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Make with engagement and risk. Seed society with makers of quality.

Make with engagement and risk. Seed society with makers of quality.

CRAFT Clayton Williams | 2014 M Arch Thesis Research Advised by Melissa Goldman + Robin Dripps



“Workmanship of the better sort is called in an honorific way craftsmanship. Nobody, however is prepared to say where craftsmanship ends and ordinary manufacture begins. It is impossible to find a generally satisfactory definition for it in face of all the strange shibboleths and prejudices about it which are acrimoniously maintained. It is a word to start an argument with.” -David Pye

“He is not waiting, as so many others are, till wars shall have been averted, revolutions made, or inventions perfected, before he begins to fashion the world nearer to the heart’s desire. Each in his own very small way is doing it now. The craftsman is preserving a truth indispensable to the future of mankind.” – Seonaid Robertson

MATERIAL Craft as Catalyst: Creating sleeper cells as a vehicle for social growth

Components of Craft: Tool Intelligence Material Agency

The Hand: The fallacy of a ‘hand-made’ logic

Change Agents: Code, Algorithms, Material Computation

Workflows of Risk: Making processes of contemporary craftsmen

Tessellation: An installation and framework for fabrication and discussion.

This thesis, unlike many others, is not about changing the world. This is a thesis about quality, about making, about materials and tools. This is a thesis about architectural education and the link between design and artifact. This is a thesis about Craft. More specifically, it’s about an emergence of craftsmen. Craftsmen are champions of quality and engagement. They lead society by example, setting higher expectations and standards of quality for the environment that we inhabit and the objects that populate our daily lives. There is a lack of understanding and appreciation of craft in today’s American culture. It appears as if our value system is so heavily tied to the dollar that cost obsessions have eroded the place of quality within our collective value system. The general quality of construction and manufacturing in America, with some exceptions, has settled into an acceptance of inexpensive mediocrity. As architects, part of our role in society is to pursue, if not demand, excellence in the design and production of our built environment. We were once master builders, overseeing the entire building process and maintaining a level of control and motivation for the hands and minds that were transforming our designs into realities, or artifacts. As design and building practices grew more complex and regulated, a rift opened between architects and these makers, distancing architects from the materials and fabrication methods shaping our culture. This separation allowed for a slippage in the understanding and expertise of the tooling and materiality of our designs, often creating conflicts between makers working with materials and designers working with ideas. In discussing the impact of digital tools and fabrication methods on architecture Bill Kreyson writes “Just as eighteenth and nineteenth century carpenters were hired based on the way theirs tools were sharpened and how they held a mallet, architects of tomorrow will be judged as much by there facility with manufacturing techniques and materials they specify, as by their designs. The most successful will be those who have the combination of creativity to imagine great forms, the craftsmanship needed to get the most of materials, and the new tools to assemble and create them.” An internalization of Craft in a new generation of architects has the power to close this gap and greatly improve the way we design and build our world.


Can we raise society’s standards and expectations of the built environment? If our culture shifted to a quality-centric value system, would it improve the lives of all of us? If so, can this be achieved through an emergence of craftsmen as a backbone for our culture? Craftsmen as individuals who strive for excellence, engaged in making our world with care, skill and focus? The first trouble with proposing a craft-centered society, featuring craftsmen as the new champions of excellence, is that it is nearly impossible to find a universal definition of Craft. The word ‘Craft’ has been used so widely and in such varied contexts that there is no definition that doesn’t exclude one or more arenas of its use. In architecture and the building trades it has been used to mean precision and skill, the act of making with one’s hands, ‘handiness’, cleverness, traditional ways of making, ethical manipulation of materials, and on and on. The topic of Craft and craftsmanship in a time when technology and digital fabrication are becoming increasingly pervasive and new digital construction and design methodologies are ripening is a crowded and important forum of discourse. Within the context of design and digital fabrication, which I use as a vehicle for discussion in this thesis, I propose a definition of Craft as the merging of two primary components: Tool Intelligence and Material Agency. On the surface, these two components appear relevant only to industries of physical making, such as architecture or glassblowing. However, with abstraction they are applicable to any industry and process of thought. Craft, as defined in this way, is a broadening and strengthening of relationships among design intent, processes of making and final artifacts, creating multiple avenues of feedback and information exchange. Throughout this research I will be using Richard Sennet’s proposal that “[craftsmanship] represents the special human condition of being engaged,” and David Pye’s re-framing of craftsmanship into a “workmanship of risk” as baselines for discussion. Thousands of architecture students enter the work force each year and are hired for their prowess and knowledge of the latest digital design and fabrication tools in addition to their design thinking talent. Architecture schools teach a wide variety of design processes and skills and they should include an explicit teaching of Craft as the primary link between ideas and artifacts. Within the many schools of thought on design education, there should always be a component of allowing materials and the tooling of materials to play an active role in the design process. In support of this ideal, I propose to study of the components of craft through a design-build project;

