Title

THINKING-MAKING. PERSPECTIVES ON THE GROWING PROMINENCE OF MAKING IN ARCHITECTURE.

Conference — Brussels, February 18-19, 2020.

Abstract

This conference explores the growing prominence of making in architecture, as manifested by architects who engage more directly in building practices, dealing more closely with materials and techniques. The colloquium proposes to investigate a diverse set of cases where making is re-evaluated and celebrated. It calls for papers along three lines of inquiry: (1) historical and theoretical perspectives on the evolution of the relationship between thinking and making, and its consequences in architecture; (2) case studies that assess the motivations and values of actors involved in making in the field of architecture; (3) investigations into the means and tools that aim at a closer relationship between designers, materials and built forms.

Description

A phenomenon of revaluation of making is at play and affects many social areas around the world (Lallement, 2015; Berrebi-Hoffmann et al, 2018). The promotion of do-it-yourself, homemade, craftsmanship, or the development of repair workshops and makerspaces are illustrations of this phenomenon. Multifaceted, this situation affects the field of architecture, where some actors engage more directly in the practice of building, investigating specific materials (e.g. wood, earth, reused materials, new composites) or certain techniques (e.g.3D printing, CNC, craft).

The rising prominence of hands-on practices may be examined with respect to the multiple objectives it follows: strengthen our ability to interact with the world; change our consumption pattern; manage the entire production cycle; manipulate matter in order to better know, understand or innovate; etc. (Crawford, 2009; Sennett, 2009; Aries, 2011). At the same time, this phenomenon questions the contemporary division between thinking and doing, as well as the devaluation of action, manual labour or material production, in contrast to intellectual activities (Dewey, 2014).

In the field of architecture, this double movement of dissociation and devaluation has facilitated and supported the distinction between design, in the hands of the architects and the engineers who prescribe, and on-site construction, in the hands of workers, contractors and craftsmen, gradually reduced to a position of executors (Dupire et al, 1981). This has led to a dismissal of corporatist know-how, “practical knowledge” that is constituted by making (Ingold, 2017). The distance with such know-how was further increased by the standardization of materials and building components, followed by the emergence of digital tools of design and representation. Examples in the field of architecture that attempt to, on the contrary, link more closely –or even directly– design and construction are increasingly valued and seem to multiply. Various manifestations can be identified: participatory construction sites, self-build, collaborative design practices, production of materials and tools, circular economy and reused materials, hybrid business models, technological innovations, etc. These practices take place in different locations like architecture firms, but also production facilities, building sites, educational institutions or instances of architectural culture (exhibition, books, conferences, prizes, etc.).

In their diversity, these cases share the same determination to question standardized solutions and restore hands-on approaches as core skills of the architect, but also as valid modes of knowledge production, learning, reflectivity, engagement, which are complementary to, or even fully integrated in thinking (Bonsiepe, 1985). The revaluation of making also questions contemporary architecture from the perspective of the design-build process, the ideologies and representations of architecture, the organizations involved, the actors, their identities, engagements and power relations, the legal sharing of responsibility, as well as the materials and their role in these processes.

At the intersection between architecture and social sciences, this symposium aims to better understand and question the valorization of making in the field of architecture. Is this a new phenomenon or old practices put under a new light? What does the increase in these practices say about the current state of transformation in architecture and its actors? What social, political, economic, environmental or technological transformations are linked to this phenomenon? What is its extent and its transformative scope? What do these practices reveal about the perceived distinctions between thinking and making? How are these transformations articulated within the broader movement of the makers (Berrebi-Hoffmann et al, 2018)? What are their potential consequences for the professional and disciplinary field of architecture? What are the obstacles (economic, legal, cultural, etc.) that these practices face? Here are some of the questions that we wish to address at this conference. It will be organized along three lines of inquiry outlined below, for which we solicit contributions from researchers, teachers and practitioners in architecture and the social sciences.

