TACK Talks #3
3rd Series: Communities of Tacit Knowledge: Architecture and its Ways of Knowing – Lecture series at the Institut für Kunst und Architektur, Akademie der Bildenden Kunst Wien
After the two previous series, asking architectural practitioners “How do we know?” and cultural institutions “How to? A guide through knowing”, the Communities of Tacit Knowledge network is pleased to announce the third round of the TACK Talks. This year, the talks will be hosted by the Institut für Kunst und Architektur (IKA) at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunst Wien (ABKW) and organised as a series of discussions between two or three academic partners of the research project who will offer their understanding and vision of the tacit dimensions of architectural knowledge.
The title and theme of the research project, and consequently of the lecture series, derived from the idea of “tacit knowledge”, which was introduced by Michael Polanyi and Gilbert Ryle starting in the 1950s. They addressed the fact that there is a whole range of forms of knowledge that we learn and apply implicitly, mainly through immediate physical implementation, without being able to explain them precisely. For Polanyi, this meant that, “we know more than we can say”. (Riding a bicycle is often cited as an example of “knowing how” rather than “knowing that”.) Architecture, and especially the architectural design process, fits well into this thesis. For although many architects make great efforts to explain and (post-) rationalise their design approaches, the actual process remains unknown, even when working in a team. The physical activity of sketching, drawing, building working models, etc. is individual and collective at the same time, since in addition to the subjective choice of forms and structures, there is also recourse to the familiar, because it is easy to communicate: processes, images and jargon, which in turn also promote habitual prejudices.
It would be easy to say that this implicit knowledge need not become explicit. This attitude has in fact intensified, especially as part of modernist criticism from the 1970s onwards: architecture should be autonomous again, should be art, and should do without rational explanatory patterns. But there are some points that, conversely, should make interest in tacit knowledge grow. First of all, of course, there is the increased use of digitalisation tools in the design process, which promotes rationalisation. If the only physical activity in designing is clicking a mouse, can something like tacit knowledge emerge? And wouldn’t we need it? By whom and how is architecture then explained? This leads to the second point. In times of crisis, construction should critically engage with the public. Enigmatic explanations of beautifully drawn architectural visions are no help. Conversely, an artistic process does not have to be described prosaically. Instead, awareness of and sensitivity to other kinds of knowledge should be communicated in order to be able to promote precisely the creative power of unconventional projects. And furthermore, research into “tacit knowledge” in architecture would at the same time be a contribution to “artistic research” in architecture, a field that is yet obscure and needs to be explored in greater detail, which task the ten doctoral students involved in the research project are taking on in particular.
1 – “Architecture and its Tacit Dimensions”
Monday 11th October 2021, 7pm CEST
Much of architecture’s knowledge resides beneath the surface, in non-verbal instruments such as drawings and models that articulate the spatial imagination of the design process. Tacit knowledge, described by Michael Polanyi as what we “can know but cannot tell”, today often denotes knowledge that escapes quantifiable dimensions of research. Through a number of historical examples, this talk shows how architecture’s tacit knowledge can help to understand the many dimensions of the spaces we inhabit, from the ideas of the architect to the more hidden assumptions of our cultures.
In the field of architecture several ‘epistemes’ are constantly at work, but often without being explicitly discussed or critically scrutinized. These tacit forms of knowledge not only inform but also determine the way that architects observe their environment and the way they intervene in it. This talk will address the presence of this ‘black box’ of epistemes within architectural culture and illustrate how it informs a new domain of architectural research.
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2 – “Narratives of Tacit Knowledge”
Monday 6th December 2021, 7pm CET
This TACK talk will bring to the fore a few, specific, place-related narratives of tacit knowledge in architecture. These narratives will focus particularly on how tacit knowledge manifests itself in architectural pedagogy. Through case-study examples from around the globe, Klaske Havik and Janina Gosseye will highlight how in different places and at different points in time, different (often unspoken, but nonetheless intelligible) ideas have emerged regarding what architecture is, and how it is to be practiced and taught.
Klaske Havik will open the session with an introduction to the notion of narrative, explaining how literary and spoken language may offer information about site-specific social spatial practices. Indeed, it is often through stories that knowledge about particular ways of doing can be shared. Taking this notion to the field of architecture, and specifically that of architectural education, she will show how in some architectural schools -particularly those of Valparaiso and Porto, narrative approaches to architectural education have been developed.
Janina Gosseye’s lecture will focus on the formation and operation of communities of tacit knowledge in architecture. Narrating the events that were staged by architecture students in Brisbane (Australia) between 1967 and 1972 – which confronted ‘the establishment’ and, in doing so, conceived of an architecture with new social and cultural values – Gosseye’s talk will demonstrate how communities of tacit knowledge are shaped by codes and conventions, as well as reactions against existing codes and conventions; against prevailing modes of architectural design and practice.
