In order to develop an understanding for my perspective on the pedagogy of architectural education it is valuable digress into the grounds of my own inquiries and experiences weaving together continuously over fourteen years of practice and research. Fundamental positations are useful to quickly biune this braid.
In relative scale the architect’s time with a building is but a blip compared to the peoples’ span of experience with it. In order to balance this inequality the architect must learn to work slow, quickly.
No representational process or methodological avenue has any more value in and of itself to the creation of impactful and meaningful works of architecture to a time, people, or culture beyond its thorough investment with the honed variegation of its stakes.
The work-a-day tools for the conception of architecture or communication of its pregenerative physiognomy dangerously lull the architect into command of space and form. Tools themselves provide little insight. Tools that become products are surrogate instances of manifested architectural decision-making. Full-scaled, irreducible instances.
Being a service professional does not bind the architect only to the demands of capital and history. The reproduced status quo, although of comfort to a the audience of a culture does not allow that culture to grow and does not drive individuals to both aggregate new culture nor work to situate themselves within it.
Architecture is itself a representation, but an open one, a rhetorical and receptive one.
At first these fundamental concerns may seem to belie a futility in the practice of architecture, a rootless lack, but recognizable in these absences and impossibilities are its benefits, its power, both to the architect and to his or her clients.
At once required to be a pursuit seeking resolution and completeness, architecture returns a most open and rhetorical product into the lives of humans. This paradox leads to diverging schools of thought in the research and practice of architecture but is also its most valuable characteristic, both for the practitioner and the planet of people whose lives are shaped by and played out in and around buildings. What is inarguable is the presence of a crisis in this paradox. When the architect steps out of the picture, bequeathing a building to the people it becomes theirs to complete. How then does the architect recognize the appropriateness and benefit of their pregenerative efforts beyond the mere functionality and watertightness of their productions. Beyond these basic traits, his or her influence exists primarily in the rhetorical devices of intended function, form, and material. These simple systems of choice quickly become gestalt totalities in the experience of a constructed work, whether extraordinary or ordinary, the exception to the fabric or the unexceptional fabric itself. The crisis then, is how the architect makes value judgments about their progress in the face of such an resultant openness. And, when they take those value judgments upon themselves and the system of relationships that bear them, are they aware of the insidious and apparent roles those decisions manifest through buildings as the substrate for human experience? Can they even bear that responsibility in its totality? As with Raymond Queneau and his ‘Cent mille milliards de poèmes’, whose ten sets of fourteen individual lines permutate into one hundred million million complete works that would take 200,000,000 years to consume, the architect unleashes a production that he himself has never and will never experience in its totality and which requires the aggregate experiences of all people to bring fully to life.
This inability for the architect to complete his or her work is to the benefit of the people. Through the voids, shadows, and contradictions they enter, spatially, contextually, and associationally. There they make discoveries, are educated and empowered. The power does not exist in the relationship with architecture that would be considered extraordinary. Architecture that transcends its origins, seemingly born complete as Athena from Zeus’s skull, does not pose questions as a method but lingers ambiguous truths about its use, its applicability to one’s life, its past and future, like the invitations to introspections extended by the transcendent wholeness of the natural world. Extraordinary or exceptional works expose and enable certain complex and enriching types of experiences and manners of exploration, awaken a sensitivity to the details of memory and the external physical manifestations of the personality. They lay bare their status as discursive representations. In these ways extraordinary works are educational. They educate us about how to take control of the ordinary fabric by drawing out its resonating qualities, making the impersonal personal, with the tuned sensitivities of our perception. I am here reminded of J.B. Jackson’s theory of the stranger’s path, a circuit of acclimation to a city that is shared by all new visitors to that place. This links key civic areas, grounding the visitor. At the same time, the cultural and geographical textures of the place are slowly revealed, cementing the person’s latent affiliations with that system and its components, providing confidence for deeper and more probing explorations of outlying quotidian sectors. There will never not be an ordinary fabric. In this fabric with the basest applicability and resonance with all people, architecture, the exception, has the capability to ratify the individual within the mass by communicating to basic inalienable human qualities that we all share but all feel a tacit, incorruptible ownership over.
