Building Armature
The Path Which Binds
The basic concept of Armature as used here is based on the work of Herb Greene, Architect, as described in his book Building to Last - Architecture As Ongoing Art [rbtfBook]. Herb Greene made a great contribution to the theory of architecture by articulating his armature concept. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, this concept has been largely ignored. Not only does it shine light onto issues of scale, it effectively addresses the role of history, the necessity for the preservation of architecture and points to the resolution of what is often thought of as conflicts between new and old works. Armature also directly address the necessity of artist and citizen involvement in the creation of public space. The lack of all this is a major cause of human alienation with the built environment particularly the city.
At tsmARCHITECTURE and AI, our use of the armature concept, while broad in scope, has been limited in scale only because our projects have been two to thirty thousand square feet thus far. As the size of our projects grows so will our exploration and practice of Armature. Hopefully, this will also be true more broadly throughout the profession. Herb Greene’s idea is needed now even more that in the past and I believe will be critical to the future execution of viable cityscapes. Visit his web site and enjoy an unique integration of architecture, philosophy and art:

Architectural Book Publishing Company
New York

Greene dealt with the issue of uniformity and diversity in architecture on the scale of a cityscape. His basic concept is that any viable city has an ARMATURE that establishes a clear central, core, integrating sense of what the city is as place. Herb made a significant contribution to architecture with this concept. The problem of scale is endemic to large cities as well as mea-structures. It is also a critical issue on the scale of large individual buildings. Rarely, is this scale issue dealt with effectively.


“Prevailing economic and technological forces and aesthetic attitudes have tended, in cities around the world, to level the historic artifice, leaving in its place new buildings with disorienting and anonymous form. In these discussions I want to offer a strategy whereby history and place are again built into the city. I address the question of how we can create new buildings that not only enhance the sense of place bur are likely to get better as they get older. To conserve resources we need a process that produces a building type that is solid and long-lasting, yet responsive to additions, alterations and ornamentation by individuals over generations and that can become a record of their aesthetic and social commentary.”

Herb Greene 1981

The metaphor of an interior as landscape [link] is a solid and useful one. Almost anything that can be said about a city can be scaled and applied to a large interior. The issues that Greene addresses on the city-scale exist within the modern office building.


We employ it on the level of cityscapes, buildings and building interiors.


At the scale of building interiors, the AI Armature system consists of several components: The Tracery [link], WorkWalls [link], Pod [link] [link], CubeOffice [link] and Artifacts [link]. These components, together, make it possible for custom environments to be crafted out of manufactured elements capable of making architectural-scale workspaces that are effective, economical and works of art. These unique and specific-to-each-user organization can be typically designed, manufactured and installed in 30 to 90 days. The system produces Favorable life-cycle economics: leasehold improvements are minimal, the system can move with the users, system components can easily and quickly be configured in different ways by the users and have an extremely long life, the resulting environment does not go out of style.


For background and application of we have developed and applied the Armature concept to the work environment, the following links will give you an overview:

AI Design Session, 1998 [link]

1990 Concepts [link]

Environments in Progress, 1999 - 2004 [link]

The AI Cube Office System, 2000 [link]

20 years of Design, Build Use - a Story [link]

Vanderbilt NavCenter, 2002 [link]

Joseki Offices 2002, [link]

Point Arena Community Center 2003 [link]

Salt lake City VA NavCenter 2003 [link]

Master’s Academy and College Collaboration Studio 2004 [link]

WEF RDS Deployment 2005 [link]

UniCredit NavCenter 2006 [link]


At MG Taylor, we have applied and extended the concept of armature to many areas of our work - both conceptual and physical. In every process, most significantly those processes designed to promote emergence [link], a strong armature is necessary to hold extreme diversity in place. Armature and variety are reciprocal forces that must be kept in balance for systems to remain viable.


“I have been most moved by architecture that shows the efforts of many people bound together by common purpose to create a transcendent aesthetic form. Contrary to the mainstream in Modern Architecture, I have never accepted the machine as a model for either functional or aesthetic form but have continued to believe that human spontaneity, cultural continuity and organic connection to nature are primary sources in creating architecture of the deepest and most lasting appeal.”
Herb Greene 1981

In process, technology and environment the Armature element is what binds [link] it all together as an integrated experience.

