Constructing Understanding

Paper: Constructing Understanding:  A Developing Strategy for Teaching Introductory Construction Courses

This paper was published in 2013 in the International Journal of the Constructed Environment. It was previously presented in October 2012 at the Third International Conference on the Constructed Environment hosted by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Schwartz, Chad (2013), “Constructing understanding:  A developing strategy for teaching introductory construction courses.”  The International Journal of the Constructed Environment 3 (1), 15-24.

Abstract:  In “Being and Time,” Martin Heidegger states that the nearest kind of association one can have is not merely through perceptual cognition, but rather by handling, using, and taking care of things. As he noted, “we do not come to know a hammer by staring at it, but by grabbing hold of it and using it.” Undergraduate students in any school of architecture, especially those in their first and second years in the program, are inundated with countless new learning experiences and avenues of thought. Frequently missing from those experiences, however, are moments in the curriculum that allow the student to connect their generated abstractions to the actual built environment through critical acts of making. In an age of increasing focus on digital technologies and virtual architecture, these developing students also need to be introduced first hand to the physical consequences of the lines they draw on paper. By introducing acts of making into the curriculum alongside their digital counterparts, students are given the capacity to achieve a deeper understanding of their projects and of the architecture they will come to design in the future. This research paper presents one strategy for teaching introductory building construction that allows the developing architecture student to begin to cultivate understanding between the sketch, the drawing, and construction throughout the design process. Working at multiple scales, this strategy encourages these students to have a more intimate relationship with the materials of design and construction both from a technical view of construction and a poetic understanding of architecture as an assembly. Haptic connections with actual construction materials provide a tangible basis of knowledge that has the potential to inject the unseasoned architecture student with a valuable, but often forgotten, connection to materiality and the sensory potential of our built world.

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