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ADS6: The De-Industrial Revolution: Language of Making

Tutors: Clara Kraft, Satoshi Isono & Guan Lee

‘The architect should be designing for variable primary functions and open secondary functions.'
 Umberto Eco, 'Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture'

In Umberto Eco’s seminal essay on the language of architecture, he argues for designs to have a usefulness in addition to the one denoted, one that is connoted. For Eco, we design with practical needs in mind, but end products can invariably reveal their own social-political, cultural-historical context. In 2018/19 ADS6 will continue our theme of de-industrialisation, with a focus on the semantical role of architectural production and, critically, an examination of the relationship between buildings and the ‘language of making’. The way we make and design says a lot about us as designers and the products we present to the world. Are these embedded characteristics legible within the products themselves? Is the codification of meaning outside of linguistic structures a science, or is it open for interpretation? (Here, the word ‘open’ is used in contrast to the opening quote from Eco, to highlight meaning in relation to semantics.)

For a linguist, languages are made of discrete components, combined with a finite set of rules to create an infinite number of utterances. If we were to read a building like an essay, interpretation of its meanings can be complex, notwithstanding the amount of information we have to presuppose. Making sense of a building outside of programmatic use may call for distinct theoretical accounts, whether philosophical, environmental or aesthetic. Nevertheless, there are compelling reasons why we would draw parallels between language and architecture, derive a grammar from processes of making in design, and elicit meaning from materials themselves. In relation to an architectural proposal, we are asking you to consider the theme ‘language of making’ in three different ways.

Edward Crooks, Holding Up - Castle Drogo, ADS6, 2018
Edward Crooks, Holding Up - Castle Drogo, ADS6, 2018

System and Meaning

In ADS6, we promote design through hands-on investigative work. We want you to consider what craft means, and how an emphasis on making and material can serve both as a vehicle for experimentation as well as a theoretical framework for exploring ideas in architecture. We are interested in projects that create links between academia and industry, balancing a creative pragmatism, investigative research, and community engagement. We work with materials and examine processes of making as a means of inquiry. This year, ideas surrounding language and semiology are introduced as an additional tool, to evaluate our findings and to articulate the outcomes as architectural proposals.

Design processes can be procedural and systematic on the one hand, incongruent and indecipherable on the other. We use words according to rules in order to speak and communicate. When is the moment to call upon the performative trait of architecture? ‘Language of Making’ invites you to examine closely the parallels between rules-based and process-driven discourses in design and fabrication, not only for the making of objects, but also to weigh up the means of production and to speculate on functions of architecture. This trajectory draws a close comparison to Ferdinand de Saussure’s partition of langue and parole, the former as capacity for communication, and the latter as the actual act of speaking. We know architecture means something: what is it and why do we need to systematise it? Various architects have tirelessly and systematically catalogued architecture as a coherent set of individual objects, parts, and ideas. Owen Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament, Nikolaus Pevsner’s A Dictionary of Architecture, and Adrian Forty’s Words and Buildings, to name a few, have provided us with studies of buildings akin to the learning of a language. Having an understanding of constituent elements and the order in which they come together is essential to design or to a simple reading of architecture.

Marie Ramsing, The Aesthetic of Appearance, ADS6, 2018
Marie Ramsing, The Aesthetic of Appearance, ADS6, 2018

Materiality and Textuality

 ‘A shape grammar (SG) is a 4-tuple: SG = (VT, VM, R, I).’
– George Stiny and James Gips 

With the prevalence of digital tools such as numeric controlled machinery, 3D printing, and robotic-controlled fabrication, capabilities of industrial production have migrated everywhere from factory floors to smaller scale workshops, laboratories, and research facilities. When this recent development is coupled with advancements in material science at a microscopic scale, and availability of specialist tools to customise materials, the prospect of a new kind of architecture is imminent. To accompany the arrival of this ‘new architecture’, do we thus have a ’new language’? In this regard, in algorithm-based design methodology, code writing and shape making would take us on a course in design with which we are still contending. In principle, digital design is at odds with hand crafts. Numeric controlled tools demand more than a new language: these require a rethinking of materiality and the economy of means.

