Review of Design through Making

Design Through Making edited by Bob Sheil, Wiley-Academy Vol 75 No. 4 July/August 2005

Design Through Making promises a fresh take on the role of construction in architecture and related design practices. The principal argument of the publication is that new technology enables greater involvement of architects in the construction process. Software such as CAD grants the architecture more control over how ideas are realised. While these developments increase the power of the architect, the new appreciation of making also affords more collaborative possibilities.

There are some interesting practices mentioned that invite a more reciprocal relationship. In Mark Burry’s ‘Homo Faber’ article on a Gaudi reconstruction, he writes that ‘the craftsperson is judged as a crucial partner to the digital dialogue.’ Nick Callicott describes his practice with Kris Ehlert in developing advanced fabrication techniques (‘Adaptive Architectural Design’). He argues that the work ‘required a reassociation of knowledge and skill, and the need to operate in a wholly collaborative manner with engineers, fabricators and users.’ (p.69) This appreciation of the skills involved in realising architectural designs is welcome. But one can’t help but wish it would go further. It would have been good to invite contributions from the technicians, craftspersons and others involved in giving form to what’s on paper.

Though not advocating collaboration, there are some articles that acknowledge the importance of the making experience to architectural practice. An article about architectural education (Mark Prizeman ‘Hooke Park As a New AA Initiative in Education’) argues for the importance of practical experience in professional training. Prizeman writes, ‘Good design is, like drawing, a question of how hard one looks at something… Designing by making takes observation to a greater emotional and intellectual involvement with the developing product of one’s musing than the distancing of a drafting process.’ (p.56) It is refreshing to see some allowance of the importance of haptic experience, despite the increasing sophistication of screen-based activities.

Perhaps the most radical case in this collection is the development of DIY architecture. Craig Kellog’s article ‘Just build’ documents an intriguing new paradigm that has architects actually building their own constructions. Whether this turns out to be a New York fad, or a sign of greater teamwork in professional life, will be interesting to see.

That Architectural Design should devote an issue to Design Through Making says something quite important about the evolution of architectural practice in Britain. Closer to home, it evokes an event held last century at the Meat Market in 1988. Organised by Deidre Missingham and Alex Selenitsch, Collaborative Designs: Working together in Architecture featured a wide range of partnerships active in that time between designing and making. John Cherry’s reception desk for Howard Raggatt is an example of how making skills can add a new perspective to architecture. How wonderful it would be to have a similar survey of collaborations today.

Design Through Making indicates an important argument current in architecture about the limits of screen tools. For some, CAD programs enable the architect to acquire supreme control over the minutia of the building process. For others, there is a renewed appreciation of the tactile involvement of making in the realisation of successful design. This is an important argument and one that I hope makers themselves will have a voice in.