Prof. Giovanni Betti, LB Anna Bajanova, WM Christian Schmidts, T Angely Angulo Meza, T Kinan Sarakbi

room 314, Wednesday 2 pm - 6 pm

first date: October 19th / 2 pm



We live in a period of crisis.

And our built environment shares a large burden of responsibility.

We all know the statistics: our buildings are directly or indirectly responsible for circa 40% of global greenhouse emissions.

And it is not only emissions generated to heat, cool, light and ventilate our buildings. 55% of Germany’s solid waste is generated by the construction, demolition, and renovation of buildings.

Time is ticking, we have only maybe 10 to 20 years to radically rethink how we conceive, design, and build our cities.

If we want to affect change, the biggest lever is to radically rethink our use of material.

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute in Israel have calculated that in 2020, the sum of the anthropogenic mass on planet Earth -the combined weight of all man-made products- surpasses the combined weight of all living things. The built environment (concrete, asphalt, bricks, aggregates) plays a dominant role in this, our combined built environment equals more then 80% of all anthropogenic mass. Our collective built environment literally weighs more than all the trees, the shrubs and the forests of this planet.

Building from renewable resources, such as wood, poses its own problems. While theoretically, building all the built environment that is needed to accommodate the growing needs of a globally growing and migrating population, could transform the built environment in a  planetary scale carbon sink, this would put further economic pressures on many already strained ecosystems.

One still abundant resource of material is in our waste streams. Specifically construction waste constitutes more than 55% of German solid waste by weight.

In this context we need to radically rethink our relationship with materials, moving towards a circular design paradigm. Rather than designing on the assumption of material availability, we need to grapple with the concept of material scarcity.


Course Thesis and Structure

In this design studio, stretching across two semesters, we’ll attempt to flip the script of conventional design process seeking a new alliance with the material world and looking for a new, rich, design paradigm.

Typically, the design process start with a brief or a program, whose analysis leads to the generation of an architectural form that accommodates it. The final step is the materialization of the architectural design, through material studies and the procurement process, that scours the markets to identify materials available to the materialization of the design idea.

This has led to many architectural practices of formal purity and material excess.

In this process material is summoned from wherever it is most practical or wherever the suitable material can be found that embodies the design idea. Attempting to meet an pre-existing architectural form there is little surprise that concrete, with its relative low cost, wide availability, excellent material properties and its ability to be moulded in almost any conceivable form is the defining material of modernity and of the environmental crisis.

We will instead experiment with inverting this process.

This 2-semester course will be organized in as sequence of four stages, each lasting about half a semester:

  • Sourcing and Cataloguing
  • Aggregations and Connectors
  • Architectural Assemblies and Speculations
  • Demonstrator(s)


01 >Sourcing and Cataloguing

We will start by sourcing and procuring material. In doing so we will tap in the nascent ecosystem around circular economy in Berlin. In collaboration with initiatives promoting the shift to circular economy in construction like Bauhaus Erde, Concular, Haus der Materialisierung and other academic institutions in Germany and abroad, we will investigate issues of material availability, material cycles and material pasts and their possible futures.

The first half of the first semester will be dedicated to the creation of a collective catalogue of materials and resources that can be used in the subsequent phases of the project.

In this process of intellectual and physical appropriation of the material resources, we will investigate questions intersecting with the current debate on material passports. What are the relevant properties to design with reused materials? We will explore various methods of investigating the material, form measuring their physical properties -weight, metric dimensions- to their aesthetic -colour, texture, smell, sound- to their socio-economical -associated meaning, economic and ecologic cycles, histories and futures-.  In doing so, the process of procurement, becomes a process of curation and the first step in the design process. How to identify available material streams? What materials to collect among the available ones? And why? Once those questions are answered, how do represent the materials in ways that are useful and propaedeutic to the design, reuse and assembly processes? In doing so various representational techniques, from photographic collages to 3D scanning and more will be investigated.

Question of precision, accuracy and trust in the reuse of existing material will be investigated. In the absence of product specifications from the manufacturer, how can we obtain reliable material properties? In the case of deformed or partially damaged elements, how can we design simple, robust details?

The end point of this process will be the creation and exhibition of a collective catalogue. Through an aesthetic of enumeration, repetition and differentiation, it will constitute a celebration of the constituent elements of our built environment. While only the start-point of this process, the curated catalogue of materials, their representation and properties will constitute an aesthetic document in and of itself and will be collated as a museum exhibit.

Once this catalogue of discrete, heterogeneous components and their properties is created, we will move in the second phase of studying the assembly strategies.

02 >Aggregations and Connectors

In this paradigm, architectures are composed of assemblies of discrete, heterogeneous components. The second half on the first semester will focus on creating proto-architectural elements that explore jointing techniques and material assemblies based on the curated material catalogue.

We’ll investigate how individual, imperfect components can be assembled into architectural elements and how to creatively work with assemblies of discrete and heterogeneous components. We’ll explore part to part relationships (connectors) and part to whole (assemblies) through drawings, physical prototypes and computational methods.

Based on an ethos of respect for the existing materials, we will explore how to combine them ins small prototypical details that can both serve as prototypical architectural elements (a wall, a floor, a step) but also as conceptual assemblies that render explicit meanings imbued in the found and catalogued materials.

03 >Architectural Assemblies and Speculations

In the summer semester, growing in scale and ambition, we will investigate larger assemblies of discrete heterogeneous elements.

We will explore how the same elements can be used to create different configurations, and how the same architectural form can be rendered with different components.

Ina a creative interplay between physical and digital realities, we will use custom computational tools to investigate large-scale, rule-base aggregations, applying the learnings from the previous semester and translating them in scalable computational logics. In doing so we we’ll co-opt techniques used in game development, where a limited set of tiles and assembly rules are used to create ever growing, ever changing virtual worlds.

04 >Demonstrator(s)

The second part of the summer semester will aim at coalescing all the learnings and exploration in one collective 1 to 1 realization that, albeit still exemplary, prototypical and experimental in nature, will surpass in ambition, complexity and scale the previous work of the semester an will aim at representing, in architectural and sculptural appearance the learnings of the whole year long course.