a walking architecture unschool

a. Little maps for young builders



This is an effort to explain, in a simple way, what is it that builders do, what they are useful for, and which are the essential questions that appear constantly in their making.
This little map is the result of our direct experience in the attempt to make and explain architecture, of discussions with some colleagues, and also from some long time thoughts -and even books that we have read.

Our central question here is not how to teach architecture, but rather how to help the young to learn to build?
It is an attempt to understand and share what we do and how we work as builders. What do we think about? Which are our priorities in the design and building process? How can architectural design and building be learnt? Why are these issues not in the core of our architecture schools?
Even today, all these questions seem something that can't be understood or explained, a mysterious ability available only to a chosen few, egotistic, self-conscious individuals.  

We are living more radical changes than in the beginning of the XXth century. How come architecture schools are not really changing yet? As a society, we can't afford to keep giving our young members a false expectation of what the builder's function is. What we present here is some clues for a common journey -they are a scaffolding of a mapology
These maps are organized in twelve steps, and are the synthesis of an equal number of dialogues between older and younger builders.
At the end of each step, you will find a brief set of documents -little pathsexcursions and little texts- which we use as examples in our joint learning process. Little paths are precise examples of what we explain. Excursions are brief exercises that can be done by young builders from 3 to 100 years old. Little texts are other's thoughts on these ideas.
This mapology's dialogue format is a humble homage to Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats

A brief note on builders and architects:

We have nothing against architects or the word itself. We prefer to use the word builder for two reasons:

1. Architects have the ability of performing diverse functions: from making laws to researching specific issues, from working in public services to organizing events. Some can even become politicians. Here we talk only about one of the myriad faces of an architect: someone whose job is to help life through materializing inhabitable environments. The word builder implies someone who is focused on making something. It is a maker of things bigger than itself. Architects, in too many places, have little technical knowledge on how to materialize their thoughts. But what is worse, they have a poorer knowledge on why and what for reality needs to be transformed. For we improve our reality through transforming matter. A builder has a responsibility towards his or her community as the expert on construction. His or her knowledge comprehends a vast and complex field that is at the same time intellectually and technically challenging. It is neither a man of ideas nor a man of action. It is both.


2. There is a long tradition of builders (Baumeister). Most of them didn't study architecture at university. Some were trained as engineers, or even blacksmiths. People like Jean Prouvé, Buckminster Fuller, Pier Luigi Nervi, the Eames, Freyssinet.  Most of them had a direct relation to the means of production. Crytical analysis of their works is a revealing tool in order to understand which are architect's weaknesses and potentials. So we choose the word builder and not architect as a pedagogic strategy, not as a moral statement.
Ultimately, there should be no difference between what an architect and what a builder can do. This change is our responsibility towards the younger generation.

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NOTE: For brevity's sake, we use he when talking about a builder. Of course, the he is also a she.


The pedagogical foundations of our dialogues, workshops and studios are rooted in the confluence of John Dewey, John Holt, Maria Montessori, Ivan Illich and Jean Prouvé’s ideas about learning, and are aimed to bring Understanding and Ability together, in such a way that Critical Thinking and (re)Presentation, Integrated Building Documentation and Technical Skills, Exploration and Crafts, are learnt not as separate qualities, but as essential organs of the same body of knowledge and action, through a series of organised engaging experiences.

Yet, this physiology is dissected from diverse points of view in each studio session -in Debate Series, Case Studies and Short Exercises. The format of the studio is based on dialogue, where curiosity, constant questioning and a critical attitude are nurtured. We don’t deal with students, we encourage learners. This plan is aimed to adapt and evolve with and for the abilities of the group that joins the studio. The class physical environment turns into a workshop where ideas can be tested directly -à la Prouvé. We work so these ideas come from a clear, essential need, and develop into fully formed intellectual reflections and practical solutions at the same time -from unveiling hidden possibilities to 1:1 biotope prototypes. 

Our dialogues, workshops and studios are meant as a training ecology for younger architects bodies -from their minds to their hands, amongst an apparent resource scarcity. In a wider perspective, it is a journey through and beyond architect’s specific disciplinary skills, history, and means of production, so we are able to focus more easily on the key challenging questions that we can help society to pose and solve in the present and in the far future, turning restrictions into possibilities. 


Our mission is not to teach, but to help others to learn. This is only feasible if we learn with them at the same time, in an open process of discovery and reciprocal mentoring. In order to do so, we explore and nourish the potential talent of each member of our group to empathise and share knowledge with their local community, collaborating with them in the improvement of their environment into a diverse, healthy and joyful place to live. 


We share with learners a comprehensive journey where plan and construct -beyond design and build-, research and hands-on practice, speculation and reflective experience, come together. When making architecture there is a necessary synergy between these apparently opposite poles. What we understand is interesting and useful for younger architects is to learn to think and make in synchrony with both. It is our duty to engage younger generations in developing new tools for a true collective collaboration, so we can work together to make a better world, for the sake of more intelligent conduct and more comprehensive appreciation.