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agora II

(Un)common Precedents

“Cosmopoiesis as an act of worldmaking always starts from worlds already in existence and the making is a remaking.”

― Marco Frascari referencing Nelson Goodman in his Eleven Exercises, 94






























Each medium through which a physical place is presented to us and through which we document it has an impact on the knowledge we retain about that place. These acts of reading, interpreting, investigating, documenting, and recording inevitably influence the kinds of places and buildings that form our frame of reference – and, consequently, the buildings we design and how we design them. 


However, one could argue that the presence of architectural precedents in pedagogy and practice are too often limited to surface level abstractions – disembodied ideas and flattened visual representations lifted from their context. Without an understanding of the real places in their cultural, geographic and socio-political context over time and through engaged experience, the retinal experience of architecture images is at risk of translating into formalistic renderings and shortened design processes. Further, the types of buildings that constitute acceptable precedents for study are often still limited to well-known projects and architects and precedent studies seldom venture beyond buildings, or the same typology as the assignment at hand. Methods of documentation are also often limited to visual media such as photographs, diagrams, and scaled drawings that often rely on available advanced digital recording methods which substitute our eyes, bodies and analog methods of surveying and communicating place. From this premise, what are then other and perhaps (un)common methods? Undoubtedly, these normative professional approaches to our understanding of existing places impact our approach to the design of new spaces. 


In order to design new buildings, one must first understand existing buildings. Often, early design years include pedagogical exercises in building surveys and recording. Yet, design influence for architects can also expand beyond buildings. Precedents can be both common and uncommon. One can seek inspiration in nature, a meal shared with friends, a work of literature, a painting, a musical score, et cetera. What happens when precedents are drawn from outside the discipline and translated into architecture through the design process? How does one translate past experiences into not just spatial form but atmospheres? 


The Agora II Symposium tackles these issues by posing the question(s): How do architects build a frame of reference? In architecture, what does the current approach to precedent study leave out? How might methodologies be reimagined to embrace a more holistic understanding of existing buildings? Which are the under acknowledged and (un)common precedents that inspire architectural design in terms of diversity of media, culture and socio-political contexts? Is there potential in seeking architectural precedents in adjacent disciplines such as literature, music, and the culinary, visual, and performing arts? What mediums present underexplored potential in the development of an embodied, multisensory frame of reference? How do emerging factors such as new media, technology, globalization, and social justice initiatives, among others, impact this process? 


How can we re-examine the value of “common” precedents, while also exploring “uncommon” ones?


Proposals may address one or several aspects of these questions:


The Reference, or What we study: Which types of places are presently underutilized in the development of one’s frame of reference in education and practice? How can tacit knowledge, everyday experience, context, place, materiality, sensory experience, social, cultural and political factors, etc. be foregrounded in the study of precedents? Which disciplines outside of architecture carry the potential for informing the design process? 

The Media and Methods, or How we study: How do the media through which we receive and interpret references differ in their capacity to provoke design imagination and exploration? How might different media change our understanding of a building? What are the cultural conditionings of our drawing practices? What is lost or gained in acts of translation and transmediation that are central to the study of precedents? How are precedents from other disciplines “translated” or “appropriated” during the architectural design process? How does the situatedness or context of study impact the results? 

The Intentions, or Why we study: How do design intentions and personal and cultural values orient the content of our perception, and thus the aspects that we extract from precedents? What are the consequences or implications of the study of existing places? How do the contents of one’s frame of reference influence new design speculations and built work? 

Presenters will have fifteen minutes to present their papers in English, followed by a discussion period. Abstract proposals for papers must be approximately 350 words and submitted in a .docx format and a maximum of 3 images. The symposium will take place on September 22nd - 24th, 2023 at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. All submissions will be kept anonymous and will be blind peer-reviewed. Please include your name, institution affiliation, four descriptive keywords, and a brief bio (100 words) in the email body. Applicants will be contacted in August 2022 with a decision.


Proposals are due by May 22nd, 2022 at 11:59 EST.

All proposals should be emailed to


Papers will be invited for consideration for a future publication. 


Important Dates

Deadline for submission of proposals: May 22nd, 2022

Acceptance notification: End of August 2022

Symposium: September 22nd - 24th, 2023


Architecture + Literature (in collaboration with Dr. Suzy Harris-Brandts)

Architecture + Music (in collaboration with Dr. Jesse Stewart)

Architecture + Culinary Arts (in collaboration with Dr. Sheryl Boyle


CRIPTIC Chair: Dr. Federica Goffi ASAU

CRIPTIC Coordinators: Isabel Potworowski | Kristin Washco

Workshop, Exhibition and Performance Collaborators:

Dr. Jesse Stewart SSAC | Dr. Sheryl Boyle ASAU | Dr. Suzy Harris-Brandts ASAU

Performance Advisor Ryan Stec Artengine




Key texts


Havik, Klaske. Urban Literacy: Reading and Writing Architecture. Rotterdam: Nai010 Publishers. 2014


Van Dooren, Elise. Anchoring the Design Process: A Framework to Make the Designerly Way of Thinking Explicit in Architectural Design Education. PhD Dissertation. TU Delft. 2020


Frascari, Marco. Eleven Exercises in the Art of Architectural Drawing: Slow Food for the Architect's Imagination. London: Routledge. 2011


Emmons, Paul. Drawing, Imagining, Building: Embodiment in Architectural Design Practices. 2019


Schrijver, Lara. ed. The Tacit Dimension: Architecture Knowledge and Scientific Research. Leuven University Press. 2021

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The event is free of charge. Please register to reserve a place, receive a name tag and refreshments. You will receive event updates.

Follow the event LIVE on the ASAU YouTube channel
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