Throughout the XX century until now, the relationship between architecture and construction has had a significant invariant in “dry construction”1, characterised by at least three paradigms that have gradually changed the way of producing and constructing, but even before that, the way of conceiving and designing buildings.
These paradigms form the taxonomical terms of the phylogeny of the architecture/construction synthesis, from the first experiments by the great Masters until current day, guided by coercive legislation regarding environmental respect and energy saving.
The first paradigm of dry construction is found in the work of Jean Prouvé2 , and involves the (de)composition/industrialised construction of an architectural structure.
Before the Second World War and immediately after (between the 1930s until the 1950s) Prouvè combined his research into steel and aluminium
prefabrication and low cost housing, inventing a sort of modular composition founded on “constructive ideas”3 , to create light structural metal buildings with prefabricated components, then assembled dry, like a large Meccano, on site. A representation of the techniques, of the materials and the production and assembly methods (pressure bending machines, welders, bolted and slotted connections, nodes and joints) between the building components, which totally changed the design method creating new relations between the project and building (between architect and builder), and between the building product (component) and industry.
Research, technological transfer, architectural expression are all blended in an ethical concept of the form, applied to mass housing, where terms like mass production (each building is designed as a repeatable prototype), flexibility in use, transformability (without demolition), can be dismantled / reversed, that is associated to architecture for the first time.
The second paradigm in dry construction is the development of the assembly as a composition and component of the design item.
This appeared between the 1970s and 1980s with the architects Foster, Rogers, Grimshaw and Piano, and mainly focused on “singular items”4 , also
thanks to the exceptional collaboration with engineers like Peter Rice 5 . Architecture of glass and steel, founded on an analytical conception of the form, where the static structure is seemingly totally everted. An important feature is the visual and functional division of the parts, which is expressed and communicated: the primary, secondary and tertiary structure: the supporting and the supported elements, the tense and the compressed elements; the joint6 ; all the building components play a formal role.

A paradigm that gradually began making use of the computer, not only to design and generate the projects, but to define new relationships between
architectural form and its production7 (mass customisation, CNC, f2f, etc.) and between architectural form and the integrated calculation of its performance (structural, energy, technical lighting, etc.).
In today’s world, awareness of energy saving and environmental respect, which are obligatory further to the new European technical legislation (Directive 2010/31/UE for almost zero energy buildings), together with the global economic crisis, have led to a new paradigm for dry construction, given by inverting the static and construction components (figures), together with an architectural epiphany about energy production means.
The new project (not only for “singular items”) requires “passive” or “almost zero energy” constructions: forms that the S/C system (structure/cladding)
resolves by using articulated building equipment in the structure, external and internal shells; shells which in turn are formed of “layers” of materials,
mechanically assembled (dry), of natural or synthetic origin, with increasingly higher performances and relatively low costs, that are currently available on the market and which can be totally articulated according to the performance features required from the building. This new paradigm uses steel and wood owing to their specific qualities (recyclable, reversible, etc.), awarded by the environmental sustainment protocols (e.g. the ITACA Protocol).

To conclude. Between Myth and (new) Need, architects have to promote a cultural and technical line, which is able to transform the overwhelming number of limitations, imposed by current needs, into a resource for new architecture. Lead even the ordinary buildings to a contemporary widespread representation, a model for an epochal passage: adopting an architectural mediocritas that takes the production and energy saving devices as “objects” of figurative reaction (solar energy units, photovoltaic units, solar chimneys, etc.) or the solar controlling devices (brise – soleil, etc.), even when they appear as readymade objects in the manufacturers’ catalogues. The awareness of the building performances (the S/V compactness indicator, the transmittance, acoustic conductivity, etc.) and even of the most outer layers, those that interact (energetically and figuratively) with the surrounding environment, should be guided back into the project as one of the variables that architecture has to give per forma.


Diego De Nardi

[Acciaio Arte Architettura 57/2014]