One and Many Details: Considering the Contingencies of Building as Empirical Evidence for Architectural Pedagogy

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The study of built objects has always played a key role in the education of the architect. At the earliest stages of training most of us sat in front of buildings and drew them, trying to capture their overall features and minute details. What appears simple is, in fact, an extremely meaningful exercise. It presumes that drawing an existing object allows us to understand what decisions were made in its conception, granted that evidence of those decisions is actually there, congealed as empirical evidence and available for further use.

As students advance in their studies, this close attention to objects and the decisions that define them gives way to more complex reflections. Final year students seldom sit in front of buildings and draw them. Their fascination with societal issues and formal innovation seems to leave little room to ponder on the apparently simple ways in which materials come together. Likewise, interest in the built as a source of knowledge appears to wane among faculty who inclined towards fashionable forms of scholarship outsource technological research and education to engineers and other pragmatists.
While architectural education’s turn towards the humanities offers new and exciting possibilities, the relegation of the built to a mere problem-solving role is not without its consequences. Among them, perhaps the most unfortunate outcome of assuming construction as applied, externally produced knowledge, is that it robs us of rare and precious insight that is ingrained in the built.

Looking for that insight, we will describe how a design studio can use construction as a means for students to produce and develop their own architectural knowledge. Our description will be favored by an outline of the supporting theory, the epistemology we used to operate it, and the methodology employed to teach the course.

Throughout a ten-week period, we accompanied a group of sixteen master’s students in their process of exploration, evaluation and discovery of four details from existing buildings. Our goal, and the challenge we presented to the group, was to obtain from these details a theory and a new design.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherTACK Publishing Platform
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • collective tacit knowledge
  • embedded knowledge
  • architecture
  • craft
  • design process
  • material culture
  • pedagogy


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