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TACK Talks #3: Narratives of Tacit Knowledge

guest speakers

Janina Gosseye Klaske Havik

hosted by

Angelika Schnell Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Institute for Art and Architecture

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The third round of the TACK Talks was 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 offered 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 took on in particular.


This TACK talk brings to the fore a few, specific, place-related narratives of tacit knowledge in architecture. These narratives focus particularly on how tacit knowledge manifests itself in architectural pedagogy. Through case-study examples from around the globe, Klaske Havik and Janina Gosseye 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.