an iterative fabrication process resulting in an installation, and a series of discussions and workshops held with architectural faculty and students to discuss the role of craft in the growth of our industry and society. If a deep understanding of Craft is embedded into students, causing an intolerance of poor design and making practices, upon graduation and release into the world they can act as sleeper cells in our society. These cells, acting almost as an infection, have the power to charge those they interact with, changing views and raising the standards of acceptable design and fabrication quality, attacking mediocrity as if it were a disease. Activated by the presence of low quality making and thinking they will rebel against it, rising up to champion a movement for better quality and a closer connection between our ideas and our built world. This can raise the quality of our built environment and, through it, society’s expectations, eventually infiltrating our collective value system. This thesis attempts to redefine Craft in a way that creates a wider network of information exchange and feedback between design intents, or ideas, processes of making, and final artifacts. It will bring this definition into focus through an installation; designed, documented, and fabricated concurrent with a series of discussions and workshops with the faculty and students at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. The goal will be to demonstrate a working method and teaching attitude that helps students to internalize the power of connectivity between ideas, materials, and tools and to instill in them a drive for excellence. They will be the catalysts of a grass roots Craft revolution. Huh, maybe this thesis is about changing the world after all.


compone Digital design and analytical tools lead to an ever increasing level of complexity in architecture. Branko Kolarevic suggests that “it is the complexity of…forms that is actually drawing architects, out of sheer necessity, back into being closely involved with the making of buildings[.]” This is due to digital design models also being the models for fabrication and construction. If digital design tools and digital fabrication methods are tying architects back into central roles within the building construction process, then an appreciation and intense desire for quality in design and making, or ‘craftsmanship’, is important. These architects will shape our future. To understand craftsmanship, we should start with a definition of Craft. A useful way to approach defining Craft in the context of architecture and fabrication is to view it as the link between design intent and tangible realization. This link can be seen as the localized decisions and responses that add up to a process of making that creates a final artifact. The more embedded a sense of quality is in a maker, and the more one works at bettering their skill, experience, and understanding of tools and materials, the closer and more consistent the final artifact is to the matching the intended design. The less Craft, the more a project will wander from its intended design In architectural education, there is often a glossing over of the particulars of a material’s properties and the tooling processes that bring it from raw form to the forms that students represent in design drawings and renderings. This way of teaching leads to a fantasy of materiality that excludes the opportunity for materials and tools to provide feedback and influence design and fabrication processes. This top down approach to design fails to leverage the power of materials, which, in the end, give all ideas tangible form. In 1954, U.N.E.S.C.O. organized a seminar on Art and Crafts in General Education and Community Life and invited Seonaid Robertson, an English educator, to study and report on Craft in early and adult education. She published her findings as Craft and Contemporary Culture in 1961 and they centered on the importance of craft in education as a vehicle for the development of qualityseeking working and playing habits. In architectural education, quality of thought and making should be a constant goal and a reintroduction of Craft into the educational discourse is one way to help secure this type of work ethic.

ents I propose a view of Craft as consisting of two primary components; Tool Intelligence and Material Agency. These two parts of Craft rely heavily on an understanding of the language of each tool and material.