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3 – “Concepts of Authorship in Architecture”
Monday 21th March 2022, 7pm CEST
The concept of authorship, and its association with a single (European, male, heterosexual) individual, is ingrained in the complex of tacit assumptions about what constitutes a work of art and its production. Perhaps somewhat ironically it is applied also to architectural works of art, which are, by definition, the product of collective endeavours. The specific nature of the processes of designing buildings and getting them realised – the realities of an essentially situated form of cultural practice – may even be an explanation for the persistent emphasis on the individual in whose heroic vision the original idea for the work resides. The need to establish and exert authorial authority in a highly volatile field of power relationships between financiers, officials, builders and users requires a set of tacit strategies of persuasion, of forging a temporary collective and of coercing others to follow in acts of self-exploitation. The question is, however, if in our current circumstances the concept of individual authorship is not a cul-de-sac, preventing the processes of invention and innovative thinking that would be necessary for addressing a practice that is more collaborative than it has been in the past and which operates in a culture that professes to question rather than valuing authority. Is there not also a need to conceptualise, regain and possibly invent alternative notions of authorship which may be more diffuse, but still no less effective in producing works of art (aka significant cultural statements) in architecture? What would this mean for the modus operandi of those who engage with these creative and social processes, and how might the deep intellectual and emotional ownership that is a precondition for conceiving and making architecture be retained, framed and even intensified in new organisations of labour for this old discipline, and for establishing innovative communities of practice?
Communities of Tacit Knowledge share value systems. The norms and standards within the practice of architecture are, however, also informed by the culture within which they emerge and operate. Unravelling the intricate relations between contextual (culture-based) value systems and the disciplinary values of architecture is central to the IRP ‘Values’.
Peg Rawes will discuss tacit knowledge in architectural authorship with respect to current political, ethical and environmental values.
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4 – “In Between Realms” x “‘My’ Tacit Knowledge”
Monday 9th May 2022, 7pm CEST
“In Between Realms”
Which kind of perception and action is supportive to invigorate the interplay of the known, the tacit and the unknown? This short lecture shall shed some light on a territory, characterized by different moments of creative knowledge generation. Describing the sometimes labyrinthine but very connected passages of design research routes reveals some transferable features and forms of action. Especially those, which take shape as a kind of `in-between realm´ may open up insights for evoking valuable questioning and fresh perspectives on a variety of potentials being latently present. The remarks will show notions, navigations and triggers which contribute to strengthen the perspectiveof `tacit knowing´ as a creative challenge.
“My Tacit Knowledge”
In my understanding, “My” Tacit Knowledge in Architecture is something built on the evidence of the artefacts (that is to say meaningful architectural places/buildings) and their body/multi-sensorial experience. “The knowing” (to use Luis Kahn vocabulary) on which My Tacit Knowledge is rooted, it is something personal and alive, and it can change in time. It is something complementary to “knowledge” that, to keep on Kahn’s vocabulary, it is something I learned from books. Therefore, I see my architectural practice, research and teaching all nourished by my “deep love” for architecture manifestations and the need to make direct and body experiences of them. Everything has always started from my personal experiences of meaningful places/spaces: at the beginning, under the tutoring of very clever and talented professors, later on my own, preferably within my Community of Practice. I see Architectural Design, during the years at university, as a moment for growing and rooting my capacity to “knowing” meaningful architectural places/spaces as part of my design education. Later, the same capacity – understood as My Tacit Knowledge – nourished different fields, such as my own practice, my research, my teaching.
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5 – “In-tray – tracing lost voices in architectural archives” x “Election! Architecture and the Tacit Politics of Design”
Monday 27th June 2022, 7pm CEST
“‘In-tray’ – tracing lost voices in architectural archives”
The lecture provides a thicker reading of an architectural project through searching the fringes of project documentation to reveal the results of will I would call “tacit information” – information that shapes concrete design decisions and that is shared through rather invisible, not openly stated or explicitly unstated means between a group of actors. The case is related to the architectural projects of the Warburg Institute and to the work of Gertrud Bing, assistant director and then director of the Institute, as a client agent for these.
“Election! Architecture and the Tacit Politics of Design”
“Now, we’ll get Sweden in order!” This phrase, used by the right-wing Moderate Party in Sweden, is the campaign tagline chosen for the upcoming Swedish elections on September 11, 2022. Many parties have emphasized safety, security, and environments free of crime in their campaign promises. Intriguingly, the built environment features heavily in several party platforms, where “vulnerable areas” (utsatta områden) – areas that the Swedish Police have defined as in need of extra assistance – will be eliminated.In this lecture, I focus on the intersection of politics, elections, and architecture to call attention to how housing, neighborhoods, and public spaces have become, implicitly, scapegoats for structural social problems beyond the scope and scale of design through a close look at political language. When Swedish politicians suggest the need for new buildings, landscapes, and renovation projects in “vulnerable” neighborhoods, they often use design as shorthand and suggest, tacitly, that doing away with problematic buildings will also do away with social problems. Analyzing rhetoric and proposals that Swedish politicians across the spectrum have included in campaign platforms for 2022, I consider how architecture has become a tacit symbol for other political agendas, as well as the human and environmental costs of such approaches.
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