Invitation and escape: Technical standards and tacit knowledge in the design studio

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

We come to know our environment tacitly. We have to see things before we can say them; conception proceeds from, but is continuous with, the rich mute flux of experience [Gibson, 1979]. As educators and parents we try to spare our students and children some of the effort; we pass down concepts through depiction and description, codifying what we have seen through words and pictures. In order to learn, though, the next generation must decode this information, translate the explicit back to the tacit, assume it in silence, make it dumb again.

Building codes and standards are one way that knowledge about the built environment is collected, stored and transmitted. Building regulations represent generations of accrued experience, trials and errors to be spared us. However, while such technical literature is an effective means of legislation, it is tricky to teach. Leading students forward toward such pre-determined ends traps them in the abstraction of the explicit (and the design studio always favors the rich, the mute and the fluctuating). Is it possible, though, to work back through such explicit codes, to (re)discover and assume their tacit content?

This paper documents and presents a studio design-research project, conducted at the University of Edinburgh, which aspires to both tacit and explicit knowledge production. Run in association with an interdisciplinary teaching and research programme - Integrating Technical and Sociological Aspects of Fire Safety Engineering ( - the studio asks students to study the implications of a number of specified fire-safety regulations (further details attached). Its ambition, though, is not simply to teach technical competencies, nor to ensure compliance. The project draws on concepts from ecological psychology to explore the ‘invitation character’ of the built environment; the tacit means through which the environment tells us what its good for. The project suggests that Regulatory limits – which seek to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential risks of the environment - codify and inscribe an ‘invitation character’ into building. It asks students to work with and through regulation, then, in order to (re)discover something inviting embedded in them, engages them as designers in the production of (new) tacit understandings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTheory by Design
Subtitle of host publicationArchitectural Research made Explicit in the Design Teaching Studio
EditorsEls De Vos
Place of PublicationAntwerp
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9789057182242
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventTheory by Design - Antwerp, Belgium
Duration: 29 Oct 201231 Oct 2012


ConferenceTheory by Design

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Architecture
  • Research
  • Design
  • Studio Teaching
  • Fire Safety
  • Regulation


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