a walking architecture unschool

f. Abilities and Tools



0. Empathy, resilience and observation.


1. Self learning.


2. Technical understanding and knowledge.

-Builders are not Artists. We are technicians.  A technician that economises, not spends. That helps things work better, but most of all helps life to become better.

-An architect without a deep technical knowledge is useless for his community.

-A knowledge that works with the synergy of critical and transforming thinking, and the tools that are necessary to achieve it.

-Our job has nothing to do with a need of self-expression or inspiration. Yet, a builder, as a dweller, leaves a trace in the world. But this trace is not the aim of his actions, but just an inevitable result. The wiser a builder becomes, the less traces he leaves.

3. Means of production and resources availability.

-A builder is not a liberal professional, as a lawyer or a doctor, separated from the means of production. In a post-industrial world, where the project of a new craftmanship makes no sense as a single alternative, we need to find ways that respond more precisely to the requirements of our ecosystem. Maybe it’s not about running a construction company or having a workshop, but we need to find new ways that erase this separation.

-It is necessary to carry out a constant research of the resources that we have at hand, in order to fulfill all their potentialities.

4. From the professional to the technician.

-Until now, a slightly decent architect is:

who, when designing, tries to strengthen the advantages of the environment and weaken the inconvenients.

who is capable of building a comfortable place.

who knows a diversity of building techniques and can apply the most suited for every case, or develop new ones if necessary.

who has a self-critical attitude and can leave its ego home when at work.

who can make a living of this.

We need to radically develop these capacities.

5. From the professional to the searcher.

-But this same architect is too often: 

who causes a huge resources consumption.

who thinks more about the esthetics, rhetorics and image than how the places he makes can be lived and enjoyed.

who thinks more about himself, his career, his personal touch, publications, awards, than what community needs him for.

All of this is useless -and has always been. We are willing to experience what will happen when all this is gone.

An architect is a technician and a searcher at the same time. He works to keep improving life, in a constant search and research. What moves him ultimately is the spirit of life.

6. In situ/ex situ. 

-Why do architects work in an office?

-Architects are taught to work from the distance, out of site. But architecture is a cause and a consequence of its environment. The closer you are, the more you understand. We would love to work all day on the site, but it’s either too hot or too cold, too dry or too humid, too light or too dark.

-We could make a shelter, that we would carry to each site, so we can work there. This shack should have some microclimatic properties, so we can prepare the drawings for the people who will build the project -and maybe so that we can sleep there some nights.










7. In situ/ex situ. 

-While we think how to assemble it, we try to spend as much time as possible on and near the site before starting the design process. We go there in bad weather. At night. We sleep there if we can. We go back to make verifications. To design is to constantly get closer and far.

-So can you design a construction for a place you have never been to?

-You can work for a place you’ve never visited, but not for a place you don’t know well. Our training is focused on getting the principles of a place as fast as possible -in situ and ex situ.


8. In situ/ex situ. 

-Where does an architect think better?

-A big part of our work we do it on the move, out of the office. On site. But also while sleeping, eating, walking. Running. An architect is thinking about a project all day, and he works on it as much time as it is necessary. The lesser hours he needs, the better for the people who share their life with her or him.

-So the good news is that we can also work on a beach, at home, in the bar, and meet the clients at the site.


9. Team work. Disperse body.

-The architect is just a part of the team, whose mind is diverse and complex. The tools and the hands on the construction site are also his, but used by other companions. They are part of the project and therefore can be rethought. Equally, the technician mind is used to make his colleagues work on the site much easier.

-In an architect’s team, one can be the eyes, the other the ear, the other the hands... At least one of them must be an expert on the  physical and social conditions of the site. This way we can work all over the world without moving.


10. Team work. From the triangle to the circle.

-The triangle formed by promotor/dweller, architect and contractor is not the most practical and efficient organisation of a construction. Too often each vertex goes its own way. It is vital that a true collaboration based on trust and objectivity is established.

-Try to avoid all the intermediaries and middlemen. Look for a direct architecture.

-In a work circle, all agents are at the same distance from their common goal.


11. Towards an abilities synchrony.

-There should be no difference between a builder, an engineer and an architect.


-Well, just a small one: in a construction team, an architect/engineer is who is more gifted, has more experience and enjoys designing more than making; a constructor, making than designing. But their training should be the same. So each one can end up taking care of an aspect of the construction process, but working in the same direction.


12. To draw = to remember, to verify, to explain.

-Why do architects draw?

