Martin Summers

Point of Departure

Point of Departure

Seeking collaborative research opportunities across the University of Kentucky campus, our team formed to focus on local issues with broader impact. The College of Design School of Architecture, the Center for Applied Energy Research, and the Office of Sustainability coalesced around an idea - explore sustainable issues through the design of a single solar powered transit shelter. However, a single shelter seemed like a missed opportunity; this was our Point of Departure.

We needed to reimagine our urban campus through a strategic acupuncture - a series of interactive, networked, didactic, and iconic structures. Transit shelters are ideally located along major public thoroughfares at the edge of campus, maximizing their outward visibility, engagement and potential impact [Figures 1 & 2]. A typical shelter has a singular function: a place to wait for buses. They are designed for this purpose with no regard to context. A soulless kit of parts whose banal design regresses from the environment and amplifies what can be a poor transit experience. To add value to this experience we must change the user’s perception by jolting them out of everyday rituals, making one present and consciously aware of their context. Once users are immersed, the shelter becomes a gateway to an educational experience about how small things can make a big difference.

Figure 1 - Campus Transportation Master Plan and greenspace Master Plan initially helped identify high-impact locations based on use, visibility and need. Four sites were identified in the first phase and developed, the second phase focused on a single site for construction.
Figure 2 - The “BioPharm” site was selected with Parking and Transportation, then analyzed for latent potentials that the design could reveal, creating a recognizable public green space as an extension of the shelter.

The design engages the community in a process of discovery by strategically leveraging form and pattern, object and context, site and campus to produce conflicting legibility at multiple scales. A precise intent with meaning left open to the occupant's own insights. The object has a bold silhouette with a metallic finish to stand out against its context while simultaneously using fluid surfaces that blend the form visually with the new identifiable quad (formal mimicry). Additionally, camouflage is conceptually employed to challenge its distinct relationship to the landscape via CNC-milled textures, 2d patterns, and living patterns in the landscape as a means of producing a new connectivity.1 The organizational strategy is direct, once the initial patterns are inscribed; the landscape then evolves under its own rules, similar to the creative process from which the design emerged [figures 3 & 4].

Figure 3 – The site was designed conceptually as an extension of the shelter, providing spaces for habitation currently unavailable. The design uses operations driven by the Disruptive Continuity exercise to develop performative form. Abstract drawings are also evolved from this process and fed back into the design via pattern, producing glitches, errors and opportunistic camouflage.
Figure 4 – The shelter and paving extend the site patterning exercises into the manufacturing process where abstract drawings produce patterns for manufacturing. Early studies shown

The structure and site link master planning concepts of “Enhanced User Experience Through Communication and Technology,” with sustainable transit and energy production creating event spaces (internal and external) not often associated with transit shelters along with an expanded definition of performance. The most obvious and immediately accessible definition is the electrical system whose net-positive goals and their educational story were the initial impetus for the project [Figure 05]. However, the project is layered with other subtle examples. To become cognizant of the various layers one would likely have to interact with the site over an extended period of time. In this way, the design engages the temporal nature of the transit system to which it is connected, the seasonal changes of power generation, and the transforming life of the site – education through personal discovery. Another less obvious performance is the thin-film photovoltaic cells relationship to the landscape. The two are placed in conversation, calling to mind how photons are translated via chemical processes into useful energy to power lights, monitors and their data-graphics, or plants via photosynthesis [Figure 6]. This distinct but conjoined pair challenges the campus context while revealing latent potentials of programming and ecology. Performance here implicates the site as an extension of the shelter while also producing a “zone of proximity” between the site and the architectural object.2

Figure 5 – The thin-film photovoltaic arrays are developed through grasshopper scripts to optimize coverage, performance and pattern. These results are tested against specific sizes of manufactured modules developed with the electrical engineering team to track quantity, budget and optimization.
Figure 6 – The structure is both an object in the landscape and a mimetic extension of its formal language. Occupants of the site, through daily and yearly engagement are prompted by the design to contemplate its rules and rationale. A very subtle relationship that can be observed is the linking of photovoltaics to the living landscape as a process of energy translation.

Beyond the formal mimicry of the roof mentioned before, the roof topology smoothly translates other types of performance into a single body. The top is tuned to maximize solar exposure while also controlling water run-off and collection [Figure 7]. The edges at moments reinforce site boundaries and micro-relationships while also visually minimizing the structure's mass. The underbelly is formed to imply spatial zones of occupation related to an understanding of social interaction and isolation within a public transit system. In combination with the furnishings, this geometry produces a series of spatial thresholds that inform social microclimates and increase individual occupant’s choices and comfort [Figures 8, 9 &10]. While minimum levels of lighting are provided in the evening to limit energy consumption and light pollution, a secondary system is motion activated. This interactive lighting is triggered only when needed and provides additional security while also producing new temporary thresholds and defined social microclimates [Figure 11]. That clear cause and effect is another trigger for secondary introspection for the occupants. One becomes aware of the local environment and how their own presence affects it, linking educational components to experiences in the site and hopefully engendering a lasting recognition of awareness and responsibility. Additionally, the geometry of the underbelly increases the roof’s structural efficiency by thickening the cross-section where needed, working in combination with the specific layup of composite layers in the Fiber Reinforced Polymer shell [Figures 12 & 13]. At a macro-scale, the project attempts to address the performance of a building type - often overlooked because of its diminutive scale and banality - as a means through which to critique how we build in the campus and its impact on the environment which creates larger ripple effects.

