2021 ACSA Teachers Conference, Curriculum for Climate Agency: Design in Action

Business as Unusual: Pedagogical Experiments at ESALA

Teachers Proceedings

Author(s): Moa Carlsson, Simone Ferracina & Remo Pedreschi

The relationship between design, material processes and their application has been a consistent theme in the teaching and research at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA), at the University of Edinburgh. This work was strengthened and consolidated with the formation of the Architectural Research Workshop (ARW), and with its increased ability to produce large-scale prototypes, and has intensified in recent years as we rethink architectural pedagogy in response to the impacts of climate breakdown and its associated injustices. This paper presents a selection of courses and pedagogies, developed by academic staff at ESALA, that seek to take the environmental crisis as an opportunity to prototype novel construction materials, fabrication protocols, and architectural design methods, foregrounding an open-ended design process that privileges encounters with pre-existing materials over the architect’s own aspirations and ideas. In three teaching projects, and across several years and programmes, we outline an approach that emphasizes reuse and repurposing practices in relation to making (material processes and affordances) and making visible (diverting material flows; reclaiming values and valuing protocols). The three projects discussed—the MSc program “Material Practice,” and two studio options within the BA/MA under-graduate Architecture Honors Program (a third-year unit entitled “Radical Coauthorship,” and a fourth-year one entitled “No Blank Slate”)—encourage a direct engagement with material histories and ecologies (surveys and classifications) and fabrication processes (experiments and full-scale prototyping), demonstrating a probabilistic approach that draws and develops designs from latent and embodied opportunities. These approaches demand that work be not (only) assessed according to final outputs (the considered object or building as desirable outcome), but in relation to the technical platforms, material flows, supply chains, and labor practices associated with them, questioning our very assumptions and biases in the adjudication of meaning, beauty, and value.


Volume Editors
Jonathan A. Scelsa & Jørgen Johan Tandberg