Panel 1. History and Theory

Architecture seems affected by a dichotomy between, on the one hand, design, as an intellectual and reflective activity traditionally associated to the field of architecture and, on the other hand, construction, as a manual activity attributed to workers and craftsmen (Vasari, 1550; Panofsky, 1924). This division was established in the Renaissance, when a distinction was made between liberal and mechanical arts (Frampton, 1998). It was supported by a hierarchisation that is now theorized by the opposite concepts of “homo faber” and “animal laborans” (Arendt, 2013). They oppose reflexive abstract knowledge with concrete know-how, generally more disregarded, thereby marking the supremacy of the intellectual professions over the others (Dewey, 2014). In particular, it is the skill of drawing, as the link between the design and construction, that justified this division and the professionalisation of the architects (Evans, 2000; Carpo, 2001; Vesely, 2004). This argument was progressively also reinforced by the development of other specific devices, such as technical specifications, standards, etc. The division between design and manual trades is manifested in the field of education (e.a. with the foundation of academies), in the organization of labor (e.g. through the emergence of the figure of the prescriber [Dupire et al, 1981]), or in the competitive relationship with other trades (e.g. with engineers [Picon, 1994; Pfammater, 2000], contractors and decorators [Heymans, 1998]). At the same time, some researchers emphasize the existence of porosities between design and construction, indicating that the division is, in fact, not so clear (Nègre, 2016; Payne, 2016).

This line of inquiry proposes to investigate, through historical and theoretical perspectives, the links between thinking and making, their development and how they have affected or affect the boundaries of the architectural profession. What architectural practices emphasise the link between thinking and making, between designing and building? Are there interconnections or are they two autonomous acts that follow each other? What forms do the relationships between thinking and making take – from the architect-surveyor of the Middle Ages engaged on the field (Ingold, 2013) to more recent hybrid figures who blur the professional boundaries beyond regulatory distinctions (Pouillon, 2011), and to the more contemporary development of technologies that promise a more immediate transition from design to manufacturing (Kolarevic, 2003)? Is the current craze for making new, and can we trace its genealogy? Along this line of inquiry, theoretical and/or historical contributions are expected, which focus on the articulation between thinking and making and respond to the questions outlined above.

Panel 2. Actors and Engagement

In our contemporary societies, the valorization of making allows to reassess the identities and networks of actors involved in the design and construction of our environments: architects, workers, craftsmen, engineers, manufacturers, sponsors, citizens, future inhabitants, or teachers and students in architecture. Atypical alliances are formed, blurring the conventional distribution of tasks, expertise and responsibilities. The field of industrial design also seems particularly marked by this phenomenon, expressed by a revaluation of crafts (Adamson, 2013). Beyond the professional spheres, new initiatives encourage a more diverse set of actors to engage in creative and constructive activities. The “do-it-yourself” and “do-it-with-others” tendencies are embodied in multifarious practices making use of various tools, taking shape in different places and through several kinds of organizations (such as fablabs, participatory workshops, interventions on construction sites, informal associations, temporary occupations, repair cafes, etc.).

This growing phenomenon brings forward a series of challenges: will this era be marked as "the age of making" (Lallement, 2015)? Is this age dominated by makers at the dawn of a third industrial revolution consolidating capitalism, or by repairers on the threshold of a friendlier, degrowing and less technoscientific society (Aries, 2011)? Is the valorization of making the sign of a disengagement or withdrawal from institutional politics, as some argue against those who demand local transitions (do it ourselves, without involving politics or advocating for global change)? Or, on the contrary, are there new forms of political engagements and protest at stake in this movement (Pleyers, 2015; Swyngedouw, 2015)?

In this line of research, we propose to question the social practices of all the actors involved in the design and construction of our environment, the motivations and values that drive them to engage in these practices. Is it about acquiring skills to build individual empowerment and social action (Wright, 2017)? Or is it to promote another vision of the world and, if so, which one? In addition, it is fundamental to understand the way in which the actors involved define their roles, their profession, and their relationships to others. For this panel, we preferentially expect proposals based on field work or case studies.

