Essay in 'Wendepunkt(e) im Bauen'
Edition Detail
ISBN 978-3-920034-39-3, 
Wendepunkt l e im Bauen –Von der seriellen zur digitalen Architektur, Edition DETAIL, Munich, 2010
R Rogers, D Krolikowski

'Wachsmann's work has influenced several generations of architects since the publication of  'The Turning Point of Building' in 1959. His research into industrial systems has made an important contribution to how we, as architects, approach design.'
R. Rogers

The mind informs the matter 

It is certainly fair to say that the impact of Wachsmann's research on architecture and on the way we look at man's achievements is undeniable. It has also played its part in my personal development as an architect. I will never forget marvelling at the structural ingenuity of Wachsmann's USAF hangars with their sophisticated and beautiful nodes. Their sculptural elegance and beauty is matched by the fact that - due to the design of the joints - the structure can be assembled by the use of one simple tool. The way these elements are brought together and joined, reflects attitude and culture of the highest degree. Written in the 1950s, Wachsmann's publication captures a phenomenon that from today's perspective could be called a paradigm shift in the building industry. While industrialisation had already resulted in the mass production of building components when Wachsmann’s work first appeared, the way in which buildings were conceived and delivered also had to be revised to overcome the unstable relationship between hand and machine, between craft and industrialisation. ‘The Turning Point of Building ‘ can be seen as a comprehensive collection of problem-solving strategies which identify the process of building as a complex problem defined by new paradigms. To aid this process, Wachsmann structures a methodical approach to building and a set of comprehensive strategies that are formulated to capture also implicit knowledge. At the same time, Wachsmann acknowledged that architecture is not only a technological challenge but can be described as a complex product of political, sociological and economic processes. It involves ‘spiritual’ qualities as much as technology and history. A complex and well understood interplay of those parameters linked with the practical and intellectual problem-solving capability of man is needed to conceive a building that satisfies on many levels and scales. From the practical to the emotional , from urban integration to the beauty of detail and all the essential constituents of a building and their legibility.

Methods of production

What can be observed today is that industrialisation, including the mass production of elements with standardised qualities,- has evolved in parallel with means of production. We now design highly customised building components which, although industrially prefabricated, serve their specific purpose in the most comprehensive manner facilitated by our current state of technology. And it is certain that we can expect more refinement in the future to produce even more performance-related buildings and components.

Methods of conception

It is not just our means of production - machinery - which has advanced allowing us to build better and more integrated buildings than before. An equal change in our means of conception has occurred. Today, the process of design has become predominantly computational based with new tools and approaches being developed constantly. These digital technologies of the digital realm allow us to capture, communicate and confront various challenges in a more comprehensive way, also taking a range of non-geometric data and constraints into account. The importance of the building as a virtual model during design increases as it helps the designer to address problems early in the process. Digital technology allows us to try, prototype, test and evaluate approaches rapidly, enabling us to conceive of buildings that are highly responsive to their environment.  It allows us to understand the relationship of the part to the whole and the influence of each on one another. These methods also acknowledge that architecture is a product of many. Through technologies like building-information or parametric modelling, the process of conceiving the building on its various levels of detail has become more accessible to the whole design team. At the same time we are able to adopt a more interdisciplinary approach and to share a virtual building in an open-source like manner to allow the best possible input of more experts than ever before.

From craft to industrialisation to craft

This is where the architect acts as a synthesizer and enabler, in general terms, coordinating how a building comes together with less effort spent on documentation and more on exploration of the actual design. I like to imagine that these technologies and their use by the architect one day can be called a ‘digital craft’ where the alienation of man and machine has been finally overcome and has been replaced by a more fluent understanding of the machine and its products.
  It is fair to say that the architect’s regained control over the building process must come with awareness of the corresponding responsibility. It is the architect’s duty to understand, reinvent and use the means of production at our hands in the best possible manner for the benefit of society and not as an automaton which will simply produce exactly what it is asked to do.
   New technologies always emphasise the required holistic and multi-disciplinary nature of an architect's problem-solving skills. Wachsmann’s work demonstrates the obvious: that the contribution of an architect – and architecture – to the progress of technology and science is one of the keystones in shaping our society and the development of our culture in the future.

D. Krolikowski

dirk krolikowski | web site 2015 |