Sea Creatures Make an Underwater Face; or An Alternative Disciplinary Coherence
Clark Thenhaus, California College of the Arts
In 1566 Giuseppe Arcimboldo produced a well-known painting, Water. Nowhere in the painting do we actually see water, led only to believe we are deep under the sea, surrounded by the blackness of a great distance from everyday life at the surface. In the middle of the painting is an abundance of aquatic species, aggregated such as they are to produce the figure of a human head and chest. When taken individually, these species no doubt exhibit different qualities, origins, motivations, and desires. Their proximities, when seen individually, will always appear suspicious, confusing, irreconcilable, or as small and awkward groupings. Yet, as the blackness of the surrounding recedes, the totality of the figure encourages alternative understandings about the composition of the whole. Though constituted by differences among its constituent parts, the underwater scene assimilates such abundance into a uniquely coherent medley through the immediacy of time and proximity. Perhaps this can serve as an analogue to both the 107th ACSA conference in general, and to this paper session in particular.
In recent years a number of architects - appearing dissatisfied with inherited vocabularies - have spurred an abundant new lexicon for architectural inquiry: Lumps, rocks, stacks, piles, dolmens, creatures, sandwiches, and computer architecture are just a few of these terms. This vocabulary has been largely qualified through the historic lenses of the picturesque, camp, indifference, boringness, error, environmental imperatives, or post-digital aesthetic theory to name a few. While this burgeoning lexicon may seem to provide further evidence to disciplinary speciation, it is also possible that such plurality reveals new forms of collective coherence. Today’s vanguard is increasingly understood as fragmented and constituted, we’re told, by sub-genres of irreconcilable differences. Perhaps though, like Arcimboldo’s painting(s), these differences can be alternatively understood as the collaging of shared values forming a larger image of contemporary work. Perhaps this ensemble and affiliated terminologies re-orients the interpretation of a whole, or supposed “core”.
This session seeks papers that examine the underscores of today’s pluralism. What are shared underpinnings of today’s architectural speciation? What are the essential disciplinary merits that affiliate individual projects with a possible ‘whole’? What are the requisite agreements for enfolding new terminology into today’s expanding lexicon? And, what does this, or might this, mean for our unsuspecting students? Some possible responses, though not limited to, could include scholarly ruminations on representation, socio-cultural context, materiality, or digital consciousness.
Architectural practice and discourse is often characterized by differences in positions or ideological divides. Rather than continue the legacy of division, papers that convene alternative understandings for today’s plurality as a coherent collage are of particular interest to this session. This is not the case of falsifying commonalities, nor is it a playground request that we all play nice in the architectural sandbox. It is an open invitation to consider what makes us, as architects and educators, capable of shaping new understandings of how our contemporary medley of work might construct, or be already constructing, value propositions for conceiving today’s plurality as tomorrow’s centralizing discourse.
What’s the Matter with Climate Change?
Rania Ghosn, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Today, we live in an epoch shaped by extensive shifts in industrialization, with environmental risks and consequences felt at a planetary scale. Paradoxically, while the threats are serious, we remain little mobilized—in part because of the dissonance between individual human worries and the great scales of the planet. The environmental crisis can be seen not only as a crisis of the physical and technological environments; it is also a crisis of the cultural environment—of the modes of representation through which society relates to the complexity of environmental systems. How do we think about something as intangible and invisible as climate—especially as the language of scientific expertise can be misinterpreted, sometimes deliberately, by journalists and those working as “merchants of doubt” on behalf of industry interests? Where do designers in relation to such poverty of the environmental imagination at a time when climate change skeptics have such influence on public opinion?
The panel springs from the conviction that climate change demands urgent transformations in the ways we care for and design the Earth. It engages the difficult (and necessary) quest for media and models that assemble the big picture of the Earth beyond a toolkit-of-solutions approach and away from a visual rhetoric of crisis that aestheticizes calamity. The panel explores the many ways that architecture reveals and reacts to the exigencies of the environment: how it is conceptualized, imagined, spatialized, critiqued, projected. It addresses some of these questions: What tools of design research–forms of knowledge production and material evidence–promote such interdisciplinary or trans-disciplinary operations? What are the representational worlds that make the concerns of Environment legible, knowable, and actionable to the discipline and to the broader publics? Who is the audience, what is the tone (if not apocalyptic or techno-fixing), and what are corresponding media of dissemination and communication that engages such large temporal and spatial scales?
The panel is interested in forms of design research on climate change–historical and contemporary. All while depending on the production of facts and materials in other fields, such engagement of architecture with the issue of climate change utilizes design as a tool of research, and a tool for communicating the results, whereby the end product–the research findings– are embodied in an artifact that makes knowledge made visual, formal, ambient, sense-able. Such design research crosses fields of knowledge all while maintaining a final form of evidentiary design production that is disciplinary. The architectural project becomes the means to reckon with the cognitive and affective dissonance of climate change, navigating between what feels like an individual concern and planetary collective consequences.
History & Precedent in the Design Process
Kai K. Gutschow, Carnegie Mellon University
This panel asks about the changing role that history and precedents take in the design process and the core of architecture, both in the academy and the profession, in beginning and advanced work, past and present.
Schools continue to teach traditional precedent studies, even as we profess that the world in which we build is dominated by accelerating change. Typology and program, based on precedents, remain central in justifying design decisions for many buildings, even as we acknowledge that functions rarely last as long as constructions. After being central during Postmodernism, and then sidelined during the turn to pragmatism and the digital in the beginning of the 21st century, some say “history is back,” though surely different than before. Many recent publications proclaim the ever-increasing importance of history for contemporary discourse and practice. Architects are finding innovative ways to engage history: as a driver for design, as a way to rethink materials and site, even as a research methodology. In a world ever-more obsessed with contemporaneity, progress, new technologies, and the future, and with neoliberalism, efficiency theories, and pragmatism posing ever greater challenges to the humanities and history, architecture remains remarkably bound to the past.
We are interested in papers that challenge or validate the dominant methods for precedent study such as those proposed by Colin Rowe or Roger Clark. We seek case studies on new ways that history has been pulled into the design process, especially processes featuring the newest design, computation, and fabrication tools. We invite theoretical discussions about how cutting-edge design sensibilities focused on ideas such as sustainability, emergence, or complexity incorporate or supplant existing historicist ideologies that presume history’s clear connection to the future. We are curious about how an emphasis on “design principles” and “formal abstraction” based on precedents poses challenges to technologies and techniques that promote precision and uniqueness in building design and construction. We invite all manner of papers that scrutinize and speculate on how history and precedents might take on a different role today than in the past.
James Tate, University of California, Berkeley & Carl Lostritto, Rhode Island School of Design
How do you introduce, provoke, evaluate, and foster a culture of drawing within the program you teach? In recent decades, how we work has been continuously transforming. In parallel, the values we overlay onto and glean from digital media have been in flux. Even the most historically sensitive conceptions of drawing must recognize that its disciplinary position, let alone its disciplinary definition, is vague at best.
It can be argued that drawing, as it has been defined historically, is dead. However, reincarnations of drawing that live in the discipline as a different species of representation have emerged. Contemporary representational practices and pedagogies involve multiple media, an embrace of raster formats, the willful misappropriation of technology, idiosyncratic workflows, and rainbow pastel color palettes. While in recent years the development of new tools, methods, and processes is evident, this session seeks not to perform an autopsy on drawing, nor to suggest a replacement for drawing, but to consider disciplinary frameworks, structures, or criteria relevant to drawing discourse. While issues of digital media and technology are inevitably present in any discussion of drawing, this session aims to look far beyond the latest software, tools, and machines. What does it look like when drawing is the subject of the experiment rather than the result of the experiment? We seek to promote a conversation about how one sees, reads, consumes, disseminates, and compares drawings and drawing practices while also demanding that these new modes of representation contribute to architecture's body of knowledge.
