Paper Presentation: Generative Making: Devising New Uses for Making in the Architectural Studio

This paper was presented in April 2014 at the National Conference on the Beginning Design Student hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois.

Schwartz, C. (2014, April). Generative making: Devising new uses for making in the architectural studio. Materiality, Essence + Substance: 30th National Conference on the Beginning Design Student.  Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL.

Abstract:  In his essay The Tell-the-Tale Detail, Marco Frascari discusses the potential role of the detail as the generator of design.  For him, within the architectural detail are both the “techne of logos” and the “logos of techne” and it is here that the construing (the making of understanding) and the construction (the understanding of making) of architecture coalesce.   Within the context of architectural education, how can we introduce often forgotten architectural issues such as the detail, building materials, and the process of assembly as meaningful generators of conceptual design?  These elements, along with others, ­­­frequently escape significant investigation by the architecture student due to the typical studio construct of starting at the macro scale and working as far down to the micro scale as possible before the last precious seconds of the semester tick away.  Detail and materiality rarely come under real scrutiny in the design studio and are typically explored solely as technical exercises in those courses focused on materials and methods; yet detail and materiality both command prominent roles in our understanding of the essence and substance of the architecture we inhabit.

In a series of recent courses, I have encouraged students working in the second and third years of their design education to explore these frequently overlooked topics by engaging in critical processes of making for their introductory projects. Matt Ratto, in his article Critical Making, defines critical making as a theoretical and pragmatic connection between two modes of engagement that are traditionally held apart:  the conceptually based practice of critical thinking and the traditionally goal-based material work of making.  For Ratto, the key to critical making is that it does not focus on the product or designed object, but instead on the processes involved in the act of making and the knowledge these processes can generate.  As the students generate full-scale constructions in these exercises, they are confronted with the task of fully resolving the details of the piece.  This exploration of material and detail force the students to engage with the problem in ways very much outside of their comfort zone, sparking new ideas and habits of thinking that can be used to conceive future projects; it is a process of alternate perspectives.  This paper compares three projects focused on the critical making of conceptual generators and the role each played in helping these novice students better understand the qualities and character of architecture.