Figure 7 – The top of the roof is tuned to solar optimization and rainwater collection, extending the concepts of performative form to address multiple-sustainable and conceptual systems.
Figure 8 – Through analysis of social interaction at various transit shelters, it became clear that individual personalities engage the transit system in different ways. Rather than design as a one-size-fits-all condition, the design attempts to produce a series of “social micro-climates” to allow individuals or groups to occupy the shelter in personal ways. This builds user satisfaction in the system, encouraging ridership and reducing individual car use.
Figure 9 – Plan showing the various thresholds that glue structure and site into a broader, designed ecology.
Figure 10 – View looking South highlighting zones of occupation and the relationship of the roof form and its underbelly to the social micro-climates.
Figure 11 – Proximity sensors trigger LED lighting to intensify locally above the transit level minimums. This provides additional security and consciousness of the context while at the same time making occupants aware of their own impact on their environment.
Figure 12 – Structural deformation analysis testing the composite shell structure under loading. A feedback loop is created within the design process to optimize the performance across multiple definitions.
Figure 13 – Cross-sections showing the relationship of the object to the context and how it both resists continuity and finds a “zone of approximation.” The underbelly’s topology builds structural performance into the form as a composite shell structure.

The final performance is the translation of abstract processes into educational opportunities at two scales; the physical project in the campus and the process of its design. The first demonstrates the integrated approach as a didactic structure. Through a series of graphic displays, occupants will be greeted with infographics about the shelters systems, design concepts, bus location, weather, power generation, and water collection which all translate the shelter and its context into disseminable knowledge [Figure 14]. The second is developed in an abstract exercise in the design studio. This expansion of project goals adds value to the solution and proposes additional definitions of “performance,” where the shelter operates on multiple levels both measurable and immeasurable.3

Figure 14 – The data collected by the shelter and other pertinent information for the system are displayed on a digital screen that changes real-time with the data. The display panel enclosure disguises a structural support, provides additional lighting, and integrates the front wall and bench into the structure. In the future the panel will convey information about the network of shelters and possibly link closed-circuit security cameras between sites, allowing for additional perception of security, community engagement and the larger campus environment.

Disruptive Continuity:
Like the shelter and site, academia and practice are a distinct but conjoined pair. My research into design pedagogy attempts to bridge the gap between academia and practice while maintaining critical distinctions to address where they are not the same. These two realms are developed in a reflexive way so that each informs the other, establishing continuity and allowing space to seek out new and productive gaps. Secondary areas of research tested via pedagogy are: design process, digital workflows, definitions of performance, formal acumen, poché, complexity, adaptive strategies, aesthetics, error (in both process and production4), glitch, scalar oscillations, intuition, rationalization, critical thinking, integrated practice, and contemporary methods of fabrication. These issues are introduced and tested in my architectural design studios through an exercise titled “Disruptive Continuity,” forming the foundation of each studio’s broader research project [Figures 15 & 16].

Figure 15 – The Disruptive Continuity exercise introduces an open-ended process that allows students to gain operative control over form, type, and context performed in digital space. This exercise liberates students from the day-to-day constraints of program, budget, and site in an effort to increase formal acumen and advanced digital workflows. More recently the exercise has been expanded to take on ideas of texture-mapping as an opportunity for research, where aesthetic concerns related to camouflage, glitch and error open the process back up to potential via intentional misreadings.
Figure 16 – The exercise is translated into two-dimensional media and students engage this through the same methodology as the 3d exercise. Flipping media opens the exercise up and challenges the initial assumptions, producing an iterative feedback loop of exploration, error, misinterpretations, and discovery.

The exercise encourages students to develop abstract formal/spatial intelligence and an open-ended design process to resolve increasingly complex problems. While the exercise determines an initial, type-based formal language to increase speed, the focus of the exercise is less about the visual result and more about introducing decision-making within a complex, abstract field of interactions where students learn that they are in control of interactions across scales, but where neither constrains the other. Form is now understood typologically and operationally, allowing students to resolve issues with precision while the process remains open and flexible, adapting to errors and opportunities. These problems simulate the complexity of contemporary architectural practice and hone decision-making skills that seek out win-win (a.k.a. positive-sum or plus-sum) solutions to complex problems.

