☰ Workshops

Structures in Building Culture

Crafting wood (2014)

The workshop in Liechtenstein in August 2014 was the final, in a row of ten, starting in Slovenia in 2005 and ending in Liechtenstein in 2014. During these years, the Erasmus IP workshops have taken place in 9 different countries in Europe, collecting students and staff from 6 or 7 universities every year. This might be why a colleague is calling the workshop a travelling university. The overall theme has been to investigate building anatomy and the tectonically property of regional materials, trying to estimate these questions as a valuable source in architecture today.

With this theme as an overall vision, the ideas of the workshops have developed in different directions during the years. One was by designing the constructions before building in 1:1, others by direct experimentation in 1 :1 parallel to constructing phase and others again by direct teaching and learning craftsmanship. For all the Erasmus IP workshops, the most important thing was the hand on learning.

The North Sea by Hopsjø
The Münz settlement high at the Liechtenstein vally

Three of the workshops, in Norway, Belgium (2010) and in Liechtenstein, were dealing with the material wood.  While the Belgium workshop was investigating plywood and wooden composite plates, the two others were dealing with wood close to its state as a raw material. This distinction gives an interesting view on the character of materials. While the plywood and the wooden composite plates have a more distant, universal character of its origin and its making, the sawn local spruce timber is more directly related  to the place of origin. Naturally, the overall theme of regional materials becomes important to discuss here.

The locations of the two workshops in Norway and Liechtenstein are interesting. One of them on a very remote place in Europe, a small island in the North Atlantic Sea by the coast of Norway, a place with an overwhelming presence of the sea and the horizon. The other at a very high mountain area of Central Europe, in a deep valley, a landscape dominated by the verticality. The two workshops seem to bring these two polarities culturally close together by the use of regional materials – in this case local spruce.

Production team at Hopsjø
Developing the corner detail at Münz

Protection shed at Hopsjø

From the beginning, the rules of the Hopsjø workshop were clear. A program for a multifunctional protection shed in the harbor, for selling huts at the   Summer Festival and for storing wooden sailing boats at wintertime. This construction had to be built within 10days. The building site was a ready- made concrete slab floor, made by locals.

The framework of materials for the construction was:

The workshop started with a competition in drawings and models. The winning project then made a basis for working drawings. The learning of carpentry was important in the workshop. The development of details came along during the constructing process, as a refinement of the idea developed earlier.

Cabins at Münz and Tuass

The ideas and the framework of this workshop are interesting to study. The building material spruce, had a wide variation of dimensions and length. From the first day a selection of different dimensions were on site to start  the action of constructing. All working groups started on site with a “one to one” development of the corner detail. Different to the workshop in Hopsjø, no drawing came between the material and the hand of the craftsman. This way of acting was the carrying idea of the work at Münz and Tuass.

Questions raised in relation to the two workshops

A study of the learning from the two different processes at Hopsjø and at Münz and Tuass raises important questions.

  1. What did it mean when the workshop at Hopsjø was following a common agreed idea represented by a drawing, using strongly limited wooden materials?
  2. What is the learning potential from Münz and Tuass when the creative process from the first moment started by building corner detail in scale one to one, without any drawing?

One may say that the workshop at Hitra paid more attention to craftsmanship, by spending less time on experimenting. The two workshops  nevertheless deal with the same overall question, that creativity and craftsmanship do not represent two separate entities. This span of 7 years, between the workshops,  might also illustrate the development of the teaching program of Erasmus IP during the years, always solid guided and administrated by Urs Meister and Carmen Rist from the University of Liechtenstein.

Constructing and cladding at Hopsjø 2007
Constructing and stacking at Münz 2014

Learning from the two workshops

The dialogue between the architect and the craftsman is not only a meeting between two areas of knowledge but also a meeting man to man. This is possibly what the American philosopher John Dewey ( 1859 – 1952) means, when he says,  knowledge and philosophy has a fluently character which always will change, while craftsmanship has another character, where the moment of action demand a yes or no. This represents two kinds of knowledge, in a living interplay, and have a strong creative force.

Behind all the experience from the ten Erasmus IP workshops , and from the ten following unique booklets with valuable pedagogic and esthetic discussions, lays the question of how we can establish an understanding, including experiences and knowledge of different character? Can we possible learn from the ancient Greek Aristoteles about the ideas of episteme, techne and phronesis?

  1. Episteme contains the theoretical, abstract and provable, which mainly is understood as, the true notion of scientific knowledge.
  2. Techne is what Aristoteles understand as, questions related to production and acting, and also the production of products. Skills are a production capacity, only when they are united in a true reasoning. This understanding also include practical skills and professional knowledge in addition to instrumental knowledge and artistic work. The act of production Aristoteles describe as poises. Poises means to make something which did not exist before.
  3. Phronesis represents the ability to decide what is good, meaningful and useful for mankind. Phronesis is the ethics and political value, where humans always belong to a society. This again means that, to act in accordance with phronesis, demands an ability to deviate general rules of acting, this in relation to what is needed, in a concrete situation.

Consciously or unconsciously, these three ideas seem to have been the « back close « during the ten years of the Erasmus IP program. This means for the learning processes to challenge the ideas of Aristoteles and discussed them, not separately, but all three together in a dualistic and dynamic process.

Finn Hakonsen, Professor, Architect MNAL
NTNU, Department of Architectural Design, History and Technology
Trondheim, Norway