Writing on the notion of algorithmic art objects in 1971, George Stiny and James Gips proposed a complete generative process for making geometric and non-representational paintings and sculptures. Its primary component, ‘shape grammars,’ helps artists choose structural and material relationships, with the resulting objects then determined algorithmically. This is as pivotal as it is disconcerting: textual instruction generating two-dimensional and three-dimensional formal designs. Can meaningful architecture be generated through a set of text-based specifications instead of material and spatial compositions? The making of a building can easily be construed as the coming together of many parameters: structural logic, material performances, planning codes, health and safety regulations, environmental policies – the list goes on. Yet the experience of architecture transcends any predetermined notions and evades clear definitions. Can the language of how we make inform what and why we make?

Andres Vilaros Souto, The Aesthetics of Hope, ADS6, 2016
Andres Vilaros Souto, The Aesthetics of Hope, ADS6, 2016

Structure and Signs

Architecturally speaking, what are the basic and irreducible units of design? What really determines designs if we consider the collective nature in language and architecture as a vital attribute? Architecture is not a representational art form, yet we cannot deny the symbolic power of buildings and urban structures. Buildings as signs have inferred properties, none of which are neutral. Post-modern architectural across the board embraced this very notion of architecture with symbolic properties. A key voice in Post-Modernism, Charles Jencks champions the idea of ‘double-coded language – one part Modern and one part something else’. This ‘something else’ refers to architectural history, a greater awareness of context, and playful symbolism, colour or collage. Here we can compare Jencks’ ‘something else’ and Eco’s ‘secondary functions’ in pointing to a pertinent area in linguistic metaphor, objects like words offers more than one reading.

Architects use drawings, models, and written specifications to instruct the construction of buildings. These sets of documents keep to particular conventions of representation and follow standardised language: they are designed to be unambiguous. Yet the communication of the resulting architecture is open to interpretations and discursive in nature. During the lecture series, Architecture Speaks, the exchanges between Peter Zumthor and Juhani Pallasmaa raise the question of whether architecture is an inert object, only communicated to us upon observation. This conversation eludes to the possibilities of meaning in architecture as being embedded, imposed upon, or as suspended between oneself and the artefact. Whichever way one looks at it, neither Zumthor or Pallasmaa see architecture as a system of signs: architecture’s inherent ability to talk is not a given, but something qualitative invested in it through design. To this end, we invite you bring your own research questions to ADS6 and critically evaluate them against or alongside these provocative ideas.

Amerie White, The Image of Making a Politician, ADS6, 2017
Amerie White, The Image of Making a Politician, ADS6, 2017


Guan Lee is a practicing architect, lecturer and director of Grymsdyke Farm. He undertook his architectural studies at McGill University, Montreal, the Architectural Association, London, and Bartlett School of Architecture, where he completed his PhD on the relationship between architectural craft, making and site. In addition to his extensive experience as an educator, his own practice explores digital fabrication in relation to hands-on building processes in a range of materials, including clay, concrete and plaster.

Clara Kraft-Isono graduated from the Architectural Association, London, and is a registered architect.  She also completed an MA in filmmaking at the London Film School, where she was awarded the Skill Set Bursary and is currently completing her PhD in film. As a filmmaker she has directed, photographed and/or produced over 20 films. Her films have been screened in festivals internationally and have won several awards. She is currently a senior lecturer at University of East London and Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art.  Since 2000 she has taught architecture and/or filmmaking in various institutions including The Bartlett School of Architecture and Westminster University. In the UK she has been a visiting critic at: the School of Architecture and Landscape, Kingston University; Department of Spatial Design, Chelsea School of Design; Department of Architecture, Cambridge University; and John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design. Internationally she has led architecture workshops in collaboration with: Yildiz Technical University; Faculty of Architecture in Istanbul; Technische Hochschuele Wien, Faculty of Architecture in Vienna; and Vantan School of Design in Tokyo, Japan.

Satoshi Isono is an architect, furniture and interior designer and an associate at the London-based creative design consultancy Universal Design Studio. He studied Furniture and Interior Design in Tokyo before graduating from the Architectural Association, London. During his study, he has been awarded several scholarships, including the Alvin Boyarsky Scholarship, as well as grants from the EU-US Government Fund for research projects in Europe and United States.

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