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Carolina Dayer, Ivan Rupnik, Jacob Mans
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Invoking Leon Battista Alberti’s advice that an architect must engage with the valuable knowledge concealed in buildings, the call for this issue opened with the question: “Is there any room left for the rare and precious artifice that the built may possess?” The provocation was framed out of a simple observation on the part of the theme editors, namely that the Journal of Architectural Education was continually lacking scholarship concerning building as well as architects interested in writing about building, particularly within the United States context. When building was discussed, it was seen as a specialty topic—a “technical” or “professional” issue better left to other disciplines or non-academic contexts. Instead, the vast majority of those architects engaged in teaching seem to focus on the production of books, exhibitions, and installation works, some of which approach the topic of building but often avoid the messy social, cultural, and economic engagements that the translation from drawing to building entails.

The shift away from building as a topic of interest among architectural academia in the US and elsewhere has been underway for some time, with the formal implementation of NCARB’s professional licensing program during the 1950s or the change in scope of professional agency and responsibility brought on by the transformation of professional contracts in the 1970s likely contributing to this transformation. While this important transformation has not been adequately studied, the lack of a clear link between the profession and the academy has been lamented by both sides for as long as JAE has existed. These two sides of the discipline simply reinforce their already entrenched positions, with the academy advocating for more autonomy from contingencies which are seen as potentially stifling to creative inquiry and with the profession hoping for better trained future employees. It is our belief, and the motivation of this issue, that the academy, the profession, and the discipline that binds them would benefit from a renewed interest in the built as a form of knowledge production.

Our own interest in this topic as guest editors is deeply influenced by our diverse educational and professional backgrounds spanning three continents. This comparative perspective is also common to some of the critiques of architectural education and practices that have also influenced our thinking on the subject. Margaret Crawford’s text “Can Architects Be Socially Responsible?” linked the lack of US architects’ social agency, pedagogy, and professional scope.1 It was the perceived professional competency of diplomas conferred through the polytechnic system of education that gave architects social agency and responsibility in Europe. For émigrés like Walter Gropius, an introduction of new pedagogies was futile without a shift in the relationship between the profession, the academy, and society.

In other contexts, such as the Maghreb and in Latin America, professional and pedagogical models were translated in tandem, as can be seen in the writings of Lina Bo Bardi. In her 1957 job application to a post for chaired professor of “‘Architecture Theory” at the School of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of São Paulo, Lina Bo Bardi submitted a thesis entitled “Propaedeutic Contribution to the Teaching of Architecture Theory.” Bo Bardi proposed to develop a “a concrete architectonic conscience” through the study of history by looking closely at buildings.2 From construction to place, to socio-economic and cultural relationships between architects, communities, and clients, Bo Bardi offered a study of architecture that was a “critical examination” that sought to “avoid falling into formalist abstractions.”3 The professor “should endeavor to convey to students the technical and ethical consciousness of the architect.”4 Architectural theory for Bo Bardi engaged a methodology to study the tangibility of the built through direct investigations of buildings, their places, and constituencies, as well as through a precise knowledge of spaces occupied by the human body.5 Inspired by her vocation to teach and build with a “fecund and concrete” commitment to the knowledge that lies within the built, we put forth this theme issue. The call was answered with an unprecedented number of essays (more than 100) from around the world, showing that there is more than room to—there is a need to—reengage the built in our discourse. Through the built, architectural ideas not only occupy space: they also occupy and are occupied by time. This occupation exposes the coordination and contingencies attached to the built—its maintenance, planning, procurement, and its exchanges with place, culture, and environment.

