Talbott, Kyle

(414) 229-2994
Arch & Urban Planning 373


Associate Professor Kyle Talbott questions contemporary high-tech styling and engineered perfection, which has come to embody the complacency of our increasingly technocratic culture. He searches for evidence of a still open frontier – a more rugged, improvisational realm of life that might reawaken our inner explorer. In one line of research, he tests a special process of oneiric prototyping used by fabricators to uncover the hidden potential of ordinary materials. Incorporating techniques of parametric design and digital fabrication, Talbott infuses familiar systems of building construction with subtle peculiarities that alter our perception of everyday life. In another line of research, he questions conventional practices of space planning and develops an alternative building typology based on our lyrical occupation of space rather than functional programming. This work uncovers the detailed mechanics of how space ritualizes action, and it shifts the focus of space planning away from efficiency optimization to the adventure of occupying a vast, untamed world.

Research in Oneiric Prototyping

Talbott’s research in oneiric prototyping taps the hidden potential of off-the-shelf building components and standard construction details, finding romantic ways to deploy everyday material systems. This effort involves the production of oneiric prototypes: prototypes that excavate the uncharted dream-territory of materials and their visual effects.

The manufacturers of steel sheets, masonry blocks, lumber planks and plastic countertops transform the raw materials of Nature into highly engineered, standardized units that make up the familiar stuff of our homes and towns. Despite the measured uniformity of these materials, however, they still vibrate with a complex molecular structure that responds in subtle and surprising ways to tooling and chemical stimuli. The tendency of engineered materials to stain, scape, melt, crack, and corrode reveals the molecularscale caldron simmering within them. Industrial homogenization serves only to muffle this inner frontier, and designers can release it. The goal of oneiric prototyping is to rediscover the non-engineered, nonquantifiable aspects of materials, and in doing so, to stage an encounter with a teeming, stormy, hidden Nature, which might stir our inner adventurer.

Prototyping is not merely a technical exercise driven by a pragmatic need to resolve a tricky seam between panels or test the loading capacity of a column. Oneiric prototyping enters a non-pragmatic territory in which designers discover the unexpected visual qualities and other properties of a material. Making such a prototype is an act of chemical, haptic and tectonic free-play. Working this way, designers probe beneath a material’s obvious properties, standard applications and everyday forms. When designers discover and accentuate such latent qualities, something off-the-shelf transforms into something exotic and memorable.

Research in Lyrical Typology

The dominant 20th-century view of space planning sees architects as the curators of occupants’ lives, organizing people’s activities in space and optimizing their efficiency. Talbott’s work rejects this regulatory scheme and instead explores space as an expression of an ideal life, which architects present to occupants for their consideration. Space operates on two levels: on one level it offers a flexible range of possibilities for practical action, and on the other it accentuates some of these possibilities over others, and in doing so it celebrates a related way-of-life. When architects employ both levels of space planning, they simultaneously meet occupants’ functional needs and express a view of what kind of life is worth living. While architecture can optimize the efficiency and comfort of some actions, its essential value is to rouse people’s heroic striving towards a flourishing life. Architecture is not a moralizing force in life but a poeticizing force. It does not shape occupants into better people; it flavors their actions in a way that might inspire them, and it amplifies their experience of the broader significance of the actions.

Talbott offers a detailed theory of how space ritualizes a preferred way-of-life, which architects enshrine in a composition of boundaries and passages, doorways and apertures, staircases and foyers. We can see this in the contrasting treatment of front door and back door in a Victorian house. Both doors offer us the same basic functionality – entry into (and exit from) the house – but each orchestrates a qualitatively different encounter with the act of entry. The front door gives us a well-formed foyer with a grand, solid door, perhaps with special windows, perhaps a vaulted ceiling and even a sweeping view of a staircase to the upper floors. On all sides we might transition easily into the spacious public rooms of the house, the parlor, the dining room and the library. We stand at the prominent hub of the entire place. The back door, in contrast, offers us a tight service corridor, the smells of the kitchen, a view of the laundry and ready access to the dingy basement stairs. When arriving, then, we can enter the front door and participate in a grand celebration of our homecoming, or we can take the back door and forego it while arriving nonetheless. We do not have to embrace the celebration of arrival awaiting us in the foyer, but it is always there, inherent in the walls, thresholds, windows and routes. To the extent we use them and take note of it, our actions synchronize with the architecture to realize an intensified act of arrival, which is crystalized into a meaningful event with the aid of the visual qualities of the setting. The setting elevates the ordinary act of arrival into the stuff of honored ritual. In such moments our actions transcend the functional to become lyrical; life is imbued with a special flavor that might stir our emotions. Talbott’s research in lyrical typology demonstrates the detailed mechanics of how space ritualizes action, and how such rituals express architects’ views of life while simultaneously leaving occupants free to live as they see fit. One result is a new design tool, an alternative typology, based on our lyrical occupation of space rather than perfunctory functional programming. Leaving behind banal building types such as “office building,” “café,” or “shopping mall,” Talbott offers types such as “roamscapes,” “encirclements,” “glimpse-cuts” and “beelines.” Each type integrates a spatial configuration with a mode of emotive action in the world.