CLAW HAMMER natural composites ceramic glass metal

addative subtractive assemble deconstruct

METHODS OF USE Attach Pry Impact

Tool Intelligence +

Tool Intelligence includes the knowledge of a tool’s language, strengths, limitations, and feedback. Tools do more than just carry out orders. They give feedback, and can become an influential part of the design process, taking on a generative role far beyond just picking the right tool for the job. For this to happen, craftsman must practice with their tools and get to the point where the tools are extensions of themselves. A craftsman must understand and be able to communicate in the tool’s language. This point of mastery and extension of oneself is at the core of Tool Intelligence.

A tool diagram with parameters


Wood grain sketch

A tool can be many things. In the following excerpt from Abstracting Craft, Malcolm McCullough discusses what a tool does. “A tool directs your attention. Its function becomes your focus; as the saying goes, when you hold a hammer, all the world looks like nails. Its function extends some powers of your hand, and prevents the use of others. In other words, it serves a specialization.” He then defines a tool as “a moving entity whose use is initiated and actively guided by a human being, for whom it acts as an extension, toward a specific purpose. This definition is explicitly kinetic, yet it is open to abstraction; then entity may be physical or conceptual; the motion may be manual or machine powered; the guidance may be manual or by indirect control. It reflects that condition that tools may suggest new uses for themselves, but unlike some other technologies, they remain subject to our intent. A tool depends on us to control the scope, the pace, and the focus of its work; merely attended machinery does not.” In talking to the use of tools, he states “tools take practice. You must learn how to bring skills and intentions together.” In other words, you must better your Craft, strengthening the link between intention and artifact. Tools defined and described in this way are not limited to objects operated mechanically by hand, but include digital software and hardware as well. McCullough suggests that “the computer is a means for combining the skillful hand with the reasoning mind.” He states “[C]omputers let us turn the tables – to apply something of what we know about using tools to achieve richer symbolic processing metaphorically, they let us get a hold of our ideas. Concepts become things. WE can’t touch them yet, but already we can look at them, point at them, and work on them as though with hand-held tools…Our use of computers ought not be so much for automating tasks as for abstracting craft.” Tools have a variety of uses and give many forms of feedback. Many digital tools are extraordinarily adaptable and customizable, often referred to as open-source. An example is the use of robots in architecture. Contemporary digital craftsman like Wes McGee at the University of Michigan and Matthias Kohler at ETH and MIT have been using robotics as an open-sourced tool and the software to interface with it as a driver in their fabrication research and experimentation, both seeing great value in the feedback of the tool as a means for producing better architecture.

Material Agency In a collection of essays on high performance architecture, Bill Kreysler, a contemporary digital fabricator, writes “[a] chisel in the hands of an unskilled worker is a weapon. 3d modeling software can be equally dangerous. Like Renaissance painters who invested years mixing colors before they picked up a brush, today’s designers would benefit greatly by understanding materials and their methods of fabrication before manipulating these powerful twenty-first century chisels.” To effectively use the digital tools of today and the future, in addition to practice and technical knowledge, there needs to be a deep understanding of materials and their properties. Material Agency is the mastery of a material’s intrinsic properties, tooling opportunities, and limitations, and an openness for the material to inform the design and fabrication methods. This is the second half of Craft. All materials have their own unique properties that can provide feedback to a design and fabrication process. Wood, for example, has a grain direction, hardness, moisture content, and amount of movement in response to temperature and moisture changes. These all effect the way wood can be shaped and tooled. Research in addition to experience with a specific type of wood reveals a deep understanding of these properties and allows the wood to have an active voice in the design process. Craftsmen listen to their materials as much as to their tools and their ideas and strive to let all three guide the making process.

chisel natural composites ceramic glass metal

3D PRINTER addative subtractive assemble deconstruct


hand saw

natural composites ceramic glass metal

addative subtractive assemble dissasemble

natural composites ceramic glass metal METHODS OF USE divide score

METHODS OF USE LAYER BUILD-UP PARAMETERS layer thickness # of shells density speed temperature


