Somewhere in your first year, you will likely be introduced to a construction class. It may be called architectural performance, architectural technology or materials and building systems or something else along the lines of building a building or structure.
You will undertake several construction classes throughout your studies, each building upon the knowledge of the last. Like most of your architecture studies, it is not something you can learn for an assignment and cram for an exam. You are building a body of knowledge and understanding of how buildings and structures go together.
The Purpose Of Construction
Construction is a general term meaning the art and science of forming objects, systems, or organizations.
You may think you have no real interest in being on a dirty building site amongst bricks and pipes and concrete, so why do you need to understand about building? Surely that is for builders?
Technically, yes. A builder and a range of tradespeople such as plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, steelworkers and electricians will be the ones on a building site laying the bricks, constructing timber frames and structures and running pipes and cables, but they need to know which bricks, pipes and cables, and where exactly they go. The architect, along with other consultants, is the one to give them this information. That’s you.
As an architect, yes, we come up with the design, form and layout of the building or structure. Yes, the design is very important. But the design is never going to be built in real life if the builder does not know how and what pieces need to come together.
A builder builds. An architect or designer, design what the builder builds. In minute detail.
Construction classes and subjects are about buildings stand up, how they keep us dry and comfortable, what they can be made out of, how they go together, and how they can contribute to creating healthy and sustainable environments. While the development of design follows a process, there is a lot of freedom to explore different ideas, options and solutions to your design project. During this process, you will need to consider how the building or structure will be put together, the systems and materials. Once your building form is fairly resolved, you will need to document the pieces of the building and how they go together in great detail.
System is a set of elements that interact with each other according to defined and agreed rules. One way of thinking about a building is that it is a series of systems within systems. And your communication of those systems is though drawing systems. In a way, construction is learning about different systems so that you can then apply them to your design in creative and innovative ways.
Some of the main themes or topics of construction classes include:
- Building Systems are the different parts of a building that go together to create a whole. Different building systems included floor and foundations, walls, roof, frames, cladding or external skins, window and door systems, waterproofing systems and ceiling systems. You can think of a building like a lot of different systems working together as a whole. As an architect, it is your job to understand and work out how these different systems work, and how they fit together.
- Materials are the different things that buildings can be made of. We need to consider the aesthetics or appearance of materials as well as the physical characteristics and properties such as weight, insulation, waterproofing or weatherproofing, cost, and how easily it can be used.
- Documentation is a system of drawing used throughout the industry to document and communicate all the details of your building design. It includes a series of documents including written documents called specifications and schedules as well as drawings. Drawings are produced at different scales to show how every piece of the building fits together from the outline of the building and size of a concrete slab, to the location of a window or door opening, a door handle, and the size and location of every tile and paint colour.
Other topics that may be considered in construction classes include:
- Sustainability is a consideration of the impact of cities, buildings and materials on the planet, other species and human health and wellbeing. This includes the way a material is produced, sourced, manufactured, processed, transported, constructed and completed. It is a huge topic in itself and should be considered as a personal and ethical design philosophy in great detail in addition to understanding construction systems.
- Technologies, advances and alternative systems and unusual experiments or explorations of construction and design.
Teaching Style And Content
The teaching style in construction classes can vary a little depending on your university. There is a heavy focus on content and theory which is likely to be assessed through some kind of an exam or written assignment, plus more practical design, drawing and documentation exercises to show your understanding and application of the content to resolve a structure or design.
- Lectures (content) – You will be asked to participate in a series of lectures that cover different types of construction and building systems, materials, and working drawing or documentation systems.
- Independent learning – There is likely to be some form of independent learning that supports the lecture content and explores it in greater detail. This may include certain pages of textbooks, short videos, slides, readings or drawing examples that you will be expected to study and understand and then apply the principles and conventions into your work and assessments.
- Construction projects – You will likely to be asked to complete some working drawings for a project. This could be a new project for this class or a part of your design project from your studio. You might even be asked to look at an existing building or structure and figure out all the parts that allowed it to be built. You could have a series of small projects or one large project that runs through the whole semester. This will be about applying your knowledge of building systems, materials and construction drawings practically.
- Skills and software – Construction is really about understanding building systems and materials, applying them in successful ways that will hold your building up, and the ability to document these ideas through accepted drawing conventions. In your early construction classes, you may be asked to develop your drawings by hand. At some stage, either through design studio, communications class or construction class, you will be introduced to some kind of computer-aided design (CAD) drawing software. Your university or institution will guide you to the appropriate software to use.
Construction Class Format
A construction class may include a range of activities such as:
- Content Review – Review and discussion of content from weekly lectures and readings. Come prepared and with any questions.
- New content – The tutorial may include some content specific to an assessment or in-class activity, or in response to student work.
- Assessment discussion and Q+A – Detailed discussion of the assessment and project expectations and requirements, with an opportunity to ask questions.
- In-class Activities -You may engage in in-class activities in small groups that help you test, explore and discuss some of the different building systems and materials you have been learning about. You may be asked to build something, develop a drawing or construction detail of a part of a building or structure, or visit a building site to see what you are learning in real life. Some of these activities may feed into your assessment but they are always about learning.
- Informal presentations and feedback – It is likely that you will have an opportunity to get some feedback on your developing drawings. This will often occur as a class pin-up on the wall where your tutor can quickly see what is working well, not so well and what the class is struggling with as a whole. You may receive some individual feedback, but much less than a design studio.
- Formal presentation – Construction classes are unlikely to include formal presentations like design studios, but they might. It would generally be expected that your drawings and documentation in construction can communicate for themselves without your explanation – as if you were giving it to a builder to build.
Workload And Independent Study
The workload of a construction class is likely to be quite intense. Like all your university subjects, you must be consistent in completing the required work each week.
Construction classes will be different from a design class in that the content and process is likely to be more theoretical and structured. However, there is always some element of design, so it is up to you how much you choose to study and innovate, test and explore and bring in what you are learning in design into your construction, and vice versa.
Like all subjects and projects, try to find something that interests you, and put together a study group of people who can help each other understand the content and explore different ideas – and have fun doing it!!!
At first, construction classes can seem a little overwhelming with a lot of information. But if you break it down to the idea that you are learning about three different systems: building systems, materials and documentation systems it will start to make sense.
In your early years, you will start with some very simple systems such as bricks and timber framing. Over time, as your understanding of architecture, design and communication grows, so too will the complexity of your construction knowledge and the building systems. Understanding the capabilities of building systems and materials is fundamental to the innovation and success of all designs. Like all your learning in architecture, you are building a body of knowledge from which to grow your practice of architecture. So do your best to get interested, explore and enjoy the process.
Liz at ArchiMash
PS… If you have any specific questions or comments about construction subjects or construction or documentation in general, I would love to know. You can ask me here at archimash.com/askliz.