Playing with materials, the design decisions based on responses from material processes are integral to the art of craft. The embodied knowledge of making is gained through the physical interaction with materials, searching for an order rooted in history, perception and materiality.
Creativity in architecture can be based on the transformation of matter. Different from the formal imagination, the material imagination can give rise to images provoked solely and directly from an immediate confrontation, interpretation, and manipulation of matter. These images may be assigned a category by the eye but only the hand truly reveals them. They depend on visceral readings that are projected through qualities such as mass, material surface, texture, or light, space, and time.
Our department was given special funding designated to provide intensive experiential learning opportunities for our majors. A semester long experimental seminar/studio was developed in conjunction with our technology series to explore this realm of perceptive imagination by using the process of transformation of matter as a means to generate and develop new ideas. The project was structured along parallel tracks.
Track one, the architecture of PLAY, took the form of immersive three-day design/build workshops that engaged students in direct contact with material and its transformation. Each of the three workshops (directed by a different visiting professors) held to its own set of parameters and procedures, with two of them centering on fabric forming concrete techniques and a third on stick construction. They each attempted in their own way to harness the self-organizing tendencies of the physical materials in response to specific conditions and fabrication processes. This allowed the final forms to develop as by-products of hands-on material investigations and constructions.
The final workshop, “Time and Materials” directed by architect Richard Kroeker, manifested itself into a stick construction, “The Winged Arch,” built and installed in one 10-hour day by students and faculty. It is located around the fountain in front of our building and quickly became an icon for our Dept. of Art, Architecture and Design.
Track two took on a more didactic platform as a series of public lectures on the ‘play’ of ARCHITECTURE. Three different architectural practitioners ranging from small experimental studios such as Jenny Sabin’s Design Lab, who collaborate with bio-scientists and engineers to develop new generative forms of environments, to more traditional firms like workshop.apd, who employ aspects of materiality and form playfully in their own creative practice. With the advent of digital means of fabrication, the art and craft of design thinking and making must coincide and collude with the more traditional hand crafting of our habitable environments and cultural artifacts. All the workshops and lectures demonstrated how “theory and practice” come together in the making of architecture, and how the ‘hand and the head’ unite in collaborative acts of creative construction.
 The “embodied knowledge of making” as discussed by Alberto Perez-Gomez in the article, “Modern Architecture, Abstraction, and the Poetic Imagination.” VIA 9 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania 1988)
NOTE: This guest post was written by Professor Anthony Viscardi. He is a Professor and former Chair (2003-2010) of the Department of Art, Architecture, and Design at Lehigh University. He is an accomplished artist, mentor, and instiller of creative design process thinking. More information about his many roles and works can be found at his professional portfolio page.