Constructive Disobedience

In 1418, Filippo Brunelleschi won the competi­tion to build the Florentine dome of Santa Maria del Fiore with a design that proposed the largest ever masonry dome without the need for a material-intensive framework. When asked how exactly he intended to execute his idea of the double-shell construction, he replied in his dispositivo at the start of construction: “because in masonry, practice teaches how to proceed”—“perché nel murare la pra­tica insegna quello che s’ha a seguire”.¹

In 2019, Elli Mosayebi formulates “Twelve The­ses on the Architecture of the Second Modernism” in her inaugural lecture at ETHZ. Thesis seven reads: “The Second Modernism stands for experimentalism in order to break out of existing chains of thought and to gain new concepts of action for the present”.²

Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome just as the Tour d’Eiffel by engineers Koechlin and Sauvestre or Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome are examples of such experimentalism. Although they were not conceived as research projects, they are nevertheless epistemic objects: They embody knowledge that has been built. As prototypes, long-term experiments and in their physically-spatial presence, they become milestones of constructive progress. In view of urgent climate and resource challenges, it is now more than ever true that the further development of constructive possibili­ties requires daring experiments in building practice. However, anyone who formulates a proposal for reinventing, modifying, optimising or reducing a construction based on an architectural idea is aware of the big no to experimentation on the building site. Open-ended work is the premise of all research, but it also contradicts the interests of both clients and construction firms. Whereas science demands that results from ideas be published as provisional knowledge, tested and, in the event of falsification, rewritten on the basis of one another, fault-free construction appears as the only allegedly correct procedure, inscribed in DIN and BIM detail proposals for construction. But how can we seriously recalibrate and reformulate our construction standards in the face of the acute climate crisis?

In constructive experimentation, the public interest in building with an eye to the future overlaps, as it were, with a genuine architectural design practice which, in the intensification of a spatial idea, pursues the congruence or the conscious juxtaposition of constructive constitution and architectural expression³. Here, the potential for synthesis and the often-volatile metamorphoses of architecture as the leading discipline in the development process of a solution become openly apparent. In order to illuminate the successful ways of expanding today’s normative frameworks to include design and construction processes, the timing and context of an experiment would seem significant: 

The problem of “resolving the conflict”
The process starts with a critical observa­tion of problematic building standards, which under current market logic are becoming increasingly acute and unavoidable. 

The idea “another mad idea”
A design concept provokes an idea for which the realisation has not yet been thought through and tested constructively, which means that the realisation is re­garded as open-ended.

The individual case “the value of speculation”
During the design process, seismic points appear which push the fundamental idea to the limits of what can be built and which prove to be reference points for the architectural intention in the ongoing planning and construction processes right up to the building site.

At the origin of a research question, the method—the path to—is already implicit. Typical phases in the search for solutions include inter­viewing reference projects, craftspeople and experts («found treasures»), design variants (exploratory), mock-ups and prototypes (inhibited experimental systems)⁴. Research casts its spotlight on the development and construction history for possible solutions and their potential for transformation into valid standards. This knowledge gap is directly «experimented into» from project to project. In the context
of building regulations, it may be necessary to obtain approval in individual cases or a so-called exemption of the building owner from the valid implementation regulations. The individual case may fail or succeed—or first succeed and then fail and entail repair cycles, adjustments. The result can be scientifically evaluated through testing and monitoring. Publications, adoptions and further developments in follow-up projects testify to the success of the chosen approach. 

#ConstructiveDisobedience invites architects, engineers, manufacturers and craftspeople to present a specific insight into their constructive experiments and to engage in exchange. The aim is to find instructions for action—dispositivi—on how we can enable constructive experimentation from the core of the profession, understand it methodically, establish it as design research and thus bring it into recognition academically and on the building site. What culture of risk can and must be established in the service of responsible architectural production and how can we make a living from it?


1 Corrado Verga: Dispositivo Brunelleschi, 1420, Crema 1978.

2 → Experimentalismus

3 Andrea Deplazes: Architektur Konstruieren, Zürich 2005, Vorwort.

4 Michael Eidenbenz: Solving Lloyd’s – Zur Rolle von 1:1 Mock-Ups im Bauprozess, 2018.

Prof. Helga Blocksdorf
TU Braunschweig, Institute for Building Construction

Helga Blocksdorf is a freelance architect who runs the architecture office Helga Blocksdorf / Architektur in Berlin, established in 2013. The firm’s projects include the Erlebnisportal Weimar, the conversion of a barn in Rieckshof, and the Rosé Atelier House, all internationally recognized, award-winning, and published several times. The core idea behind her projects is the architectural quality generated by sophisticated and sustainable concepts in design and construction. In 2021, she was appointed as professor and head of the Institute for Construction at the TU Braunschweig. Prior to this, she was a guest professor of constructive design at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar and worked as a research assistant in the team headed by Prof. Ute Frank at the TU Berlin from 2007 to 2012. In 2019, she was accepted into the “Programm Entwurfsbasierte Promotion” (PEP, or the Programme for Design-Based Doctorates) as a doctoral candidate. Between 2001 and 2013, she was part of the artist collective après-nous, which held international exhibitions and installations in cities such as New York, Berlin, and Copenhagen. After graduating from the University of the Arts in Berlin, Helga Blocksdorf gained experience in construction management, execution planning and competitions at Staab Architekten, Berlin.

Katharina Benjamin

Katharina Benjamin studied architecture at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar where she completed her masters degree in 2018 with a thesis on “Architecture as a Medium of Remembrance – a Reconstruction of the Ez-Chaim Synagogue in Leipzig”. She worked for Peter Zumthor at Atelier Zumthor in Haldenstein (CH) and as project coordinator for the XIV. International Bauhaus-Colloquium at the the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Currently she is working as research assistant at the Chair of Architectural Design and Construction I at TU Dresden and as a research assistant with Prof. Helga Blocksdorf at the Institute for Construction at TU Braunschweig. In 2017 she founded the digital architecture platform Kontextur. She is also part of the Centre of Documentary Architecture (CDA), founded by Ines Weizman.

Prof. Dr. Matthias Ballestrem
HCU, Architecture and Experimental Design

Matthias Ballestrem is an architect and professor of architecture and experimental design at HafenCity University in Hamburg. Since 2006 teaching architectural design at various institutions, including Cornell University, CIEE GAD Berlin Program and 2013–2017 at TU Berlin as Visiting Professor for Building Design and Construction. During this time, research on Infra-Lightweight Concrete (ILC) and doctorate on implicit visual spatial perception. In 2011, scholar at the German Academy Villa Massimo in Rome. Co-founder of the “Programm Entwurfsbasierte Promotion” (PEP – Program Design-based Doctorate). Active member in the European CA2RE network on Design Driven Doctoral Research, Member of the Research Academy of the EAAE and member of the Interdisciplinary Forum Neurourbanism. Main research interests: “Design-based research”, experimental design, spatial perception, spatial complexity and the architectural typologies of interiors.