How is the territory of drawing today delineated relative to models, images, screens, and software? How does one discipline drawing today when low res pixel based platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest have changed the way students, prospective students, and academics share and consume images? What is the difference between a discursive image and Instagram clickbait?
This session invites participants to share academic prompts, pedagogy, curricula and research that address drawing directly, or that use drawing methods or the drawing as object to scaffold, trigger, or organize experimental research or creative practice. Submissions will be evaluated based on a demonstrated synthesis of method and culture. Evidence of beautiful drawing will be valued as highly as articulations of rigorous, analytic criteria for evaluation of drawing.
Black Box, White Cube: Exhibiting Architecture in Theory and Practice
Christina Shivers & Phillip Denny, Harvard University
The exhibition is an important discursive vehicle. Whereas buildings are slow and expensive to build, exhibitions are fast, cheap, and temporary. Nevertheless, exhibitions such as the “International Style” show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, or more recently, “Deconstructivist Architecture” in 1988, are enduring milestones in architecture’s disciplinary history. Today, exhibitions are a fast-growing area of involvement for architects. Biennials, triennials, fairs, exhibitions, installations, and pavilions are all formats that present architecture to public audiences, and they are often designed or curated by architects. The recent arrival of the “Chicago Architecture Biennial,” first held in 2015, has expanded the scope of the architectural exhibition to the scale of the city.
This session, “Black Box, White Cube: Exhibiting Architecture in Theory and Practice,” invites papers that address the theoretical, practical, and historical dimensions of exhibition culture as it intersects with architecture. Exhibitions take place in many forms and many sites, and accordingly, this topic calls for investigation from diverse perspectives. We encourage authors to consider the fundamental processes and logics of the exhibition from the varied perspectives of architects, curators, theorists, historians and instructors. Guiding questions for this session include:
- What are untapped potentials of the architectural exhibition for the discipline and for practice?
- How do exhibitions encapsulate changing ideas of the disciplinary core?
- What roles can architecture play in shaping exhibitions, and vice versa?
- How has “exhibition culture” entered into architectural design? How might exhibition-making be taken as a model for practice?
- How are exhibitions influencing pedagogy at the university level?
Familiar architectural topics such as prototyping, iterating, and siting all have analogues in the field of exhibition-making, and indeed, curators and exhibition designers often use architectural techniques of representation in the development of shows. Conversely, the architectural model itself can be said to function according to a logic of exhibition: the model puts a design on display. Furthermore, the inherent nature of studio pedagogy involves the pinup, an exhibition in itself. Compelling papers will consider the productive exchanges that occur in the overlap of architecture and exhibition, and might take the form of reflections on current or previous architectural work, critical essays on exhibitions past and present, or surveys of the pedagogical function of exhibitions in the academy. At its core, this session aims to discern what is at stake in the architectural exhibition, and ask how exhibiting architecture can inform theory and practice.
Theory's Rise and Fall: Contexts and Conditions
Joseph Bedford, Virginia Tech
The rise and fall of theory in the culture of architecture since the 1960s is still primarily understood in mythic terms and is yet to be satisfactorily historicized or theorized in ways that grasp the contexts and conditions of architectural theory in this period.
One current myth of theory tells of its birth in 1966 with the twin publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction and Aldo Rossi’s Architecture of the City; of its maturation in the founding of institutes such as the IAUS and its journal Oppositions in the early 1970s; and of its death with the closing of Assemblage in 2000 and the supposed ascendency of history over theory marked by the publication of theory anthologies and the launch of Greyroom. Yet, understanding the rise and fall of theory only in such mythical terms, fails to grasp the underlying conditions for theory’s fate.
This session seeks papers that attempt to re-historicize and re-theorize theory’s rise and fall through analyses of broader cultural, economic, sociological, political, institutional and disciplinary conditions and that, in doing so, aim to challenge current mythologies surrounding architectural theory between the 1960s and the present.
Papers might, for example, address the “rise” and/or “fall” of theory by seeking to revise our understanding of how the conception, production or culture of post-1960s architectural theory related to economic cycles of boom and bust; to shifts between demand-side and supply-side economic policies; to ideological struggles between Communism and Capitalism; to the last decades of the cold war and its end; to cultural developments in consumerism, media, popular culture and youth culture; to struggles for civil rights, the women’s movement, and national liberation; to the post-war expansion of the university; to the growth of architecture as a university discipline and the professionalization of intellectual work in architecture schools through the burgeoning of PhD and MA programs; to the influence upon Anglo-American Universities of continental philosophy from Germany and France; to the shifting position of intellectuals in public life or of the humanities within the university; to the domestication of theory through the widespread establishment of “intro theory” classes in architecture curricula from the 1990s; to the transformation of the figure of the “neo-avant-garde” critical architect into the globalized “star architect”; to shifting conditions of production in writing and practice brought about by personal computing and the internet.
Above all, the session welcomes schematic papers that seek to re-historicize and re-theorize, in broad brushstrokes, the arcing narrative of the recent “rise and fall” of theory, with the ambition of challenging current mythologies of theory through deeper analysis of its conditions. The ultimate ambition of this session is to stimulate work that aims to better comprehend the fate and future of architectural theory.
Deductive, Inductive… Adaptive Methods in Architectural Design
Chandler Ahrens, Washington University in St. Louis & Aaron Sprecher, Technion Israel Institute of Technology
In its acclaimed work "On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects" (1958), the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon proposes a theory of transduction where individual ideas and elements are detachable and reconfigurable, allowing non-linear advancements and evolution to emerge. The potential inherent in these transductive processes stems from the accelerated evolution of ideas due to the intensity of information assets and the extensity of their networking in our societies. From the point of view of architecture, this technological intensity triggers a deductive line of research that often starts with a general theory, develops a hypothesis, tests the ideas, and concludes in the final built object. While a deductive method anchors the process of managing an intensive quantity of information within an established field of theory, the diversity of sources of knowledge is simultaneously increasing. The extensity of information sources and its associated technologies implies that design is increasingly porous to other fields of knowledge. The extensive information from multiple milieu encourages an inductive line of research where a series of observations lead to a hypothesis, concluding in a general theory. While the approach of intensive evolution grows from a deductive method and extensive limits derive from an inductive method, architects today witness the emergence of adaptive design methods that stand at the crossing of deductive and inductive experimental approaches. These adaptive approaches oscillate between axiomatic theories and the fundamental need for intuition and insight in the hypothetical arrangement of information and operations that manage the design process. An adaptive mode challenges the idealistic dimension of the architectural object, its mere physical representation and, foremost, the isolation of architecture from other domains of knowledge increasingly represents untenable positions.
This session proposes to question the nature of such adaptive design methods in the post-digital age. How can we define a design method at the crossing of deductive and inductive knowledge? What would be the criteria of a mode of investigation that is both deterministic and sensitive? Which tools or media trigger the emergence of adaptive research models? What would be a pedagogical model capable of promoting adaptive modes of architectural investigations?
We invite architectural professionals, theorists, educators, researchers to submit practical or speculative papers and projects that exemplifies the emergence of adaptive architectural methods in the post-digital era.
