1:1 (Dis)section ‐ Learning through Full‐Scale Dissection and Transformations of Abandoned Buildings
Summary (3 min read)
- The section is an essential tool for understanding, exploring, representing and communicating spatial relations, structure and materiality in architecture, design and engineering, and therefore a recurring topic in the curricula.
- The section itself is destructive of nature and incompatible with a built environment in use or under construction.
- The aim was to provide firstyear students with an experience of the relation between the section as a diagrammatic representation and the materiality, structure and spatial relations of a concrete building.
- The climax of each workshop was a full-scale dissection and transformation of an abandoned house.
Dissection and environment
- Due to its brutal nature, full-scale dissections must be carried out on buildings, which are permanently emptied of function.
- The authors find these regions mostly on the many small islands and in what is known as the ‘rotten banana’.
- The latter refers, by virtue of the shape, to the western regions of Denmark from Thisted in the North to Lolland in the South.
- Similar to Denmark, the rural areas of many other countries experience severe demographical changes.
- In some areas, the municipalities have taken initiative to tear down some of the most decrepit and unsightly houses.
- The overall design was common to all of the four workshops, but was continuously improved.
- The educational purpose was to teach students how to plan an investigation and documentation of temporary matters in architectural practice.
- The learning experiences in the vertical full-scale dissection were linked to the ongoing exposure of the structure of the building as well as to the end result of the completed section.
- Cinder is not a common material for a capillary break layer, but the building itself did not provide any information about the reason for this.
- But maybe more important, it gave the locals an unique opportunity to revisit and share the collective memory of the village (Halbwachs and Coser, 1992).
The reconstruction phase
- The aim of the re-construction phase was to urge to students revisit and reflect upon the achieved material- and spatial experiences in a situation, which not constantly required immediate decisions and actions, and to introduce an artistic mode of expression in the curriculum.
- Also a broad variety of processed collections of narratives as well as selections of unfolded individual probes of investigations were exhibited into a range of physical biopsies, excavations, contextual documentations, interviews and cast latex imprints.
- All the exhibitions were held in public areas, mainly in the exhibition areas at the school, but in one case as a re-constructed grocery store in the city hall of Aarhus.
- Firstly, the deconstruction and the reconstruction represent the student’s interpretations of the building before, during and after the dissection respectively.
The didactic rationale
- The authors discuss the didactic principles behind the workshops.
- Hence, despite the flamboyant cases, the workshop design has several similarities with well-known didactic principles and can be used in various learning contexts aiming at higher order learning such as development and application of analytical strategies and abstract generalisation of observations (e.g. Kolb, 1984; Fraser, 2014; Schön, 1984).
- The act of dissecting itself engaged the surrounding community and catalysed a local exchange of narratives of the building and the place.
- The assumption is that the ‘controlled ruin’ represents a prototype of a radical preservation strategy concerning possible ways of maintaining local identity, building density and preserving cultural heritage in depopulating rural villages.
- The horizontal split-level section was then all that remained of the building, which now gained the status of prototype of a ‘controlled ruin’ and became a part of the research project .
The ‘controlled ruin’ strategy
- The ‘controlled ruin’ constitutes through partial demolition an attempt to compress and subsequently stretch the inherent matter of time in the natural decay process.
- It made a common ground providing a mutual understanding between researcher and students.
- This was particularly evident in the dissection phase.
- Subsequent decay of the ‘controlled ruin’ proved to influence the feeling of the local community.
Students’ experiences and learning outcome
- The workshops revealed that the physical dissection of a building has several educative potentials.
- Besides the practical and safety aspects, the thorough planning in the iteration phase, forced the students to reactivate and use general structural principles to analyse the structure of a real building and to develop and collectively evaluate different approaches to the fullscale section.
- Translated into the language of taxonomies, the iteration phase increased the complexity of knowledge from basic knowledge to application and evaluation (Bloom 1956).
- One of these students reflected on his learning as follows: ‘I was very skeptical.
- In most cases, the probes unfolded well on site and despite the complexity of the task, some probes so well designed that they directly displayed the results of the sub-investigation in the subsequent reconstruction phase.
- The initial goals of the transformation workshops was to give students a genuine, experience based understanding of the structure and materiality of a building behind the section as a diagrammatic representation.
- Besides an increased understanding of the structure of a building and relation between elements and a bodily impression of scale, spatiality and materiality, the students get a direct impression of how materials age in different ways and how spaces and materials are historical phenomena.
- This became an unforeseen asset in the students’ education, as they in their early studies experienced that architectural intervention can be utilized to influence public discourse.
- If the change of the built environment in the rural areas shall be more than a result of depopulation, decay and demolition, the situations of these areas must be handled with the same architectural engagement as new development.
- Firstly, some students catch a genuine interest in the problem and makes it parts of their professional identify.
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Q1. What are the contributions in this paper?
This article reports on a series of four workshops, held in the spring semesters from 2011 to 2014 for first-year students at Aarhus School of Architecture. The aim was to provide firstyear students with an experience of the relation between the section as a diagrammatic representation and the materiality, structure and spatial relations of a concrete building. As the authors shall see, the workshops fulfilled not only the intended learning goals, but created an initially unforeseen and unique context for learning about the relations between building and place and introduced the question regarding depopulation of rural areas as a pertinent processional challenge. Beyond an educational value, the research project ‘ Transformation on abandonment, a new critical practice ? ’ transpired from the workshops. This research project and the interplay between teaching and research are discussed in the last part of the article.