Tactile Architectures

Architecture has often constituted itself as hard and durable, from the Vitruvian principle of firmness to the raw concrete of brutalism. This seminar draws attention to the tactile and textural possibilities of architecture by looking at the mobilization of soft forms and materials as an alternate way of approaching buildings and cities. We will draw on a wide range of historical and theoretical readings to examine this topic in relation to three themes: material (the role of textile elements such as tents and hangings in tropical architectural traditions; soft furnishings and the emergence of domestic space), polemics (“hard” brutalism versus “soft” picturesque; the rhetoric of place and placemaking), and infrastructure (greening the city through parks and plantings, permeable/impermeable surfaces). We will extend our inquiry to the scale of the urban and the planetary by attending to the production of the “formal” city of permanent construction and the “informal” city of temporary structures and found materials. What can softness, as a series of interventions around temporality, comfort/caregiving, and spatial adaptability, offer designers working at a range of scales?

Students will focus their work over the course of the semester on identifying and exploring an example of a tactile architecture—broadly defined as a design strategy, an architectural tradition, an urban intervention, or a lived practice—and compiling and sharing this research in a pamphlet or other short-form project. This project will emerge from a series of assignments including presentations of material selected by students as well as written responses to texts. Working collaboratively, we will define and interrogate tactile architecture as political critique, contemporary condition, and response to crisis.

This seminar is open to students from all backgrounds and degree programs.