Questions of Abstraction in Beginning Design
Stephen A. Temple, University of Texas At San Antonio
First learning to work abstractly is a long held, even assumed, core objective of architectural design pedagogy, not due to preeminent movements, but because abstraction as a relationship between thinking and experiencing this situates itself in design as a mediating transformative devise within processes that move architectural ideas toward realization. The incorporation into beginning design pedagogy of Bauhaus methods, the nine square grid problem, and its offspring cube problem, intended the inculcation of representation into beginning design as a means of provoking a “mental or abstract order“ in which students recognize abstraction, design with abstraction, and develop a habit of thinking abstractly.1 However, the objectification of the world in the mediation of working abstractly through representational conventions and now digital modeling, is confusingly disconcerting to beginning design students in a way that subverts design pedagogy. Abstraction signifies the other, and unless a beginning student is looking for underlying meaning, it can be confused for something concrete. If abstraction comes too early in intellectual development, it can disconnect from design processes and from the tangible reality of lived architectural experience. The resulting work rests instead on abstractions that stand for environment but do not contain things normal to its encounter, like cues to occupancy, materiality, scale, or presences, resulting only in abstracted designs that present architecture as a spectacle disconnected from the material realization of ideas that place human experience within the world.
The disconnection between experiencing and thinking in pedagogies of abstraction can subvert creative exploration and slow the performance of design curricula, with two principle effects: First, activities of abstracting, rather than acting as a transformative device of creative design thinking, can substitute for the reality of tangible lived architectural experience to the extent that they become valorized in-themselves as illusory stand-ins for realized architecture. Secondly, working abstractly dissolves workmanship as substantive to design because abstraction is wholly speculative - nothing tangible is realized. Students typically come to beginning design education unfamiliar with abstraction and with limited abilities to think or work abstractly. Rather than being thrown into abstraction, beginning students need to be drawn into abstraction, in reverse correlation to the way abstraction draws one away from actuality.
This session seeks papers containing well constructed alternative methodologies for foundational learning that posit sound argument(s) for displacing abstract learning in early design pedagogy. What key pedagogical structures can draw students toward working abstractly while retaining connectedness to the real? Likewise, what beginning pedagogical structures presently in place in architecture programs can best be transformed to more gradually inculcate abstract methodologies? Also sought are philosophical, theoretical, and/or pedagogical alternatives for beginning design experiences that move more gradually between the actual/concrete and the abstract/mediated as sound foundations for further understanding and development of design processes, especially regarding possible digital futures? Addressing the above may also raise the question of whether beginning design pedagogy, on its own validity, suggests and merits its autonomy as a discreet field of study.
1. Bernard Hoesli, in Carragonne, Alexander. The Texas Rangers. Cambridge: MIT Press, 231.
Search | Research | Repeat
George Dodds, University of Tennessee-Knoxville & Kathryn Holliday, University of Texas at Arlington
In times of uncertainty, political or polemical, there is a tendency to secure one’s keep and fortify one’s borders. Similarly, when we study our discipline’s core, we must at the same time examine its boundaries; they are recto and verso of the single substrate on which our story is drawn-out in images and text. The why is clear. For Reyner Banham, however, who turned to the complex and often misunderstood term, disegno, to shine light into the camera obscura of architectural production, the how was a nettlesome thing. Schools of architecture, for Banham are the place wherein black boxes are forged. While these boxes may be dark, they are neither neutral nor empty.
Much of the research in schools of architecture occurs in design studios, in the form of case studies. Yet, in relation to other professional programs, architectural case studies are sui generis. In law, medicine, and business, for example, case studies tend to be methodical examinations of the form, context, and consequences of ordinary practices. In the education of an architect, case studies in studio and historical surveys invariably focus on the exception, not the rule. Periodic assaults on avant-garde exceptionalism, such as Bernard Rudofksy’s Architecture without Architects, and Venturi, Scott-Brown, and Izenour’s Learning from Las Vegas, have resulted, ironically, in newly canonized avant-gardes rather than a serious dismantling of the exceptionalist ethos.
This creates a double bind – the production of students and professionals, ill-equipped to conduct meaningful independent research, and a body of professionals for whom the unconventional is convention.
Specialized courses within the design curriculum appear to offer opportunities to address this challenge but are constrained by the tradition of the exceptional case study. Design-Build, Research Methods courses, and Research Studios offer examples. The first often begins with the premise of examining and serving the needs of underserved communities, but often delivers results focused on aesthetics-as-critique of traditional developer-builder conventions. Research Methods courses tend to be either instrumental adaptations from the social sciences or collections of “guest lectures” by faculty who present their work products as distinct demonstrations of methodology enacted. It is largely left to the student to reverse engineer the presentations to unearth the methods within. Research Studios cast a wider net but continue to place the architect at the apex of the research agenda, subverting the cross-disciplinary collaboration that could lead past the internal gaze of the case study and the production of decorated information.
We invite papers to reconsider the nature and role of these and related pedagogical models – historical and contemporaneous critiques of research methods, design-build, and research studios, to illuminate the “black box” of how architects learn. We especially seek papers that investigate means to diversify the scope and culture of architectural practice, that focus on localized knowledge in the era of big data, and that acknowledge architecture’s self-imposed conservatism in finding ways to accommodate a greater range of visions and voices through an expanded understanding of the role of research in creating a versatile profession.
Adam Fure, Ellie Abrons, & McLain Clutter, University of Michigan
Architecture is always becoming digital. To become digital is to exist in a digital world. It is an ontological state that tacitly recognizes pervasive technology, computational logic, and digital aesthetics as the background condition to everyday life. To become digital is to be situated in a context where everything from screen to stone exists as data and matter, where habits of mind forged within the digital environment are constantly transferred to the analog world. For architecture, this has signaled a profound paradigm shift that is largely complete and yet conspicuously unaccounted. Digital technology entered architectural discourse in a wave of futurist prognostication, heady formalist trajectories, and overt avant-garde agendas. Positivist rationales and a fervent belief in the intrinsic merits of technological progress reigned among the varied proponents of early digital architecture, alongside an embrace of the capacities of computation to address cultural and organizational complexity. In these early years, the digital was foregrounded as both topic and technique.. Today the digital is ubiquitous, ambient, and environmental. It is a dull hum that emanates from every corner of our increasingly constructed world, constituting the material, conceptual, and experiential context of any architectural project.
Reflecting on the status of the digital in contemporary architecture demands renewed critical attention towards our methods of work and the products of our labor. Our discipline’s waning fascination with digitally-enabled complexity and progress is being replaced with a sometimes blasé embrace of expedient digital tools from the Google image search to Rhino’s “Make 2D” command. Screenshot aesthetics and deadpan digital representations abound, delivering a glancing wink to those in the know, and constituting a new internal discourse for contemporary designers based on the expedient circulation of digital images. But as tendencies within our discipline assume the temporality of the meme, the facile nature with which they are adopted often belies the significance of their appearance. Today, digital technology doesn’t simply enable architects to represent the “real,” it is intricately intertwined with the real itself. Our methods of design are evermore connected on a computational level to our methods of dissemination, communication, and social networking, and indeed to those of our culture at large. This nascent condition presents new possibilities for architectural speculation, representation, and for our discipline’s potential impact in an increasingly digital world.