Panel 3. Practices, Materials and Tools

Architectural design is partly based on constructive thinking (Payne, 2016; Nègre, 2016). This is formalized in various transactional devices linking the project and the materials implemented (drawings, constructive details, specifications, site visits, etc.), which bear witness of the transition between design and construction (Ghyoot, 2018). However, some authors believe that the architect, by not coming into direct contact with the materials, remains in the distant position of a designer-prescriber, incapable of generating the “practical knowledge” that emerges with making (Ingold, 2017) and of acknowledging all the economic, social and environmental consequences of his or her practice (Thomas, 2006). Hence, the revalorization of making often seems to require, whether a direct manipulation of matter (the development of an intimate, haptic knowledge of the material), or the development of tools to reduce the gap between design and fabrication (the same tool being used to draw the shape and to send the instructions to the actor or the machine in charge of making it) (Corser, 2010).

This line of inquiry proposes to investigate the means and tools that link design with construction by connecting the architects and the materials implemented. What are the benefits of being in direct contact with materials in architectural production? What is expected from a more immediate transition from design to manufacture? How do such architectural practices develop with regard to the industrialization and standardization of building materials? What specific knowledge is produced by the direct manipulation of materials and construction tools? What are the inputs compared to more usual devices linking the project and its materials? What are the contributions in terms of architectural thought and constructive thinking? Can we really speak of immediacy and is the transition from design to fabrication not necessarily mediated? What are the means and tools mobilized to promote these mediations? For this line of research, the expected communication proposals will preferentially be based on case studies where the actors experience a more direct, presumably less mediated, relationship with implementation.

Transversely to these three lines of inquiry, the conference intends to allow for reflexions about the articulation between thinking and making in the teaching, as well in the practice of architecture. Historical surveys and case studies related to educational experiences are therefore welcome. A round table dedicated to design-build pedagogies will for that matter take place at the conference.

Bibliography

Adamson, G. 2013, The Invention of Craft, Bloomsbury Academic.

Anderson, C. 2012, Makers. La nouvelle révolution industrielle, Pearson. 

Arendt, H. 2013, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press. 

Aries, P. 2011, La simplicité volontaire contre le mythe de l’abondance, La Découverte. 

Berrebi-Hoffmann, I., Bureau, M-C., Lallement, M. 2018, Makers. Enquête sur les laboratoires du changement social, Seuil. 

Bonsiepe, G. 1985, “Apuntes sobre un mito” in El diseño de la periferia, Ediciones Gustavo Gili. 

Carpo, M. 2001, Architecture in the age of printing: orality, writing, typography, and printed images in the history of architectural theory, MIT Press.

Corser, R. 2010, Fabricating Architecture: Selected Readings in Digital Design and Manufacturing, Princeton Architectural Press.

Dewey, J. 2014, La quête de certitude, Gallimard.

Dupire, A., Hamburger, B., Paul, J. C. 1981, Deux essais sur la construction, Mardaga.

Evans, R. 2000, The Projective Cast: Architecture and Its Three Geometries, MIT press.

Frampton, K. 1998, “The Status of Man and the Status of His Objects: A Reading of the Human Condition.” In Architecture Theory Since 1968, ed. K. Michael Hays, pp. 363–77.

Ghyoot, M. 2018, “Le concepteurs et les matériaux. Liaisons dangereuses – relations platoniques”, conférence au DPEA Paris-La-Villette.

Heymans, V. 1998, Les dimensions de l’ordinaire, L’Harmattan.

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Scientific Committee

Scientific Committee

Véronique Biau

Pierre Chabard

Ludivine Damay

Sophie Dawance

Valery Didelon

Ludovic Duhem

Kent Fitzsimons

Pauline Lefebvre

Elise Macaire

Julie Neuwels

Jean-Philippe Possoz

Christine Schaut

Wouter Van Acker

David Vanderburgh

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