Where the extraordinary can give power to an idea or a cultural perspective, the ordinary has the capacity in its emptiness to empower the individual, to foreground their interests and desires. The architect must provide the possibility for the extraordinary to osmose through people’s experiences into the bland beige blocks endless. Like teaching meditative breathing, deep interaction with the built world is the slow unveiling of the personal power over the everyday to create the space and story and setting of our own lives even in the stage sets of lowest-common-denominator immutability. These voids will always be present, even in the unexceptional (perhaps especially there). How the past aggregations of the reader’s memories and experiences are enflamed by the moment and its configurations is always an unknown.
However, for the architect to acquiesce his or her creative identity to this fabric is damaging. To that end, the endeavor of meaningful construction must be invested with duplicity, ambiguity, and complexity while relying on techniques that restrain the immersive totality of the building as a representational substrate. (This happens in the real world at an urban context, or in some cases, such as Ptree Center, the context of a single architect fabric spanning multiple urban conditions, program types, time periods, and palimpsestic incursions.) Especially valuable in this balance of real and unreal, immersive and distant, is an understanding of the rhetorical constructions of fiction. (…) This duplicity in my own work has often emerged from a reliance on unhinged and obstructive forms of collaboration. This has been a way of prefiguring the relationship of the client or public to the building by starting the process of representational cession in the design process. In my graduate thesis work, through a series of exercises moving from rhetorical instruction sets to their progeny, then from varieties of physical manifestations of the same rhetorical archetype, in this case the motel room, back to reverse engineered documents of all of its manifestations, I developed a productive representational mode that relied more on the cultural and experiential baggage of the executor than the quantitative control of the author. This work culminated in a five-headed design team of my colleagues producing an installation diverging from prompts culled out of Baudelaire’s ‘The Double Room.’ The architectural instance orchestrated from their designs was elemental yet ambiguous. It was tethered yet adrift. It drew visitors into a scenario that was distinct from its surroundings, that was clearly not a representation of something else, but represented something intrinsic to itself and to their experience with it. Possibly more unhinged has been a great deal of my work with the work.group, a collaborative architecture cloud that functions via the internet. A complex call-and-response exercise the group undertook was the design and documentation of thirty-one houses in a single month, one per day. The design work was passed back and forth between workers throughout the day based on a prompt and site fodder from a worker at dawn. Nothing but the utter corruption of ideas, despoiling of personal conceptions of beauty, and perversions of domesticity resulted.
Another aspect of my work that is rooted in these concerns and crises is an investment in thoroughness, the creation of (what can only be) a germ that insinuates a complete world. Makers of realities that oppose or distance themselves from their contemporaneous cultural fabric interest me here. Architects like Pugin on the reactionary extreme to artists like Iris Häussler with her fictional reclusive Torontan artist, Joseph Wagenbach have generated worlds and lives distinct from our own through their productions. These reflect the passionate embrace of personal interests. Although it may seem antithetical to the goals of openness, this hermetic pregnancy of work, rooted in the sweeping applicability of Campbell’s mythological archetypes, self-propagating its values internally during the creative process, and retaining the complexity of a full yet somewhat removed world (art, stamps, maps, stories), in fact is a prompt to the ‘reader’ that they are being repositioned, and relied upon to take part in the process. This can be done simply through narrative vehicles for involving people in the design process or more geographically by involving the occupants of a building in its organization and hierarchization. Working again with the work.group, three projects develop these ideas. The exhibition entitled ‘Marquis: A Post-Dated Picaresque Romp Through the Oeuvre of the work.group’ explored a series of unrealized projects in the context of a transformed world in which they had in fact been realized, and how the decay of society that might have engendered them would subsequently break them of their initial aspirations to bow to the needs of the people. In a historical narrative form the exhibition dissuaded visitors from seeing these as architectural projects meant to be scrutinized for their geometric invention, material virtuosity, or functional bravado, but as part of a fabric which they both were key to and which had no use for them specifically. Similarly, the exhibition of the work.group’s ‘Hider-in-the-House House’ veiled its design process behind the falsehood, similar to Häussler’s project, that the executor had not in fact been responsible for the generation of the work but simply discovered the work of a man who lived in the walls of a tract house he built in order to spy on families. This suppression is beneficial because it presents cultivated realities as immaculate conceptions that are more susceptible to projection. Approaching these tenets in the forms and circuits of a more notable scale was the work.group’s ‘Roosevelt in Ruins’, an entry into the Emerging New York Architects ‘From Ruin to Rejuvenation’ competition for an arts center on Roosevelt Island. Working ‘backward’ from the instance of each programmatic function (ie, the theater box, the supply cabinet, the red glow of the dark room) toward a tapestry of variegated prepositional sequences that shutter the prescription of their use and navigation of their connections a fabric is developed that is entirely predicated on its function but function is subverted to the will of the visitors to enable it. This does not mean an embrace of chaos or insanity, but an obfuscation of implicit order and path made ordered by its explicit use by the visitor. Paraphrasing Eco, the thrust was an enriched and open experience by balancing the undifferentiated realm of utter possibility and a field of possibilities.
