Craftsmanship and Architecture: a study in the revitalization and relevance of craft in a post-modern society

Looking around, it seems to be everywhere: craft jeans, craft coffee, craft beer, craft furniture, craft bicycles, craft markets, craft festivals, craft-you-name-it. Craft and craftsmanship are making a comeback. Since the onset of the Modern Era and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, craftsmanship has functioned as pillar concept opposite industrialism or mass-manufacture. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, products were either crafted – high quality and expensive – or mass-manufactured – low quality and cheap. As manufacturing techniques evolved, machines became quite capable of making beautiful, high quality objects and Design with a capital D replaces craftsmanship in the quality v quantity debate. The Designer, or Starchitect in the case of architecture, becomes an untouchable king of production, able to dictate his designs to the market. In the past decade or so, however, the reign of the Designer is waning. More and more, the market (read: users) dictates the product and product design becomes an ongoing, participatory process. Have we finally entered a Post-Industrial Era? Perhaps. Or perhaps the revival of craftsmanship “names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake.” (Sennett, 2008). Craftsmanship, which was moved to the sidelines, comes back into the ring, albeit redefined and not necessarily to fight. Craftsmanship doesn’t have to mean ‘hand-made’, since through the impact of digital technology, industry is now able to produce high-quality and custom-made ‘crafted’ products – this is no longer a paradox (Cardoso, 2008).

What this means is that the term ‘craftsmanship’ is being redefined. It is more than a production-based concept, perhaps even a collective process. As Richard Sennett argues in The Craftsman,  craftsmanship is a basic human impulse. With that comes pride in ones work, a sense of purpose, a distinction that has more to do with the motivation that informed the production than the production itself (2008). Part of that is also the thoroughness and integrity that define a product, it’s ability to stand the test of time not only through its durability but also its aesthetic beauty.

As a near-architect, the question that interests me is, what is craft architecture, and how do we get more of it?

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