Lecture Recap :: Marilyn Moedinger

Photo by Mikkel Stromstad
Written by Alyce Packard, BID Candidate

When I first learned I was going to see Marilyn Moedinger speak, I was really intimidated. Luckily I got my hands on her book, 103E-75W Adventures in the Vernacular: Investigative Observations of Residential Climate Mediation, beforehand and got a little sneak peek into what she was all about. The book was very helpful and easy to understand, it seemed to be evenly balanced with text and pictures. The pictures were stunning, the graphs and diagrams were very effective, but the photos she took on her trip seemed almost unreal.

Cover of Marilyn's book
Like in the book, she started off the lecture with a little explanation as to how she got started with all of this. She picked the line of longitude 103E-75W, the specific line she picked is arbitrary, and she only picked that one because both her hometown in Pennsylvania and her place of work in Falmouth, Jamaica fell on the same line. She continued this line all around the globe and used this way to organize her research, as an organizing axis.

Photo from Marilyn's book showing the line of longitude she followed.
Marilyn traveled for 5 months around the world. Once she started traveling, she realized that her purpose had changed. She tried to stay away from the word trajectory because trajectory implies a known path. She doesn't know her path and instead of trying to answer the questions she originally had defined, she was now just trying to re-frame those questions. She organized the lecture into 5 parts, "ground", "frame", "process", "wander", "think and draw", and "re-frame".

As designers, we have to interact with the world in a responsible way. We're not just historians writing and observing, we have to actually exist in the physical world. For her process, Marilyn did a lot of drawing in the field and she used different instruments like a pedometer and a thermometer. She's clever and innovative; she said that one day when one of her devices broke, she had no way to document the ventilation of the huts she was staying in. She then noticed that a lot of people smoked indoors so she watched what happened to the smoke and recorded that.

Example of a typical ger, taken from http://www.bluepeak.net/mongolia/ger.html.

Specifically, the type of home she stayed in when she was out in the desert or in Mongolia was called a ger, and she was fascinated by them. They were collapsible tent like structures that consist of three layers: structure, insulation, and cladding. The structure was made of lattice walls, posts, poles, and a compression ring. The insulation was made of felted wool and the cladding was made of canvas. They used solar panels for energy. They operated the gers several times throughout the day and they would alter it based on things like the sunlight and the wind. The gers were ventilated, they had water, heat, light, and solar exposure.

While traveling, she discovered many different types of buildings. Among them were the gers, but there were also Asian shop houses, and board houses in Jamaica. They were all built a certain way for a reason. In Jamaica she also visited several shops and restaurants that built their houses from shipping containers. They modified the shipping containers to fit their needs as the years went on. These people have the right idea, modifying and operating their homes so that they work with the climate. If we're going to shelter ourselves, shouldn't we delight in the result, and shouldn't our shelter work with our climate?

Marilyn is also a teacher. When she went out on this journey, she thought she would find strategies and methods. What really happened was much different; she came up with different questions like: How do you ask questions? What’s the real problem you're trying to solve? How are you going to go about it? She tells her students, and herself, that you must trust in the process to uncover these things. The question she’s working on now is How can she teach her students all that she's learned, without sending them each all around the world?