How to teach architectural design in the (new) age of contingency?

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United Kingdom




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It is highly unlikely that today’s students will still be able to see virgin steel and concrete as the go-to construction materials by the time they establish their own practices.

Societal concerns about environmental impact will necessarily imply using high-impact, energy heavy resources more sparsely or for very long useful lives. The relationship between architects and materials will become more complex as the profession is increasingly asked for accountability on its tremendous environmental footprint. Materials that are ubiquitous today will need to be substituted by other types of materials: think of biobased materials such as lumber or local mineral materials such as clay. And let us not forget the heterogenous category that is of particular interest to our firm: materials and components from earlier constructions, harvested and prepared for reuse in new projects.

The reuse of building materials leads to immediate and sizeable savings in environmental impact. Sooner rather than later either legislators and/or rising costs will force the building industry to rethink its material sourcing.

Such a radically different use of materials will profoundly change the architectural profession in the coming decades, just like the emergence of reinforced concrete reshaped the building sector and its protagonists in the 20th C. This constitutes an important challenge for those in charge with educating future professionals. As the old world of cheap oil and coal is dying, the new circular world struggles to be born. What professional perspectives can we give to students today? Will our societies tear down and build as much as we do today? Will the design tools we use today still be relevant? What impact will come from the skyrocketing prices of certain materials? Being honest about those uncertainties is a prerequisite for becoming a trustworthy teacher. But what then is there to teach?

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