When explaining architecture to a person who knows nothing about it, usually the words ‘designing’ ‘buildings’ or ‘drawings’ come about. But not many people talk about the technological aspects of the course. This may be because if you don’t already have experience working with real projects in a firm, your main focus is on hypothetical projects that don’t need a technology viewpoint.
But to prepare architecture students for the real world, it’s important to touch on architectural technology including basic construction ideas and the knowledge of how exactly a building is made and then in turn, how that combines with the design.
This article is aimed at the undergraduate students, especially second and third years who may have no idea how to prepare for the technology modules. Usually, this comes in the second term while you’re in between design work and maybe finished with dissertation so it’s really important to be able to multi-task as best as possible.
What is the technology module / dissertation / submission?
The actual technology ‘module’ or dissertation in some universities can vary because each place will have their own education method and requirements so unfortunately, without looking directly at the brief, we can’t give guidance on each and every aspect. The deadlines, type of submission and other requirements completely depend on the university and can be better that way if you have a lot of guidance. Here, we’re going to be speaking from personal experience, so if something isn’t the same for you, just ignore it.
Now you might be thinking, I already have so many different projects and deadlines and now technology has been added to that. We’ve already explained the purpose of the submission, but the overall idea is to enhance your design project. This adds a level of detail and actually shows the examiner how the project moves from being hypothetical to reasonably realistic. By doing research about various things like case studies, detail drawings and other tests or experiments, you’re learning key skills.
From experience, the technology module or dissertation is a booklet of information that includes the project and its context as well as some tests, case studies and development of the project’s technological focus. It also includes drawings such as plans, sections and detailed construction drawings on a large scale. Check out this example on Issuu.
What are the aims and objectives?
The purpose of a technology module is for students to understand the technical aspects involved in any kind of building project, no matter how big or small. This has to integrate with your design project but focusing more on an element rather than the entire building. Often, the aims and objectives will be provided to you in the form of a brief or marking guide so make sure you read it properly and understand what it wants you to do.
Thinking from a submission and marking perspective, the examiners are just looking for an understanding of technical elements. They basically want to see that you can create and draw out basic concepts that have derived from your project. For example, when testing out an element, you don’t have to have successful outcomes. They want you to fail and learn how you failed and then what you did to correct the situation. This shows growth in your projects.
As well as this, the examiners are looking for high quality work with innovative ideas. Of course, working on a ‘simple’ technical element is difficult enough, but if you broaden your creativity and come up with unusual ideas that may very well not work, it shows that you like to experiment and think outside of the box.
How does this help you later down the line? Architects don’t work alone on a building from start the finish. There are many other professional people involved who will need to understand your thinking and ideas through your drawings. If you ever sit down with a constructional engineer you will realise the jargon and overall concepts are much more different to architecture. You will also need to make others understand how exactly your vision comes to life. It’s all good and well designing a beautiful roof structure but if you don’t have the technology behind it sorted it, no one will have an idea on how to actually construct it.
In addition, the technology module is great for prospective employers. Whilst working in a firm, you will be tasked on various things that you didn’t necessary learn in university because you were working on hypothetical projects. This is where having a technological understanding comes in handy. Although you might not be an expert in it, you have a solid base where it makes it easier for you to learn as you go rather than learning from scratch whilst on the job.
Breakdown of content
The following ‘chapters’ may not be required or could be slightly different depending on your course and university. This example is from the 3rd year technology dissertation at the University of Greenwich.
Project Context – This is all the information you have already gathered so far for your project. You have to basically think about how you would introduce the project to someone who may have not looked at your design work. This includes analysis of the site, the brief, your key drivers for the project and even where it is located. It’s basically background information.
RMS – This is a research methods statement. This is where you explain your technology focus, again with the context of the design project. The RMS is also a standalone document that gives an outline of the technology submission.
Dissertation – The dissertation is the main element of the submission. It has two parts, first the aims and technical questions that need to be answered, the case studies and the actual investigations carried out with experiments. The second part is the drawings. This includes plans, sections and detail drawings as well as a 3D view if needed.
