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Department of Architecture (DoArch)

South Dakota State University

Specifications, Regulations, and other Dull Subjects

(or things that aren't cool enough to study in architecture school)

Studio Website > link

Specs Studio is a graduate, design research studio about Specifications, Codes, Patents, and other Regulatory documents associated with the production of architecture. Visualizing under examined histories and rewriting them into alternative modes of practice that acknowledge the fullness of architectural labor is the primary goal of the studio. How does the connection between Specifications and Regulations affect the politics of labor, the ethics of material consumption, and people’s lives? This studio is not about designing buildings, but rather about undoing the processes that shape buildings by interrogating forms of written orthography.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the construction community in the United States embarked on a radical restructuring of agreements through organizations that governed the social, economic, and labor culture of building sites. As a result, contemporary specification writing and its accompanying standards have established uniform material installations, quality control, and various construction roles on the building site. Beyond the legal requirements they address, specifications offer a written format for translating the organization and sequence of work on a construction site from architect to contractor. Specification writing has the political and economic potential to impact the building site through the regard or disregard of certain types of work and as technical documents, they allow control over the site from a distance. Though many construction practices in the United States were borrowed from Europe in the nineteenth century, including specification writing, the development of specifications in the United States coincided with the country’s westward expansion and appropriation of land from indigenous people across the North American frontier. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the specification was not only a tool for controlling buildings sites from a distance, but also an instrument of colonization.

Jessica Garcia Fritz


Urgent concerns about climate and racial justice – deeply interconnected issues – are linked to construction labor and the historical tension between architect, owner, contractor and the public. Architecture’s role in the violent history of colonialism, slavery, and immigration rests in the overlooked space between Specifications and Regulations. How can we leverage history to speculate about future modes of practice and uncover historical “agreements” that have shaped and misshaped our present?


Specs Studio theorizes about professional work, instead of professionalizing theoretical work. Most design studios focus on the latter by taking large ideas or concepts and working iteratively towards professional deliverables (drawings, images, and models), which are used to defend “the big idea”. To build large disciplinary narratives, the Specs Studio works from the details of written, regulatory documents, using digital archives as the primary strategy for conducting research.

This "detective work" will be evident through time-based imaging (still and moving) and the construction of interactive websites used to share students’ work. In concert with a website, students will design and develop books that collect their research. The website and book will be the documentation and dissemination of the research process. Visual experiments with archive documents (specs, policies, drawings, etc) will be turned into an interactive website or “office manual”.      


How is information stored and how has knowledge been transferred from these storage systems? What are the biases – historical and contemporary – associated with particular forms of architectural knowledge? How are these biases documented and how can they be exposed in order to establish modes of practice that challenge inadequate biases in the production of architecture? What are the performative aspects of that knowledge? What is the relationship between Specifications, Drawings, and Regulations? All of these questions are tied to the media-based work of the studio and the ways in which students’ work becomes public. 


References (ongoing list)  


Research about architectural labor and practice has increased during the 21st century. Students are expected to identify sources of knowledge and contribute to this ongoing scholarly effort. Below is a preliminary list of references (a mixture of texts, lectures, websites, etc) used to structure the scope and content of the studio.


Core Texts

Zeynep Çelik Alexander and John May, Editors, “Design Technics: Archaeologies of Architectural Practice,” (2019). > link


Pier Vittorio Aureli, "Labor and Work in Architecture," in No Sweat, Harvard Design Magazine, No 46, (2018). > link

Esther Choi, “Sustainability’s Image Problem,” in Library Stack (2019). > link

Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye, “The Missing Bodies in Architecture’s Talk of Embodied Energy,” in Failed Architecture, (2020).  > link


Peggy Deamer, “Architecture and Labor,” (2020). > link


Peggy Deamer, Editor, “The Architect as Worker: Immaterial Labor, the Creative Class and the Politics of Design,” ( 2015). > link

Jessica Garcia Fritz, “Shifting Practices in Twentieth-Century Specifications Writing: The Case of the R. Guastavino Company,” in Technology, Architecture, and Design Journal, (2020). > link


Samia Henni, “Colonial Ramifications,” in e-flux History/Theory, (2019). > link

Timothy Hyde, Editor, "Governing by Design: Architecture, Economy, and Politics in the 20th Century," (2012). > link


Elisa Iturbe, Editor,  “Log 47: Overcoming Carbon Form,” (2019). > link

George Barnett Johnson, “Assembling the Architect: The History and Theory of Professional Practice,” (2020). > link


Fernando Luiz Lara, “American Mirror: The Occupation of the “New World” and the Rise of Architecture as We know It,” in The PLAN Journal, (2020). > link


Ana Maria Leon and Andrew Herscher, “At the Border of Decolonization,” in e-flux At The Border, (2020). > link


Joan Ockman, “Slashed” in e-flux History/Theory, (2017). > link


Michael Osman, “Modernism’s Visible Hand: Architecture and Regulation in America,” (2018). > link


Bryony Roberts, Editor, “Log 48: Expanding Modes of Practice,” (2020). link


Ilka Ruby and Andreas Ruby, Editors, "The Materials Book," (2020). > link 

Mabel Wilson, “Radical Repair,” in Log 48, (2020). > link


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