This session invites papers that consider architecture’s role within our ever-expanding digital culture. How does the digital allow architecture to interact with other disciplines or speak to new audiences? What is the status of expertise or authorship in the context of ubiquitous digtiality? How has pervasive digital culture affected architecture’s relationship to images and its aesthetic tendencies? How does this condition change the way we teach and our understandings of foundational knowledge?
Computation in the Core: Critical Pedagogies
Daniel Cardoso Llach, Carnegie Mellon University & Matthew Allen, Harvard University
This session aims to unpack the black box of computation in architecture. We invite papers that critically examine, or re-imagine, the place of computation within the core curricula of architecture schools. Since the 1980s (and earlier in rare cases), computation has been taught in isolated elective classes, frequently in the context of representation or media courses. In some cases, these were accompanied by an implicit or explicit claim about what architecture is all about —we may see, for example, William J. Mitchell’s influential programming courses in the 1980s as the expression of a theoretical commitment to the idea that architecture is a language of forms that can be manipulated through code. In the 2000s, the wholesale shift from drafting to digital modeling compelled schools to address computation in their core sequence, often through a narrowly instrumental lens. More recently, computation has become a rubric in certain modules in history courses because of its relationship to engineering and mathematics; the universalizing tendencies of modernism; cybernetics, and systems theory —not to mention the formal agendas of the 1990s or the tectonic explorations of the 2000s.
With these different trajectories in mind, our panel poses a question to Banham: What if it turns out that the architectural and the computational ‘modes‘ of design are irreducibly intertwined? What if, when we open the black box, we find that the essence of architecture today is contaminated by technical contingencies? Should we meet students at their daily concerns —in front of their computer screens— and construct a core curriculum around these contingencies? Or should certain core issues of architecture be carefully kept separated from computation to protect them from its pull?
If, as Lucy Suchman has proposed, technologies are “propositions for a geography where relevant subjects may take their place” (2011), architectural education should consider computation in its historical, theoretical, and practical complexity —and reflect how it might be, at its core, computational. We are interested in papers that outline pedagogical experiences, historical arguments, or intellectual visions for architectural education that avoid re-inscribing conventional boundaries between ‘design,’ ‘theory,’ and ‘technique;’ recognize the historical import of architectural computing; and explore its potential to structure a core architecture sequence addressing the demands of contemporary practice.
Architecture's Politics of Appearance
Jason Young, University of Tennessee-Knoxville
This session attempts to influence and promote scholarship exploring the regimes of practice from which we can learn more about the evolving politics of appearance within architecture. We call for papers/projects that ask questions about architecture's core, and the degree to which that core is both a bundle of practices and an array of diverse means of gaining coherence. Inspired by the conference theme, BLACK BOX: Articulating Architecture's Core in the Post-Digital Era, the session will be comprised of reflections that look back at inputs from the point of view of the distinct contours of the outputs. This session asks: How do we recognize the architectural act? What are the types and kinds of appearances that architecture makes? How does architecture make its various appearances? How does the representational bias of the discipline manifest itself in qualities and affinities? And how do those qualities and affinities compare across diverse modes of inquiry from speculative drawings to realized buildings?
To further frame these questions, let's go back to a 2002 essay entitled, "Resisting the City," written by Mark Wigley, then Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. In that essay, Wigley asks the reader to:
Imagine that students arriving at every school of architecture would be told that physical order was an illusion and that spatial relationships have no connection to functional relationships. Most of the standard training and faculty could be thrown out. Programs could be trimmed down to that very small part of each school devoted to characteristics of buildings that subvert the traditional mythology of the functional object, devoted, that is, to the irreducible strangeness of buildings. These are perhaps the qualities that secretly fascinate architects the most, but their appreciation is hidden at the very heart of each school, surrounded by a massive defensive infrastructure. Schools work hard to hide the fact that the heart of the discipline is doubt, enigma, paradox, and insecurity.
With this overtly political provocation as a context, we welcome submissions that explore how, when, and why one would subvert the traditional mythology of the functional object. We are interested in asking, how does one deploy such subversions and what are the consequences of such? In the interest of debate within the session, we also seek submissions that radically uphold the myth of the functional object, arguing for stability and certainty as enduring traits fundamental to how architecture makes its appearances. How might one maintain the identity of a practice as uniquely architectural? Further, this session seeks submissions that explore the plausibility and implausibility of architecture. While most representations of the future foreground the likelihood that a building will exist, what can be made of those representations that plumb the unlikelihood that architecture will make an identifiable appearance? More generally, How do architects own those qualities that secretly fascinate? And how do we tell our secrets? Is it not the case that those secrets, if told vividly, could frame access to a deep engagement with architecture's politics of appearance?
Kiel Moe & Salmaan Craig, McGill University
Before the activity of construction becomes Architecture, it is ecological. Buildings have always been supported by environments, just as they have ever hosted and altered them. Now, through the process of building and by fuelling our indoor activity, we perturb the climate-ocean system and reconfigure the lithosphere. Architects cannot escape being ecological, even if they conceptualize the discipline otherwise. We are actors in an industry that knits a vast web of human and non-human power relations in the earth-system.
If, therefore, our ecological entanglement is axiomatic, then its occlusion from architecture pedagogy is aberrant. Prevailing North American curricula over the last century have introduced would-be architects to the subject of environment-making almost exclusively through an industrial apparatus consisting of equipment, standards, and procedures. Even Rayner Banham wasn’t immune to the lure of these devices. The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment set out to chart a revolutionary account of of environment-making. Instead, it delivered an art-historical argument for elevating the status of weather-making machines to cultural objects worthy of dictating the formal composition of Architecture. But the problem with monumentalizing weather-machines is that, like all technologies, they evolve. Just because our buildings must contend with a cluster-duct of services technology today, doesn’t mean they will need to in the future. Even a casual survey of Architecture before equipment, and of recent progress in materials science, confirms as much.
Gilbert Simondon observed that early versions of technologies bear the mark of their mental origin, with functions and processes partitioned according to analytical separations which do not exist as such in physical reality. In later generations, this artificiality disappears as functions and processes become increasingly interdependent, eventually revealing and reflecting the structures of the physical world. If the evolution of technical artifacts is the result of human actions, but not necessarily of human design, we should prepare architects with the capacity to engage critically with technology so that, instead of being passengers, they can collectively steer the evolution of architecture's technological ensembles. Continuing to outsource environmental curricula to experts in narrowly defined technical fields only denies young architects of the means to convince technocrats, bureaucrats, corporations, and, most importantly, themselves that buildings are much more than decorated real-estate or over-insulated weather-boxes with the option of a green sticker.
This session invites papers that challenge the pedagogical orthodoxy with regards to environmental technologies and material ecologies. Have you developed a critical narrative that transcends the tired impasse between a managerial rhetorics of performance and a sentimental rhetorics of vernacular? Likewise, how does your pedagogy transform the apolitical and ahistorical way in which traditional environmental content is taught as inexplicably distinct from design? In short, how should we teach the matter of our ecological entanglement, and approach the question of how to respond as architects? We are especially interested in ecological treatments of, and experimental models in, core (required) history, studio, and technology courses. That is experiments and methods which productively blur the artificial separation between materials and technology, and between technology, design, and history.
Cyrus Peñarroyo, University of Michigan
Images are everywhere in contemporary culture: illuminated through pixel, embossed in neuron, stored in silicon, and still ever-present in a range of photographic reproductions. Once theorized primarily as representations of past events or projections of future visions, the sheer ubiquity of images – the amount of physical and virtual space they occupy in our world – demands that they now be understood as objects in their own right. Indeed, images now constitute an increasing proportion of the stuff around us. And yet the matter of images remains conceptually elusive. If images are now a ubiquitous part of our material reality, and the ability to confront “the real” is a core tenet of our discipline, could architecture offer new insights into the status of the materiality of images? This session seeks to explore this question.
