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The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation School of Architecture

Tectonic Thinking in Architecture Authors: Claus Bech-Danielsen, Professor, SBi Anne Beim; Professor, KADK (Editor) Karl Christiansen, Professor, AAA Charlotte Bundgaard, Associate Professor, AAA Thomas Bo Jensen, Associate Professor, KADK Ulrik Stylsvig Madsen, Assistant Professor, KADK Ole Egholm Pedersen, PhD-student, AAA Illustration credits printed in the caption Layout: Ulrik Stylsvig Madsen Print: KADK School of Design, Printcenter ISBN: 978-87-7830-300-4 Š 2012 The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation School of Architectre Denmark

Tectonic Thinking in Architecture The term tectonic is known from the science of geology, where it describes the large-scale motions of Earth’s lithosphere. The theory builds on the concepts of continental drifts an understanding of the creation of mountains as well as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In a tectonic perspective the planet is considered a living organism, through studies of the forces, relocations and movements that over time have occurred in the outer surface of the Earth. In a sustainable perspective, there seems to be a similar view of our planet, which is described in James Lovelock’s Gaia theory from the 1970’ies. This theory sees the Earth as a living system – and it proposes that all organisms and their inorganic environment on Earth are closely integrated and they form a unified and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on the planet (Lovelock, 1979). Common for the two theoretical positions is that they both lead to careful and open views on architecture. To some it may be hard to recognize the correlation between sustainable change for the better and tectonic quality in architecture. Yet one of the most important challenges from a sustainable perspective is the increase in energy consumption and the global climate changes - which disrupts the self-regulating system of Gaia. Construction and operation of buildings are in most European countries responsible for 40-50% of the total energy consumption (European Commission, 2010). The political objective is to reduce the consumption of energy, which also leads to restrictions in energy performance of buildings. These policies also include Denmark, where the target is to reach reductions of CO2 emissions by 20% before year 2020. For this reason, the insulation standards and energy consumption were 3

tightened up in the Danish Building Regulations of 2010. Further restrictions will be adopted in 2015 and in 2020, and by then all new constructions in Denmark are expected to be built according to Passive House standards. This is primarily done by adding extra layers of insulation. Energy demands will thus have a major impact on future building constructions and the creation of tectonic qualities in architecture. A second challenge is the highly developed industrialization of construction and its impact on products and processes in our built environment. The historical evolution, which has transformed traditional craftsmanship into industrialized construction with computer-controlled production processes, calls for updated theories and a novel understanding of architectural practice and making of buildings. A reinterpretation of the concept of tectonics must necessarily respond to this. In order to do so, the present research project is based on explorations of the tectonic aspects of architecture, and the primary task of the project is to explore and discuss the existing theoretical positions in light of current environmental challenges and cultural issues. These issues will, among others, deal with sustainability (resource consumption) and our current building culture (development of technology and cultural identity), and they will be illustrated through a series of related sub-projects. The overall objective of the research project is to define new strategies for a tectonic sustainable building practice.

Research Question The research project is based on the understanding that the current environmental conditions involves a number of limitations as well as potentials that need to be exposed and unfolded as dynamic parameters in architectural practice. This leads to the overall research question – stated as follows:


Stoneman House Exterior Architect: Richard Murphy Location: Killeenaran, Ireland Type: Single familiy house Built: 1997 Photo: USM

We build in accordance with specific contemporary conditions, defined by production methods, construction and materials as well as ethics, meaning and values. Tectonic thinking is not only about portraying a constructional logic. Tectonics is to create material realities that reveal narrative meaning. Tectonics is to construct with cultural references. Charlotte Bundgaard, 5

A raw construction holds a special poetic dimension by being both finished and unfinished at the same time. The raw building shows the very essence of its constructive nature and challenges the creativity and involvement of the users to compose their own layers of meaning upon what is already there. Ulrik Stylsvig Madsen 6

Brookfield Community and Youth Centre The concrete walls and ceiling in the vestibule Architect: Hasset Ducatez Architects Location: Brookfield, Dublin Type: Culture and youth centre Built: 2007 Photo: USM

