Systems of order embedded within works of design are not readily evident to the novice student. To nurture this, we engage beginning designers in the close visual analysis of exemplary building projects – what architects refer to as precedents.

Jeffrey Balmer and Michael T. Swisher, Diagramming the Big Idea

Both evolutionary development and contradictory revolution depend on understanding what has gone before.

Simon Unwin, Analyzing Architecture

Simon Unwin acknowledges that architecture students can be reluctant to engage with precedent studies because they “believe that their own originality and greatness will prosper best by insulating their creative genius from ‘corruption’ by the ideas and accomplishments of others,” and because they do not want anyone to think that they are copying. But in reality, the blank page is one of the most intimidating things we confront in the practice of architecture. Precedents provide key lessons that can be drawn from and expanded upon. Drawing from the analysis of a work of architecture only becomes copying or a cop-out when what is taken is the physical built form, the imitation. If, instead, the critical lessons it has to offer – relationship of components, systems of order, means of connection, conceptual partis, to name just a few – are studied, drawn, and used as building blocks to form new built work then the precedent becomes a spark of inspiration.

The following projects outline my attempts to integrate the study of precedents more meaningfully into the architectural curriculum.