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Exploring materiality: Advancing tectonic understanding through large-scale reproduction in two and three dimensions

Davidson, Clare

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Clare Davidson
Senior Lecturer in Architecture Technology


The first year of architectural education marks a period of foundational exploration, where students encounter a multitude of firsts and advance quickly. It marks their first exposure to design briefs and concepts, diagramming techniques, and the application of new drawing conventions. Additionally, it’s a phase where we endeavour to develop good designers with a comprehensive understanding of a world of complex architectural technology – a realm which is often entirely novel to students transitioning from higher education.

At UWE Bristol, the Design Studio 1 module grapples with these very challenges, guiding an inter-disciplinary cohort of over 200 students across five distinct architecture-related programmes. Project 2; Materiality aims to acquaint students with architectural technology and detailing through a deep learning approach or experiential learning – a pedagogical approach which is central to design studio education that helps foster critical engagement. The overarching aim with this project is to quickly advance students’ initial understanding of building technologies in architecture.

This year, the module team at UWE Bristol collaborated with a pilot group to manually generate 45 diverse study groups tasked with this collaborative project. While acknowledging the preference among students for self-selection of groups, the team were interested in exploring how varied perspectives and cultural backgrounds might influence cognitive and behavioural engagement, student attitudes and project outcomes.

Students visited one of eight architecturally inspiring buildings around Bristol, each group tasked with selecting a 4m x 2m x 2m study area around the building’s perimeter. Their mission was to study the ‘materiality’ of their assigned building; investigating its structural framework, construction methods, and the diverse range of materials used. Students completed measured drawings of the existing building and began understanding the rationale behind material selection and exactly how these materials had been assembled.
Each group produced a hand-drawn representation of their study area at 1:2 scale, leaving no details unexplored. Furthermore, the groups designed and built a tectonic model of their study area at 1:10 scale using materials with similar behavioural characteristics. Finally, students developed an individual axonometric drawing illustrating the structural components of the broader building.

Students thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating the 1:2 detailed drawings. Many realised that the most effective approach involved methodically building the detail on paper, piecemeal, akin to real-life construction. It became apparent, that the process of inquiry and iteration was far more extensive than the part that transformed this drawing into a ‘work of art’ that would be displayed from floor to ceiling, during the review.

Students emerged with honed teamwork skills and a deeper awareness of their individual strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, they had significantly advanced their comprehension of tectonics and constructability; within the architectural typologies they had explored. They soon grasped the value of crafting a large-scale model, or ‘prototype’ as an effective mechanism for learning, facilitating their exploration of construction techniques, structural assembly, and material behaviour.

The project was not devoid of logistical and behavioural challenges, with some students experiencing miscommunications or misaligned expectations- possibly exacerbated by the diversity of the study groups.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name TECHNICA 2 Convention
Start Date May 1, 2024
End Date May 1, 2024
Deposit Date Jun 28, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jun 28, 2024
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Exploring materiality: Advancing tectonic understanding through large-scale reproduction in two and three dimensions (2.5 Mb)

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