Architects have always relied on images and their associated technologies to construct possible realities. Rarely do we engage a building or urban environment without expectations that have been prefigured by images, and our contemporary media ecology has tutored its audiences in modes of image recognition that are still only dimly understood. Such a culture of image apprehension might retool architecture’s historic role as a medium of symbolism and representation – transcending and revising prior notions of architectural legibility, iconicity, and monumentality. Meanwhile, and more than ever, images have consumed the architectural discipline. We work in software with raster-logics, we produce images to communicate to clients and consultants, and the speed and tempo of architectural culture has been tuned to the trending Instagram feed or design blog. Images are the discipline’s primary mode of dissemination, and the “stuff” of architecture is always in circulation.
This session invites papers addressing the materiality of images and speculations on how image-making might change architecture’s appearance in the world. How might we more precisely define the word “image” and, consequently, its terms of engagement? How are architectural images constructed, and how do they perform differently from other kinds of images? How might a more focused examination of image culture generate new and meaningful trajectories for the discipline of architecture?
Longer Views: Integrating the History and Studio Sequences
Margot Lystra, Cornell University & Erin Putalik, University of Pennsylvania
In a contemporary milieu characterized by global environmental challenges, it is increasingly essential that design education foster, within students, the ability to think and imagine transformative action across an immense range of physical and temporal scales. Dynamic conditions such as climatological change, building and infrastructure aging, contamination flows, mass human and animal migrations, and resource depletion all require a capacity to situate the predicaments and concerns of the present within a long history of human environmental modification.
Engaging with these concerns might necessitate a reappraisal of the tasks and methods of both history and studio within the core sequence, and suggest potentials for their closer integration with each other. It might reveal that the traditional semester-long studio project –in which a building or landscape is conceived, designed, and left behind—no longer enables a meaningful engagement with the complex of conditions that characterize many contemporary building projects and constructed sites. Similarly, conventional methods of teaching history as fully apart from design studio reinforce this disjunction between the present and the past, positioning students and their efforts as somehow not part of a long continuum of design speculation and production, and land and resource use.
In what ways might a more careful contextualization of studio work within our long disciplinary history of inquiry and action begin to redress this temporal myopia? If the history courses that are often separated from the rest of design education were integrated into the studio sequence, how might this bear on the generation of disciplinary knowledge via historical and design research? What challenges and opportunities does this pose for the historian, when her/his work is more openly and willingly framed as necessarily (or at least potentially) instrumental? Alternately, how might this history-studio integration inherently require a clarification or delineation of the value of historical methodologies and expertise?
In this session, we invite papers that explore such questions by considering how the separation of design history from studio education has impacted how we to situate our studio projects within (or against) the grander "projects" of our fields. Papers might propose new historical methodologies for design contexts; explore studio pedagogies that actively incorporate historical information in teaching design for dynamic conditions; or describe teaching methods that integrate historical and design study towards designing for environmental and social transformation. Papers might also speculate more broadly about how the exploration of new historical approaches and frameworks might be useful in expanding our temporal view, so that we may prepare students to design with longer temporalities, rather than against them.
Ane Gonzalez Lara, University of New Mexico
Open architecture competitions are platforms that challenge the way we think about architecture. Accordingly, their usual short format also challenge and push the limits of representation techniques. La Villete, Sydney’s Opera House or the Vietnam Memorial (among others) are projects that have shaped our profession and that have enabled young architects to share their ideas internationally. Whereas winning a competition does not always grant a commission, sometimes, participating in such conversations is a great way to promote and test ideas. While winning a competition is usually conceived as the ultimate goal of participating in them, sometimes, the projects that are not selected are the ones that advance and impact our discipline most.
In Europe and South America, architecture competitions are a common way of generating and promoting new and young architecture firms. A large number of architecture offices in these regions have emerged after winning an open architecture competition and being commissioned with the design of the project afterwards. In the United States, however, open competitions without a prior RFQ are hardly found in the realm of our practice. This system favors the more senior offices with more staff and experience leaving almost no room for participation to younger offices.
While some offices and schools promote participation in design competitions, others argue that competitions are a way to produce free labor to the detriment of our profession. In 2014, the competition to propose a Guggenheim museum in Helsinki generated 1,715 entries on its first stage, ranking as the competition with the most entries of all time. This competition generated multiple opinions regarding the value of architectural competitions and their benefit to our profession. In the article published at The Avery Review titled The Guggenheim Helsinki Competition: What is the Value Proposition? (link), Peggy Deamer argued that “[i]t is not the particularly poor odds at work here but rather the fact that we subscribe to a savior myth that deflects us from dealing with our essential economic precarity, which prevents us architects from applying our valuable time to productive things. (…) In the case of the Helsinki competition, the value of the free-labor hours put in by all the entrants combined could be donated to, say, developing a new amphibious community to survive sea-level rise”.
While the chances of winning an open architecture competition are fairly low, there is still a large number of firms, sole practitioners and schools that defend this method of generating new projects, but are architectural competitions a positive tool that promotes the practice of architecture? Or are competitions working to the disservice of the profession? Does this mode of generating free labor provide any good service to architects? Should architectural competitions be promoted at architecture schools or be abandoned altogether?
This session invites proposals that examine the outcomes of participating in open architecture competitions, the use of architectural competitions in design studios, case studies, proposals and design-research that explore the opportunities and challenges of participating in open architectural competitions.
Gail Peter Borden, University of Houston
The role of materiality in architecture is paramount in contemporary discourse. The engagement of the physicality of matter with emergent processes of digital design and fabrication has bred a new architecture of effectual tactility. The essentialism of this engagement with material through new digital agendas has produced a new architectural methodology. This session topic seeks projects founded in the relationship between the virtuality of the digital and tactile effect of physical materiality. Confronting the role of meaning in making, the focus of this session is precedent based investigations [historical, pedagogical, theoretical, or built] that celebrate the inter-relationship of architecture and materials.
This introduction of materials into the design process not simply as a means of execution but as a collaborative partner in the design process has changed the significance of their presence in architectural thinking. Arguing for a "new materialism" the traditions of historical methods of construction as well as emerging material technologies is allowing for greater functional, physical and spatial capabilities.
The role of vernacular thinking, economics of production, conventions of construction and project delivery are all fertile territory for the rethinking of a material architecture. Beginning the conversation with the material itself, evolving to the development of the part [periodic form] and the systemization of this to the control and effect of systematized assembly to produce a collective effect [global form]: the relationship of the matter to the part, the part to the system, and the system to the whole become the primary scales of engagement.
The evolution of visualization, simulation, parametric design and fabrication has elicited a response from materials. The translation from the digital to the physical through fabrication and construction requires a new dialogue with materials - one founded in testing and experimentation. The material response to form and function has accelerated to meet the challenges of digital systemization and performance. The physical practicalities and issues emerging from this translation are of paramount importance in the ability of the translation. Concerned with the development of both the conversion from the conceptual to the applied and the digital to the material [projects could include either or both] the conversation is rooted firmly in the resulting impact on the tactile, phenomenological, spatial and experiential. This session will focus on this new lens through which to view architecture.