Can tectonic thinking form a basis for new strategies for contemporary sustainable building practices? To answer this question, it is necessary to understand to what extent and in what manner the paradigm of sustainability influences the realm of the tectonic. As a point of departure we look at the Classical theories by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, author of De Architectura in the first century AD. In this classical doctrine on architecture he stated that architectural quality occurs in buildings, when the quality both includes firmitas (durability), utilitas (utility), and venustas (delight) (Rowland and Howe, 1999). Firmitas concerns aspects of materials and construction in architecture that are relevant to physical durability of buildings. Utilitas concerns the functional issues of architecture that is to say the building’s capacity to respond to the demands or needs asked for by peopleand society through various times. Venustas concerns the beauty of architecture, which in a Classical Vitruvian sense was about the building’s ability to mime (from O.Gr. ‘Mimesis’) the cosmic order of nature. In this light, it is interesting to look at the concept of the tectonic, defined by Gottfried Semper, who has qualified a contemporary understanding of the concept (Beim, 2004). Two aspects of his tectonic theories are particularly interesting. First and foremost he defines the tectonic as a result of conscious artistic work (Semper, 1851). Secondly, he sees the tectonic aspects of architecture concerning the material properties and the design of constructions, whereas the functional dimensions of architecture are paid less attention. (Beim 2004, p. 49). Following the first point, it is worth noting that tectonic features in architecture must involve an artistic idea. It can be argued that tectonic work has a ‘purpose’; it involves intention 7

and strives towards meaningful contents (Hartoonian, 1994, pp.29-30). Tectonic design then holds a creative idea, which acts as a directing and structuring principle – an overall principle that materialise constructions into coherent structures. Following the second point, it is worth observing that tectonic work in a Semperian definition can be regarded as artistic creation – having only secondary focus on the functional content in architecture. By this definition tectonic work discusses artistic design (venustas) based on architectural physical structures and materials (firmitas) – rather than focusing on functional aspects of architecture and its everyday use (utillitas). Semper’s downsizing of functional aspects is important to be aware of when approaching the research-question stated above, which concerns how tectonic work may influence sustainable solutions (also being functional). Contemporary sustainability issues primarily concerns reduction of energy consumption and CO2 emissions related to construction. These demands affect the choice of materials and construction designs directly; materials must be evaluated from a ‘cradle to cradle’ perspective as suggested by McDonough and Braungart, and constructions must likewise be evaluated by their ability to allow the building to be part of a greater cycle of resources, such as the ability to disassemble constructions by the end of use in order to have the materials recycled and reused in new constructions. (McDonough and Braungart, 2002) These circumstances raise a second research question: Can the tectonic work be approached in ways where resources are used more thoughtfully, and how can a strong tectonic building culture be encouraged – when taking the growing climate and environmental problems into account? This question relates to other elements of the sustainability paradigm that touches upon social and societal structures. 8

Letterfrack Furniture College Machine Hall Corner Detail Architect: O’Donnell + Tuomey Location: County Galway Type: Educational Building Built: 2001 Photo: AB

Second Semperian reading of Letterfrack Furniture College – CLAD ENCLOSURE Anne Beim 9

Architecture is physically present, and experienced by the senses - Architecture is concrete. This also used to be the case with environmental problems. The environmental problems in the industrial society - urban problems with smoke, noise and odour - were easy to spot. They were noticeably present - they were concrete. Claus Bech-Danielsen 10

Christianshøj Part of facade Architect: Kay Fisker & Åge Rafn Location: Almindingen, Bornholm Type: Station Built: 1915/16 Photo: CBD

They hold more general questions concerning the norms and values upon which we base our cities and buildings. In this respect there are reasons to recall that architecture is not only built on materials - bricks, concrete, glass and steel. Architecture is also based on ideas – ideals and values that holds visions concerning ‘the good life’ – all together conditions that can be categorized as part of the concept of ’utilitas’. These ideas are affected significantly by the environmental problems – ideas that manifest themselves as ‘nonintentional dark sides’ of the prosperity and consumption that has been the driving force behind the development of the Western society since World War II. Other societal and cultural ideals have an imprint on contemporary building culture, such as the growing individualization in society leads to demands for architectural diversity, flexibility and adaptability (Madsen, 2008). These issues are examined as part of the present research project and how they influence the processes and quality linked to architectural creation are further discussed. Thus it will be analyzed whether (and if so, how) the social and humanistic oriented ideals, which among other things arise from the sustainable development, may influence the tectonic work. How can tectonic thinking sustain a responsive and adaptive architecture that comprises a more sensitive understanding of human values?

