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40 561 Subject matter:The Stone Building, Reconsidered

Full course name in Norwegian Bokmål: 
Subject matter:The Stone Building, Reconsidered
Course code: 
40 561
Level of study: 
Teaching semester: 
2024 Autumn
Assessment semester: 
2024 Autumn
Language of instruction: 
Norwegian / English
Maximum number of students: 
Person in charge
Thomas McQuillan
Required prerequisite knowledge

Recommended for students near end of education

Course content

The courses that make up the Subject Matter series are intended to explore what it means to use materials in architecture today, in a time we call the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is a proposed geological epoch where human activities are understood to significantly impact Earth's ecosystems.

Ecosystem thinking suggests that materials are not fixed entities, but rather flows that have histories. When we extract materials for use in architecture, we interact with these histories and change them. In this way, the construction of architecture is intertwined with the ecosystems from which it is extracted.

For millennia, stone was the material of choice for buildings meant to last. While its use required a commitment with respect to its cost, it repaid this investment in durability and stability. But the use of stone in building fell out of fashion in the early 20th Century with the rise of reinforced concrete — itself just a stone crushed and fired: a sort of stone goop.

While concrete offers great formal freedom, its many stages of manufacture and placement distances it from its origins in the earth, producing a great deal of carbon emissions in the process. Stone, on the other hand, remains closer to the ground. With effective and minimal processing, it represents an intriguing environmental calculus, especially in contrast with materials such as concrete, brick, or metals, but also with respect to wood, whose environmental consequences are increasingly complicated.

Recently, there has been an upswing in the interest in stone building in Europe, both for these environmental concerns but also for the humanistic and aesthetic pursuit of an architecture of some nobility. In England, France, Switzerland and Spain, research into the use of massive and load bearing stone has made significant advances. This course seeks to contribute to this ongoing discussion by studying the design of a prototype contemporary stone building.

The course will include a study of a selection of 20th Century architects whose work in stone can inform our investigation. These include the work of Pol Abraham, who rebuilt the center of Orléans in the aftermath of the Second World War with stone prefabrication, Fernand Pouillon’s system of pre-cut stone that allowed him to build very rapidly in both Paris and Algiers, or the theory of Rudolf Schwarz, whose 1949 book Von bebauing der Erde (or ‘On Building the Earth’) describes architecture as a continuous process of extraction and construction, in which human history and the physical landscape are in a constant state of mutual transformation.

This research is in the service of an architectural proposal for a prototype stone building. Working with architectural elements such as wall, window, lintel, entry, stair, and courtyard, students will be asked to develop a proposal for the use of load bearing stone in building today.

The studio relies on the basic tools of architectural thinking: drawing and model making. We avoid using the screen to present and discuss work, infinitely preferring the presence of the physical model and the hard printed line.

Learning outcome


Knowledge of how a stone comes about

Knowledge of the historical uses stone

Knowledge of the environmental impact of stone


Ability to conduct research

Ability to design with and specify stone

General Competence

Competence in presenting ideas in word, image and artifact

Working and learning activities

Working and learning activities:

The teaching methods reflect the learning objectives and the form of assessment. The course is organized as collaborative studio in which student participation is essential. The weekly schedule includes a Monday forum, in which we discuss architecture and attend lectures, and a Thursday plenum, in which we discuss the ongoing design work.


 We believe that the study trip is an essential part of architectural education and see it as integral to the development of spatial and material awareness. This is especially true in the study of stone. There are several options for a destination. A final choice will be made by the course as a whole at the start of the semester.

Compulsory work or attendance requirements:

Attend and present work each week.

Form of assessmentGroupingGrading scaleComment
Project assignmentIndividualPass / fail
Form of assessment:Project assignment
Grading scale:Pass / fail