Teaching the Norm 1st Year Architectural Design Studio

University ETH Zurich
Date 2005/06
Professor Dr Marc M. Angélil
Assistants Medine Altiok, Inge Beckel, Dirk Hebel, Matthias Imgrüt, Marion Kalmer, Lukas Kueng, Zwi Kutner, Jesse LeCavalier, Dominique Leutwyler, Martin Matter, Patrick Maisano, Michael Martin, Christoph Sauter, Deane Simpson, Cary Siress, Benjamin Theiler, Akay Zorlu, Andrew Whiteside

The history of architecture is always simultaneously the history of housing the human body and of establishing the norms involved. Based upon this thesis, the first-year course of 2005/06 introduced the subject of the architectural norm into the established curriculum. While investigating and ultimately also questioning the norm, the course used it as a new didactic tool and general parameter to examine content. A large number of over 280 students and their collective experience with the norms of everyday life was regarded as a potential for teaching the course. By investigating our discipline’s production of normality, we wanted to test whether the critical potential within the structure of the first-year course can be made architectonically productive at the beginning of the overall curriculum by applying it to the environment familiar to the students. The idea was to provide students with an understanding of architectural practice, which defines architecture as a place in which social, political and aesthetic systems of rules and regulations are negotiated.

The students were free to define and work on their own normality in the individual sections entitled Space, Program, and Technology during the winter semester. Systems of normality could be read as mathematical frequency distributions, as catalogs of industry or construction norms or as ever-changing social patterns of behavior in our society. The tools taught in the first twelve steps of the exercises were to be directly addressed by and applied to the students’ previous everyday experiences. The norms of the right angle, of the angle of gradient of stairways and ramps, of family structures and their spatial consequences, of financial framework conditions and of constructive measures were some of the norms discussed that were not immediately accepted and applied a priori. Instead, starting out from the respective norm, each had to be reasoned a new and in context.