This topic seeks papers that are intrinsically engaging the potential of material. Encouraged methods / projects for discussion will include: historical material precedents, economies of from and fabrication, design build fabrications, translations from digital to physical, material investigations, and any projects that celebrate digital, matter and material processes in architectural production.
Being Versus Becoming the Core of Architecture
David Fannon, Michelle Laboy, & Peter H. Wiederspahn, Northeastern University
“The problematization of time entails a challenge to the primacy of the role of space, and the reintroduction of the classical problem of becoming in opposition to that of Being.”
—Sanford Kwinter Architectures of Time
While superficially a discipline concerned with the shaping of space, the core of architecture lies in design of time, particularly seeking to reify a desired future through the means of the physical environment. We think of buildings as permanent, as establishing the world, as constructing reality. Architecture assumes not only the idealism of creating a different world, but that the cultural and practical actions of making will inscribe a permanent mark, a territorial transformation, that creates a new world. Yet the world we seek to change was itself created, the process of building is itself change, and even durable buildings are never static. Stewart Brand described a building as something started but never finished, and indeed, there is no key moment when a building can be described as complete as they evolve forever, fitfully. The act of building is in fact only the beginning of a process of persistent transformation.
This tension is the core of architecture: to stand amidst the already-present, to imaging the not-yet, and to seek to mold the yet-to-be. Architecture often assumes that changes, once made, will be permanent and eternal, when in fact the only permanent thing is inexorable change itself. Absent from both architectural pedagogy and practice is an explicit response to buildings over time and the inevitable transformations of use, technologies, cultural and economic demands. What role can design research play in this problem of being versus becoming? How does it expand the possibilities of that imagined future, or incorporate its changefulness? What methods are appropriate for and unique to these questions of time and space, change and constancy?
We welcome a range of research approaches and results that interrogate architecture’s core of being and becoming from theoretical, practical, or instructional directions. Papers and project that addresses the tension between being and becoming and/or anticipate or participate in change over time are particularly welcome.
Computer Composition: Design After Machine Learning
James D Macgillivray & Wei-Han Vivian Lee, University of Toronto
In his wide ranging study Composition and Non-Composition, Jacques Lucan describes how essential composition has been to the discipline and practice of architecture but also how it has changed and evolved. His definition has it that “In architecture, to compose is to conceive a building following principles or rules that certain architects have attempted to set forth.” Symmetry, balance, the grid and type, even non-composition--the principles change over time, evolve or are completely discarded. These provisional rules differentiate the field within which the architect can act with certain constraints. Later the same principles become the criteria by which the design of the building are evaluated.
With the ascendance of data in design methodologies of the academy and practice, the architect’s field of action is similarly prefigured, albeit at the behest of automated processes of data visualization. Similarly the evaluation of the architect’s design can be accomplished through the use of building information modeling. Even if the reality is far more human than the current rhetoric claims they are, the message is clear: what was once the purview of human principles and rules is now far too complex and would be better accomplished by automated means.
Needless to say, these concerns for complexity--the speed with which computer automation can dispatch problems of firmitas and utilitas--are eclipsed by the fact that venustas appears to be within the reach of the robot as well. That is to say that the act of composition, this act that is the stubbornly human part of architecture’s core, is ultimately only a matter of laws which can be easily learned by artificial intelligence. Many architects write code for a parametric system that results in many iterations from which they choose the final form. This act of choice, something Amazon’s mechanical turk utility would call a “Human Intelligence Task” is tantamount to a kind of composition. The fact that we can’t program the last step seems to safeguard and accentuate its essentially human nature, but also more clearly delineates it as the quarry of machine learning’s slow but inevitable conquest.
This session is looking for papers that explore how automated processes, be they parametric, based in information modeling or artificial intelligence, have affected the process of composition. If your design method has integrated the use of automated processes, when does it do so and under what conditions? Do you give the robot full control and discretion to make decisions on the appearance or arrangement of a project or is it actually controlled and circumscribed by a human author? Where do you draw the line between low level tasks (eg: the automated scripting of window aperture size relative to desired daylighting targets) and high level tasks (eg: the overall appearance of the building or its spatial sequence)? Through an honest discussion of design methods this session aims to determine whether the composition of architecture is at some level still the work of humans or if our own design agency is ultimately more ornamental than we thought.
Thesis or Moonshot? Breaking the Traditional Portfolio to Practice Pipeline
Matthew Claudel & Anthony P. Vanky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
For many, the portfolio is a rite of passage. But some notable figures in the discipline of architecture – Philip Johnson, Moshe Safdie and Thomas Heatherwick among them – have short-circuited the traditional path to practice. Building their theses vaulted them into the architecture profession, and launched their careers. With some mixture of luck and skill and tenacity, they “hacked” architectural pedagogy. They didn’t make a portfolio – they made the entrepreneurial moonshots that would lay foundations for a career.
We observe, polemically that these audacious young architects are the exception. Why has the architectural education system done so little to give more agency to students in practice?
Now is the moment to critically examine the question of education’s “deliverable;” what students walk away with, in addition to a diploma. Architectural practice is tumbling through a dizzying kaleidoscope of change. Tools like rapid prototyping and digital production are enabling experimentation and fabrication at a low cost. The path from concept to execution is shrinking; the distance between design proposition and product (or practice) is trivial. The MIT Media Lab has tracked (or, perhaps, driven) this shift in its wry twist on “Publish or Perish”: students are encouraged to “Deploy or Die.” Meanwhile, a tide of entrepreneurship centers, hackathons and venture resources is rising, especially on university campuses. There is an embarrassment of riches at the fingertips of students who have bold ideas. If the role of architects (even architecture itself) is being redefined, how can our schools respond? How can they empower students and expand opportunities?
This session will explore institutional programs at the overlap of learning and practice. It invites projects and approaches that examine how pedagogy has responded to technological, social, spatial, and political opportunities for deployment, and how programs have engaged the path to practice (or at least blurred the boundary between them). This session invites projects, case studies, and proposals that explore mechanisms for implementation across an architectural curriculum and/or within a design pedagogy. It questions whether the path that Philip Johnson, Moshe Safdie and Thomas Heatherwick followed was the right one at all. Deploy or die… folly or critical path1?
1. R. Buckminster Fuller. Critical Path. St. Martin's Press, 1981.
McLain Clutter, University of Michigan
The briskly paced decades since data emerged as a prominent subject in architecture and urbanism have witnessed sufficient discourse around the topic for predictable patterns to emerge. One side of the ideological spectrum argues that data-enabled algorithms will usher forth a techno-utopian future of smart cities, expanded access, sustainability, efficient governance, and highly performative architecture. Our built environments will sense, predict our needs, and integrate feedback into an optimized total system draped in a polite left-of-center Macintosh-modernist aesthetic. At the same time, the opposite of the ideological spectrum routinely cautions that data collection and instrumentalization practices are conspicuously intertwined with corporate interests, that they threaten the privacy of urban residents, that they flirt with authoritarianism in their means of spatial control, and that they impose a narrow epistemological regime – privileging extant quantitative variation over latent qualitative difference. Such arguments seek to find agency in the outrage of their audiences. Somewhere in-between, data is simply held up as yet another tool for ostensibly autonomous formal generation amongst a set habitually averse to politics in their aesthetics.
