The Concept of Craftsmanship

So far in this class we have looked at a plethora of materials that all seem to share a common theme of being manufactured. Manufacturing materials is a way to achieve a consistent product at high volumes. This is the conventional method of making materials in todays building environment, but historically these materials had to produced by hand in smaller quantities. Over time and because of advancement in technologies some of these more time-honored materials like hand cut stone have been phased out by reinforced concrete, and brick. Today the concept of craftsmanship is a rarity in the realm of materials. This is partially because of the inherent risk with the overall concept of craftsmanship. A recent article I came across by David Pye a former Professor of Furniture Design at The Royal College compares the risk of craftsmanship versus manufacturing to that of writing by hand and the use of a printing press. When you use a printing press there is a certainty in what the finished product will look like. In contrast writing by hand there is no preconceived image of the finished product and writing by hand requires a level of skill, dexterity, and judgment. At any moment the entire work can be ruined, and it is up to the discretion of the person when the work is finished.

Still with this level of risk craftsmanship has the potential to bring unique qualities to materials that manufacturing can’t replicate. One reason for this is because manufacturing wants to know what the finished product will look like in the beginning. This is a critical error in the design and creation process. It is the equivalent of having a single design iteration that you can never adjust. Another advantage of craftsmanship is the opportunity to react to the unique aspect of a material that may not be homogenous. Wood is a common material used as a standard construction material. It is taken rough cut into dimensional lumber then assembled in accord with this preconceived dimensional geometry. No care is paid to the color direction or uniqueness that is inherent in the wood. Opportunity is missed to exploit the materials to its full potential; instead it is treated at its most basic elements. Craftsmanship has the potential to elevate a material to a higher level than manufacturing, while bringing a unique more refined quality to the environment that it’s applied.

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2 comments

  1. lexxx329

    I largely agree with your statements about craftsmanship and the our shift towards treating materials as though they are basic elements; however, I also think that there are extraordinary benefits in utilizing technology to reach levels of efficiency that were unimaginable in the past. I like the example of free-hand writing versus the use of a printing press; one is inherently very personal while the other allows for the content that is being printed to reach the masses. I think that this can also apply to other material processes as well in fields such as architecture. Last week there was a blog post that was discussed in class that pertained to the classic Japanese homes versus the typical Japanese homes that are prominent today.

    The old-styled Japanese homes are remarkably beautiful and are constructed using specific techniques and were exceptionally crafted by craftsmen who specialized in these homes. However, these homes are not nearly as economical to construct as the typical modern homes and were both more expensive to build and to maintain. This raises a question of how much we should take craftsmanship into consideration when we fabricate materials. Is it more important to create unique objects that are hand-crafted or is it more important to simplify the process and design it in a way so that it can be accessible for the masses? Is there a meeting point in between these two that would express the uniqueness of each material while remaining feasible to produce in larger quantities?

  2. clausen1598

    I appreciate your response and think it raises an interesting topic of whether craftsmanship can be mass-produced, and if these things are mass-produced can we claim that they are inherent of the qualities that we commonly describe as containing craftsmanship. One aspect that is in opposition for craftsmanship ever really being massed produced is the fact that it favors people over machines. Since the industrial onslaught of the late nineteenth century machine manufacturing has been the norm in production for multiple reasons that I have stated in my previous article. These mentalities and practices have followed use into the twenty first century and have become imbedded into the way we think about materials and manufacturing in general. To move away from these instinctive values we would need a massive revival of the arts and crafts movement, which occurred in the early in nineteenth century.
    One aspect that I believe may encourage this revival is the demand for uniqueness is increasing in my humble opinion. People seem to want to step away from the conventional and ubiquitous. This can be seen in the revival of more colloquial styles and practices of building. The return to colloquial styles is partially because of a reexamination of these former practices. Simple building techniques like green roofs, and traditional cross ventilation techniques are being recognized for their simple efficient environmentally friendly properties. Another reason fro this reexamination of previous building techniques I believe is that they set the house apart from other houses that follow the homogenous design. Will their be a revival of the arts and crafts, and a movement toward craftsmanship only time will tell, but I for one see a lot of design opportunity in a potential transition

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