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The Possibility of Craft

Part 1 Dissertation 2009
Samuel Brown
De Montfort University | UK
Currently there exists a distinction between the activities of designing and making in the process of creating buildings. This discourse suggests that the architectural design and construction industries would gain much from a re-evaluation of idea of craftsmanship and its application to digitally-augmented processes of conception and realisation in building. Following an introduction, the second chapter considers the idea of craftsmanship and its meaning today; particularly within the field of architecture. The third chapter examines the evolution of the architect’s role from its roots in the activities of the building craftsmen - who designed and made as one holistic activity - to the professional designer of today. It is argued that the direct knowledge of making - once latent in those creating buildings - has become displaced in architectural design by a misunderstanding of instrumentalism. The fourth chapter examines the nature of design itself, concluding that designing and making in the spirit of the craftsman entails the skilled application of contemporary as well as traditional tools. The fifth chapter then considers these tools, focusing particularly on state-of-the-art methods of digital manufacture which are beginning to be of interest to the construction industry. Within this industry, each discipline currently recognised as a separate and specialist profession is rapidly accepting digital ubiquity in its operation. The consequences of this observation are enormous and the sixth chapter of this discourse suggests that architects in particular are presented with a valuable opportunity; to re-engage with ideas of craftsmanship in the spirit of their predecessors and to re-assert their control and skilled creativity at the centre of the construction industry. In light of this, it is suggested that the professional model we currently accept as traditional may no longer be appropriate. Contemporary practitioners within the architectural avant-garde are already engaging with ideas of creating buildings in a digitally-augmented, collaborative enterprise facilitated by a craftsman’s tacit knowledge of making and the conclusion offers a cautiously optimistic view of the potential for professional paradigm change emerging from the ongoing developments in digital design and manufacture specifically for architecture.
Samuel Brown

Sam Brown came to the course passionate about the practical crafting of buildings but at the same time deeply concerned about the long-running dissolution of the architect’s experience from the materiality and poiesis of making. Through discussions during his third year and practical exploration of digital manufacture and traditional building he explored the potential for a closer affinity between the humanity of making and the machine as an extension of this relationship. Initially hesitant in the face of what appeared to be soulless technology, the latent possibilities of the new digital techniques of design and rapid customisation became apparent and where others may have become captivated purely by the instrumentality or techne of this new realm, Sam looked further into the cognitive and philosophical aspects of the nature of design itself, and questioned how these new technologies might most usefully complement its best aspects, and where in a strategic sense other means of production might best be employed. This examination of praxis led to a re-examination of the architect as a professional and suggested that emerging examples of the architect as ‘digital craftsman’ may be the nascent signs of a re-engagement of the profession with the act of humane making.
Sam’s approach has been careful and scholarly, clearly identifying areas in want of enquiry and addressing them in a discursive form of analysis which has been appropriately balanced and circumspect. The literature covered is extensive, one might say extraordinarily so for a work at this level, has drawn on a wide range of credible and respectable sources well suited to supporting the arguments offered and has been thoroughly digested.
The excellence of this work lies not only in its clear thoroughness of method, the depth of enquiry, the understanding of the concepts and theories surround the subject area, the quality of reasoning, argument and presentation but most importantly in showing that where passion and literacy combine, as they do in this work, a new mediation between apparently intractable problems and positions becomes possible, offering a tangible optimism which augers well for the future of the architecture profession.

Dr Tim Brindley
Dr Douglas Cawthorne
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