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(21-22) Wicked Home

Tutor(s): Rachel Armstrong, Rolf Hughes
Master dissertation, 21-22, Sem 3+4.
open for Interior Architecture
Language: English/Dutch
Campus Ghent


introduction: objectives and content

The course provides students with a project that explores notions of Home/Housing/(co-, in)Habiting in their design research.

The studio is situated within the Academic Design Office The Wicked Home and focusses on the quality of ‘wickedness’ in habitation.  We offer a multidisciplinary learning environment where participants become the catalyst for developing their master dissertation project, supported by a wide range of interdisciplinary expertise present in the ADO.

The central focus on the home, which is considered as both the most foundational concept and fundamental action underpinning every architectural operation.

“Home Sweet Home” – nothing is as familiar as home. However, materializing homeliness remains a complex and wicked architectural challenge that we habitually answer using a variety of well-known housing types. In transitioning from an industrial to an ecological era, we must also challenge the foundations of the archetypical housing standards (including consideration of other-than-human perspectives), and start to re-think and re-form the central notion of home as an expression of inhabiting our environment. To start this process, we invite you to embrace “wickedness”—or, irreducible complexity—as an explorative vector for thought and design activity. In design contexts, “wicked” takes on additional meaning related to incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to disentangle from each other.

Etymologically, “wicked” came into use about 1200. It is an extended form of an earlier term wick that implied “bad, wicked, false”. This appears to be an adjectival use of Old English wicca “wizard” and wicce (feminine). The term ‘wicked’ in reference to architectural questions, is attributed to an article in 1973 by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber that refers to insoluble problems in planning. Characteristically, these challenges related to social policy issues, which is an arena where purely scientific-engineering approaches cannot be applied owing to our inability to clearly define the problem and the differing perspectives of stakeholders. More than complexity, wickedness distinguishes a new domain of problem type, and is not a synonym for complex problems. For Rittel and Webber, the more-than-complexity issue was people … or “life” … getting in the way of rational planning, where the laws of physics and engineering simply could not offer an effective solution to a situation, which was frustratingly embroiled in the irreducible agency of “others.” A wicked problem, therefore, is one that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and presents changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise. It is a problem whose social—or “lived,” acted or performed—complexity means there is no determinable stopping point. If we can’t wholly predict “wickedness,” then we can’t “solve” it and its influence doesn’t go away. Rather than asking how to “solve” wicked problems, instead, we must ask about the source, distribution, and choreography of the “agency” within these systems

Each student will differ in their response to the specific nature of the wicked perspective (wicked structures, wicked materials, wicked forms, wicked experiences, wicked performances, wicked spatial setting, wicked philosophies…). Adopting a particular “wicked” perspective, individual design proposals will become manifestations of new types of home fit for a true ecological era. This ADO does not expect students to start from scratch, reinventing architecture itself—but to reimagine and re-define the values that comprise what is arguably the humblest entity of the built environment. These values become the principles of the “wickedness” that shapes the systems framing the home and helps describe its inhabitable spaces, the bodies it houses—as well as how it sits within and relates to the larger environment. (re)Designing the notion of “home” might range from designing a backpack, to hyper-detailing a room, to making a single family—or kangaroo house, to master planning an allotment, to engineering a super-block of apartments. There is no preset scale for situating the work. Students can prototype something new or retrofit an existing structure. The re-formations can be slight, or major, focusing on one aspect, or several. All proposals will aim to explore form finding and design principles that consider more and other things than the human perspective. The ADO teaching team supports students to articulate their proposals and help them interrogate its limits.

Departing from everyone’s individual experience, a number of exercises will be executed from which a collective repertoire of prototypical concepts and acts of (co-, in-)habitation will be constructed. This enables an investigation of a renewed meaning to habitation, in a context where students move from an industrial to an ecological era.

999 years 13 sqm (the future belongs to ghosts)
By Rachel Armstrong and Cecile B. Evans
Exhibition: Is this tomorrow? Whitechapel Gallery, London. 2