This workshop event, titled ‘MimarOluyorum’ (meaning I AM BEING AN ARCHITECT) took place in the Faculty of Architecture Building (‘Taskisla’) of Istanbul Technical University. The goal was to simply introduce Architecture with its all possible trajectories and at various scales to the 4th grade High School students who are prospective college candidates for the coming year. In order to give an idea about how being an architect might feel like and how studying architecture might be in the first hand, approximately 50 students are asked to participate into several workshops and encouraged to ask their own questions about this field to students of architecture, to instructors and to other practicing architects. The key concept was to include many different themes as possible without any central topic and being able to choose from various workshops and to work with instructors with different interests, reflecting the essential variety for the case of ‘doing’ architecture. I was one of the instructors, offering something which might have sounded a bit serious:
DUNYALARI BEN YARATTIM : The World is a Construction
The title comes from a peculiar idiom (“I have created thee worlds” in Turkish) that reflects one’s often criticized behavior or the attitude of acting as if one has accomplished so much, as if s/he is a part-time God. This workshop, while being goofy about yet loyal to the true meaning, challenges the prospective Gods on their knowledge of construction: any Creator of any level and of any heaven should possess the knowledge of structure and construction in order to create and to built. And I ask students to create the physical world they imagine, but with a consideration that it might be very much about construction.
Keeping a limited plot for the day-long study, my agenda was to challenge the education they had until college and to introduce them to the territory of architectural thinking and the experience of pure construction at its purest form. The knowledge of Geography in High School offers some basics for what you can define as the mere abstraction of the landscape: the Contour Lines shown in geographical maps and features (The Height, The Depth; The Mountains and The Sea). Assuming that with an average knowledge of reading and of abstraction of a physical site, I could use that foundation for bridging into the world of Topographical Architectonics. The other idea was to shift from what’s been so common, even so in architecture today, from the planar view, the top-down understanding of a place inherited in maps and contour lines as well towards the sections; to the third dimension (height), which is a key medium in architecture and an essential feature for such geographical objects. In the case of Contour Lines, drawing them applies a direct communication with the height, but on the medium of the other two dimensions; depicting a sectional feature in the planar projection. And for the record and in short, I wanted to go back to the basics of ‘mountains’ per se, yet at a medium that the students were not familiar with. Let’s decide how high they are and actually ‘how’ they are high? One recalls Chet Baker who asks so sincerely about these questions: “How Deep is the Ocean ? How high is the sky ?”
Inherent (High School) Architectonics
To think through sections, in addition to the reconstruction of height mentally, was to really think of the construction of landscape forms; of ‘making’ them: an Almighty Think-Tank. And lucky enough, the contour lines were already suggesting a method of architectural thinking per se which was, in short, an abstraction of a reality and rebuilding it through horizontal sections. So, our Intern Gods were pretty much ready to build. I set up a working area from several desks inside the studio, a semi-open space defining an empty floor to work on with higher surfaces around, a little atelier with a sign hanging “Construction in Progress” from the ceiling (see the pics). I strongly believe that any space can and should be architecturally organized and designed, especially when it is an architect’s working space.
The first phase was to cover to floor with clean white paper, defining the barren lands, the playground if you say so, seen from a God’s view. This supposed to be, and actually is, a place where you can literally step on and leave your footprint, a micro simulation of the world ‘momentarily untouched’ and dramatically below. Not surprisingly, students are subsequently asked to step on the paper to decide where their mountains are to be located. So Thee Gods decided: There were three mountains to be raised till the end of the day. Second stage was to draw the contour lines with pure intuition and all together, the interplay of brain, heart and the arm; the act of ‘carelessly’ designing the world collectively. See here, they are still playing and operating on the planar ground and using the tools of representation with which they are familiar. In the third phase, we’ve asked students to think about their mountains through the questions of ‘How one goes up and down?’ and ‘What is the activity taking place?’. While they were to about to answer by fairly conventional descriptions of a mountain village or of a ski facility with vague definitions of height and slope, I’ve offered a drawing on a white board, referring to some early depictions from my sketch book. That was an index of sectional depictions, formed realtime with the students amid a realtime conversation, as” a form of discussion through drawing” which gave us a lexicon for structural sections; horizontal, vertical and hybrid compositions rendering a mountain silhouette (see the drawing). Again, the key thing here was that to draw them is to contemplate about their construction and in doing so, to talk about their design.
F Follows F > F Plays Hand in Hand w/ F
Critically, to draw the forms first, and later to associate them with the activities, which then informed the forms in return, mimics an essential act of design and an attitude of architecture for my own understanding: the back-and-forth nature of the design process and the binary role of the form; being an autonomous architectural/structural manifestation itself while transcending/reflecting the activities that is designated to happen. Logging in to the ancient(!) theoretical debate, here, we gave a little kick to the form first, so that neither function nor form would follow each other; they operate much better hand in hand. Students were quite keen about these issues yet didn’t seem clear about the whole matter, which I was hoping they would find out during their own production: when their hands get dirty. And in terms of the ‘buildings’ they first came up with, I’ve insisted that we were significantly NOT designing buildings over a terrain but actually and literally ‘building’ the terrain, the topography; making the mountains as mere constructions with distinctive functions and activities peculiar to mountains, as imagined by their Junior Gods.
The results came late but fascinating, both visually and mentally as I was hoping for. Students have faced a lot of the issues architects and actual architecture students facing for months only in one day: the coherence of the form and the activity, losing and re-gaining focus, dreaming something and putting it into work, thinking in 3rd dimension and going back in two, making test models, rapid production, connections and joints, stress, tiredness etc.. a micro-stress-life span of an architect. But, I was truly amazed by the work they have produced at the end of the day, and they seemed they did too as well. We were able to built three different mountains that are independently and officially designed, accommodating distinctive activities envisioned earlier and with three distinctive methods of (sectional) production:
– The Pazirik, The Mountain of Splendid Farm Lands with the petite slopes and hidden caves formed by the erosion of the Inner River
– The Hermes, The Mountain of Labyrinthine Caves and Fluctuating Ramps, formed by the Spirit of Adventure
– The Moropogos, The Mountain of the Great Hidden Mine, possessing a precious material right at its hearth
More results ? I can provide you a summary: A hardly-fitting-on-6-desks-size joint model with 3 distinct mountains erected over the paper drawing as the base layer, surrounded by some earlier test models and cut-off sections-to-be-added allover the place. A total mess and a perfected untidiness, as the proofs of true hard-work and overall enthuasism. Over the mountains, the sign of “Construction in Progress” is accompanied with the lexicon drawings, both hanging off the ceiling. All of the students are smiling, looking content and proud. Taking photos of this mess and their mountains, all uploaded on their Facebook profiles the day after, immediately exchanging numbers and emails, and I received text messages the next day saying how fun the workshop was despite the challenge and the long day and that we should do it again! And, at the end of the long-awaited presentation, two of the students precisely said that they had gone through hard times and are feeling exhausted for working all day but, none of these won’t stop them from having the desire to be an architect. I think that was pretty much the goal, may be even more. Cheers.
I would like to thank Nihal Arlat, who has organized the whole thing and deliberately worked on every stage to make this real, to Bahar Nama and Tanju Coskun who assisted me and the students all day; making this workshop fun and possible. They were simply great and are the future architects we pine for.
For more information about the workshop series, please visit mimaroluyorum.com