A similar critique of the profession’s lack of interest in knowledge produced by engagements with the built can also be found in more recent writings by some professionals. In a 1992 interview, Rem Koolhaas suggested that the “advantage of a non-academic position is that OMA can experiment… even on ourselves.” In that interview, Koolhaas described his shift from “a theoretician of architecture” to an “architect with theoretical and literary interests” who nevertheless felt the need to “analyze the exact conditions and exact potential of the profession” by engaging in the profession itself—a “bestial activity.”6 A similar focus on building was articulated by Atelier Bow-Wow in Post Bubble City. In that book, Atelier Bow-Wow organized their built works in such a way as to demonstrate how their understanding of a particular design issue evolved through the process of thinking, building, and observing. In other words, they treated their own completed works at once as the result of their intentions and as socio-spatial artifacts with a life of their own.7 Post Bubble City is for us a rare example of architects not only focusing on the built but also focusing on the ways the built is studied, something they referred to as the transductive method.

Taking inspiration from this comparative approach to the relationship of pedagogy, design, and professional agency, we organized a series of interviews with six architectural practices involved in teaching and committed to the built as a form of knowledge production in their own professional work from Europe—Johansen Skovsted Arkitekter (Denmark), architecten jan de vylder inge vinck (Belgium), and STUDIO UP (Croatia)—and from the US, Landing Studio, Alchemy Architects, and studio:indigenous. The conversations occurred around three broad inquiries. The first question asked the practice to define their own transductive method, to borrow Bow-Wow’s term, that is the way they frame the act of building as a mode of knowledge production. The second question then asked the practice to identify where this sensibility toward the built came from, and whether that was from their formal education or from other experiences, professional or personal. The third question focused on how and even if this sensibility was being nurtured in their own teaching, or if that was even possible within the framework of formal architectural education. The diverse responses to these questions are included in this issue.

The issue is framed by two opinion pieces that question the efficacy of contemporary architecture’s relationship to the built. In her opinion piece titled “Build. No Exceptions,” Billie Faircloth examines this relationship through the lens of architectural exceptionalism. She notes that much of what is built, in fact billions of buildings, are not designed, or considered architecture, by architects. What inquiries and impacts lie behind these billions of non-exceptional, but built, structures around the world that make up much of the built environment? How is it that architecture, with its focus on the design of the built environment, has failed to incorporate such a large portion of what is really built into its discourse or education? The piece explores whether the end goal of great design is exceptional buildings and if we as a profession have failed, through our own exceptionalism, to acquire the agency that is now needed to positively impact the built environment at the terrestrial scale.

The second opinion piece by Kiel Moe, entitled “Building Agnotology,” frames the built through the production of ignorance. The piece examines how modern architecture selectively preferred particular forms of building knowledge over others, and in so doing manufactured a vast amount of ignorance surrounding the production of buildings. The piece calls for a renewed inquiry into building (as a verb) and the expanded ecologies that are affected directly and/or indirectly by architects and the buildings they design.

The year 2020 has seen, and for many has imposed, a very unique set of built experiences. In this time, whether quarantined in our homes or assembled in the streets, the built has taken on new or forgotten meanings. Under these circumstances the need to reconsider what inquiries architecture attaches to the built also takes on a renewed urgency. How does the built contribute to knowledge production? At a time when risk aversion incentivizes architects and architectural educators to build less, how do we develop design and research sensibility toward the built? What language do we use to discuss it? How do we teach this kind of knowledge to our students?

A diverse series of works propose answers and further inquiries to these questions. In the category of Scholarship as Design Angela Juarranz Serrano reflects upon the way that the Environmental Communications collective infiltrated “slide libraries with images of the ‘integrated city,’” so that “they might alter the pedagogical cortex of architectural schools” in her essay “Environmental Communications Looks at the Built, Los Angeles, 1970s.” Juliana Yat Shun Kei identifies how social, political, and economic influences brought about by long-term planning delays impacted the final design and construction of the new Globe Theatre in London in her piece “Building the Globe: The Other Tales on the Thames Bankside.” And Bruce Wrightsman uses the relatively unknown work of Neil Astle to demonstrate how design research can be framed within the scope of a built work with his text “A Critical Investigation of the Wood Frame System: The Case for the Neil Astle House.”

