Paper Presentation: Spiritual Tectonics:  Exploring Dualities in the Design 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). Spiritual Tectonics.  Materiality, Essence + Substance: 30th National Conference on the Beginning Design Student.  Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL.

Abstract:  Systemic thinking is the process of understanding how systems or components influence one another within a whole. The study of architectural tectonics is a systemic endeavor.  From Kenneth Frampton’s statement that tectonics is “the formal amplification of the structural presence in relation to the assembly of which it is a part;” to Gottfried Semper’s claim that the origin of architecture is not construction, but the visible representation of closed space originating from human dress; to Karl Botticher’s theory of the ontological kernform (work form) and its cladding of the representational kunstform (art form); the view of architecture through a tectonic lens depicts the poetic integration of assembly, materiality, representation, space, and environment.  Architectural education does not always provide such an integrative philosophy.  The traditional bifurcation of architectural education into design and technical courses is, in many ways, a significant deterrent to the examination of architecture systemically.  This deterrent is especially prevalent in lower level courses, which tend to have more focused learning objectives and a far less comprehensive character than most upper division coursework.

Though the potential for studying architecture as a series of systems exists in any curricular construct, without strategies in place to discuss the dialogue between the systems, systemic thinking cannot truly occur. Tectonics provides an opportunity to create links between systems that may otherwise be held separate for a novice architecture student.  It is the study of the poetics of construction and resides at the intersection of many of the primary aspects of the built environment.  In a recent architecture studio, a group of students were asked to approach design from a tectonic point of view.  This strategy was positioned as a series of linked studio exercises, reinforced with critical readings.  The exercises began with a thorough analysis of one of a set of small chapels, each tectonically provocative and rooted in its local context.  This case study provided the foundation for the semester and the successive problems drew from the tectonic makeup of the chapels, inspiring a place to rest, a new spiritual center, and a critical investigation of detail.  Through these exercises, this group of architecture students was given the opportunity to explore connections between integral systems in the development of an architectural design.  For these individuals, tectonics provided a catalyst for new avenues of insight into the design and construction of the built environment.