9 +


01001 11010 00110



Tool diagrams | An analysis of tool parameters and properties

power drill natural composites ceramic glass metal METHODS OF USE

CIRCULAR SAW addative subtractive assemble deconstruct

natural composites ceramic glass metal METHODS OF USE

LASER CUTTER addative subtractive assemble deconstruct

natural composites ceramic glass metal

It is rare for a discussion of craft to not address the hand, or the hand-made. Often the hand is discussed in terms of objects that are made through a process where hands are directly manipulating a material alone with the help of hand-guided tools. Craft is often tied to ‘handiness’ or ‘handness.’ and this adopts a very narrow definition of both craft and the hand. Where does the hand start and stop? In the early pages of The Hand, a book on the way the hand and its use has shaped the brain, language, and human culture, Frank Wilson demonstrates the difficulty of defining the extents of the hand in the human body: “But what do we mean by ‘the hand?’ Should we define it on the basis of its visible physical boundaries? From the perspective of classical surface anatomy, the hand extends from the wrist to the fingertips. But under the skin this boundary is just an abstraction, a pencil line drawn by mapmakers, giving no clue as to what the hand is or how it actually works. On both sides of the wrist, under a thin layer of skin and connective tissue, pale white, cord like tendons and nerves pass from the hand into the forearms. Are the tendons above the wrist -- that is, in the forearm -- part of the hand? After all, we are able to hammer nails or use a pencil only because of the pull of tendons and muscles near the elbow. From the perspective of biomechanical anatomy, the hand is an integral part of the entire arm, in effect a specialized termination of a cranelike structure suspended from the neck and upper chest. Should we agree that the hand must be conceptualized in biomechanical terms, we invite further complexities of definition.” He continues on to ask if the nerves that control feeling and movement and lead from fingertips to the brain should also be part of the hand, and if so, then the regions of the brain that process and direct this information are also a part of the hand. This trouble with defining the extents of the hand demonstrates that the common use of the term, as the flesh and bone that we see and feel below our wrists, is only a surface understanding. The hand can be thought of as an extension of the


CNC router

mind just as easily as a distinct physical unit made of flesh and bone. It belongs to a network of connectivity, both giving feedback and carrying out neural orders. When viewing the hand in this way, with a deeper understanding of its use and influence, the commonly held notions of ‘hand-made’ and ‘handiwork’ begin to lose relevancy. David Pye, in his seminal work on craftsmanship in The nature and art of workmanship, asks “Is anything done by hand?” He suggests that “Handicraft and Hand-made are historical or social terms and not technical ones. Their ordinary usage nowadays seems to refer to workmanship of any kind which could have been found before the Industrial Revolution.” This is an important concept when faced with a critique of digital tools as being a separation from the hand, or the hand losing relevance in the design and fabrication process. If the hand is a network of feedback and action connecting the brain/idea, to an action/effect, then any tool could be considered an extension of the hand. Wilson uses an interview with contestants of the North American Backhoe Rodeo Championship to demonstrate the extension of the hand. Contestants suggested the need to “become one” with the machine. “You must empty your mind and think of nothing so that the backhoe becomes an extension of your arm,” one contestant states. “You’re part of the machine. It’s part of you,” says another, the eventual winner of the competition. Wilson uses these to illustrate ‘incorporation’ or the act of bringing something into, or making it a part of, the body. He likens it to those who have long studied an instrument, or driving a car. The largest factor in the incorporation of a tool is practice. In digital design and fabrication, as new tools and languages are being developed, there is little difference between a chisel as an extension of the hand and a piece of code, an algorithm, or the paths of a CNC router.


CHANGE AGENTS Change Agents: Noun- plural -Ideas, people, or tools that act as catalysts for change. Digital extensions of the hand; scripting, algorithms, parametric design, and material computation to name just a few, extend the mind and body’s ability to handle complex information and connect and create relationships beyond our born capabilities. These new ways of designing and making alter our understanding of Craft in architecture and move it away from the traditional ‘hand holds a chisel’ ideology and into the reality of orchestrated relationships at multiple scales. Some of the power of these hand extensions lie in their ability to enable greater iterative design opportunities and allow deeper investigations into structure, skin, material agency, and building construction methods. Digital fabrication and a growing percentage of contemporary architectural design relies heavily on these new ways of working and designing. The same approach to Craft and quality craftsmanship that can be applied to a carpenter in his use of tools and material should also apply to the digital craftsman wielding digital tools. One area of current research that is both a change agent itself and utilizes many digital workflows is the study of material computation. A special issue of Architectural Design edited by Achim Menges highlights the power of materials to process information and be integrated into morphogenic design. It begins with a quote by Sanford Kwinter stating that “[n]o computer on earth can match the processing power of even the most simple natural system, be it of water molecules on a warm rock, a rudimentary enzyme system, or the movement of leaves in the wind. The most powerful and challenging use of the computer … is in learning how to make a simple organization (the computer) model what is intrinsic about a more complex, infinitely entailed organization (the natural or real system)”