Design as Scholarship plays a significant role in the issue with eight essays offering unique ways to engage and discuss the built. Pier Francesco Cherchi, Marco Lecis, and Marco Moro expose the responsibilities of architects and educators in working with the politics of materials among contested sites in “Oeuvre au Noir: Materiality Inertias and Design Opportunities at the Entrance of an Abandoned Mining Site.” Kevin Hirth engages and questions conventional American construction as an emergent vernacular architecture in his article “Stacked-Plate Framing,” while Timothy Hyde takes on the subject of building sites to develop a pedagogy that exposes their social agency in his essay “The Building Site, Redux.” Julia Jamrozik reflects on the social and cultural impact of her built playgrounds in the piece “Social Infrastructures and Building for Play,” and Rafael Novais Passarelli and Byron J. Mouton present the foundations and inquiries that formed their prestigious design-build curricula in “The URBANbuild Program: Bridging Design, Construction, and Research.” The team Automated Architecture (Mollie Claypool, Gilles Retsin, Manuel Jimenez Garcia, Clara Jaschke, and Kevin Saey) questions the outcomes of digitization in architectural education, proposing an alternative form of production in “Automation and the Discrete: Exploring New Potentials for Streamlining Production in Architectural Design Research.” In “A Perfect Failure: Speculation, Risk, and Beginning Again Through Design-Build,” Patrick Rhodes, Gregory Thomas Spaw, and Lamya Al Qassimi reflect on the errors and processes of building. And finally, Blair Satterfield and Marc Swackhamer examine the life of materials as a place for constructive inventions in their project “Material Custodies: Embracing Loss, Failure, and Death as Opportunities in Wood Construction.”

The scholarship presented in the form of micronarratives richly expands the theme’s horizon and helps us ideate further thoughts. Giorgia Aquilar lures us into the potent spatial edifices of Gordon Matta-Clark and Gianni Pettena with “Sylvan Edifice: The Wild Side of Building.” Roberto Damiani uses the built to frame a discussion around environmental justice and access to technology in “On Building, Ethics, and Architectural Education.” Megan Panzano offers a distinct reading of the built world of John Soane’s architecture with the essay “Image-Building: Soane and Architecture’s Interior.” Cristina Parreño Alonso provocatively questions “when is building?” and architecture’s relationship to time in “Deep Time Architecture: Building as Material-Event.” Stephanie Pilat draws concern around the value of architectural scholarship in “Measure What You Treasure: Elevating the Work of Architects in the Academy.” David Rifkind takes on a reflective tour of a house he built with the piece “It Is in Our Failures That We Have Learned the Most from Our Living Laboratory.” And Andrew R. Tripp looks into the issues of built-in archival entities in the piece “Architectural Programming and Race in the CRS Archive.”

We believe the issue offers a fecund and solid introduction to a much-needed discussion of how and what we teach, how we practice, and how what we continue to learn can be informed by the built. The essays collected here show that engaging with building as a form of knowledge production is at the core of our shared discipline.


Margaret Crawford, “Can Architects be Socially Responsible?” in Diane Ghirardo, ed., Out of Site: A Social Criticism of Architecture (Seattle: Bay Press, 1991), 27-45. Walter Gropius foreshadowed some of the current problems in pedagogy and practice when he described how “academies turned out an ‘artistic proletariat’ foredoomed to semi-starvation” instead of tackling the problem of “combining imaginative design and technical proficiency.” Walter Gropius, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1965).
Lina Bo Bardi, Cathrine Veikos (ed., trans.), Lina Bo Bardi: The Theory of Architectural Practice (London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014), 116, 180.
Bardi, Lina Bo Bardi, 178.
Bardi, Lina Bo Bardi, 178.
Bardi, Lina Bo Bardi, 170.
Alejandro Zarea, “Finding Freedoms: Conversations with Rem Koolhaas,” in El Croquis 53 (Madrid, 1992), 6–31. The El Croquis interview format informed our own approach to the interviews included in this issue.
Atelier Bow Wow, Bow-Wow From Post Bubble City (Tokyo: Inax, 2006)

Read the full article, and the full issue at Taylor & Francis online.

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