“In this book an armature is a public element in a neighborhood or city core to which space-enclosing structures and ornamental surfaces of individual determination can be added or subtracted. It is solid and long lasting. It is richly encrusted with the crafts and arts of as many as thousands of participating citizens. Since buildings constitute a principle part of production and are a basic necessity, an armature provides on-going work and an outlet for the talents of citizens not now included in the building process. The accretion of people’s art and craft work and the modification of certain spaces and forms designed by architects to accommodate alterations, make the structure a vehicle of cultural memory, a medium for expressing change and a metaphor for the passage of time.”
Herb Greene 1981

When considered on the scale of the workplace, this viewpoint reinforces why we believe the workplace should be adaptable. Why it should be easily changed by those using the space and why - including elements of the architectural armature itself - the work [link] of those using the space, and its “display” is an important part of the environment and its trade-dress.


If you want to think of armature in a city, think of San Francisco The hills, bridges, fog, parks, the cable cars and bay all combine to create a strong armature - you know you are in San Francisco no matter where you stand. Inside this Armature, there exists remarkable diversity: Victorians next to modern buildings, working fishing marinas next to upscale restaurants, modest apartments next to luxury condos - it is a city of many contrasts with a consistent and great Brand. San Francisco has Trade Dress. Environments on the scale of buildings, and their subordinate landscapes, should capable of making the same signature.


Another great example of Armature on the scale of a cityscape is the Boulder Mall [link] in Boulder, Colorado. This Mall, as it has developed over a 25 year period, defines the character of the inner-city. The picture below was taken by me early in the morning on November 4, 2008 nearly 30 years after the restoration of Pearl Street was undertaken. The Mall will slowly come alive in the morning and become an active social space which will last late into the evening.


When people are living and working in a space they should know where they are, there are in context - this is not commonly the case today [link]. Armature, and the activities related to it, provides framework which establishes this context. The concept of armature is perhaps one of the most important in architectural language and was more commonly understood and employed in the past. This modern neglect shows up in the design of our cities, individual buildings and down to the scale of interior landscapes. In a broader sense, not understanding armature negatively effects organizational theory and the development of strategy. Any endeavor that involves design can benefit from the application of the Armature concept.

A small Armature for the Department of Labor in Washington DC turns an otherwise generic space into a small collaborative workspace. The dome consecrates the working center and references the setting.
In the MG Taylor/AI work environments, the armature elements are the major architectural features. They are the “ post and beam” elements and various objects like domes, platforms and major lighting elements by which we define space, carry wires and other utilities and convey architectural themes. Armature brings richness to VERTICAL space [link] a too often overlooked yet extremely important element for the making of human space. Look at the dome and WorkWall system in the illustration above. A SPACE is created with just these three elements. This makes a place to work that has focus and amenity. It invites participation and collaboration. It conveys intention.
Master’s Collaboration Studio
September 2004
The Master’s Collaboration Studio [link] Armature is one of our most sophisticated to date - it is a good precursor of where we are going. We are also working on projects that will provide the opportunity to employ Armature on a larger scale. The SDC [link] and Master’s Campus [link] projects and the SETI Visitor Center [link] each present possibilities that will begin to get at the issues that Herb Greene has so brilliantly articulated.
July 4, 2006 Note:
In recent years, the Armature concept - once unusual - has become a standard component of our interior work landscapes. They create unique place, carry wires, provide lighting, house multimedia technology, provide acoustic attenuation and provide a sheering layer between human scale and building scale. By altering Armature lighting, the sense of space can be compressed or expanded on both vertical and horizontal dimensions thereby making prospect and refuge “tunable” on demand. In recent projects, the Armature has been design to be re configurable as we have with our WorkFurniture for over two decades. In this way, a space can be easily configured to meet the physical and mental requirements of the users.
As of this writing, July 4th 2006, all of the Armatures shown below are in development - design and construction. Several other projects are on the drawing boards. Over the next couple of years, it is likely that the examples of Armature applications will double the totality of built works over the last 15 years.

Armature elements are independent of the structural shell yet integrated with it and the many utility aspects of the building. Armatures reflect, and play counterpoint to, the building shell no matter how prosaic this may be as often is the case with commercial architecture.

Armatures are also significant carriers of theme [link: theme in architecture] and brand essence. They establish the most intimate look, touch and feel of a space. This transmits the message of the space its intention and appropriate use. This message acts to stimulate and instruct the users of the environment and can reduce significant barriers to creative work and productivity.