This led the journal into a collection of articles, each demonstrating the way materials can process data and add critical feedback into, if not drive, design processes. This is just one example of how new avenues of research, both in digital software and with physical materiality, are changing the way we design and make, and furthering the importance of Craft in designing and producing architecture.

15 Programming Matter | Neri Oxman

Material Computation | Achim Menges


David Pye suggests that we should be discussing making processes as ‘workmanships of risk’ and ‘workmanships of certainty’. These terms are centered around whether or not a process has a predetermined outcome with no opportunity for feedback and change once the process has begun. In redefining craftsmanship as a ‘workmanship of risk’ Pye writes, “If I must ascribe a meaning to the word craftsmanship, I shall say as a first approximation that it means simply workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgement, dexterity, and care which the maker exercises as he works. The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making; and so I shall call this kind of workmanship, the workmanship of risk.“ He points out that care counts more than judgment or dexterity and care can often become habitual and unconscious. A test for distinguishing between the two types of workmanship is to ask “[i]s the result predetermined and unalterable once production beings?” The punching of holes in the end of metal rulers is a work-

manship of certainty. Once the process has started, there will always be a hole of the exact size and location punched out of the same dimensional metal band. The carving of a wooden spoon, however, is a workmanship of risk as any response to the wood grain or carving tool will alter the final spoon. The distinction between the two applies also to complex making processes. Architects and digital fabricators should be constantly working within and striving for a workmanship of risk as it creates opportunities for tooling methods, material properties, and feedback from both to inform and improve the quality of the design and final artifact. The following contemporary craftsman utilize the type of Craft and workmanship of risk described in this thesis. They exhibit great care in the design and production of their built work and seek feedback from their tools and materials to inform and improve the final artifacts. The next six pages are examples of well crafted, digitally fabricated, installations that champion the merging of Material Agency and Tool Intelligence , or Craft, into the design and fabrication process.


HYGROSKIN – METEOROSENSITIVE PAVILION ACHIM MENGES “It is a question of surrendering to the wood, then following where it leads by connecting operations to a materiality, instead of imposing a form upon a matter” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari) This project was driven by wood’s expansion rates in the presence of differing humidities. It leveraged wood’s ability to compute and react to humidity and developed custom tools to facilitate the fabrication of the structure.



PERISCOPE FOAM TOWER BRANDON CLIFFORD + WES MCGEE Constructed from light weigth EPS foam using a custom-built, robot guided, wire





hot an

inversion in standard stacking construction. The material requires tension to maintain structural integrity as opposted to standared stacking units. Careful research in foam cutting tools and foam properties were essential to the success of this project.



VOUSSOIR CLOUD LISA IWAMOTO This digitaly fabricated and hand assembled installation worked back and forth between material studies with thin wood strips and “computational origami� with digital models to explore a curved folding techinique. The discovered fabrication and assembly techniques allowed a tangible study of a lightweight minimal surface solution. This project is an example of the interplay of digital tools and iterative material research acting as drivers of the final design.




