Paper: Investigating the Tectonic: Grounding Theory in the Study of Precedents

This paper was published in 2015 in the International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design. It was previously presented in 2015 at both the ASA Multidisciplinary Research Symposium at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois and at the Ninth International Conference on Design Principles and Practices in Chicago, Illinois.

Schwartz, C.  (2015).  Investigating the tectonic: Grounding theory in the study of precedents. The International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design, 10(1), 1-15.

Abstract:  The blank page can be intimidating for an architecture student. When starting a project, there are multiple devices that can be employed to alleviate the novice student of this anxiety. One such tool is precedent analysis. The study of precedents provides key lessons – relationships between components, systems of order, means of connection, and conceptual partis, to name just a few – that can be used as building blocks to form new work; the precedent becomes a spark of inspiration, a conveyor of information, and a foundation for growth. As Simon Unwin states, “Both evolutionary development and contradictory revolution depend on understanding what has gone before.” This presentation introduces a new publication that utilizes precedent studies to convey theoretical information to architecture students. Twenty contemporary projects are analyzed to excavate lessons on the application of architectural tectonics in design practice. In this study, the precedents help to ground the theoretical notions of Semper, Bötticher, and others in contemporary building practice to which the students can relate. The integration of this publication into the design studio will assist architecture students in making connections between design, construction, and theory that, hopefully, will engage them for a lifetime.

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