At Aarhus School of Architecture the workshop facilities are an indispensable part of the education. An ever-expanding range of machinery makes experiments with materials, mockups, and digital processes an integral part of teaching.
In the workshops students familiarise themselves with the machines and programs they will be using in their professional lives, as architects. But the workshops are more than production facilities: they are also learning environments. This is why we employ architects in the workshops who teach, provide feedback, and inspire students to make new reflections.
For many years, Aarhus School of Architecture has sought to implement a hands-on approach to architecture. In particular the wood workshop has played a role in this, through the production of models and prototypes. Heavy investments in new machines and facilities now allow us to experiment with a wide range of materials and technologies, including casting techniques, CNC milling, and robot-controlled fabrication.
Several of the new digital production technologies are a natural extension of the tools architects traditionally use in their work. E.g. the use of drawing in digital fabrication.
For the students it is an obvious choice to use the new technologies to test design concepts in physical form, particularly because this also gives them a sense of the properties of different materials and manufacturing methods, says Associate Professor Niels Martin Larsen, who often uses the workshop facilities in his teaching:
‘Working in the workshops gives students a very tangible experience of how the level of complexity is much higher when you produce a specific piece of work compared with simply using graphics to describe something. And this is a very useful experience for both their studies and for working professionally as architects.’
Niels Martin Larsen was involved in a course which resulted in the realisation of a landscape installation at Godsbanearealerne in Aarhus:
‘The course gave me experience in planning and realising building projects in full scale. During the course one student said to me: ‘There is a big difference between drawing two lines in a computer-assisted drawing program and casting a concrete wall in real life.’
The workshop facilities
We use our workshop facilities for both long and short workshops, where teachers and students work closely together.
The aim of a workshop can be to introduce students to a specific manufacturing technique, or to how this technique is used in the architectural profession.
A longer course which is based in the workshop facilities may, for instance, focus on how a design method can be realised in various types of building components, or it may involve more abstract experiments which give students experience in digital design or material properties.
In the high-ceilinged mockup facility students have an opportunity to construct in full-size, but often they work on their projects on site – e.g. in the nature area Eskelund or in Djursland, at the farm of Danish media phenomenon Bonderøven.
A sense of community in the workshops
Niels Martin Larsen believes workshop-based teaching gives students a feeling of working together on a shared project:
‘Even in courses where assignments must, in principle, be solved individually, a number of practical challenges are usually best solved together’, he says, and elaborates:
‘This is an experience that matches expectations in the industry. Here there are some overall goals the staff have to work towards achieving – and the interests of individuals are not quite as essential. In general, It is felt to be a good thing that there is less focus on the performance of individuals, and that it is all about building knowledge and experience together,’ he concludes.