Haptic Architectural-Model Making and Embodied Thinking

By Andrew Macklin.

Published by The International Journal of Design Education

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The following paper discusses a university architectural model-making course with a pedagogy strongly influenced by various theories of embodied thinking—particularly, the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the pragmatism of John Dewey. “Haptic” from the Greek “haptikos” means “sense of touch,” but it is used by the Finnish theorist Juhanni Pallasmaa to refer to how the senses articulate our understanding of the world, particularly in relation to architecture (Pallasmaa 2005, 5). Pallasmaa is strongly influenced by the philosopher Merleau-Ponty, for whom the body thinks (Hass 2008, chapter 4). The brain is in the body and the body is in the mind; they are not separate, but entwined cognitive worlds, mutually elaborating each other in the event of being. Merleau-Ponty, like Martin Heidegger, radicalizes epistemology, philosophy of mind and ideas of thinking, consciousness and knowing by showing how thinking is not, per se, in the mind with the body merely a vessel which translates concepts or intellectual messages. Rather, thinking occurs in being and in our living bodies which are responding to the real world (Dreyfus 2001, chapter 2). Phenomenology celebrates how we live our thinking as an existential dialogue and dialectic that is immediate and reciprocal. When we touch, see, smell, taste, move, interact, experience, and live, we are always already reasoning, creating, and dreaming. “Haptic” architectural model-making refers to a pedagogy where architectural knowledge or design thinking is developed by students experimenting with materials (e.g. mixing concrete), making architectural assemblies (e.g. scaled rammed earth walls), or building scaled models that, as closely as possible, replicate the materiality, structure or construction techniques of real world precedents, or match their building vision. Haptic model-making allows me as an educator to embed architecture knowledge and develop authentic design solutions by focusing on the way the body and the senses think, respond, learn, and make meaning when activated in concrete, lived, temporal interactions with tools that are transforming materials. It also allows me to use language to record, analyse, cross-pollinate, and develop design reasoning from embodied experiences in a way that speaks the truth of those personal, physical insights. The first half of this essay discusses the philosophy and theory that underpin this pedagogy, and the second half discusses how this is applied in two different courses—modeling a precedent building in an undergraduate model-making course and model-making as a way of designing a building, and developing ecological ethics in a Masters of Architecture studio.

Keywords: Detailing, Ecological Ethics, Embodied Imagination, Embodied Intelligence, Haptic Modelmaking, Phenomenology, Pragmatism, Sensuous Thinking

The International Journal of Design Education, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.29-39. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 440.440KB).

Andrew Macklin

Lecturer, Architecture, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Macklin is a lecturer in the Architecture Program at the Faculty of Built Environment (FBE) at The University of New South Wales (UNSW). He is an architect and an academic with a strong interest in the relationship between architecture and ecology, bringing to this area his expertise in organic architecture, phenomenology (Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty), eco-phenomenology (David Abram), and new movements in ecological thinking—evolving from political ecology and ethics—that explore architecture that grows from humans working with and respecting the rights of nature.