In truth, almost any design-build fabrication project could be used to test and launch discussions in response to this thesis, and an analysis of the making processes, documentation of progress, and feedback that the materials and tools have on the final artifact could be preformed at multiple scales. As this thesis is in part about teaching Craft, it is important that the process of making, including iterative changes in material use and tooling methods, be visible in the final artifact that this research produces. After careful consideration of the one semester timeline and a review of many architectural and fabrication precedents, I propose a design-build installation in the form of a continuous tessellated surface as the vehicle for exploration and analysis in the teaching and embodiment of craft in digital fabrication. Lisa Iwamoto describes a tessellation as a “collection of pieces that fit together without gaps to form a plane or surface. Tessellations can be virtually any shape so long as they puzzle together in tight formation. The geometrically patterned drawings of M.C. Escher are often cited as an example of tessellation. In architecture, the term refers to both tiled patters on buildings and digitally defined mesh patterns.� A tessellation is an excellent geometric form for this installation as it can grow cell by cell through an iterative design and fabrication process, allowing tool intelligence and material agency to inform the making processes. Because cells can be added as they are made, the installation will grow throughout the semester, engaging visitors and students incrementally instead of singularly as with any design, then build, project. I will design and fabricate a soft, gradient space contained by a doubly curved tessellated surface, where the cells’ materiality, structure, and form will be driven by iterative material and tooling experimentation. The progression and influence of craft will be readily available to visitors as it will be tangible in the construction, structure, and variation of materiality of the cells. Production of the installation will occur concurrently with a series of discussions, roughly one a month, using the project as a launching point to discuss the opportunities and importance of craft as an integral part of architectural education and ways we could weave it into our curriculum and collective consciousness. Workshops will be taught in tools and material manipulation throughout construction phase so that other students can inform the making process while extending their understanding of craft.


“People are born resourceful and they become skillful and “thoughtful” when they genuinely care about what they are doing. One begins to understand the origins - and learns to appreciate the interdependence - of human skill intelligence, and vitality by looking at the details, one piece and one person at a time.” - Frank Wilson



Bibliography: Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing. New York, NY: Spon Press, 2003. Beorkrem, Christopher. Material Strategies in Digital Fabrication /. New York :: Routledge,, 2013. Composites, Surfaces, and Software: High Performance Architecture. 1st ed. New Haven, Conn. : New York: Yale School of Architecture ; Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co, 2010. Cortada, James W. The Digital Hand /. New York :: Oxford University Press,, 2004. http:// Dunn, Nick. Digital Fabrication in Architecture /. London :: Laurence King Pub.,, 2012. Fabricate: Making Digital Architecture. 1st ed. Toronto: Riverside Architectural Press, 2011. Lisa Iwamoto. Digital Fabrications : Architectural and Material Techniques. 1st ed. Princeton Architectural Press, 2009. McCullough, Malcolm. Abstracting Craft : the Practiced Digital Hand /. Cambridge, Mass. :: MIT Press,, c1996. Menges, Achim. “Material Computation: Higher Integration in Morphogenetic Design.” Architectural Design 82, no. 2 (2012): 14–21. doi:10.1002/ad.1374. ———. “Material Resourcefulness: Activating Material Information in Computational Design.” Architectural Design 82, no. 2 (2012): 34–43. doi:10.1002/ad.1377. “Out of Hand.” Accessed October 29, 2013. Oxman, Neri. “Programming Matter.” Architectural Design 82, no. 2 (2012): 88–95. doi:10.1002/ad.1384. Robertson, Seonaid M. Craft and Contemporary Culture,. London,: G. G. Harrap,, 1961. Sennett, Richard. The Craftsman /. New Haven :: Yale University Press,, 2008. http://search. “The Indicator: Craft in the Digital Age.” ArchDaily. Accessed December 3, 2013. http:// “The Making of Architonic Concept Space II.” Architonic. Accessed November 27, 2013. Wilson, Frank R. The Hand : How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture /. 1st ed. New York :: Pantheon Books,, c1998.

Image Credits: T-top B-bottom R-right L-left 3 Leah Buechley, Zoran Amit | Hybrid Reassemblage 7RM Diderot’s Encyclopedie 7RB Rachel Marie | Deviant-art 10 12TL Malcolm McCullough 12TR Branko Kolarevic 12BR Branko Kolarevic 13 Catalina Castano 15TR Achim Menges 15BL Neri Oxman 15BR Achim Menges 18-21 Achim Menges 22-25 Brandon Clifford, Wes McGee 26-29 IwamotoScott 30 MC Escher 33 Michael Vahrenwald 34-35 Achim Menges



Design Research book by Clayton Williams University of Virginia School of Architecture, Fall 2013