Monthly Archives: February 2014

Notes towards a technical study, Peter Salter, 1989, in TS: Intuition and Process, AA: London

TS Intuition and Process

“The job of the Technical Study is to reach beyond the limitations of physical evidence. Instead of allowing design and construction processes to become separate, it seeks to re-establish the whole and to explore ways of expressing the relevance of the strategy behind the making of the building.

The Technical Study is about a way of thinking. It is neither a science nor a training for the profession. Its aim is to add clarity to a piece, making it an occasion nurturing an optimism for building in difficult circumstances. Craft can only be developed within the context and experience of building.

Accuracy is about developing and testing instinct. It is the poignancy residing within the material fineness or structure that provokes the spark of clarity in a proposition.

It is the job of the Technical Study to test and reinforce the instinct behind the strategy. So the Technical Study runs in tandem with the design programme. It is like a terrier at its heels, demanding a restatement of its aims and a search for another kind of clarity of intention – an unequivocal proposition.

  • The flower kiosk at the Eastern Cemetery in Malmo, by the architect Sigurd Lewerentz, is a sublime example of unequivocal building. The manipulation of the construction and the component details are generated and constrained by the design intentions. The building needs no apologist, beyond the florist who lays out the cut flowers before the cemetery. The cradling of the light by the soffit layers is in order with the watershed of the roof, the turned upstand of the roof copper complicit with the in situ concrete walls. The construction joints in the formwork have been omitted; instead, chamfered edges to the forms have encouraged the cement to run and raise positive joints. These finger-sized accretions are like a layered grid to the wall.

To understand the underlying intention of the proposal, it is necessary to decompose the designed building into a series of related fragments – just as an archeologist would make drawings of the finds uncovered at his site. Certain predominant concerns will determine the procedure. First, the scale of the building must be related to the dimensional order of the site. In Landscapes this may be given by the frequency of objects on the horizon that can be measured on a map. Thus in the seemingly unequivocal landscape of the salt marsh a building may have to be seen as an accretion, a new geographical landform subject to the processes of time and erosion. The resulting architecture will describe the horizon as a section of varying and layered deposits, registering a local scale which satisfies the landscape rather than the expediency of the programmatic brief.

It is also necessary to look at the fineness and order of the particular room to determine its material and structure. Without the instinctive desire to describe the room’s inner qualities and its remoteness from or sympathy with the outside world, any decisions about material and structure become hollow and trite exercises. The room may be so fine that it has its own ordering system incapable of servicing a building, only of being serviced. It may be a room of pilasters and frescos, a pergola screening the heavens. The components of the particular room cannot be of the same scale or family as those of other parts of the building, if it is to linger in the memory.

  • The people of the West Coast of Ireland traditionally inhabited the residual ground between the peat bog and the sea. They existed on the wave-cut rock platforms of the eroded sea cliffs. As subsistence farmers they cleared the rock debris from the meager topsoil by hand, carrying each boulder to a field margin determined by the power of will over muscle. Each rubble wall enclosure traced the section of the land until the slope became too steep to bear. The tilth was then nourished and supplemented by seaweed gathered from the shoreline.

The scale of the room determined by human labour is inseparable from the scale of its material. They work together to arouse a kind of resonance in the casual occupant. Perhaps all that is needed to provide a certain familiarity with the space is this collusion between craftsman and material something as simple as a door architrave that is brushed passed every day suddenly revealing its fluting scribed into the material so perfectly that it matches the print of your fingers and the scale of your hand.”

On the use of axonometric drawings by artist Paul Noble.
Paul Noble axonometric drawings are vast. Several meters across, they deal with the landscape, the territory, whilst remaining very architectural in their inception through a careful assemblage of volumes and an attention to one and every minute details. Although the individual elements are very much three dimensional, the overall drawings, by their format and the extent they cover, remain, almost paradoxically, flat. Something between an axo and a map, not unlike the first birds eye views developed in the late 17th century – see Johannes Kip’s drawing below

article on Paul Noble’s exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in 2011:

Paul Noble, Nobson

Nobson-cemetery nobson20_905

Jan Kip & Leonard Knyff, Wollaton Hall Gardens

wollaton hall garden by jan kip and leonard knyff


On the use of orthographic drawings by Morphosis: the case of the self-built 2-4-6-8 House by Morphosis, complete with assembly instructions.
Axonometrics are used to describe the construction method, as they are is deemed easier to understand. Here they show how the different parts are assembled.
The project also combines plan, reflected ceiling plan, unfolded elevations, axonometric and the additional perspective on a single drawing (first drawing below), thus using the quasi-full palette of traditional conventional architectural drawings on the same page, whilst, surprisingly perhaps, avoiding the cross section (though the plan of course is a section).

The house is one of Morphosis early projects (1978) and can be found, alongside many others, on their research/archive website: morphopedia

01-246-Drawing-A01-512 05-2468-Isometric-Drawing-_-512 2468axo_FINAL-512 03-2468-See-Word-Doc-_assem-512description of the project from morphopedia:

“Venice Beach, the context for much of our early work, is one of the few places in Los Angeles with a thriving and eclectic street life. The 2-4-6-8 House gave voice to this happenstantial quality, inflected by the serendipity and combustibility of Venice street life. A sense of play animates the 2-4-6-8 House. Variations on window sizes form the conceptual genesis for the project. A simple cube with a pyramidal roof, the exterior is clad in gray asphalt shingles, while the windows’ yellow cross, blue lintel, and red scupper inject a joyous note of color. The project was schematized in a Revell-model-like that detailed each aspect of its construction in a form any layperson could comprehend. To enhance this playful, do-it-yourself quality, the client was given pocket-sized working drawings. Within the finished space, ventilation and heating are manually operated through gadgets that beckon to be fiddled with.”

Ennio Brion recounts that Scarpa claimed to be designing the Brion project even in his sleep, fulfilling Gio Ponti’s aphorism that gardens should be based not on designs but on dreams. The Brion sanctuary demonstrates that it may be possible and even desirable to dissolve the distinction between the world we dream and the one in which we dwell or, in the case of Scarpa and the Brion sanctuary, between desiring landscapes and landscapes of desire.”

Dodds, G. (2002) Desiring Landscapes / Landscapes of Desire, in Body and Buildings: Essays on the changing relation of body and architecture, Dodds, G. and Tavernor, R. Eds, MIT Press