Learning through Making

Architecture is about the making of things – responding to a need through design, and improving a situation or making a provision through construction. Yet most architecture students have little or no contact with the messy business of making. Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio, founder of Studio in the Woods summer workshop describes this schism thus: “… most architecture students have limited contact with real materials or construction and instead operate in a kind of parallel universe where projects are imagined in abstract, in a kind of weird digital code space; a space where ad hoc, inventive and impromptu decision making is excluded from the design process.”  

We believe it is fundamentally important that architects understand how things are made. Construction is a language, complete with its own systems, methods and tool set. As architects we need to be capable of understanding and reinterpreting that language. There is no better way to experience this, and to learn, than through active participation. In 1952 the critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term “action painting”, we are interested in what we might term “action architecture”. Being aware of process – in equal measure when it fails and when it is a success – is important. 

Alongside this pedagogical position we are proponents of a kind of architecture that responds to place, context and need. Good design, that is human and humane, cannot be produced via a computer screen alone. One can only understand a place by visiting it, and hand drawing is a tool for understanding place. We will be working iteratively – drawing and making. The architect Renzo Piano refers to this working procedure – “You start by sketching, then you do a drawing, then you make a model, and then you go (back to) … the site – and then you go back to drawing. You build up a kind of circularity between drawing and making and then back again.”   

In recent years’ architectural conferences, competitions and the press have paid much attention to urban and city contexts, often with a focus on major cities. This unit instead turns its attention to rural contexts. We appreciate the incredible beauty of the Lake District, an extraordinary – and protected – landscape. As a unit we will use drawings as a means through which to observe and understand the particulates of such a place. 

From the above, some might deduce that our interest in hands on methods and craftsmanship is Luddite and anti-machine; not at all. We absolutely recognise the usefulness of machines and digital tools, which can make construction more efficient and reduce wastage, make sites safer and realisation faster. However we argue technology is a tool that mankind should define and instruct. We should not slip into a laziness where we let computers do the thinking for us.