☰ Workshops

Tectonics in Building Culture

Concretum (2010)

The society is rapidly changing around us, and with this change new potentials are revealed. There is a broad field of opportunities in the building industry today due to new technologies, materials, production methods and more. To be able to take advantage of these possibilities we need a span of knowledge, from theory to practice. Students of architecture today have a quite different background and knowledge than those of some years ago. They start and finish younger, are now mainly recruited directly from high school, not from other university studies and not from carpentry, bricklaying or other crafts in the building industry. This leads to a material reference that is more and more theoretical. The understanding of materials can only be complete if theory is accompanied by the physical experience of materials. Therefore, experiencing materials in 1:1 should be an important and integrated part of architecture education, or as one student of mine replied when I told him it was a bad idea to cut wood like that; “I know, but I need to feel it myself.” Without experiences with real materials, in real life, how can we plan, design and think construction and create architecture?

What happens when you ask students of architecture to investigate and study one specific material – in a hands-on process, instead of the abstract process they usually apply in their design process? What happens when we investigate the material as it is, not a representative of the material, nor in scale or form? – They become creative, they seem open-minded and investigate at a very fruitful basic level. These basic investigations are important, it seems to be easier to experiment, test and study when it is a material that is the object of study and not a task based on a defined function. It seems like the strict internal control designers often operate under is easier to escape when the ‘program’ is a material and not a function. We experience that the study can very well be only the material itself; – try to join it, stack it, split, deform, – investigate span, pressure or stretch, – react to a site with the material or construct a structure to the limit of the material proprieties. The possibilities are close to endless.

A tectonic investigation can be much more complex than this, but it might be that the simpler the starting point, the more rewarding and interesting processes come out of it. In various wood workshops in my PhD project, at the Erasmus IP workshops, in both Ireland and especially at Bornholm, we observe that when parameters like site and function are introduced, the students stop much of their tectonic studies and turn their focus (unconsciously) into being responsible architects; they want to solve the problem or task given. Focus turns from material investigations into a concern for the users and the function. This is something one should be conscious about when planning and arranging workshops and courses, but we see that through tectonic studies the students get interested in the construing of architecture, not only the programming of architecture. The method of tectonic investigations through material studies can be a powerful tool in architectural education. We need to think tectonics, the students need to learn materials by experience, construing and thinking architecture hands on, in 1:1. The task is then to; establishing learning situations where basic and bodily investigation and understanding of a specific building material is possible. Through this we will find inspiration, insight and new understanding that can have importance in the development of architecture and architects, this as a crucial supplement to the architectural practice and education of today.

by Torbjørn Tryti
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Faculty of Architecture and Fine Art, Trondheim