is a complex exchange between interior and exterior, open and enclosed, artificial and natural, therefore fitting into a holistic consideration of the built environment.

Two types of surfaces were created. One is the main structural surface of the flow built with appropriate materials shaped to create a continuous expanse; the other is a mesh integrated within the superstructure, completing the form and creating a sense of protection through the cladding, which is still very porous and open, fitting the concepts adopted.

With the change of tides, the building immerses itself or emerges out of the water, changing the environment inside. The space transforms, and so does the journey through the building.  Shaped directly by the forces of nature, tide, weather and change of season, the building will evolve and transform itself, creating a different experience for the visitor with each visit.

Although constantly changing, the floor level on the drawing is marked as a white surface that creates an understandable ground scheme at a certain period of time and level of the tide. Instead of a flat plane, the surface would be rough and irregular, yet not enough so to become a physical challenge to the traveller. The dotted lines show the water level, depending on the tide.

Instead of preventing the forces of nature from entering and affecting the structure, the building welcomes them, and treats them as an architect and a natural way of being.

The intricate form creates a dynamic range of spaces with different characteristics and different qualities. The water is an integral part of the building and is constantly present, accompanying visitors on their journey.

The hollows in the shape creates spaces for boats to dock, while bigger retractions become shelters and elevated moments become lookouts and places for observation, while cavities remain private and intimate.

Intentionally, the lines of water and waves on the plan drawing are represented in the same way the building is, emphasising their connection and unity.

People are just dots, visitors in a spectacle where the main role is given to nature.



The goal of the section was to show just how complex and intricate the interior of the building is. At low tide, approximately half of the building is visible. While the drawing focuses on the main space in the structure, the overall form would consist of several smaller elements and fragments that follow the general idea of dissolving. This was gained through the process of making and analysis described in the previous chapters and has the potential for various functions to be developed.

Since the building is open and gradually emerges out of the water, it does not have a designated entrance; therefore, as in nature, one can arrive at any given place that allows access.

The semi-enclosed and enclosed areas of the building, especially the ones that are created from the structural mesh and immersed in water, can serve as mussel, oyster and fish farms, supporting the already existing industry of the area. The goal was to create a water-based structure that is not divided by it (water). The environments both under and above the water are alive and relevant to the functioning of the building.

As in nature, there are few flat surfaces. The floor level rises and descends, creating different tracks and trails for the visitor to wander through. The definitions of floor and roof are subjective, depending on the path one chooses. The structure seems to wrap around the visitor, psychologically protecting him from the outside, yet physically not detaching him from it.

The clearances in the form and the use of the mesh allow light and air inside the building, making it light and translucent.

Water is a constantly present factor, not only around the structure but also inside it, forming streams, basins and lagoons. The elevated points serve as lookouts to admire the spectacular environment of the surroundings.

The building would be attached to the sea bottom on a forest of thin foundations, thereby limiting any impact on the fragile ecology of the sea bottom.

As it is partially immersed in water, the form creates a perfect environment for marine life to grow and thrive around. The form would essentially create a reef structure for marine life to colonize and inhabit. Made from pH neutral clay (precedent #) that encourages the growth of corals, mussels, oysters, seaweed and other sea life, it not only creates an ecosystem but becomes an ecosystem of its own. As a result, the form and colour of the structure would change as it is shaped by the life that inhabits it, transforming it and in this way relating to the philosophical theories of constant becoming studied in the previous chapters. The design not only becomes a part of the surroundings but helps and enhances its ecology.


As Amanda Yates said, architecture is always in a state of flow. 'Flow' being a state of motion, a channeling of people, nature, weather and energy, and in the condition of change, that is, constantly transforming through time. Therefore, it is a product of shifting identities, rather than a static and hermetic built form.

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This scene shows the connection of the design to the surrounding environment – water and sky. The main aim was to represent different flows that affect the building.

The flow of people through the structure

The flow of water underneath and inside the structure

The flow of clouds, wind and birds above the structure

The building itself seems to be captured within a movement, smoothly flowing from the one edge of the canvas to the other. A sense of harmony and co-dependency arises. People wander through on various levels, each with a different purpose and destination. When the tide retreats, the structure emerges out of the water, changing the environment inside and revealing new paths and exposing spaces. When the tide comes in, more and more water flows inside and the space transforms yet again.

The environment that is created, although artificial, has many of the qualities of a natural environment. At first sight, the structure seems almost cave-like, yet the lightness and transparency of the form and materials makes it light and open. The various levels and elevations bring to mind a mountain waiting to be explored. Vertical foundation piles tether the building to the sea-bottom, so it hovers above it without robbing the site of any valuable space. The environment underneath becomes peaceful and protected, encouraging marine life to hide, feed and grow around it.

The design becomes the connection that links all of these environments in a co-dependent and balanced exchange of flows.


This thesis aims to create architecture that oscillates between environments, conceptions and ideologies by creating a built environment of unique physical and psychological qualities. The following images aim to represent the almost mystical atmosphere of the interior that would be created as a result.

The form of the structure is designed to be exceptional, therefore it is the predominant element shaping the character of the spaces inside. The design represents flow, and simultaneously becomes it by balancing between functions and demands. It changes its purpose, depending on the place and the need by becoming a cladding that protects from the rain, a sloped terrain that allows access to the ocean, a reflection of the surrounding environment or simply a piece of sculpture.

Even with a variety of functions, the atmosphere of the interior never loses its qualities. It provides an extraordinary experience for the visitor and aims to change his perception of both the built and the natural environment.

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This thesis theorizes architecture as a complex condition of change transforming through time, and a condition of flow constantly channelling people, nature, weather and energy. Therefore, it is a product of shifting identities, rather than a static and hermetic built form.

The architecture created becomes a space where:



“…enclosing boundaries become thresholds, space opens up, sounds and scents drift, inhabitants move and energies stream as architecture performs the ceaseless flux of life”


Amanda Yates, Oceanic Spaces of Flow, 79

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