ucl bartlett Dr. Guan Lee & Daniel Widrig
Making a Case for Modularity


  • Guan Lee University College London
  • Daniel Widrig University College London





modularity, digital fabrication, making, digital design, part-to-whole


What we design and how it is made are intimately connected. The need to make modular components is a consequence of construction methodology and disposition in production and manufacturing. With the prevalence of digital modelling, designers and architects use modularity not only as design strategy but also to explore new aesthetics. This article examines design and architectural projects that prioritise geometrical and dimensional constraints at different scales, to highlight modular systems as essential areas of research. Here, Material Architecture Lab put together a series of speculative designs that investigate modular components and spatial configurations to accompany the written component. This article scans through a selection of discourses around modularity in architecture to contextualise, question and challenge the innovative potential of modular systems. By engaging with modular design of various types and materials, our aim is to articulate the value attached to a bottom-up design research, from digital modelling to fabrication processes.

How to Cite

Lee, G., & Widrig, D. (2020). Making a Case for Modularity. Cubic Journal, 3(3), 74–103. https://doi.org/10.31182/cubic.2020.3.025



Author Biographies

Guan Lee, University College London

Dr. Guan Lee is an Architecture lecturer and co-director of Material Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. He is also tutor in Architecture at the Royal College of Art, where he teaches a postgraduate studio, ADS6. His practice, Grymsdyke Farm, is set in the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire, approximately 35 miles northwest of London. The farmhouse remains residential but the other buildings are converted into workshops and studios. Grymsdyke Farm’s motivating concept is to establish and explore the value of living/working arrangements that involve intimate engagement with materials and processes of making. Lee’s practice engages in a wide range of design fabrication, digital and analogue. Guan Lee has a BSc. in Architecture from McGill University, Montreal, Canada (1997), an Architectural Association (AA) Diploma (1999) and an MSc. Landscape Urbanism (2003), also from the AA, and completed his PhD by Design (2013) at the Bartlett, UCL.

Daniel Widrig, University College London

Daniel Widrig is Architecture lecturer and co-director of Material Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Widrig’s studio now works in a broad range of fields including sculpture, fashion, furniture design and architecture. He has received international critical acclaim and has been published and exhibited internationally. Widrig is also the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Swiss Arts Award, Feidad Merit Award and the Rome Prize. Prior to founding his studio Daniel was Artist in Residence at the German Academy Villa Massimo in Rome. In 2011 his 3D printed dresses, developed in collaboration with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen were named one of 50 Best Innovations of the year by Time Magazine. Amongst others his work has been shown at the Centre Pompidou Paris, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts Moscow, Gropius Bau Berlin and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


Bechtold, Martin. “On Shells and Blobs: Structural Surfaces in the Digital Age.” In Fabricating Architecture: Selected Readings in Digital Design and Manufacturing, 169. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.

Cilento, Karen. 2010. “ Frank Lloyd Wright’s Textile Houses.” ArchDaily. Accessed 23 May, 2019. https://www.archdaily.com/77922/frank-lloyd-wrights-textile-houses.

Dennis, James M., and Lu B. Wenneker. 1965. “Ornamentation and the Organic Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.” Art Journal 25, no. 1: 2-14.

Garofalo, Vincenza. 2010. “A Methodology for Studying Muqarnas: The Extant Examples in Palermo.” Muqarnas Online 27, no. 1: 357-406. doi: http://10.1163/22118993_02701014.

Gramazio, Fabio, Matthias Kohler, and Silke Langenberg. 2017. “Mario Carpo in Conversation with Matthias Kohler.” In Fabricate 2014: Negotiating Design & Making, 12-21. London: UCL Press.

Haeckel, Ernst. 2004. Art Forms in Nature. Munich: Prestel Verlag. Hauer, Erwin. 2004. Continua – Architectural Screens and Walls. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Kurent, Tine. 1971. “The Roman Modular Way.” Official Architecture and Planning 34, no. 12: 911-14. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43964393.

Lind, Carla. 1994. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses. San Francisco: Promegranate Artbooks.

Lynn, Greg. 2008. “Beautiful Monsters.” Perspecta 40: 176-79. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40482296.

Parisi, Luciana. 2018. “The Intelligence of Computational Design.” In Architectural Materialisms: Nonhuman Creativity, edited by Voyatzaki Maria, 228-50. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Martin, Bruce. 1956. “The Size of a Modular Component.” Official Architecture and Planning 19, no. 11: 562-64.

Minami, Noritaka, Julian Rose, Ken Yoshida, and Noritaka Minami. 2015. Noritaka Minami 1972. NAKAGIN CAPSULE TOWER. Heidelberg, Neckar: KEHRER Heidelberg.

Sanchez, Jose, and Alisa Andrasek. 2017. “Bloom.” In Fabricate 2014: Negotiating Design & Making, by Gramazio Fabio, Kohler Matthias, and Langenberg Silke, 98-103. London: UCL Press.

Schröpfer, Thomas. 2011. Material Design: Informing Architecture by Materiality. Basel: Birkhäuser GmbH.

Taalman, Laura, and Eugenie Hunsicker. 2002. “Simplicity Is Not Simple: Tessellations and Modular Architecture.” Math Horizons 10, no. 1: 5-9. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2567837.