ESR 1 – Eric Crevels

Epistemologies of Making: Dialectics of Knowledge in Crafts and Architecture

Research Objectives

This research addresses how different ways of making refer to and afford different ways of knowing, how can they be understood in relationships between material production and knowledge, and to which degree their study can bring insights to architectural theory and practice. The goal is to explore these questions by investigating the ways of knowing embedded into crafts — examining how knowledge is perceived, developed, articulated, and registered in material practices – and comparing it with studies on architecture through a series of ethnographic studies on architecture and crafts. The hypothesis is that different fields of practice employ specific epistemologies, ranging from a process-oriented way of thinking to an object-oriented way, that in turn shape the practitioners’ modalities of knowing. From this spectrum, I attempt to develop the outlines of a theory of knowledge in the material productions – an epistemology of making, with particular attention to its tacit dimension.


Project Description

By investigating the dynamics of knowing, thinking and making in craft, it is possible to analyse architecture from the vantage point of its production, through a different set of conceptual and theoretical tools proper to material practices. An anthropology of crafts can be understood, as Roy Wagner suggests, as an “inverse anthropology” of architecture. It is an inversion of the epistemological point of departure: the concepts through which architecture is analysed in this research are not those already familiar to architectural theory (like materiality, monumentality, functionality, tectonics, space, form, design, sketch, model etc.). Instead, these become the objects of analysis, seen through the lenses of the conceptual framework employed by craftspeople. In other words, the proposal is to perform an anthropological study on crafts, understanding it from within, and analyse architecture as a form of craft and from the perspective of crafts, employing its concepts and ways of thinking, rather than as a stand-alone discipline. As such, the main object of this research could be described as the philosophy of craftspeople – their way of seeing (and knowing) the world, to illuminate the ways of knowing of architecture.


Tasks and Methodology

To discover the conceptual frameworks of crafts and its overlaps and divergences with architectural espiteme, this research will derive its discussions from a series of ethnographic research on the interfaces between architecture and crafts, in which the goal is to understand how crafts particular ways of making are associated with a particular way of knowing. A threefold approach surrounding distinct architectural and craft environments is envisioned, in an attempt to scope contrasting vantage points from their situated environments. These three perspectives are positioned along a spectrum of connecting crafts and architecture, from the more usual design practices in an architectural office to the apprenticeship of an autonomous craft, as a way to address how craft knowledge is transmitted, communicated and learned. 


Secondments

The attention to material, detail, use and the atmospheric qualities of the designed spaces permeates the projects of Kortenkie Stuhlmacher Architecten and construct a feeling of a finely honed practice. It entails many questions. How, being architecture such a collective and complex enterprise, can it achieve these qualities? How does architecture relates to this notion of craftsmanship and, more importantly, what lessons can architects learn by considering these practical dimensions? More importantly, what would craftsmanship mean in the perspective of these architects, and how do they make it real? How to translate such an idea into materiality? Considering these questions in a five-month secondment within the office, the proposal is to develop a critical text exploring this potential, using the office’s architectural practice as a case study – specifically, on their works on five schools, currently in different phases of design and encompassing many particular challenges and specific solutions, and using the discourses surrounding and within the office. Using Jury reports, magazine articles and other publications in tandem with interviews with the partners and employees, and comparing them with the projects’ archives, the main goal is rather simple: to provide insights into what is craftsmanship for and how it is practised in the work of Kortenie Stuhlmacher Architecten. The expectation is to argue that, taking into account the craft dimension of building, insights on collaboration, work philosophy and practical stances can be drawn from that, and that architecture should perform a dialectical, not dichotomic, connection of agents, skills and materials. I also expect to highlight the importance of the idea of craftsmanship in the constructive phases of architecture, and how that can be translated into terms of actual work practices and design strategies. 

The architect and the builder, although historically divorced, still negotiate in the production stages and this relationship is permeated by questions of knowledge. The way buildings are made is a crucial reflection of these negotiations, where the skills of many tradespeople come in close contact with the architect’s practice. It expresses how architectural knowledge is shaped by craft inheritances, and is the territory where these interactions take place. Different ways of knowingareincorporated in the way architects design and think spaces, as well as how constructions workers and contractors materialize these ideas. Despite the deep entanglement between architecture and the material dimension, the production sphere of architecture is often relegated to a secondary role and the voices of those directly involved in its construction are generally left out of the theoretical and historical accounts of architecture. Seeking to remedy this reality, this research includes an archival investigation that will explore the production of knowledge from its many agents. The proposal is to address how can the knowledge of the adjacent workers in architecture (focusing on construction workers, contractors and craftspeople) be included in institutional initiatives, with particular attention on how to archive it. For the research, a five-month secondment with the Vlaams Architectuurinstitut, in Antwerp, Belgium, is planned, where the contents of the recent initiatives of creating an archive of building companies will be compared to traditional architectural archiving methods and collections.  The main goal is to analyse how the agency and knowledge of craftspeople are represented in traditional archiving methods within architectural cultural institutions and develop alternatives methods for their inclusion and exposition.


Dissemination and Communication

The results of this research are expected to be disseminated through multiple outputs. The findings of the practical secondment will result in a booklet published in collaboration with Korteknie Stuhlmacher Architecten, and the individual analysis of projects will be sent to architectural magazines and websites. From the archival secondment, the production of an academic paper is expected, envisioning its publication in historiography centred peer-reviewed journals. The ethnographic research on crafts, on the other hand, is expected to be presented in conferences and journals focusing on crafts, contributing to bringing the discussions of architecture closer to the rising field. Finally, the research will culminate in a dissertation and made available through the repositories of TU Delft, with the potential to be further developed into a book.


More questions? Send Eric an email.