80 408 Material History: Reading and Design of Structures


Verbal and written command of English language.

Recommended prerequisite knowledge

Interest in construction and engineering.

Course content

This is an introductory course to the history of construction materials and construction techniques.

This course departs from the fundamental premise that structure is an integral part of an architectural creation, that architecture and structure are one and the same, and that they march together in all great built works.

Structures are unique to their designer/maker. A structural principle, a detail, can embody and abstract an entire architectural idea. Yet, in the recent decades an increase in specialization has led to a division of labor in the building industry that has separated the responsibilities of the design of the building in general from the design of the materials and structure -one pertaining the to the architect and the other to the engineer.

Today, this division is barely overcome, many architects lacking much understanding of the consequences of their design choices, in terms of form, technique and material. And many engineers subjected to the mere calculation of possible solutions, often alienated from the creative process from the get-go.

Setting aside the distinction between the architect and the engineer, this seminar will discuss structure, not only in its physical manifestations, but also as a set of arrangements and relations between the parts or elements of a system that comprise a whole. Is the structure in a text, a film or a drawing comparable to that of a building? Thus the seminar will cover structures, ranging from their most abstract form to the very physical act of construction.

How did the invention of rolled steel changed the course of history in architecture and the world?

How did François Hennebique, who developed a calculation system to reinforce concrete, take architects and engineers away from the site and into the studio, allowing them to spend more time on their designs?

How did Corbusier make the roof of Ronchamp float?

What did the construction of World Trade Center teach about prefabrication to architects around the world?

Following the evolution of an idea into an image, a construction drawing, the building site, building logistics and execution, we will examine the basic physical properties of construction materials; identify and brake down structural concepts; and learn about building techniques through short exercises and the analysis of several case studies.

Learning outcomes

Participants will be introduced to a comprehensive history of building engineering and structural design. From primitive forms of building to more complex state of the art construction projects, participants will learn not only how to read structures, but also how design with the properties of the materials and execution process in mind. In other words, how to design not only form, but also its construction process.

Participants will gain an understanding the evolution of the architectural thought and practice across time. The course is presented through a set of case studies, so participants will learn about the design and execution of relevant works of architecture in relation to the time and architectural ambitions of the author(s).

The goal of this class is in part for the concept of ‘structure’ to be understood as radical (inherent) to the architectural practice in its own right, and not something that needs be applied after the conception of an architectural idea.

Participants will be introduced to structural concepts, load analysis, material testing technologies and building logistics.

Working and learning activities

Every session will review first, one relevant structural/material invention and applications and, second, constellations of related projects and ideas will be presented in detail and thoroughly discussed.

Parallel to the class discussions, students will work with model-making and drawing on analytical exercises.
During the fordypningsuke participants will work on a week long exercise dealing with structural principles and building prototypes.

Professor in charge

Andrea Pinochet

Mandatory work requirements

Work requirements Number Number of approved Mandatory presence Comment

Students are expected to attend all meetings and be active contributors and participants. Delivery of all exercises is mandatory.

Reading lists / teaching materials

·         Architecture without Architects, Bernard Rudolfsky

·         An Engineer Imagines, Peter Rice

·         Space Calculated in Seconds: The Philips Pavilion,  Le Corbusier, Edgard Varèse

·         Seven Structural Engineers: The Candela Lectures, Anderson, Balmond, Robertson, Isler, Kawaguchi, Menn, Schlaic; Edited by Guy Nordenson.

·         Patterns and Structure, Guy Nordenson

·         Herzog & de Meuron: Natural History, Philip Ursprung

·         Structure Systems, Heino Engel

·         Tensile structures; design, structure, and calculation of buildings of cables, nets, and membranes, Frei Otto.