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Eladio Dieste: a Network of Precise Errors

Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Conference / Crossings Between the Proximate and Remote. Marfa, TX

Full paper forthcoming

In his essay, "Architecture and Construction", the late Uruguayan engineer Eladio Dieste recounts a conversation he had with a colleague about the work of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Dieste's colleague asserted that Gaudi's work was irrelevant, he added, "I wouldn't know how to draw one of his buildings." This remark highlights the disproportionate importance given to the graphic means used to build structures and the modern idea that the relationship between architecture and construction is primarily manifested through the framework of drawing.


The work presented in this paper considers “the proximate” as the assumption of an error-free architecture. The proximate is the precise execution of drawings and the obsession with infallible material production. Francesca Hughes describes a world in which, “architectural culture’s very particular construction precision and fear of error constitute a powerful undertow in all its relations to the process of materialization.” [1] The land of error is a remote place that is at odds with the hyper precision of contemporary methods of graphic representation and fabrication. In many architectural practices, to draw or model a brick wall results in its separation from labor and economic flows. The dimensional tolerance of drawing and modeling has become an act of absurd precision focused on translating error-free form into physical matter.    


In the second half of the 20th century, Eladio Dieste developed four technological innovations that emphasized the role of material error and challenged the dominance of graphic representation. In Dieste’s work, the combination of double curvature geometries, like Ruled Surfaces, with steel reinforced masonry construction expanded the modern pursuit of material control. The work discussed in this paper highlights the implications of building a Ruled Surface brick wall in an effort to disassociate precision from complexity. This double curvature wall is a network of errors. Through observation and analysis students and faculty can evaluate when and if this network of errors undermines the geometry of the wall and its structural capacity. The objective of this work is to recognize the role of imprecision in brick masonry construction and explore how error affects labor. Each version of the wall shown in this paper begins with the deconstruction and material cataloging of the wall built in the previous semester. After cleaning and cataloging each brick, a more error prone Ruled Surface wall is constructed using the same bricks. This method is used to intentionally lower the precision of each “new” wall and link student work across multiple semesters. Constructing Ruled Surfaces asks: how can we make walls stronger, thinner, and more imprecise? More importantly, this work is interested in the ability of error – the remote dimensional terrain- to reconstitute forms of labor instead of enacting material failures.


[1] Hughes, Francesca. The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision. MIT Press: London, England. 2014. p 5.

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