A sense of PLACE is a critical requirement for human happiness and productivity. This sense is composed of many elements: shelter, symbol, social context, way of working/living, usefulness and so on. Every work of architecture must mix these in different ways according to the buildings purpose and context. When done correctly, the architecture is like the background music in a movie. It “explains” what is going on. When done well, this context setting appropriately attenuates modes inappropriate to the task(s) and amplifies modes the space is designed to facilitate. Great clarity can be accomplished as architecture is built values.

Armature is also an opportunity for creative play - it is architectural galumphing. This play is actually serious and necessary to life which is greatly impoverished without it. This play - often called esthetics - contains embodied meaning. It is not random or arbitrary - it is purposeful. These drawings and photos are Armatures being conceived and installed. it is work in progress for the World Economic Forum, the The US Department of Veteran Affairs, Ales Groupe in Milan Italy, and Unicredit In Turin, Italy.

UniCredit Management navCenter design
September, 2006
Alse Groupe September 2006
UniCredit Management navCenter getting finishing touches
January 2007
This page was started in 1999 and has been most recently updated nearly 9 years later. The masthead of this page includes a plan (upper right hand corner) completed by me in 1990. This was the first full expression on paper of the Armature concept as it can be applied to interior landscapes made up of manufactured components. By virtue of this system and method, routine, plain vanilla retail “boxes” can be transformed into architecture in a matter of 30 days with the vast majority of that which makes up the architecture readily movable to the next location. This breaks the tyranny of the commercial lease and its negative impact on the average cost working environment. It has taken over 15 years to make this demonstration. When this approach can be taken with a building of true architectural quality the results can be spectacular as is the case with the UniCredit bank project illustrated immediately above. The UniCredit project is the best example of Armature that we have executed so far because of its scope and scale and because it is part of an environment composed of three architectural traditions: 19th century Italian, modern glass and steel, and organic which is our contribution including the Armature which ties it all into one harmonious whole. This is a small example of what Herb Greene wanted to do on the scale of a cityscape. It is a demonstration of the viability of this idea.
In most cases, the examples of Armature illustrated here are remedial. In works of great architecture, as distinct from generic boxes, the Armature will be integrated into the structural system of the building. A great deal of the structure will be Armature. Also, it is important to remember that these examples are Armature on the recursion level of a buildings interior. Armature must exist on the street, community, city, regional, and eventually, global levels. Now that TSM Architecture is designing larger projects, examples of this scale of application will soon be posted thus carrying the idea further and much closer to Herb’s original insight and intent.
The armature concept is an important architectural principle as well as having application beyond this one art. The examples shown here just begin to scratch the surface of what can be achieved by adding this concept to the architect’s pattern language tool kit. As architecture becomes ever more ethereal - as seems to be the modern trend with the new materials - a strong armature that binds a work to the cityscape, the Earth and to a social context is increasingly important. Armature, in the end, becomes the strongest element speaking for the culture of a place. It makes Strong Memory. It brings idea and physical fact back together in a world where these are increasingly and unfortunately bifurcated.
November 13, 2008 Update:
It has often been said that organic school architects are generally very nice people. I have found this to be true and Bruce Goff was an outstanding example of this tradition. Over the last year, I have had the pleasure of meeting Herb Greene and spending time with him in his home and studio in Berkeley. In an age when the concept has almost lost its meaning Herb is a gentleman of the first degree. He is an unique personality and original thinker. He is an important figure in the transitional period between the first masters of organic architecture and what one can hope is a resurgence of this approach to building habitat. As I have noted, his concept of Armature has been largely ignored yet there are signs that this will not long be the case. Without attribution and full understanding, the idea is beginning to find its way into built work. Seeing his drawings full size and talking to him further inspires my sense of urgency that his work should be more fully studied and applied. I have long respected him as an architect it is now my great pleasure to consider him a friend and companion in the cause of organic architecture.

Matt Taylor
Borgess navCenter, Kalamazoo
July 10, 1999


SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted July 10, 1999

revised November 13, 2008

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note: this document is about 90% finished

ArmatureSystem is a Trademark of iterations and licensed to MG Taylor Corporation.

Aspects of the system and method described are Patented and Patent Pending.


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