• Nicole Reinders

From Paper to Project: Representation of the Experience

Updated: Jun 17, 2019


Architecture encompasses many mediums including the felt experience, models representing the built form, and ideas drawn out on paper. Information is lost when transcribed from one form to another, especially from the felt experience to paper, as so much is lost and only partial details, a paraphrase, can be conjured. This process can be reversed, from a paraphrase or past history to a present experience. In the case of studio:idigenous, Chris Cornelius took the Native American tradition of making maple syrup and the festivities that surrounded this and formulated it in a structure that would portray what happened in the past and provide a location for them to ensue once again.


The Oneida Maple Sugar Camp is a simple 800 square foot box that has an observational smoke shaft with a sloped roof supported by wood beams that extend into the ground. It is the place where festivities come together during the mid-winter to signal harvest time and the eventual coming of spring. Over the many years, the traditions that surround this natural event have died among Native American culture. However, this structure seeks to give meaning to the celestial ongoing once again by providing a space to convert maple sap to syrup and to observe the ‘seven sisters’ or the Pleiades in the sky through the observational ventilation cone.




From the conjuring of the idea to construction, Cornelius started with drawing sketches of key elements and feelings he wanted to get across in his structure, such as the observational smoke shaft which only during the mid-winter gives views to the seven sisters and thus starts the ceremonies that correlate with this phenomenon. On paper, it is portrayed showing a person with their face turned up to the sky, their focus being only of what is seen in the sky. The significance of this is surmountable as all other activities stem from this and is clearly shown as this is the focal point of the sketch. The process of placing these actions on paper, before they become architecture, allowed for an event to occur from the viewing perspective of it and, “shifts the emphasis from image to performance.”[1] It then, displays the emotional aspect of the building and not just the materiality and structure of it, communicating that the Maple Sugar Camp is the holding place for the activities to reside within its walls, than of the walls themselves.


"The process of placing these actions on paper, before they become architecture, allowed for an event to occur from the viewing perspective."

Through the documents, an idea is projected, such as the wonderment that ensues when looking at the stars from within the enclosed walls of the structure, or through the making of maple syrup, a long-held tradition. It is through this that, “we envision information in order to reason about, communicate, document, and preserve,”[2] not only the ways of the Oneida from the past but through the events that will occur in the future. It is a representation of what happened and what is about to ensue in the coming years.


The ideas placed on paper go through geometric transformation “but something of the structure of the original sketch is preserved throughout the process,”[3] for the original goal is accomplished.

The early sketches capture the essence of past traditions found in the Oneida and focus it on two central points.

The first being that of the observational smoke shaft which is purposeful in providing the naked eye with boundaries for viewing the seven sisters, from which the festivities arise in celebrating the harvest of sap and turning it into syrup.




The built structure, the four walls, carries out the hopes of the sketched-out plan, forming the critical connection of printed media to built form. Similarly, to that of transforming an experience to paper, and developing a plan to draw from the past and create something to be enjoyed in the present. The Maple Sugar Camp does both, drawing from past traditions and placing them in a new context. Now, guests can inhabit the structure to form new traditions while still having the opportunity to view the previously held ones.





[1] Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, David J. Lewis, Manuel of Section (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2016): 7


[2] Edward R. Tufte, “Escaping Flatland” in Envisioning Information (Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 1990): 33


[3] Stan Allen, “II: Notations + Diagrams: Mapping the Intangible,” in Practice: Architecture, Technique + Representation (New York: Routledge, 2009 – 2nd ed.):49

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