ESR 10 – Hamish Lonergan

Tacit (Re)Turns: Encounters in architectural education, 1970s and 2020s

Tacit Knowledge—with its intertwined conception of unconscious, embodied and social knowing—has long played an important role in architectural education. Architecture schools, and often the individual design studios within them, form ‘Communities of Tacit Knowledge,’ bound by shared disciplinary attitudes, theoretical positions, and conventions: of drawing, modelling, dressing, speaking, and so on. Nevertheless, Tacit Knowledge—as conceptualised by key theorists such as Michael Polanyi, Marjorie Grene, and Harry Collins—has rarely been directly addressed in architectural theory, barring what this dissertation frames as two tacit ‘turns,’ during periods of institutional and disciplinary change. In the 1970s, educators including Melvin Charney, Colin Rowe and Donald Schön made minor references to Polanyi in key texts—in turn influencing their teaching practices—while in the last decade, design theorists such as Claudia Mareis and Keller Easterling have more directly returned to tacit knowledge as a philosophical framework.

In this dissertation, I explore the role—and perception—of tacit knowledge in architectural education during these two periods by examining moments where members of various communities of tacit knowledge encountered each other. Here, on one hand, tacit knowledge became legible through the disagreement, negotiation and cooperation of communities from different cultural contexts: knowledge assumed as natural in one place was revealed as specific, not universal. On the other hand, educators and architects developed tangible methods to transfer tacit knowledge, overcoming these differences. First, I consider the International Laboratory of Architecture and Urbanism (ILAUD, 1976-86), gathering students, teachers and prominent practitioners from diverse geographic and cultural contexts. Over ILAUD’s first decade, their discussions revealed subtle differences in perspective on issues such as participation, re-use, post-modernity and the correct method to understand the tacit knowledge embedded in cities: from de Carlo’s ‘Reading’ and Norberg-Schulz’s architectural phenomenology to the sociological approaches ascendent at MIT and KU Leuven. Second, I explore the tacit component of judgments observed at end-of-semester crits at ETH Zurich (2020-21) where studio members and invited guests discuss, and evaluate, student work according to implicit, often-shared criteria. Where critics disagree—on issues of representation, beauty, human and more-than-human ethics, language, conceptions of practice, and so on—they reveal the particularities of their own communities. At the same time, these judgments are not without their own performative and hierarchical structures, subject in turn to ritualised and often-unexamined tacit knowledge.

To narrate these entangled episodes, this dissertation develops a set of critical research tools—drawing on a body of feminist and queer theory—to approach the tacit knowledge that remains stubbornly hidden within the explicit documents of traditional writing and archiving. These include performative re-enactment, ficto-criticism—combining speculative writing and critical history—and auto-ethnography: comparing ethnographic observations to my training at the University of Queensland, acknowledging my own situatedness within the research. Ultimately, I use these encounters and tools to understand how tacit knowledge differs between communities, the pedagogical methods used to overcome these differences, and to unpack the prejudices and biases of its transfer in architectural education.

Journal Articles & Book Chapters

  • ‘The Royal National Theatre from Architectural Review to TikTok’ OASE 108 (2021): 63-72.
  • ‘Meme, Memory or Critic: Revaluing Brutalism on Social Media,’ in Valuing Architecture: Heritage and the Economics of Culture, edited by Ashley Paine, John Macarthur and Susan Holden
  • (Amsterdam, Netherlands: Valiz, 2020), 212-226.
  • ‘Pools, Carparks and Ball-Pits: Or why the Notre Dame restoration competition is a meme,’ Footprint 26 (Spring / Summer 2020), 125-136.



  • “Viral Architecture: Understanding collective tacit knowledge in an online subculture,” Sensing Style, Leiden University, The Hague, The Netherlands, Dec. 11, 2020 [online].
  • “‘Crackpot’ and ‘Dangerous’: On the authenticity of Miesian reproductions,” SAHANZ Conference, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia, Nov.18-25, 2020 [online].
  • “Mies’ Models: Authenticity and authority in architectural reproductions,” AAANZ Conference, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, Dec. 3-6, 2019.
  • “Meme, Memory or Critic: Explaining the popularity of Brutalism and Postmodernism on social media,” The Values of Architecture and the Economy of Culture, UQ, Brisbane, Australia, Jun. 12-14, 2019.

More questions? Send Hamish an email.