The curriculum I developed and executed for a graduate-level architectural representation course at Georgia Institute of Technology encapsulates the manner in which all of these concerns and investigations coalesce into a holistic pedagogy. Echoing the stages of design and realization from modern practice, a series of exercises, each exploiting a different technical skill and representational mode followed one another pulling forward matter, often physically, and transforming it to be of value to subsequent exercises until the original condition, a series of postcard-sized impressionistic graphite texture maps of found objects, was bound inextricably to a perspective drawings of a compressed mylar sculpture. The leaps between modes were often necessarily abrupt. The information presented from the previous exercise often appeared useless or the tools of the representational mode seemed strained to assimilate that information. The tools were allowed to fail. Information was allowed to be lost. Yet, when seen together, the exercises resonated with each other; they had a familiarity. However, the effort to connect them, which was implicit in the process of making, was both the responsibility of the viewer and the responsibility of the coded relationships between the parts inherent in the logic of construction.
Representations themselves should have the rhetorical capacity of openness that the final product does if value-developed decisions are to made from them that shape that product. One doesn’t evaluate the success of a hammer, one evaluates the success of the nail it has driven in. Although the student can learn to understand what tools are suitable for what endeavors, they cannot fully grasp this until the tools have been allowed to perform at a variety of imperative levels of execution; they have been allowed to fail. To this end, the student should test their aplomb at the immersive and rhetorical repercussions of value judgments not through scaled representations, which are extensions of the tools of orthography, but through full scale installations, not cutaway fragments of a separate whole, but irreducible synecdochic instances of architecture that share the values of the whole. Or in a slightly more removed approach, the use of thickened or developed schemata and poesy evoke without controlling. In cultivating the ability to make architectural decisions, these unfolding tableau can be as loose, as tenuous, and as vague as the haze of the building-captured experience, yet just as precise, as complete, as multifoliate, and as complex as its greater offspring would be. The use of real space, of real aromas, textures, and weather, are lacking in the experience of the academy. A student could convey an entire architectural proposal by simply giving his or her critics a tour of a park in autumn and leading them down a peculiarly lit and damp hallway in the basement of a parking structure. These approaches do not eliminate the tools which architects must wield, but challenge both student and critic to recognize their shortcomings. Additionally gravitation away from the fetish of the orthogonal representation serves a further purpose in the present climate of the profession. By preparing the student for the pitfalls associated with the immediacy of digital form making, facility of photo-real digital imaging, and complex intelligent objects, they have more contemporaneous ground on which to stand as the value system associated with the primacy of orthogonal representation is subverted.
The roles of the architect and the architectural educator are similar. They have the common interest of empowering the individual to shape, control, digest, and proliferate the personal values of their experiences. While it is proven to us daily in bleak warrens of government buildings, hollow stucco tombs of retail warehouses, and the homes of our friends and families, making a building work is easy. Making a building function is simple. Making a building reflect the desires and imagination of a culture is the task.