Details and Fragments: Studio Process and Products

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Wallick, Karl
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Architecture is not exactly whole. We remember instances, elements, and details. Rarely are the experiences and sensations in architectural experience comprehensive. The context of what we do as architects is always fragmentary even as it seeks to be resolved comprehensively. Rather than insisting on the totality of complete works, architecture could be better understood as an infinite matrix of detailed moments. These details can be disassembled from their constituent buildings and reconstructed as a universe of scale-less moments to be understood over a lifetime of observation, use, thinking, drawing, and construction. The purpose of this paper is to track the generative role of architectural fragments in tectonic discourse through the pedagogy of an early undergraduate architecture studio course. The Section Fragment studio uses sequential sectional division as a means of managing architectural detail development. This undergraduate studio is an attempt at structuring a studio exercise in the manner of Gregotti's techne. It desires to join the practical with the poetic through the development of tectonic architectural strategies, an understanding of the practical forces at work on and within architecture, and an awareness of modes of design within current practice. A lens of fragmentary focus is not dissimilar from the habits of contemporary practices with large task-specific teams and fast-track construction schedules. However, the opportunities for productive investigation within the tectonic fragment remain unexploited within the academy. In addition to comparing the types of knowledge generated by the fragment, we must ask: how does this knowledge compare to the tectonic questions pursued in practice? Furthermore, what are the qualities sought through this piecework method and do tectonic sensibilities provide sufficient linkage between various fragments at multiple scales? The studio examples will show that as a teaching tool, fragmentary tactics can be as useful as comprehensive tactics in addressing the multiple forces within an architectural project.
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