Even while the above silos of thought become conventionalized, the proliferation of data production by our buildings, cities, and publics – as well as corporate and governmental data mining, cutting, aggregating, buying, and selling – grows evermore vast. The ground truth of such rapid expansion renders conventional ideological proclivities toothless. We do live in a near-seamless total system of data production, aggregation, and predictive analytics. And yet this system is optimized to send you a push notification for a dollar-off coupon for a Frappuccino when within a quarter mile of your local Starbucks, not to usher in a techno-utopian future. And while data production and instrumentalization practices are indeed complexly intertwined with corporate interests, the general public is not outraged. They enjoy the Frappuccino. Meanwhile, the impact of architecture’s digital and parametric formalists pales in comparison to that of the everyday data manipulation in architectural practice in the form of Building Information Management softwares and their performance simulation extensions. Indeed, data is everywhere in architectural practice and urban space. Not foregrounded as topic and technique, but ever present in the background as a ubiquitous and pervasive context.
This session seeks papers and projects that articulate alternative trajectories for data in architecture and urbanism – novel approaches to our present data-density that might reformat present disciplinary discourse. The session is less interested in how to make architecture with algorithms that in how to make architecture in a contexts where algorithms make everything. What are architecture’s statistical imaginaries? What might constitute a data-based critical contextualism? What aesthetic regimes might emerge from the ubiquity of data in the architectural and urban spheres? How can we hack the system and to what effect? What would it mean if data management were at the core of our discipline? If the new metropolitan type is the data-blasé, what’s at stake for the architecture of the city?
Draw(in)g to a (W)hole
Nathan Hume, University of Pennsylvania
Remember when the digital revolution made drawing obsolete, absolutely killed the drawing once and for all? Orthographic projection left the field, plan obliques were never heard from again, and sections became a quaint idea from the past. Rich centuries long traditions of skill, convention, and expertise upended. The traditional academic sequence of moving from hand sketching to drafting plans, expanding to paraline drawings and then constructing perspectives was obliterated. The history of representation no longer needed and therefore replaced by software tutorials and digital fabrication courses. A new path for the production of architecture clearly laid open. Except strangely a bunch of architects wouldn't let go, especially the younger ones. They concerned themselves with history and even the politics of representation. Their students started drawing isometrics again and they even forgot that collage had died. Titles of recent events and essays confirm the confusion over the apparent death and then refusal to let drawing go gently into the night – Is Drawing Dead, Drawings' Conclusions, Post Digital Drawing, Drawing Futures, The Drawing Show!
Some of these tendencies are a reaction against the wave of digital imagery from the last two decades. The backlash produces a certain amount of concern about this being a regressive phase. After all, the prefix 're' has been thrown around a lot lately in the field – resist, return, retreat, recycle, redux, repeat, revival. But even in the most nostalgic examples the techniques and processes are completely overhauled through new technology and platforms. If the teaching of drawing now includes augmented reality and information modeling alongside pastel isometrics, what are the potentials for representation as a fundamental aspect of the discipline? Drawings and pictures have become more synonymous. The same pixels which form today's photos, videos, and graphics also construct those isometrics. This overlap is apparent in the ways photos, drawings, and videos coexist on the same platforms of virtual dissemination and consumption, a condition which seems to be giving drawings an audience as large as ever. The current reappraisal of representation and absorption of new tools into the field present a ripe moment for questioning drawing and its role at the core of architecture.
Robin Evans's statement that “Architects don't make buildings; they make drawings of building” still holds true although his diagram can now be expanded beyond the traditional projection methods to include these new realms of visualization. There are many questions to attack in this session. What territory can representation operate on and how can that potential be expanded? In a culture awash with images how do we productively operate and instigate? What are the politics of drawing, the image, and representation? How do we engage a generation of students with the power of drawing and image making? What lessons from our powerful history of representation are resonant right now? How has the drawing been changed by technology and culture in the past two decades? How can the teaching of it reflect more intensely those changes?
Architecture, Engineering and the Multiplicity of the Creative Process
Brett Schneider, Rhode Island School of Design
Architecture is not simply the work of architects. It requires an orchestra of designers including architects, engineers (of many types), and many other specialists. The interplay between these participants can become an active and positive influence on the overall design process. For instance, why is it that Louis Kahn’s best work resulted from his collaboration with the structural engineer August Kommendant? In part, the answer is that strong creative voices in aligned fields can have a complementary effect where the end result is greater than the sum of the contributing parts.
For the purpose of this discussion, we can model the design process as simply the translation of an idea into an output. There are a series of Banham’s black boxes – one for each discipline. The creative process which lies in each is not easily decoded but the interaction between them does perhaps provide important clues to their contents. Like a star orbiting a black hole it is the interaction that provides evidence of the black hole that cannot be directly observed. How can we consider interaction between these processes of related disciplines in the same way as the star and the black hole?
In a case like Kahn and Kommendant, the base idea for the work is a shared one, but it is translated differently within each of these black boxes. It is through this shared basis in an idea (or model) that these processes are entwined and to which they must return. Note that this requires an engagement not guaranteed in conventional practice where design processes may seek independence for efficiency or other reasons.
Schools of architecture in particular are filled not just with architects, but also engineers, coders, drawers, writers, theorists, artists, etc. How do we affect each other? This session seeks participants from both architecture and related disciplines/fields to discuss this interaction through examples of collaboration – conventional and unconventional. How do the tools of each field react to the limits imposed by others? How does the perspective of each designer change based on interaction with others? The hypothesis is that separate disciplines are enriched by this interaction and that this interaction can be identified, interrogated, and built upon as we develop.
After the Flow - Architectural Urbanism(s) in the Post-digital Era
Martin Haettasch, University of Texas at Austin
In recent years – maybe as a reaction to the boundless expansion of the field of architecture into territories, flows, and networks – there has been a renewed interest in (re)defining architecture’s disciplinary core. Yet, this expansion of the discipline from the 1990’s onward also enabled a rich and diverse set of practices and research to integrate urbanism, infrastructure, landscape, and architecture by blurring boundaries between architecture and urbanism, object and city, organization and form.
In light of a debate refocused on architecture’s (disciplinary) core, the question inevitably arises how this new focus will impact architects’ thinking about the city. Maintaining that there is an intrinsic link between architecture and the city, this session proposes to interrogate possible natures of the relationship between architecture and urbanism beyond the digital paradigm and its focus on networks, informality, “softness”, and parametric strategies.
The current debate echoes – to an extent – a paradigm shift that took place in the 1960’s, when a systemic thinking about the city (exemplified, for example, by Team 10’s seamless integration of the architectural and the urban scale, or Reyner Banham’s systems-driven approach to a holistic habitat) gave way to rethinking the discrete architectural object in the city through the lens of morphology typology, or monumentality, in the work of a new generation of architects such as Aldo Rossi or O.M. Ungers. Coupled with an increased focus on what Ungers called “architectural problems” this shift opened up a new perspective on the postmodern city as a multilayered, dialectic, and often fragmented entity.
Is today’s shift (back) towards architecture’s core equally indicative of a paradigm shift regarding architecture’s role in the city? If so, can we still learn from past strategies, or do we have to invent new ones? And most importantly, what can a (re)articulation of architecture’s core teach us about the city today?
This session seeks to collect and disseminate strategies, projects, and research that address the question of architecture’s agency in the city from within architecture’s core. The tentative framework of an “architectural urbanism” may include questions of the agency of the formally finite object in the city, monumentalities, urban acupuncture or other strategies at a scale between architecture and urbanism. Speculations on the architectural object in the city are as welcome as speculations on the city as architectural object. We are particularly interested in research that draws upon architecture’s core competencies and/or methods (including, but not limited to form, space, and representation) in order to enable new ways of engaging with the city that may not typically be considered traditional instruments of urbanism.
