Drawings as instruments of knowledge
Our workshop context was the urban core of Glasgow, our material was STONE and the task was daunting. What meaningful knowledge could students gain about such a difficult and demanding material as stone in a single week? Stone and time go back a long way, a testament to its geological production over deep time, measured in millennia rather than weeks. The material properties of stone, hard, heavy, and brittle demand commitment and time of potential users, the craft knowledge of the stonemason, like his material, developed over millennia and passed from generation to generation. In recognition of the inherent difficulties of developing understanding by working directly with stone within the restricted timeframe of the workshop, the focus shifted to the observation of stone through the act of drawing. The intention being to explore stone culture as manifest in Glasgow’s urban buildings through the drawing of selected case studies from different periods utilising a range of construction techniques. But even at the outset of the workshop fundamental questions remained, what kind of drawings would be appropriate, and given that the workshop was to be a collaborative endeavour, how might students produce a drawing or drawings in a collaborative manner.
In the opening days of the workshop, field trips, building visits and lectures were offered as stimuli to engage students both in the material properties of stone and in the expression of a built stone culture within Glasgow, but the pedagogical intent and learning value of workshop remained unclear.
And then a breakthrough! Scale! Size! 1:20 sections…..no bigger!….1:10 detail drawings through the entire ten-storey façade of the building!
The sudden realisation that BIG drawings were essential if students were to gain insights to the material qualities of stone and the ‘cliff-like’ stone buildings of central Glasgow, in a sense the attendant difficulties of making large-scale drawings echoing the difficulty of working with stone. Difficulties only overcome by dedication and commitment to the task in hand and made possible through the acquisition of knowledge, development of skills and the application of techniques, in essence a form of craftsmanship akin to that of the stonemason. With the shift of drawing scale the core value of the workshop was clarified, students were offered fundamental insights to both the craft of making, be it a stone building or a hand-drawing, and of equal significance insight to the role of drawings as instruments of knowledge that fuse the conception and the construction of buildings. Besides clarifying the value of the workshop the shift up in drawing scale marked a dramatic increase in production, as drawings of a scale alien to a generation of students constricted by the limits of their computer screens began to appear. The size of the drawings required students to develop new skills and new techniques, new drawing materials in the form of charcoal, new drafting tools in the construction of large flat smooth drawing surfaces and the use of timber battens to draft construction lines for the final drawing. Given the students lack of experience of producing hand-drawings of such a scale and size, the initial results were less than encouraging and whilst the final drawings were less than masterful the exponential rise in quality between the first and last iterations was most impressive. The student satisfaction in encountering and resolving difficulties of production was palpable. The students were discovering the value of the drawing as a crafted object unmediated by the computer and staff were remembering that learning is a journey of adventure where the end point is unknown at the outset and that output is less important than process. The content of this publication is witness to the material production of the workshop but the true value of our workshop resides within the learning journey experienced by the participating staff and students; an understanding that might blossom in the proceding workshops in the series.
November 26th, 2015