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Toyo Ito’s White U House - A Crypt for Grief

Interactive Model
Virtual Wurster Hall

Arch 249
Sam Gebb
Toyo Ito designed the White U in 1976 to give his sister a place to griev the loss of her husband to cancer, leaving her with their two small girls. The U takes on an extremeley unorthodox parti with a continuous hallway “room” bending around the curve of the U, functioning as the main shared space. The more private auxillary spaces flank the sides of the building, all elements organized around a sterile courtyard with dark soil and little access. This void in the center of this radically introverted building can perhaps be a metaphore for the void opened up within the family. It provides the home with a connection outdoors, yet within it, nothing from the outside world seems to exist or matter.

Having served its purpose after 21 years, the White U was demolished in 1998, signaling the conclusion of the family’s grieving. Our project, however, seeks to resurrect this peculiar building and give it a new life in virtual space so that it can be experienced once again. With the artistic liberties afforded by a simulated environment, we have reinterpretted the White U House into a special narrative model: a multi-level crypt with each level depicting a different stage of grief for the user to navigate through.

Users are spawned within the middle of the courtyard, now resembling a dark pit as users look up and see the sky beyond a concrete tunnel. We use different expressions of the house’s iconic chair to represent the different stages of grief along the bent hallway room. The opposite end of the building is remodelled from a study room into vertical circulation to carrying users toward successive stages, creating a sequential loop of space with a uniqe experience on each level. We exploit a glitch in the Unity software by facing the courtyard’s single-sided surfaces upward away from the user’s perspective so that one can see through to the sky. The successive courtyard surfaces become observable as one progresses upwards, becoming increasingly vegetated as a representation of passing time in the grieving process. Once users have navigated to the top stage: Acceptance, they are permitted to leave through the front door back out into the world, sybolizing the end of grief and the house’s utility, much like its original inhabitants’. 

(narrative text and chair patterns by
Sam Gebb)


She denies that the death has occurred. Everything in the house remains as it was, though flooded with an unnavigable sadness. His chair remains in place under the light.


Today, in her fraught procession around the U, his ghost is everywhere and nowhere, flying swiftly and erratically through the hall. The house is sharp, hazy, fragmented. She is buffeted by his memory.


The ghosts have settled, but not dissipated. Perhaps he might return. Perhaps there is a way through this unforgiving maze, a path to return her (and him) to the place before the loss.


The maze has fallen, and all that is left are ruins. She steps gingerly around skeletons of his memory, the disarray at odds with the smooth white walls of the U. She sees no way to pick up the pieces, no way to restore harmony, no way out.


In this final turn around the U, she makes peace with his absence. She sets another chair perfectly across from his, sits down, and communes with him through a glittering shard of light.

The next day

She finally leaves the house, leaving its revolutions of grief and entering fully into the sunlight.