Accepted paper:

Situating design in architecture: reflections on spatial-visual knowledge in architectural design education


Bernhard Böhm (ETH Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, I present results of my STS-based ethnographic research on design and knowledge production in architectural design education. I will show that this knowledge can be conceptualised as "spatial-visual knowledge", that is produced through and represented in drawings and models.

Paper long abstract:

Taking the ethnographic perspective of laboratory studies, a growing number of STS scholars (eg. Cuff 1991, Potthast 1998, Yaneva 2005, 2009, Houdart 2008) describe architecture as based on acts of design, such as drawing, modelling, and computer-aided designing. However, these studies understand design processes as grounded in experimentation (Yaneva, 2005) and as taking place in a laboratory like setting (Potthast, 1998), rather than reflecting on the epistemological transformation from an examination of the hard sciences to one of architectural design. Against this background, this paper suggests an alternative way to situate design knowledge in architecture. To do so, I will present results of my ethnographic research on design education at various architecture departments. In particular, I will draw attention to architectural review sessions, the so-called critiques, in which tutors give feedback on the architectural work of students. I will show that: 1.) Design artefacts, such as drawings and models, occupy a central position in architectural education, as they are the focal point of discussion in these critiques. 2.) These artefacts are treated by tutors as visually embodying the structural, material and aesthetic qualities of the spaces designed by the students. Based on these observations, I will conceptualise architectural drawings and models as representing "spatial-visual knowledge" in two ways. Through acts of drawing and model building, students produce visual knowledge about space. Furthermore, these drawings and models are the objects around which discussions and judgements about the qualities of space are centred.

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Situating designs