-As we don’t have an infinite memory, we need to draw to record our thoughts. While drawing, we can make this thought grow. As we don’t have an infinite certainty, we need to draw to verify our intentions. Drawing is the fastest way in which collaborators can explain each other what and how they think.


-As we can’t build everything by ourselves and with our own hands, we need to draw to explain others with clarity and precision what, how, where and when it will be built. Architectural drawings carry hidden in them information about movements, actions that need to be done. A kind of coreography. It is as important to think about these actions as about the actual outcome of them.

LITTLE PATHS (Case studies):

  • After Maxéville / Easy does it (case study #5 ). From the failed dream of industrialization to post-industrial possibilities.

EXCURSIONS (Short exercises for young builders while on a journey):

  • Set up the team you'll need, and where, when and how you'll work.


Hannes Meyer, How I work:

1. I never design alone. All my designs have arisen from the very start out of collaboration with others. That is why I consider the choosing of suitable associates to be the most important act in preparing for a creative work in architecture. The more contrasted the abilities of the individual members of a designing brigade, the greater its capabilities and creative power…

2. My designing work is continually analytical. At the beginning of my architectural career I found that the sketches embodying the flights of my architectural imagination as it was at that time were a stumbling block when I was designing. Today I try to approach the design — and induce my associates to approach it — entirely without any prepossessions or preconceived ideas. My preliminary sketches consist of innumerable analyses in diagram form drawn on the smallest possible scale on a standard pad of squared paper.
Whenever possible the designing brigade should seize the opportunity of putting together the detailed building program themselves since it provides a good chance to make a joint analysis of the problem facing them. At all events the analysis must cover three areas:
a) techno-economic elements
b) politico-economic elements
c) psycho-artistic elements[4]
This analysis of the building program must be carried out scientifically and systematically, for it is the ultimate basis of the design. For this reason I always have its results graphically represented in the organization diagrams. The project then takes shape as brigade work in four stages: Stage 1: Diagrammatic representation of the building program in which spaces of a similar kind are grouped together and the analytic features indicated (usually on a scale of 1 : 500 or 1 : 1000).
Stage 2: Standardization of all spaces of the same kind and laying down of standard types for all vitally important individual spaces (scale 1 : 100 or 1 : 200) in the process of which the results of the overall analysis are collated.
Stage 3: Diagrammatic plan of the entire building program on a uniform scale (usually 1 : 500) showing the organization and the most appropriate grouping of spaces and the connections between them. This plan also embodies the results of bringing spaces into conformity with a type and shows in graphic form the requirements of a techno-economic, politico-economic and psycho-economic nature. Stage 4: Working out of the draft of the building with all economic, technical and architectural factors. The building organization plan is strictly observed. The draft plan is drawn on the smallest possible scale and in a tersely standardized form.
I also make an analysis of the building site independently of that of the building program. My first visits to future building sites are among the most memorable events of my professional career.
The plants, living creatures and minerals I find there usually tell me more about the characteristics of a place than the people accompanying me. Geobotanic studies are a personal hobby of mine and I never leave a building site without a botanic cross-section in my pocket, for plants are a clear pointer to the subsoil and the conditions of life on any part of the earth’s crust.

3. I prefer the standardized drawing. For this reason it is no trouble at all to me to represent a draft building plan in graphic form. Since 1916 I have had all the plans made under my supervision drawn according to the regulations of the DIN (German Industrial Standards) or the OCT (Soviet Standards). Wherever possible I also use their standard sizes of paper, their standard lettering, standard division of the drawing into parts and standard notations in line and color. The standardized drawing is part of the elementary equipment of any architect. It is easily understood by anybody and makes rational use of paper, drawing material and labor. It simplifies filing and makes comparison of different drawings easier. F. Auerbach’s Physik in grafischen Darstellungen, which presents its ideas in concise standardized drawings, is a favorite book of mine.
I prefer the concisest possible representation of building plans on a few sheets of paper of the smallest practical size. The project for the famous GTUF school at Bernau was drawn on only four standard sheets (841 x 1189 mm) on a scale of 1 : 200 but all the details were shown with an accuracy such as one normally finds on a scale of 1 : 100. This design is proof that a standardized drawing can produce a lively and artistic effect.
As a rule I use an axonometric aerial view to render a design for a building as a general plan. All parts are drawn to scale and the view shows how all the elements of the building are spatially arranged in measurable dimensions. Errors of judgment in the arrangement of the buildings are shown up mercilessly. It seems important to me that designs for buildings should be represented as realistically as possible so that they will be immediately understandable to any member of the public. For this reason I prefer a rendering of the design to be inserted into photographic enlargements of the site so that its effect in the general scene of a street or square can be judged…