AA Design + Make Masters study at the Architectural Association Hooke Park

Alternative fabrications and anatomies

Jeroen Ameijde

This 5-session seminar course presents a projective survey of contemporary thinking and practices relating to the new and alternative technologies and anatomies of architecture. The aim is to provoke in students a theoretical and practical attitude towards design that embraces inventive application of the material technologies of architecture. Through readings and case-studies the course examines the material processes of unconventional and emerging fabrication and construction practices, how they are manifested in the anatomies of buildings, and examines their place within the embryonic theoretical discourse that surrounds them.

The twentieth century saw Modernism’s embrace of ‘new construction’ and subsequently the invention of new radical new constructive forms by architect-engineers such as Buckminster-Fuller, Candela, Nervi, Dieste and Frei Otto. The new shift to a focus on ‘fabrication’ has again begun redefining both the practices and theories of architecture. The course explores these practices and theories and aims to place them within the principles of the design-by-making approach.

Learning outcomes:

By the end of the seminar course, students are expected to be able to:

    - Demonstrate a critical understanding of the technologies of fabrication

    - Demonstrate a critical understanding of alternative anatomies of buildings and their relationship to production.

    - Demonstrate knowledge of the new discourse surrounding these technologies.

Session 1: Terminologies and processes

This session presents the basis and aims of the course and establishes its terminology. The fundamental material processes of fabrication are categorised and the principles of architecture’s relationship with technology examined.

Session 2: Component vs continuum

The output of new parametric and other associative digital tools has been dominated by production of the variable discrete component, perhaps counter to ambitions of fluidity and seamlessness, or the isotropic continuum described in Jesse Reiser’s celebration of Le Ricolais’ structures. This mismatch is examined in terms current limits and future potentials of the material realm of digital fabrication.

Session 3: Surface vs skeleton

Digital design and fabrication offers novel opportunities for the treatment of the architectural surface (for example through its deformation, arrayed population, and responsive variation) and its effects, but arguably at the expense of conceptual consideration of figure, mass or volume. This seminar analyses these treatments and examines the technological prospects for a fuller integration within the volumetric anatomy of buildings.

Session 4: Systematic vs spontaneous

The session investigates alternative construction methods in terms of their level of pre-determination. At one extreme is the fully determined systematic construction – the pre-fabricated building or, for example the output of a programmed brick-laying robot. At the other extreme are the non-deterministic products of manual ad-hoc assemblage; spontaneous aggregate construction following only general rules.

Session 5: Timber fabrication: re-integrating craft

This session examines the potential marriage of craft-based techniques with new production technologies, in the context of timber fabrication and construction.


Addington, M. and D. Schodek, Smart Materials and Technologies.  Architectural Press 2005.

Barkow-Leibinger, An Atlas of Fabrication, AA Publications, 2009.

Burton, Richard; Dickson, Michael; Harris, Richard, The use of roundwood thinnings in buildings – a case study. Building Research & Information, 1466-4321,Volume 26, Issue 2, Pages 76 – 93, 1998.

Deplazes, Andrea, Constructing Architecture: Materials, Processes, Structures; a Handbook, Birkhauser 2008.

Harris, Richard, 21st Century Timber Engineering – the age of enlightenment for timber design. Part 1: An Introduction to Timber. The Structural Engineer, 82 (23), pp. 52-57, 2004.

Harris, Richard, Sustainability into Reality. Responsible Use of Timber. The Structural Engineer, 82 (17), pp. 24-27, 2004

Herzog, Thomas et al, Timber Construction Manual. Birkhauser 2004.

Hugues, Theodor, Timber Construction: Details, Products, Case Studies (Detail Practice Series). Birkhauser Verlag (2005).

Iwamoto, Lisa, Digital fabrications: Architectural and Material Techniques. Princeton 2009. Kolarevic, Branko Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing. Spon Press, 2003.

Reiser, Jesse, ‘The New Fineness’, ASSEMBLAGE, VOL. 41: MIT Press 2001 pp. 65

Reiser, Jesse, Atlas of Novel Tectonics. Princeton University Press. 2006.

Wachmsann, Konrad, The turning point of building: structure and design. New York, 1961.