The Point of Departure project leverages this academic research to test the exercises translation to professional practice and direct-to-manufacture workflows for a project slated for construction [Figure 17 & 18]. It also offers a demonstration of design thinking to address complex problems via a conceptually driven, integrated project in an architecturally conservative campus context. Ultimately the goal is to empower students to shape the future of campus via integrated, sustainable designs and construct shelters that become living laboratories for campus sustainability, and the architecture and engineering studios a living laboratory of creative and critical professional practice. The projects future beyond construction is to develop and link multiple shelters over time, providing real-time infographics about the networks energy production – the sum is greater than its parts.

Figure 17 – Disruptive Continuity forms the foundation for each studio’s research agenda, opening the student’s own process to allow for abstraction, error, and combinations to produce new insights within the design problem. The exercise within the Point of Departure project opened the problem to potentials outside the initial program brief, synergistically embedding the project in conversations larger than a single transit shelter.
Figure 18 – View Southwest across South Limestone, the city’s main north/south artery through campus. The shelter at night becomes a beacon in the context where occupation intensifies the lighting and connects one to their own influence on the larger environment.

  1. Neil Leach, Camouflage (The MIT Press, 2006), 240. 

  2. Neil Leach, Camouflage (The MIT Press, 2006), 87. 

  3. David Ruy with Todd Gannon, Graham Harman & Tom Wiscombe, “The Object Turn: A Conversation,” Log 33 (Anyone Corporation, 2015), 81. 

  4. Francesca Hughes, The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision (The MIT Press, 2014), 8 

Point of Departure Project Team

Design Director | Co-Principal Investigator:
Martin Summers
Project Designers:
Thompson Burry & Owen Duross
Phase I - Architecture Research Team:
Thompson Burry, Owen Duross, Hans Koesters & Ari Sogin
Electrical Engineering Research | Co-Principal Investigator:
Michael Wilson, UK Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER)
Electrical Engineering Design (PV System):
Ben Ragusa
Phase I - Electrical Engineering Research Team:
Ian Gibson, Stephen Hardy, Robert Hieronymus, Robert Royalty, Donnie Spence & Philip White

Local Architect:
Eric Zabilka, Vice President and Partner - Omni Architects

University of Kentucky

Matthew Herman
Chicago Office Director - Buro Happold Engineering 
Peyman Jahed PE, SECB
Senior Vice President – BFMJ Engineering
Heather Libonati
Founder – Luminesce Design (Lighting)
Greg Romine
Managing Director - Axis Facades

Campus Stakeholders:
David Biagi
Director (at time of project) – School of Architecture 
Lance Broeking
Director – UK Parking and Transportation Services
Melody Flowers
Director of Strategic Analysis – UK Office of the EVPFA and Campus Lead on Transportation Master Plan
Stuart Kearns
Associate Director – UK Parking and Transportation Services
Shane Tedder
Sustainability Coordinator –University of Kentucky
Britney Thompson
Energy Engineer – Physical Plant Division

This is a sponsored research project supported through The University of Kentucky Sustainability Challenge Grants, a joint effort of the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment, UK Office of Sustainability and the President’s Sustainability Advisory Council. Funding provided by the Student Sustainability Council, the Office of the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research. Awarded two separate grants, 2014 & 2015.

Martin Summers
Mr. Summers founded PLUS-SUM Studio in September 2012, to pursue projects aligned with his own vision of collaborative practice. He has two decades of experience in a variety of project types and scales, from small interior renovations to large-scale master planning. His first project for PLUS-SUM Studio was recognized the following year (2013) by the National AIA and displayed in Washington, D.C. as part of the HYPERLINK ""Emerging Professionals Exhibition. In early 2015, PLUS-SUM Studio was recognized by the International Design Awards ( HYPERLINK "" ) with 5 total awards from three projects including the top prize in the professional category, “Architectural Design of the Year ’14.” His work has been exhibited internationally in Korea and the Netherlands.
PLUS-SUM uses an intensive, iterative, problem seeking design process to discover opportunities latent within a given problem and to evolve multiple, possible solutions. This process seamlessly moves from design practice to an academic context to test opportunities within each realm and progress both forward. Mr. Summers is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Kentucky College of Design; where he leads advanced studios focused on urban design, iterative digital processes, and teaches electives in High Performance Building Envelopes and Design/Theory. He is committed to education and to pursuing conditions that allow for an open and engaging dialogue around contemporary practice and processes.

Previously Mr. Summers spent 10 years at Morphosis Architects in Santa Monica, where he served as project designer on projects across all scales and rose to lead the office’s façade design and construction.
Prior to working at Morphosis, Mr. Summers participated in a diverse range of projects from residential and worship spaces to sound stages for clients such as Warner Bros., Sony, and DreamWorks SKG. He received his Masters of Architecture degree from UCLA, and his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Kentucky College of Architecture, now the College of Design.