Hypothesis By focusing at the tectonic aspects of the very building and how a tectonic mindset may influence the connection between the design process and the construction – a series of particular viewpoints arises. These can be summarized in the following hypothesis:


Tectonic thinking – defined as a central attention towards the nature of the making, and the application of building materials (construction) and how this attention forms a creative force in building constructions, structural features and architectural design (construing) – can be used to identify and refine strategies for improving a contemporary sustainable building industry. The architectural thinker Marco Frascari unfolds the notion of construction and construing in the essay The Tell-thetail Detail (Frascari, 1984). According to Frascari the two concepts have to come together to provide meaning in architecture. By this the actual building construction needs to contain a narrative layer making possible a construing of the meaning embedded in the structure. This intimate link between the creation of physical solutions and the creation of meaning forms the core of tectonic thinking. By understanding the potentials of the materials and the construction methods used and by transforming these into architectural design solutions – that reflects the logic of the construction – the processes of a buildings construction and its appearance are unified In the book Tectonic Visions in Architecture, Anne Beim argues that when talking about the tectonics of a building, the focus will then be on the meaning embedded in the specific construction, as it is interpreted both by the designing architect and the user (Beim, 2004). Construction and construing then become core elements in the design process as well as in the perception of the actual design result. Therefore tectonic thinking involves the potentials and qualities both found in the genesis of the construction solution and in the materialization of the final building structure.


ReVault pavilion Detail of the structure Architects: Ole Egholm Pedersen, Dave Pigram, Niels Martin Larsen Location: Aarhus, Denmark Type: Case study pavilion Built: 2011 Photo: Niels Martin Larsen

Concrete structures are tectonic when the material and technique have a significant impact on the initial idea about form, in such a way that the final structure can be said to be a consequence of material and technique. Ole Egholm Pedersen 13

The message is identical to its form Karl Christiansen 14

St. Colmcille’s House View from the street Location: Kells, Ireland Type: Stone oratory Built: 11th century Photo: KC

In the essay by Marco Frascari work by the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa exemplifies, how the dialogue between the construction design and the meaning embedded in the architectural design solution (detail) can be used as a creative force. In his work, Scarpa pursues an artistic idea as the starting point of an investigation of the detailing of the structure. In the design of the detail, Scarpa studies both the technical construction and the appearance of the final design by using different ways of sketching as part of the same drawing. The aim of this process is to unite the artistic idea and the selected construction in one narrative that articulates both the artistic idea and its connection to the logic of construction (Frascari, 1984). By focusing on the construction as a narrative expressing its own logic, then both the process of designing and the final piece of work become more transparent. This elucidation of the structure and its creation makes it easier to recognise and keep focus on the main problem at play. The transparency of the process then facilitates communication between the different parties involved in the design process (architects, engineers, contractors and craftsmen). In this way, tectonic thinking can form the platform for strategies for refining and improving the contemporary building industry seen in the light of sustainability, by creating a clear focus in the design process and a common language among the parties involved. By focusing on tectonic thinking in the design of buildings, one forms a strategy of establishing a link between the intensions embedded in the design of the structure and the way these are understood by the user/owner of the building. Working on the tectonic aspects of the structures strengthens the appearance of its potentials. By offering the possibility to the user of the building to conceive the logic of the construction, the user gets actively involved in the understanding of the potentials embedded in the structure. This knowledge can help the user both in the handling of the 15

building at a daily basis and in a future reconstruction of the building structure. Tectonic thinking can, in this way, form the platform for strategies in order to ensure a sustainable use of resources through the lifespan of the building by creating an understanding of the logic and the potentials of the building construction among the users/owners.

A Model of Analysis In terms of working out a model for analysis when looking at tectonic aspects at close hand there is no doubt that it ought to be open and flexible in order to engage a variety of data and analytic approaches, and in order to grasp the specific context and nature of the phenomenons that are centre for attention. This sort of approach seems important when contemporary building industry calls for theoretical models as well as analytical tools. They ought to match and unfold the complexity of the building industry in ways that are comprehensible and possible to improve. When analyzed, tectonics should be approached from different angles, due to the composite nature of the concept; in this context also defined as the holder of the dialogue between construction and construing, and secondly due to the vast and highly complex field of building construction (the edifice) and the building industry (the professional context). In that sense, the model of analysis is primarily based on qualitative questioning and methods, yet it makes sense to define specific levels for analysis, which reflect the question of scale in architecture, the order of the building structure and the processes involved. For tectonic analysis the following three levels are suggested: · product level – focusing on assembly of various elements or building components · system level – focusing on integration of various systems 16

Stacked handmade bricks Location: Anebjerg Tilework, Silkeborg,Denmark Built: 1967 Photo: Johannes Exner

