Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete | History and Theory of Urban Design

An Architecture World: The Tacit in Recent Architectural Pedagogy at ETH Zurich

The tacit dimension of architectural pedagogy—which students deploy when designing, but have trouble explaining—remains understudied, beset by methodological difficulties. Existing accounts emphasize isolated studio exercises or cognitive processes, often neglecting cultural, historical, and disciplinary contexts. Meanwhile, the notion of tacit knowledge is not even entirely adequate for architectural education, which concerns aesthetic and ethical judgments, not just epistemological ways of knowing. This research explores an expanded understanding of the tacit in architectural education at ETH Zurich, from the late 20th century to the present. Across a series of comparative episodes, this thesis examines aspects of the tacit in design studio education at ETH against the broader horizon of European pedagogy, drawing on pedagogical manifestos/treatises, literature reviews, archival research, re-enactment, oral histories, and studio autoethnography. In doing so, it locates the tacit—and its transfer—in the culture of ETH today through overlap and difference with other periods, cultures, disciplines, practices, and publics. Moving beyond this one influential architecture school, it critically considers how we teach the tacit more generally—and which perspectives are privileged in the process—generating insight applicable to other pedagogical contexts.


© Yearbook cover. International Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Design, 1st Residential Course, Urbino, 1976,
Photo of ETH 2nd Year course, 1969, with Prof. Bernhard Hoesli, Peter Balla, Prof. Hans Ess, Paul Nizon. © ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Portr_11877-009 / CC BY-SA 4.0
©Book cover. Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966).


Hamish Lonergan

Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete
Prof. Dr. Ir. Janina Gosseye

Project timeframe
2020 – 2025

This research is part of the larger research project of ‘TACK / Communities of Tacit Knowledge: Architecture and its Ways of Knowing’. It has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 860413.