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Texas A&M University, Master of Architecture, 1993
Texas A&M University, Bachelor of Environmental Design, magna cum laude, 1991

Research Focus

Architectural Design, Interior Design, Human-Architecture Interaction (HAI), Parametric Design & Digital Fabrication, Design/Build Practice, Alternative Building Typologies


Arch 815 Studies in Architectural Technology and Theory (digital fabrication studio)
Arch 875 Studies in Facility Planning and Design (human-architecture interaction studio)
Arch 583 Emerging Digital Technologies (parametric design and instrumentation)
Arch 820 Architectural Design II (accelerated design studio for incoming career-change students)

External Link


Selected Work

“Menomonee Valley Pavilion,” Architecture Now!: Volume 7, Taschen: London, with Barkow Leibinger Architects, accepted for publication.
Milne Archeological Exhibit, Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2010, with Jonathan Goldstein and dF Workshop.
Fragments & Refinements, Gallery of Architecture and Urbanism, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April-May 2010.
FEEDBACK LOOP: Designing Complex Architecture, Pendentive: Milwaukee, 2010.
WE Energies Clean Air Exhibit, Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2010, with Jonathan Goldstein and dF Workshop.
“Microcosm,” Calibrations 3: Positions, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning, 2009.
“Menomonee Valley Pavilion,” Der Pavillon: Lust und Polemik in der Architektur, Hatje Cantz Verlag, editor, Deutsches Architekturmuseum: Frankfurt, 2009, with Barkow Leibinger Architects.
“Marcus Prize Pavilion,” C3: Architecture + Landscape + Urbanism (Korea), Future Wood edition, No. 297, 2009, with Barkow Leibinger Architects.
Faculty Program Director, Florence/Paris Study Abroad Program, Fall 2008, Spring 2005.
Menomonee Valley Park Pavilion, Menomonee Valley Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2009, with Barkow Leibinger Architects.
Member, Editorial Board, International Journal of Architectural Computing, 2007-2008.
Alternate Member, Steering Committee, Association of Computer-Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), 2007-2008.
“Context-sensitivity and Visual Engagement in Generative Systems,” Automation in Construction, 16(2007) 54-60.
“3D Print as Corporeal Design Medium,” International Journal of Architectural Computing, 4:4 (2006) 137-151.
“Screenwall Prototype: Joining Handcraft and Parametric Modeling,” Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture International Conference 2006: Digital Exchange Exhibition, Louisville, Kentucky, October 12-15, 2006, with Dan Merkel, Christopher Ludwig, Trevor Patt, Ryan O’Connor and Max Carr.
“Wax + Plywood + Parametric Surface: Small Box Retail Renovation,” Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture International Conference 2006: Digital Exchange Exhibition, Louisville, Kentucky, October 12-15, 2006, with Dan Hesketh.
“Hand-Machine Conflict and the Ethics of Digital Fabrication,” in Cheng, R and Tripeny, P J (eds) Getting Real: Design Ethos Now, Proceedings of the 94th Annual Meeting of the Association for Collegiate Schools of Architecture, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 2006, 207-214.
“The Constructed Image,” in Cheng, R and Tripeny, P J (eds) Getting Real: Design Ethos Now, Proceedings of the 94th Annual Meeting of the Association for Collegiate Schools of Architecture, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 2006, p. 529-536.
“Integrating Generative Modelling and Design Process: An Interface for Visual Design,” in Martens, B and Brown, A (eds) Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Aided Architectural Design Futures, Vienna, Austria, June 2005, p. 77-88.
“Divergent Thinking in the Construction of Architectural Models,” International Journal of Architectural Computing, 2:2 (2004) 263-285.
Calibrations: The Wisconsin Journal of Studio Architecture 2003, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, School of Architecture & Urban Planning publication of student design work, 2003, with Grace La.
“An Inductive Approach to Digital Modeling Instruction,” in Klinger, K R (ed) Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, Muncie, Indiana, October 2003, p. 150-157.
“Architectural Design Methods with Commercial Computer Aided Design Systems,” in Education and Research in Computer Aided Architectural Design in Europe Conference Proceedings, Graz, Austria, September 2003, p. 279-286, with Volker Mueller.
Founder and Faculty Director, SARUP Rapid Prototyping Laboratory, 2003 to present.

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