On Craft in Architecture

Craft 2

On Craft in Architecture
Ryan Collier, AIA, LEED AP BD +C

Craft as a design effort has been predominantly associated with the Arts & Crafts movement which proliferated in the early twentieth century. That being said, the architecture profession is beginning to re-frame the notion of craft using a digital vernacular: that which was prohibitive less than ten years ago is all but commonplace today. Commonplace in that such methodologies are being exploited throughout the industry (as well as others, such as automotive and aeronautical industries) while open source networks are providing the means to remove technological and fiscal barriers to entry and allowing anyone with a computer to begin moving work from the digital into the physical domain.
In order to explore these various facets of Architectural craft, I recently applied and was awarded the Swank Travelling Fellowship through the Dallas Center for Architecture to study the evolution of craft in the American West.

Craft 1
High School #9 by Coop Himmelblau

My proposal to survey the transition included the development and integration of specialized methodologies: project specific, technically difficult and/or geometrically complex architectures epitomized in works like the Gamble House, Sullivan’s ornamented facades, and Kieren/Timberlake’s (re)fabricated architectures.
The Gamble house in Pasadena first allowed a review of early American “handicraft”. The Eames, Neutra and Stahl house followed for a survey of prefabrication, kit-of-parts, and early steel construction.

After these, a venture downtown to the Walt Disney Center revealed the development of complex steel construction and detailing.

Craft 3
Interior of Walt Disney Center by Ghery Partners

The final day of the trip I went SciArc & UCLA to see the bleeding edge in digital craft through digital driven methods and robot architectures.

Craft 4
Digital Fabrication Installation at SciARC

Throughout all these projects, it became clear that while craft is inherent in all architectures, it can be used for various agendas throughout the field depending on the contextual or formal strategies being employed at the time. It is through two lenses that I found craft to be used: in the basic construction technologies of the times and the related ongoing architectural theories. For example, in the Gamble House, craft is very much a façade detailing exercise, whereas in the Disney Center craft is integral in each panel, each customized part. While the evolution of craft found in the fellowship was revealed in the research, the agenda to inject craft as a way to crystallize ideologies will continue well into the future.

Ryan Collier provides sustainability and design expertise to several premier clients of Integrated Design Group.  His background includes mission critical, corporate, government, and master-planning work for a wide range of clients – from enterprise users to municipalities to developers. He has experience in all phases of the project, from early conceptual design through the construction administration process, promoting design and sustainability in an integrated, holistic approach.

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