In early 2016, we introduced Vardehaugen, a Norwegian office that created a series of life sized drawings of their projects in their own backyard. After publishing this exercise on our site, Spanish architect and academic Alberto T. Estévez reached out to tell us that this same exercise has been carried out at ESARQ (UIC Barcelona) for the past 10 years with second and third year architecture students. According to Estévez, the exercise “represents something irreplaceable: it brings you closer to experiencing life-sized spaces of classic works of architecture” from the Farnsworth house to José Antonio Coderch’s Casa de la Marina.
About 10 years ago I had an idea for a special teaching exercise, one that I thought would be interesting and instructive at the same time. So I started doing the practice class we’ve been talking about with architecture students in their second and third year of study at ESARQ (UIC Barcelona): the School of Architecture, which I founded 20 years ago as the first Director at the International University of Catalonia.
Now, we do the lesson every year in the Architectural Composition class that I teach, which discusses the theory and history of architecture.
I have the students reproduce 1:1 scale floor plans of works that are specially chosen for the occasion. To do this they are given the floor plans of a specific building, and after an explanation of what the exercise is about, they break up into teams and trace the layout across campus with string, tape, and chalk.
Out of all the examples that we’ve done, we’ve seen that it’s best to start with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: first, for his obvious relevance and also because the activity should be done in one morning, something that his simplicity allows. Additionally, this way the subject matter of the courses deals with the same time period as the works that are being reconstructed.
The sequence that has worked best for us over time is: first, in the Architectural Composition 1 course (2nd year, 1st Semester), the Farnsworth House (Plano, 1946-1951), and then, in Architectural Composition 2 (2nd year, 2nd Semester), the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments (Chicago, 1949-51).
Finally, in Architectural Composition 3 (3rd year, 1st Semester), the students recreate Jose Antonio Coderch’s Marina house (Barcelona, 1952-1954), the best Spanish architect from the 50s to the 70s. This house has a very complex floor plan to recreate, but provides a highly educational experience due to the skillful details it requires. It ends up being an exciting contrast, going from Mies’ plans and then ending with the one from Coderch. The last one we also go see in person, since it’s right there in our city, Barcelona. It’s the perfect finishing touch for this activity.
This whole exercise is key to learning something basic for an architect, how to make a 1:1 scale floorplan from a drawing with a 1:100 scale, or something similar. And above all it represents something irreplaceable, what it’s like to begin to experience real life spaces. In this case, through classic works of architecture.
Actually, there’s a bit of “magic” in the gradual process of the students recreating the floor plan: they start off in an empty space, with just a piece of paper in their hands, and they end up being able to walk around a building that they’re able to imagine in its true scale. In short, it’s a good way to understand, in the most illustrative manner, the measurements and sizes of spaces by famous architects, and that are normally only seen as small drawings in books or online.
Alberto T. Estévez is a Professor at the School of Architecture (Universitat Internacional de Catalunya) Barcelona, founded in 1996. In 2000 he also created the Masters in Biodigital Architecture at the same institution. Estévez is the author of more than a hundred publications, including his latest book, entitled “Biodigital Architecture & Genetics: Writings / Escritos“.
Profesor: Alberto T. Estévez
Subjects: Architectural Composition (grades 2 and 3)
Location: ESARQ, School of Architecture, Barcelona UIC (International University of Catalonia), Barcelona, Spain
Years: 2007 to date