Geometry, the Metrics of Space and Its Architectural Instruments
Joel Lamere, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
It is tempting to cast the discipline of geometry as a co-conspirator in the excesses of the digital project. The digital turn was accompanied, after all, by breathless proclamations of the promise of “digital formalism,” and “topological space.” The prominent discourse of that moment, as exemplified in Greg Lynn’s Animate Form from 1999, spuriously argued that digital processes, and particularly the capacity of computers to handle complex calculus-based curvature, completely liberated architectural form from its earlier constraints. In this framework, newly-describable geometries are directly responsible for shedding many criteria that previously conditioned architecture.
The consequences are clear: prolific output, through parametric and computational methods that champion endless variation and indeterminacy. As such, the problem of critiquing, characterizing and qualifying these myriad manifestations of digital prowess still looms large over our generation. The discipline is left in need of a richer framework for closely reading and critically assessing this immense output. The post-digital response, as an antidote to the formal exuberance and unrelenting techno-optimism of the digital project, has revitalized debates around representation, reference, symbolism and narrative. Though fashionable, these pre-occupations are also deliberately regressive.
But it was the rhetorical misuse of geometry, not geometry considered more carefully, that contributed to our predicament. Running counter to the prevailing posture of the digitalists, Bernard Cache offered:
“Willingly or not, architects measure things, and this implies a metric. To be sure, we may want to remind ourselves of the formless topological background common to all saturated geometries, Euclidian or otherwise. But this reminder demands accurate work on curvature. Only by mastering the metrics can we make people forget Euclid.” (Cache, Projectiles, “Plea for Euclid,” p.40)
With these sentiments, this session agrees. Rather than as an alibi for eroding constraints or formal autonomy, the better characterization of geometry: an intrinsic discipline at architecture’s core. So long as measure matters - as it relates both to the space of human occupation and to the description of objects - geometry is a central concern. We ignore the specific characteristics of objects at architecture's peril. Taken further, all of the design tools that permit the fluid formal outcomes which make our digital moment so overwhelming emulate, at their core, spatial geometry. A deep understanding of that geometric basis cedes less to the instruments themselves. Geometry, understood deeply, is neither regressive nor uncritical; it internalizes recent advancements, but with the flavor of much longer histories.
This session seeks submissions that address the enduring role of geometry in pedagogy and practice. It welcomes speculation on post-orthographic projection, non-computational description, pre-rationalized form, geometric syntax, and many other unfashionable topics.
Architecture of Attunement and Planetary Ecology
Dana Cupkova, Carnegie Mellon University
“Since a thing can't be known directly or totally, one can only attune to it, with greater or lesser degrees of intimacy. Nor is this attunement a “merely” aesthetic approach to a basically blank extensional substance. Since appearance can't be peeled decisively from the reality of a thing, attunement is a living, dynamic relation with another being.”
Timothy Morton (Ecology without Nature, 2014)
The current discourse appears to promote a shift away from context and move again towards autonomy of an architectural object. This effort that tends to return to binary disciplinary dialectics of center and periphery is not new. Architecture as a form of creative knowledge has always emerged from twinned poles of art and science, producing acute ambivalence between the determinacy of the known and ineffability of the sublime. However, it is within this gap that the history of architectural education has found the most effective and creative way of design thinking.
The ambition of this panel is to examine architectures that inquire into energy and matter as a primary inspiration, while re-examining the role of context as a descriptive force. Performative models for design have now exhausted their breath and fidelity largely by reducing context to a fixed information set, queried through measured simulation sets in a singular moment in time and space. Promoting a shift away from the data-driven rationales of performative models the desire of this panel is to tap into architectural sensorial subjectivity as part of the aesthetic and ecological experience. Are there new emerging descriptions of the context that allows us to attune design of architectural object? What is the role of context in this framework relative to aspirations of architecture? What are the current or alternative descriptions of context that deviate from pragmatics of environmentalism?
The hope of this panel is to unpack design thinking and move toward what Timothy Morton describes as “the underlying connectedness of all things”. Ultimately, this panel hopes to examine the possible conditions of “attunement”, with a curiosity to reexamine the role of context in creation of architectural objects. Rather than tuning architectures into a context, the space between context and architectures could be open to design.
Centered around a belief that architecture is fundamentally a part of larger planetary ecology, this panel is in search of submissions and design contributions that seek productive ways of discussing the design process that engage the issue of contextual attunement beyond the environmentalist paradigm, questioning the implication of binary logic of object versus social responsibility. Engaging at multiple scales and material productions, the focus is on exploring a productive tension between the disciplinary fringe and the center, between architecture and its socio-ecological realities or fictional contingencies that seek to reposition the aspects of scientific notions qualitative to the design of architecture.
Drawing's Tacit Practices
Paul F. Emmons & Ezgi Isbilen, Virginia Tech
While Reyner Banham recognizes the unique yet unexplained place of drawing in the formation of tacit knowledge in the “Black Box: The Secret Profession of Architecture,” the importance of drawing for architecture certainly pre-dates Banham’s 1990 essay. Vitruvius describes an encyclopedic range of knowledge necessary to practice architecture in De architectura, but he positions drawing as the one requirement with which architects must be “skillful.”
Architectural drawing is largely tacit knowledge that is known through the body as much as through the mind as ways of thinking embedded in ways of operating. Tacit knowledge is, as Michael Polanyi (The Tacit Dimension) explained, how “we know more than we can tell” and can be difficult to articulate, even upon reflection. Most of our knowledge is tacit; it is the well of experience we build up from childhood to which we add a smaller subset of rational knowledge. Some tacit knowledge cannot be made explicit. We can recognize the face of a friend, but it is nearly impossible to explain how we actually identify another human face. The tacit knowledge of drawing practices is usually unspoken but often can be made explicit. A skill can be acquired, even if it can’t be put into words. Polanyi wrote that “the tacit is the ineffable domain of skillful knowing.” This session moves beyond the dichotomy of tacit/explicit, to examine the variety of forms of tacit knowledge, including that which is ineffable, that which is usually not uttered but can be articulated, and that which is once inarticulate but at another time is brought to light.
Architectural drawing practices define shared professional knowledge and encompass its evolving ways of operating. Anthropologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu (The Logic of Practice) explains that the habitus of a profession is the network of dispositions toward doing things in a certain way. Unlike the common idea of habit as unthinking repetition, a habitus is continually adapted and improvised in new situations. A well-mastered habitus of architectural drawing practices allows an architect to draw while focusing attention not on making representations, but rather on the particularities of the design itself. As Le Corbusier explained, in designing ideas often travel from the hand to the head.
While studies of architectural drawing tend to focus either on connoisseurship of the beautiful or on technologies of production, this session looks to explore the habitus of architectural drawing practices in the inter-relation between the tacit and the explicit. How are architectural drawing practices cultural, historical and, as Banham suggested, ritualized? How do drawing practices relate to architectural design? How are architecture’s tacit practice skills related to its explicit theorization? This session explores specific drawing practices, whether drawing types, drawing marks and lines, drawing media and instruments, or drawing techniques to explore the roll of tacit knowledge in architectural practices.
ACSA will offers an open sessions for papers that do not fit under Topic Sessions, but is consistent with the general theme of the conference, The Black Box: Articulating Architecture's Core in the Post-Digital Era. We encourage the submission of well-crafted papers on topics that explore a range of issues within architectural education and practice. The selected papers will be grouped according to overarching themes that emerge from the open call.