The good, bad, and ugly in architectural case studies



Architecture & Built Environment


  • architecture

This paper describes the results of an academic assignment given to a group of undergraduate architectural design students, in which each student was required to conduct research and compose case-study reports on selected works of architecture to support individual identification of each of these works as “good”, “bad”, or “ugly”. Each student was free to select whichever works of architecture they wished as subjects for their research, and to illustrate these works by whatever means they found appropriate. Each student selected several buildings as examples, and each student composed a multi-page illustrated and written report summarizing their research and concluding with specific attributions for each selected work.


Tabulated results of the assignment indicate that the student group as a whole tended strongly to employ exterior photographic images in their reports, regardless of the value attribution assigned to specific works of architecture; that there was a strong tendency for students to fail to credit architects for works of architecture deemed “bad” or “ugly”, and that students tended more strongly to credit architects for “good” works of architecture; that students almost completely forsook the use of graphical information in the reports other than photographs; and that there was an exceptionally strong tendency for students to fail to credit sources for images used in their reports.

In aggregate, these results suggest to us that students overwhelmingly treat the outward appearance of a work of architecture as the primary means of judging its value; and particularly, that students consider photographs to be both the ultimate point of reference for a given work of architecture, as well as neutral (unbiased) substitutes for those works. In short, students appear reluctant, unwilling, or unable to develop understandings of the “tangible speculation” (Graves, 1977) present in any successful mediating architectural artifact, such as a photograph.

The paper concludes with suggestions regarding how students of architecture might be encouraged to develop deeper understandings of mediating architectural artifacts, and hence of architecture itself, through their production of case-study reports. Specific techniques are outlined, including the possibility of generating new mediating artifacts (such as cross-sections) from photographs.

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