Gesture and Principle in Urban Tectonics - An Educational Case Study

Marie Frier Hvejsel, Lea Holst Laursen, Poul Henning Kirkegaard


Grasping the spatial relation between urban design and architecture is a recurring challenge in the education of urban designers and architects alike. In the hectic and economically challenged context of construction practice the built environment suffers increasingly from a split between the two disciplines, leaving us with disconnected volumes and surfaces rather than inviting spaces that address the human scale.

In its capacity as a spatial theory of construction the notion of tectonics holds a potential to bridge the two disciplines. This paper explores that potential through a re-reading of the tectonic theories of Eduard F. Sekler. Given Seklers background in the emergence of urban design as an architectural discipline at Harvard in the 1950s and 60s this re-reading enables a critical linking of architecture and urban design, volume and surface, by means of the human scale. This re-reading has led to the development of an analysis and design method that we apply in our urban design program at Aalborg University. Part of this program is the Urban Tectonics workshop, which links the analysis and envisioning of spatial gestures with the analysis and creation of construction principles in the students projects.

Using this workshop as a case study the paper explores the potential of applying tectonic theory as an educational method of grasping the spatial relation between urban design and architecture in urban design education. The paper concludes that the workshop has awakened the students eyes to the spatial and structural relations between building interior and urban space. Moreover, it has strengthened the students critical approach to their future professional practice.

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