What would it look like if architects were allowed to be artists again; as comfortable in the manual and intuitive realms of drawing, painting and sculpture as with parametric modeling and digital imaging? What if we were to reject the limitations of product-driven, systematic design and production and re-engage the full range of tools innately available and refined over the course of millennia?
Watercolor by Christian Sottile.
The evolution from humanities to technology
Once considered to be among the principal arts, Architecture has passed through a technological revolution over the course of a century, moving from the art based approach of the famed French academy, the École des Beaux-Arts, to the functional dictums and objectivism of the German Bauhaus that would forever alter the course of design and education.
This revolution in education culminated during the digital era. Both the product and process of design entered the last phases of a radical transformation, unmoored from centuries of humanistic origins. Its success proved the potential of something distinctly other, with little emphasis on anthropomorphic, geographic or cultural connection; thereby embracing the full, expansive possibilities of the virtual and the synthetic. This last stage of the revolution has now passed its third decade, and we have grown increasingly detached from humanistic concerns.
An opportunity within reach
Firmly planted as we are in the digital era, the opportunity exists to reconsider the practices that preceded the revolution, to rescue tools that may have been set aside too quickly; tools that will prove essential in charting a way forward for architecture and design. What was jettisoned in the exuberance and upheaval of unprecedented technological innovation is the elusive quality that allows our buildings to speak to us: their humanity - evident and embedded in the pursuit of beauty and the art of making.
Today, this places the architecture profession at an extraordinary moment in history, an era in which we may now synthesize the best of the past with the victories of the digital revolution to embrace a truly hybridized future. It’s not the tired old debate between the École des Beaux Arts, a school of art, or the Bauhaus, a school of building, but rather a ‘BeauxHaus,’ a School of Building Arts.
Activating a fresh approach
At Savannah College of Art and Design, this approach to architecture is reflected in the SCAD Museum of Art. Built in 2010, SCAD MOA embodies what has long been taught in the SCAD School of Building Arts: the dissolution of boundaries between design disciplines. The museum is a place where the highest ideals of urban design, architecture, interior design, architectural history, historic preservation and furniture design all find distinct yet integrated expression.
SCAD Museum of Art: a case study
So how would a renewed emphasis on the tactile art of making - on the real - change the design process and the built environment?
Returning to SCAD MOA as a case study, at its core, the museum is a testimonial to synthesis, created using a design process that included the full spectrum of available tools and methods, from digital modeling and BIM, to physical model making, in situ mock-ups, sketching, painting, and digital collage. It’s a building brought about through a construction process that included full scale enlargements of hand-drawn details to create field templates; that included prefabricated modular building envelope components, integrated with local craftsman, practicing the most ancient of building trades, hand-crafting the building using the human hand and eye as their primary tools.
The confluence of disciplines embodied by SCAD MOA makes it one emblem for a new order of design that will allow architects to create the next generation of cities, to reject the soulless, placeless design strategies that characterized city centers created or recreated in the latter half of the 20th century; that will empower architects instead to create new places that come alive with a synthesis of art, humanism and delight, as well as technology and innovation.
This is the way forward.
Christian Sottile (M.Arch., 1997) is the dean of the School of Building Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design where he oversees programs in architecture, urban design, interior design, historic preservation, furniture design and architectural history. He is also design principal of Sottile & Sottile and the design architect for the SCAD Museum of Art.