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Comics :: Architectural Narratives

A Visual Format for Co-Teaching Design and Writing is a collaborative project between Professor Sacha Frey, myself, and many of our shared first-year architecture students at Pratt Undergraduate Architecture. Sacha and I co-taught in the Arch100 Studio + Trans-disciplinary Writing program from 2011-2019. During that time we have explored many formats and resources for creating a shared space of architecture design and writing as a generative and analytical relationship. One thread of research has been through the use of the comic format as a visual image/writing platform for students to explore spatial experience through time, scale, and human occupation. Below is a poster presentation of many student work examples and our primary teaching sources that we presented at Oklahoma University's Schools of Thought: Rethinking Architecture Pedagogy conference in Norman, Oklahoma this week (March 5-6, 2020).


A fundamental tension exists between the visual communication of architectural drawing and the literary communication of writing. Drawings are non-linear, open to exploration, guided by contrast and hierarchy and inherently visual. Written text is read in a specific order based on the conventions of the language, it builds the image sequentially relying on the concepts and biases of the reader. An architectural drawing conveys a singular image of an idea while each word in a text brings layers of meaning and generative potential. How then do we develop models of teaching that can bridge these two conflicting ways of conveying ideas, the images of drawing and language? This paper explores the co-teaching relationship between architecture design faculty and humanities writing faculty at Pratt Institute to integrate visual and linguistic thinking in a studio environment through the medium of the Comic.

Over fifteen semesters of paired teaching with Professor Sacha Frey in the first-year architecture studio sequence we have explored and developed many strategies for integrating writing, both generative and descriptive, with design work. Our most successful format for connecting the two disparate mediums has been adopting strategies from Comic design. The Comic provides a semi-sequential, but not necessarily linear, framework of windows into a project at multiple scales. Primary influence developed from the work of Chris Ware’s Building Stories and Scott McCloud’s Time Frames – Understanding Comics. By adopting a medium that is a text-graphic hybrid from outside either discipline, we decolonize both specializations and provide greater access to participation for all our Students, native and nonnative English-speakers. Traditional and experimental architectural drawings can operate together on a single page due to the ability to isolate local content. Text can operate at multiple scales to notate specific conditions of form and program within the frame and negotiate the space between frames with local narratives connecting non-linear moments within a project. Students can build writing into their design process by creating iterations of comic sequences. The visual format operates similarly to the traditional architecture drawing sets with the text refocusing the content on telling multiple simultaneous stories within a project.

Daniella Tero :: SP19
Michael Lee :: SP19
Changxin Li :: SP19

Here is the poster in action at OU

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