Situate, Manipulate, Fabricate: An Anthology of the Influences on Architectural Design and Production outlines three critical instigators of architecture, all tied directly to the tectonic makeup of our built environment – place, material, and assembly. Please find below the Preface to the book, which explains my philosophy behind its creation.
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Preface | Revisiting the Framework
In October of 2013, I began writing my first book, Introducing Architectural Tectonics: Exploring the Intersection of Design and Construction. My research and teaching at that time focused on understanding architectural works through a tectonic lens. As such, that text reflects these practices and provides a synopsis of my understanding of the lineage of architectural tectonics.
The desire to assemble this anthology predates Introducing Architectural Tectonics by almost a decade. Shortly after beginning my career as an educator, I began assigning my students readings focused on the poetic relationship between architectural assembly and spatial experience. Utilized in the design studio, these texts provoke students to think about the impact of constructional logic on their conceptual design work. In a technical course, students use them to envision building systems, not as isolated components, but as part of the larger design strategy. These essays followed me from class to class through the years, prompting the desire to unite their voices in a single source centered on the poetic potential of construction.
The conceptual framework I developed during the writing of the first book, however, induced a shift in the desired makeup of this anthology. The framework divides architectural tectonics into subtopics drawn from 170 years of writing on the subject. This taxonomy of tectonics included eight categories: [i]
- Anatomy: the study of the relationship between primary systems of a building
- Construction: the study of the means and methods of construction as well as the materiality of the built environment
- Detail: the study of joints and other critical conditions that make up the intersections and more intimate conditions of the built environment
- Place: the study of the impact of a specific place or context on the tectonic makeup of a building
- Precedent: the tectonic examination of past built work for the purpose of informing projects yet to come
- Representation + Ornamentation: the study of the relationship between the actual construction of the building that is required for stability and enclosure and the cladding or ornamentation that is used to create the aesthetic scheme
- Space: the study of the relationship between the creation of space and the construction and representational qualities of a building
- Atectonic: the study of architectural conditions that run contrary to typical tectonic thought
After deploying it in the first book, I continued to refine the taxonomic structure and found that when designing a building, some subtopics carry more weight or urgency than others. Additionally, while some subtopics must be directly addressed by the architect in virtually every work of architecture, others are either resultant or optional considerations. These observations do not lessen the overall importance or impact any of the topics could have for a particular building or architectural work, but they do illuminate a subset that universally requires a response when initiating or working through the design process of a tectonically-centered building.
Architects use atectonic strategies to manipulate the perception of space and elicit a response from the user. Ornamentation can create an architectonic language in the outward expression of the building. The tectonic, architectural detail impacts our experience of a project through the design of its more intimate conditions. These three subtopics are all design considerations, often utilized, but not a point of response in every project. Precedent, likewise, is an optional consideration. Not all architectural works are designed using tectonic precedents. While I certainly hope those designing our built environment strive to integrate lessons learned from the architectural past into their own work, sometimes this is not possible or warranted.
Anatomy is unique amongst the taxonomic categories. All projects are composed of multiple intertwined systems, which must be carefully considered during the design process. My positioning of this category, however, assigns it an analytical role in assessing a finished work, based on Gottfried Semper’s four elements of architecture. As such, despite its importance and universality, the category as positioned does not hold as significant of a weight for the architect during the design process.
Space is also distinctive in the tectonic taxomony as it is a goal or resultant of the design process. Space is the endgame; architects design spatial constructs that fulfill the basic needs of shelter while also providing experience and, hopefully, delight. There may not be a more essential topic within this framework, but as the focus of this text is on “response to,” and not “result of,” it does not qualify for this particular study.
What remains are place and construction, two fundamental architectural catalysts. Since the original publication of the taxonomy in Introducing Architectural Tectonics, I have divided the subgroup construction into materials and assembly. Although intimately linked, they each carry significant weight of their own. All built work consists of materials and the nature, quality, and performance of these materials must be responded to in all architecture. All built work must also be constructed; stones must be piled and nails must be driven. Responding to the need for assembly is equally essential in the creation of architecture.
Similar to construction, there are very few built architectural works that can claim no context, no site, no relationship to a particular place (whether that relationship is embraced or ignored is another matter entirely). Architecture must respond to the site, to the culture of place, to the particular environment of a point on the map, all of which have the potential to influence the tectonic makeup of built work.
This anthology presents a collection of voices discussing these three tectonic catalysts, those which provide the most urgency for response during the architectural design process. We must situate our buildings on site, in context, and with respect to place. We must manipulate materials to create the building blocks of architecture. And, we must fabricate and assemble these components to realize our designs and generate our spatial environment.
[i] The list is from Chad Schwartz, Introducing Architectural Tectonics: Exploring the Intersection of Design and Construction (New York: Routledge, 2016), xxvii-xxviii. These ideas were first explored in “Investigating the Tectonic: Grounding Theory in the Study of Precedents ” The International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design 10, no. 1 (2015).