Lines of Action: Investigating How Behaviors of Structural Systems Can Be an Informing Agent of Architectural Design




As part of an accredited architectural curriculum, students participate in a series of courses that introduce concepts of statics, structural principles, and methods of system analysis. As many students frequently become enamored with initial form generating procedures as an approach to architectural design, they regrettably consider the lessons presented within the sequence of structural courses as ancillary consequences to form making processes and disconnected from their concurrent design studio explorations. These assumptions lead to students over-emphasizing the appearance of an architectural act, as opposed to placing value on how architecture performs, offers spatial organization, and engages the site and its users.

This paper challenges these aforementioned perceptions by introducing a pedagogical approach focused on investigating and embracing the performance of structural assemblies as an inspiration for architectural design within these supporting structural courses. A series of physical explorations were presented to students as an opportunity to expand upon their understanding of the lessons, simultaneously being covered in class, related to the behavior of forces and the capabilities of structural systems to transfer and withstand various loading scenarios. These hand-on exercises asked the students to design and fabricate physical models to be tested under various performance criteria and challenged the students to consider ways in which structural behaviors and architectural design might inform one another. The students were assessed on their ability to innovate, test, reconsider, and summarize their predictions and findings for how their designed systems behaved internally and responded to applied external influences. Along each of the phases for these projects, students were asked to embrace failure as an integral part of the iterative design phase, persuading students to primarily focus on designing performance-orientated solutions and concentrate on studying how the actions of constituent parts systematically contributed to the performance of its composite assembly.