Audit – this part explains the real-world technicalities of the project. For example, the costs, materials, building regulations and health and safety. Luckily, it doesn’t need actual figures but simply an understanding of the way it works.
Our top tips
Here at :scale we heavily emphasise on organisation. It is a lifesaver! Similarly, for the technology submission, the best thing you can do is organise yourself. Set out a couple of hours once you have the brief, to brainstorm on your project and make a template of the pages you need. We would recommend you buy a small notebook where you can keep your ideas. It will also come in handy during tutorials with your tutors regarding tech.
If your brief doesn’t already include a breakdown of the pages you need, either make one yourself or look at past projects to get a better idea of the structure. We’ve already touched on this above. Then, create a file in Adobe InDesign and set up a front cover (not the final thing), the pages, headings and subheadings and other details you know you need to include. This way you’re not creating pages one by one and slowly adding it to a folder, you can instantly lay out a page in your file and keep it all in one place, ready to go. If you have ideas for the presentation or colour scheme it makes your life much easier. Personally, we would say keep it simple but do something fun with it that doesn’t go over the top. If you need ideas, have a look on our Pinterest board ‘Layouts’.
A small but crucial part of the technology is to come up with a technical focus. This might be something new you’ve thought of or something you want to build on. Let’s use ‘natural ventilation techniques’ as an example. If you wanted to make your building more sustainable, for whichever reasons, you need to come up with ways in which you can introduce natural ventilation. An example of this can be a wind catcher or wind tunnel. Using this as one of your technical experiments, you need to think about the kinds of tests you can do to ensure you have the best model.
- Placement of the wind tunnel – here you can experiment where it will be placed, depending on the orientation of the building, you can do wind experiments on site, 3D model a wind tunnel and use software to understand where it will catch the most wind.
- Design – think about the best kind of design of a wind tunnel. Look at existing ones, the materials, the size, all kinds of factors.
- Efficiency – obviously, you can’t test this on site, but you could simulate conditions via a 3D software or a scaled physical model.
Essentially, the more factors you have to test, the better. But you need to make sure it makes sense with the rest of your project. Why are you testing this? Why is it important for the project as a whole? The best part is, even if some tests don’t work it, you can and should include it so that the examiners can see you tried various routes and then finally settled on the best outcome possible. This bit is probably the part where most students get stuck, they don’t know what exactly they need to ‘test’ but once you’ve got some ideas, it becomes very easy to keep going.
By planning ahead of time, you’re leaving yourself more time to work on the real stuff. You don’t want to be rushing at the end working on the layout of the dissertation even though it is an important part. Planning ahead also means thinking about printing services. For some technology dissertations, drawings are also required but these have to be to scale and therefore need to be on sheets of A3, A2 or even A1 and have to be folded and stuck in. Make sure you leave space for this and plan and scale your drawings well.
It’s also a good idea to have two copies of your dissertation, one for the submission and one for yourself or as part of your portfolio. Make sure you decide on how you will print your document and understand roughly how many days it will take. Then, count back from the day before your deadline and set it as your own deadline to finish everything. You want to leave a day or two for adding in the drawings and checking everything is good. If you can, try leave a backup option in case nothing works out. This could be a simple printed out booklet you make yourself.
Use your 3D models to your advantage. You don’t need an exquisite physical or digital model for this. Smaller, prototype models or experiment models are great. A good tip would be to duplicate your current digital model, extract out the area of focus, whether it’s a sliver of your building or a corner and use that file for the base of your technology drawings. Remember, you don’t need fancy renders or illustrations, a simple line drawing in orthogonal view is great. If possible, try and model the building with actual layers of the walls, the structure etc. so that when you draw a section out, it’s already there. Some programs like Revit or Vectorworks make it easy for you to do this.
This was our breakdown on architectural technology, what it is, what you need and our top tips for getting through this module. If you want to see more useful and helpful articles or even our tutorials, make sure to check them out below or by going on to our Blog page.