Conscious Skins:

Merging traditional craft practices and 21st century architectonics

An Introduction
The traditional Bedouin tent, known as beit esh-sha’ar, meaning “house of goat hair,” is an ancient mobile shelter and one of the largest woven tensile structures in existence, traditionally crafted by the women of the tribe. The process of weaving the tent is an intimate and embodied experience of making a home that reinforces the relationship between man and the environment. It makes use of a number of tools, yet the most pertinent tool is the woman’s hands interacting with the material from which the tent is made. Her weaving, building and handcrafting skills reside directly in the fingertips of her intelligent hands and are embedded within her lived reality. The site of making the tent also becomes an intrinsic part of the tent itself. From the material extracted from animals indigenous to the land, to the tools used to aid in the building process, it becomes infused with elements of its environment. The embodiment of indigenous tent-making knowledge—passed on through generations—and the consistent dynamic response to changing climate conditions, position the tent as a permanent and continuous structure in both process and practice.

It is this hidden labour, characterized by the care and rigor of working with one’s hands, that also releases the unexpected during the interplay between maker and material. The role of the hand in architectural practices, however, has long been diminished with the rise of modern technologies, erased along with the traditions that had once embedded it in everyday life. Technologies of handcraft, merged with digital processes, can lend a fluidity to contemporary architectural & design practices that can produce a complex interrelation of systems and a deeper understanding of the interdependent nature of material, geometry and structural form, and their adaptive response to the environment.

The Studio
In order to make the architecture of today regain this ‘lived’ quality of old handcraft, contributing and leading to better living and proper application of new material constructions, we will explore this notion of the hand as the “tool of all tools.” Like the Bedouins, we will live the task, rather than merely understand it. The studio’s work process will begin with an understanding of weaving, craft, and making as technologies that are rooted in the hand—celebrating the hand as technology and craft as innovation. We will extend these analogue methods by making use of digital manipulation in order to produce work that will ultimately be a coordination of various technological meeting points. This will culminate in a composite structural network of materials—bringing a more communicative configuration to conventional understandings of structures as notionally static load-bearing forms. Through a forward-looking approach to design, the studio’s objective will be to create structural material systems—inspired by the archetype of the tent—through intricate processes of hand making, form finding, and digital fabrication, while synthesizing material, structure and function in a way that allows the composite to perform harmoniously.

The word “tent” in itself is derived from the Latin tendere, meaning “to stretch”; a signifier that the structure of the tent has always had potential beyond its basic structural topology. In our exploration of creating skins that are both flexible and structural, we will work with existing materials and navigate through different geometric patterns and traditional handcrafting techniques in order to redefine a material’s property as its ability to stretch through geometry and topology. It is the challenge of this studio to test and build reconfigurable structural material systems that respond to various environmental and functional issues; which can be achieved both at the scale of the material itself and the structure as a whole. By approaching architecture with the lens of “weaving” as a way of thinking, we can imagine the exterior of a structure as a (conscious) building skin that can be stretched and woven into a self-structuring, performative form that demarcates a space, and that can become a physical catalyst for creating meaningful interactions between space, occupants and their environment.

The work created in the studio will take shape through experimentation with different material systems, not as derivatives of a building mechanism, but rather as generative drivers within the design process. This holistic approach towards material systems, encompassing their geometric behaviour, manufacturing constraints and assembly logics, will make for a design intrinsically elaborated through the system’s own topological capacity. The central vision is to reposition the process itself as a central aspect of building. Focusing not on the resulting structure but on the embodied and affective process of hand making and form finding, we will synthesize material, structure and function, as well as analyze the role of spatiality, in the process of creating structural fabrics. One outcome of this emerging work process will be an architectural space, where conscious thinking about material and its properties are mediated through a performative structural skin. The studio will thus serve as a space that challenges the narrow view of architecture as a static artefact and as “matter”; treating it instead as a dynamic, living process.

All Semesters

Fall 2023
OUTER COAST: School of Art and Language
Azadeh Rashidi, Billie Tsien, Andrew Benner
Fall 2022
Francis Kéré, Martin Finio
Fall 2020
Advanced Design Studio: The Forest
Luis Callejas, Charlotte Hansson, Marta Caldeira
Fall 2019
Advanced Design Studio: Gothenburg Studio
Alan Plattus, Andrei Harwell