Thinkables – task 01 – Heteroglossary

by Annie Locke Scherer

Heteroglossary for Concrete Form[ing]work

Annie Locke Scherer


(/riːˈɒlədʒi/; from Greek ῥέω rhéō, “flow” and -λoγία, –logia, “study of”) is the study of the flow of matter, primarily in a liquid state, but also as “soft solids” or solids under conditions in which they respond with plastic flow rather than deforming elastically in response to an applied force


The term concrete is derived from the Latin word, concrēscere: to grow together. The French, German, and Danish use the term Béton, derived from the Old French betum for a mass of rubbish.

Tacit material knowledge

A concept referenced in skypes with Remo Pedreschi and Anne-Mette Manelius in regards to working with flexible formwork and cast concrete, referring to the knowledge which are not understood without having worked with the material directly.  “Digital designers are discovering that they may often learn and design by making, just as artisans always have, but now at much bigger scales. Using the power of digital simulations, a designer can make and break more chairs, beams, or roofs in a few minutes on a screen than a traditional craftsman made and broke in one lifetime, learning – often tacitly – from this experience. (Capo, Breaking the Curve, 173). These skills are quite difficult to communicate or translate steps necessary if the fabricator has not had previous experience with the tools.

The designer and the fabricator

Building upon the thinkable concept of tacit material knowledge, the role and division between the designer and the fabricator must be blurred. When working with fluid-responsive formwork, it is critical to allow the engagement of materiality and rheology within the construction process, and re-envisions the workers’ role to be much more active in the design. Upon embracing the inherent rheological qualities of concrete rather than constraining them to rigid formwork, the material and fabricator are allowed to take an active role in the more dynamic casting process.

Architecture as Art and Construction

Dieste argues that while architecture is a construction, it is also an art. An engineer himself, he looked to architecture and design to solve problems that were inherently structural. “For architecture to be truly constructed, the materials should not be used without a deep respect for their essence and consequently for their possibilities” (Deiste, E. Architecture in Construction). There must be a relationship between rationality and expressiveness in order to achieve progress.

the design probe, the material prototype and the demonstrator

The recent advancement of digital machines and fabrication has shifted the means in which we conduct design research; we must create new methods in evaluating material evidence in relation to architectural practice. Thomsen and Tamke present three types of material evidence as means of evaluating research within our field: the design probe, the material prototype and the demonstrator.

Because architecture is always embodied by the material, these three modes of material evidence allow architects to apply a dimensionality to a given design question and solution. While the design probe is more speculative investigation of design criteria, the material prototype explores the material behavior and extrapolates upon the criteria set up by the probe. The demonstrator then builds upon this further, taking the wandering and sometimes fragmented prototyping process and applying real-world constraints to construct a more conclusive investigation. By arguing that utilizing the integrated approach of research by design and emphasizing the implementation of physical demonstrators, architects can aptly position their research to create a more cyclical and reflective connection between design, analysis, specification and fabrication.

Evaluation Criteria

This reflection must be used when evaluating the complex relationship between digital and the physical prototype. Material testing and probes must be developed simultaneously with digital models. Data from physical testing is used to inform the digital tools and in turn, the digital models help develop an understanding of material behaviors and structures not achievable by prototypes. What is critical is that we must verify our computational models by simultaneously developing both physical and digital tools in order to evaluate the appropriateness and precision of our experiments.


Originally coined by Anne-Mette Manelius. Word derived from the roots of Gr. stereos (solid) and ginomai (to begin to be); describes concrete as a material and a process. The formal definition is suggested as: ‘the expressed manifestation into solid material form of a series of conditions from the construing and construction of structural formwork principles and concreting.’ 

Concrete, let us be clear, is not a material, it is a process’ (Forty, Adrian, ‘The material without a history’, in Jean-Louis Cohen and G. Martin Moeller, Jr (eds), Liquid Stone: new architecture in concrete Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006 p.35)

Standardization vs. Mass customization

The ridiculous assumption that with “form of objects (from teaspoons to houses to cities) must follow human functions, standardized articles of mass production must aim at the average user or customer, and neglect the statistical margins, or “tails” in the bell curve of frequency distributions. When one size must fit all, those users or customers that don’t fit – physically or ideologically, by choice or by necessity – must pay more to have what they need made to measure. Non-standard technologies promise to alleviate this tax on diversity…There is no reason why Cache’s mass-customized tables should be more expensive than Ikea’s mass-produced ones” (Carpo, Mario. “The Alphabet and the Algorithm” (2011))
Design and fabrication can mass-produce variations at no extra cost: Economies of scale do not apply in a digital environment, and (within given limits) digital produces, mass-customized objects, all individually different, should cost no more than standardized and mass-produced ones, all identical.” (Carpo, Mario. Breaking the Curve. (2014))