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

Making As Design

Martin Self

This seminar series explores the histories, theories, and cultures of architectural design philosophies that prioritise making. It is intended to equip students with an understanding of the discourse that argues that interaction with the real-world artefact is fundamental to design. Each session explores instrumental uses of making, building up a typology of mechanisms through which making is used and theorised in architectural design.

Underlying the course is the recognition that, conventionally, the architect is disengaged from actual building (their professional output being limited to provision of production information), but that design relies on intuitive understandings of the physical world that can only be developed through tactile engagement within it. The course explores the various mechanisms of this development, achieved in making by the situated and concrete material engagement of the designer.


Assessment is based on a 3000-word illustrated essay on a subject relevant to the issues covered in the course.

Session 1: Introduction

An introduction to the seminar course, the categories of architectural making, and the strands they map through the evolution of architecture. Proposed origins of architecture; the relationship to vernacular; mechanisms of the gothic; and the subsequent abstraction of enlightenment thought and later industrialisation will be swiftly surveyed.

Session 2: Roles of craft and hand

This session examines the craft approach and tradition as an exemplar for design by making. Its mechanisms are defined, and the potential for integration of those mechanisms within contemporary practices explored. We’ll challenge Richard Sennett’s arguments in The Craftsman (on the relationship between architecture, computation, drawing and craft), look at the role of the Arts & Craft movement in the sources of modernism, and consider Pallasmaa’s “thinking hand”.

Session 3: Creativity, intuition and (ir)rationality

This session considers architectural rationalism and the mechanisms of “creativity”, a potentially nebulous term that tends to defy rational definition. By looking at supposedly rational endeavours (engineering, science) we explore the idea that mechanisms of “aesthetic induction”, rather than a process based on reason, is often key in scientific revelation. We extend that proposition to architectural design problems, and test the argument that those mechanisms are developed through concrete, physical, engagement in the world.

Session 4: Computation and embodiment

To test the role of computation in the discourse of design through making, this session explores the phenomenologist’s claim for the necessity of embodiment for thought, and similar recent proposals from within AI that “the body is essential to intelligence” and “the world is it’s own best model”. Seymour Papert’s assertion the computer “has the ability to make the abstract concrete” is seen as an argument that parallels that of design by making.

Session 5: Evolved, vernacular and found form

This session examines the principles of an evolutionary architecture tested through making, ie in which fitness is determined by real-world performance. These principles are explored through Viollet Le Duc’s analysis of the Gothic master-builders, Christopher Alexander’s “unselfconscious designers” and the mechanisms of John Frazer’s Evolutionary Architecture. By also looking at the techniques of form-finding simulations made through the material computation pioneered by Gaudi’s hanging chains, or digital computation methods such as dynamic relaxation, we look for opportunities to integrate these principles into a design-make approach.

Session 6: Temporality and situatedness

Architectural practice tends to ignore the temporal dimension of buildings: that they have a “life”, focussing instead a frozen (imagined) perfect state of the opening day. We look at arguments in which, rather than being ignored, the temporal dimension is seen as fundamental for building design and that design-build modes are well-placed to engage in it. Stewart Brand’s hypothesis that “buildings adapt best when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants” and arguments for “live-build” as a mechanism for true situatedness of the designer are examined.

Session 7: Prototyping & new fabrication

The technologies of contemporary fabrication provide new mechanisms for the direct control of architectural production. In particular, the digital medium presents a compelling short-cut, removing the “information gap” that separated the architect from manufacture. In parallel with consequent shift in the focus of designers, the notion of fabrication is replacing that of construction in architectural discourse. This session explores the implications, including the dangers, of these shifts, and proposes that the prototype (through recognition that the uniqueness of architectural projects makes them prototypical by definition) has a fundamental role in architecture’s development.

Session 8: Design-Build Conclusion

This concluding session examines the precedents for an architecture developed experimentally through its design-build construction, in a research or learning context. We’ll look at the philosophies underlying Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen West, Soleri’s Acrosanti, the work of Jersey Devil, Rural Studio, and the Open City at Ritoque.