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Book – From City to House – Teaching Architecture

How to teach architecture? How to teach design and an understanding of context? Architecture is not something that happens isolated, architecture with it the building is always placed in the context of a fabric either rural or urban.

Architecture is different to other subjects in the sense that it involves a mistic combination of science, art and social components. The subject is widely regarded as a creative education, but on the other hand admired for technical skills as well as engineering knowledge. Furthermore, since most projects involved humans as users or inhabitants there are social aspects being pored into the mix. In short from the distance it looks very much interdisciplinary, a job for an al-rounder.

However, in recent years the profession has to some extend been dragged into an identity crisis, increasingly under pressure from different disciplines. After almost a century as the successful merge of scientist and artist, the architect has become a widely criticised and blamed professional. This has largely to do with changes in perception and values in the built environment and the increased pressure of sustainability issues. There has been a great deal of specialisation in many areas, technically and practically. A lot of specialists areas have managed to establish themselves within the domain of the building or the built environment. These are mainly related to the high degree of engineering in areas of structure, material, energy as well as manufacturing and management.

At the same time the image has shifted from the locally respected professional some architects have shot up to international stardom together with the concept of iconic architecture and buildings. In this bi-problematic context the question of architectural education is a dramatic one. How to teach architecture, how to lead a new generation of architects to find an identity and establish a sense of practice in a increasingly perceived as more and more complex context?

At the ETH’s chair of architecture Dietmar Eberle this question has been extensively investigated and the reflection together with the planning for a new structure has lead to a publication “From the City to the House: a Design Theory” which was published by GTA Verlag. The book is published as a bilingual English – German publication.

He outlines the demands of architectural education as the ability to ‘design on different levels, scales and in different disciplines simultaneously’. This builds on a “broad background of knowledge wich is distinguished by an interest in everyday life and experience”. Eberle makes it very clear in his introduction that he does not see architecture as an art with the argument that acording to him ” art lies claim to create a counter-world, the essential brief of architecture is to create useful worlds”.

The didactics and method offered in architecture education at the Eberle Chair are founded on five key topics Place, Structure, Shell, Programm and Materiality. Also Eberle puts a lot of emphasis on the context, hence the book title, but the city as the context for the building leads through the book. Te didactic is linearly built to investigate on topic after the other as exercises, always combining the previous topics with the newly added on. This process ends with the ninth exercise that will combine all five topcis.

So far the introduction of the book, the really interesting and part worth looking into is the detailed documentation of the exercises using a mixture of student projects and essays. The wealth of ideas, test and concepts presented is amazing. Everything is very well presented and of course fits in exactly with the book structure. This creates a symbiosis very beneficial for the topic at hand. It is always good to have well documented case to present for making a point. And in this case this is definitely a striking argument.

After more than seven years of teaching at the ETH there is plenty of good material to showcase and it is a pleasure to not only scan but really to dive into the book and the many examples. A few of the indicated as illustrations with tis post.

However there are definitely more aspects to the teaching of architecture and there are other points to make. For examples as presented in another publication from the ETH from the Chair Angelil ‘Cities of Change: Adis Abba‘ or the Harvard yearbooks and many more being published as communication from architecture school. Nevertheless this publication here is astonishingly consistent and complete and definitely a good starting point for the architect as a craftsman.

City to House
Image taken from ETH ARCH Chair Eberle / Book cover.

Eberle, D. & Simmendinger, P., 2010. Von der Stadt zum Haus. Eine Entwurfslehre
From City to House. A Design Theory
2nd ed., Zurich: GTA Verlag.