Lindy Weston December, 2006
I propose that a manner of action is needed in order for the making of our built environment to yield knowledge.
The relationship between making and knowing within our built environment is most easily understood when considering the relationship between form and material.
The form that some thing takes is a realization or fulfilment of the potential inherent in the material, but the potential of the material is only realized in its form. The different possibilities of wood, stone, and metal become fully articulated in the act of making and forming. In this manner the act of making becomes an act of knowing.
If through forming the material we come to know the material, a problem presents itself when considering the contemporary manner of working; the architect to builder relationship. The contemporary architect works in a manner of representation through construction documents, which are passed on to be constructed; these construction documents are a representation of what is to be built The architects relation to material is distanced and representational. The problem that representation brings is the possibility it opens for arbitrary solutions due to the seemingly antithetical nature of representation to knowledge.
The manner of how we come to know is through an inescapable appropriation, or in other words, through a directness whereby the knower is not aware of the knower. This notion of knowledge of course excludes representation, but what is to be determined is how the creation of representational documents of our built environment is or is not knowledge.
The Architectural method of working need be a certain directness whereby the act of making is an investigation that reveals certain understanding. The necessity of exploring a manner of working was established by Mark Hewitt with the acknowledgment that, “Investigation of the conceptual processes followed by significant architectural designers such as Wright, Le Corbusier, and Borromini has not been attempted in any systematic way”. Despite Mark Hewitt’s emphasis on ‘conceptual process’, we can see that understanding how an Architect comes to know is lacking.
Recent architectural theory has drifted away from the prominence once given to material as it relates to knowledge. A cardinal principle of early modernist architecture stressed the importance of material; “Architecture is the expression of the materials and methods of our times.” – Le Corbusier. After the dominance of such notions for the first half of the twentieth century, a post-modern backlash took place that looked to critique what came before. The post-moderns often adopted linguistic theories and semiotics in order to re-interpret architecture under a common ideology of socially constructed meaning.
Today we are left with an architecture that is divided into theory and practice, each having less and less to do with the other, all to the detriment of our built environment. The practice of constructing our built environment is seen to be a commercial endeavour, and as such decisions are made in order to generate more profit. The most cost effective construction example is the strip mall. It consists of a single building, or adjacent single story buildings surrounded by parking lots. The single story building has a flat roof constructed of thin, cheap material with minimal insulation material. The light steel frame is quickly and easily assembled and often coupled with concrete block wall construction. The construction documents are often kept on file and sold to many different customers; theory or any further analysis is absent. The complaint often heard of anomie and urban dehumanization is due to how architects conduct their business. A very real lack of appropriateness and dehumanization occurs from architecture as representation precisely because of the division between theory and practice.
Therefore, in my research I will begin by coming to terms with representation in the act of making architecture; what place, if any, does representation have. I will follow this by exploring the history of architectural making. While an exploration and comparison of individual architects process is possible, I will instead focus on a chronological exploration of architectural making in order to not exclude periods in history when individual architects were not recognized; for instance the Greek or medieval period. I will conclude with an articulation of an architectural manner of working. Given the history of architectural making, and given contemporary tools, I shall offer a revised method of working.
Introduction: History of making Architecture
Common themes present in current literature on the history of Architectural making are: Greek Architecture and the lack of drawings, medieval masons use of full-scale templates, section perspective drawings supplanting orthogonal drawings in the renaissance, and a Cartesian method of geometrical drawing that followed a rigid grid in the middle eighteenth century. What is particularly interesting is the move of Architect as master mason in the medieval period to the Architect as ‘conceptualist’ in the renaissance.
Greek method/tools of working
The manner of working utilised by architects of classical antiquity is not well understood but a speculative picture has been drawn. The fragmentary state of available specimens for study along with a lack of contemporary literature contributes to only a sketchy understanding of how Greek Architects work. A common consensus appears with the notion of design and execution not being separate acts.
Roman method/tools of working
What we know of Roman Architecture comes mostly from Vitruvius, the writer of Ten Books of Architecture, which is commonly held to be the beginning of Architectural theory. The manner of working for the Roman Architect comes not only from knowledge of the craft, but from a general education in literature, mathematics, history, etc. While an initial distinction between Architect and builder was articulated, the distinction was not always maintained. Furthermore, it is clear that plans and other drawings were used, suggesting a clear change from the Greek Architects manner of working. What is also interesting is that engineering fell under the responsibility of the Architect as well, unlike the contemporary distinction between Architect and engineer. (It is held that the use of structural iron in later times contributed to this division). Vitruvius makes a clear distinction between work and the theory of the work.
Medieval method/tools of working
A common occurrence in the history of Architecture is insufficient documentation, and the medieval period is no exception. Although the manner of working for medieval Architects is commonly acknowledged to utilize full scale templates during construction, the acknowledgment of the presence of Architectural drawings is gaining momentum.
Renaissance method/tools of working
What has been established is the prevalence not only of drawings during the renaissance, but more specifically the prevalence of the plan. Renaissance Architects often neglected setting and facades as a result of the conceptual basis of the work whereby man is situated in the centre and everything is oriented accordingly. It seems that the drawings left to us by Renaissance Architects convey certain qualities and “vivid experiences”, instead of measured instructions. The manner of working here seems to come to terms with the material utilized by the Architect, namely chalk, graphite, or ink. The current literature on the manner of working suggests the drawings produced give enough information and impression for the representation to be executed in another material by a builder.
Modern method/tools of working
It is no secret that modern and contemporary Architects use drawings to convey their intentions to builders. The work of the Architect is seen to fall into one of two categories, theory or construction. Construction documents are not held to be knowledge, and theory documents are not easily translatable into built form.
What must also be addressed is the extensive use of computers and its impact on the manner of working. What is to be determined is the significance and role computers can take in making.
Manner of working that addresses representation and therefore articulates a method of making for today. It is hoped that such a manner of working could be implemented in order to improve our built environment. A final project in another medium is also proposed to accompany the written project as per the dissolution of the theory/practice dichotomy.
The importance of the Greek and medieval manner of working is evident in the dissolution of the theory/practice dichotomy in architecture. In those periods, the division was non-existent or at least blurred. What is to be determined is the importance of the periods in history whereby practice and theory are more distinguished, and what those periods have to teach us about a contemporary manner of working.