BRICKWORK TECTONICS Stacking a structure Thomas Bo Jensen 17

Tectonics is the art of using prefabricated readymades in the creation of a sustainable contemporary architecture. To achieve new meaning by making intelligent re-use of the existing, to appreciate the transformative possibilities in the situation at hand, to create an architectural interchange between the situational and the general, to challenge the act of juxtaposition. Charlotte Bundgaard 18

Social housing in Mulhouse Interior Architect: Lacaton & Vassal Location: Mulhouse, France Type: Housing Built: 2005 Photo: AB

· building level – focusing on organisation concepts for various building constructions/designs When analyzing the product level of building components it is not only a matter of examining the single product or component as individual parts, but similarly important to study at how these building parts are joined and put together in larger systems, how they work and what they signify, when they are built into specific constructions. In that sense, both the very object – the building component, its material properties, the manufacturing processes involved and the principles linked to the building technology are targets for analysis. Furthermore, the correlation and the synthesis between these various parts and the meaning embedded in this should be taken into consideration. At system level, the integration of different ‘hardware’ systems such as: construction elements, construction systems and service systems et cetera – or ‘software’ systems such as: sustainability issues, aesthetic intentions, organization strategies can be focused on, separately or combined. In this case, systems are not necessarily limited to those found in one singular building project; neither should they be regarded as specific ‘closed entities’ or ‘systems agendas’ detached from a wider context. They must be examined in relation to other (similar) systems or principles of thought and maybe include elements from analyses at product level and/or building level. Tectonic models for analysis at building level are manifold, yet certain fundamental elements should be included. These are linked to aspects of construction and construing at all levels and how these are connected to a wider context. This may include elements of the other two levels of tectonic analysis, but maybe more importantly; it may include a dimension of cultural, historical, social, economical or ecological consideration. In that sense, the tectonic analysis 19

at building level is not self-referential but instead inclusive, and opens for discussion. This model for analysis will be developed further in the future work of the research group. The model will be tested in various ways in order to see if it works satisfactorily in terms of addressing the nature, practice and findings linked to tectonics. The ambition is that it enables us to discuss tectonics in regard of contemporary construction industry and building practice.


Can Lis The ceiling in one of the bedrooms Architect: Jørn Utzon Location: Porto Petro, Mallorca Type: Single family house Built: 1972 Photo: USM

In his own house Can Lis on Mallorca, Jørn Utzon worked with a very simple constructive principle exploring its many variations giving every part of the house and its construction its own character. This way of working with architecture creates a straightforwardness in the appearance of the building enabling the observer to understand the simplicity and the complexity of the structure as something inseparable. Ulrik Stylsvig Madsen 21

References Beim, Anne, 2004. Tectonic Visions in Architecture. Copen������ hagen; The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture Publishers. European Commision, 2010. Energy Efficiency in Buildings [online]. Availible �������������� at: <������������������������������������� cy/buildings/buildings_en.htm> Frascari, Marco, 1984. “The Tell-the-Tale Detail”. In: VIA 7 The Building of Architecture. Architectural Journal of the Graduate School of Fine Arts. University of Pennsylvania. Hartoonian, Gevork, 1994. Ontology of Construction: On Nihilism of Technology in Theories of Modern Architecture. New York; Cambridge University Press. Lovelocks James, 1979. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford; Oxford University Press. Madsen, Ulrik S., 2008. Robust Arkitektur - arkitekturen som en aktiv del af organisationers Identitetsskabelsesproces. Copenhagen; The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture Publishers. McDonough, W., Braungart, M., 2002. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York; North Point Press. Rowland, I.D. & Howe, T.N., ed., 1999. Vitruvius. Ten Books on Architecture. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press. Semper, Gottfried, 1851. Die Vier Elemente der Baukunst. Ein Beitrag zur Vergleichenden Baukunde. Braunsweig; Friedrich Vieweg und Son. 22

This essay introduces the research project: Towards a Tectonic Sustainable Building Practice that is carried out across the three major Danish research institutions in the architectural field: The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation â&#x20AC;&#x201C; School of Architecture Aarhus School of Architecture Danish Building Research Institute / Aalborg University. The research project is funded by The Danish Council for Independent Research; Humanities, in the period form 20102013 and it treats topics within the research field of tectonics, sustainability and building culture. In light of the current changes in contemporary industrialized building culture and in light of the challenges arising from the growing need for sustainable solutions the central purpose of the project is to update tectonic theories that can inform contemporary architecture For more information please visit our webpage:


By the research project Towards a Tectonic Sustainable Architecture, 2012. Authors: Claus Bech-Danielsen, Professor, SBi; Anne Beim; Profess...