Design Theory and Practical Design


Basic Course

The task during the first weeks of architecture studies during the basic course in design theory is that of transposing visual images of architecture into spatial actuality. The lectures aim to foster an understanding of space, which, via cartography, goes on to address urban structure with its individual objects and respective constituting elements. Independent of the scale of action, abstraction becomes the vehicle of representation that shapes our understanding of the relationships within and outside a spatial structure. And this implies, too, that it becomes a constant which is different from all other ways of rendering human relationships, and a means of conveying a precise image of our surroundings. Moreover, knowing how to represent and describe a space also provides the prerequisites for identifying its inner and outer relationships, for recognising its social bonds, which are ultimately also responsible for generating a place out of a space. Parallel to the lectures, a series of five models illustrates the content of the exercises. The basic parameters of an architectural design are each worked on in isolation in individual tasks defined by the demands set by structure, bearing structure, light, and routing. With the fifth exercise, all the named practice criteria are applied collectively to the broadened groundwork of function and programme. The starting point for all exercises is a basic structure, compulsory for all, with fixed specification of dimension and material, also the required form of production. At the beginning of the practical training, these rules can indeed be seen as restricting. Nevertheless, the submission of nine hundred models leaves a completely different impression, especially as no one solution is like, or corresponds to, the other. Many of the results create an impression on the seminar room tables of a city, of a community, which is put together this way out of numerous individual solutions.


The semester design is exclusively devoted to one single task to be performed by the different design groups in diverse locations. The design task is oriented not only on a real situation but always on one person who determines the required content for each location. This means not only precise knowledge of the task’s requirement profile but also an exact study of the given spatial circumstances and detailed research on the new location.

Groundwork for the design is dealt with in a seminar that demonstrates the possible prioritisations of the design theme in all its possible facets. So that the architectural concept is implemented not only on a general level but also treated in detail, the Section organises seminars and interim critiques on bearing structures, shell, material, oriented on the specific aspects of each task. For the individual design themes, locations are mainly chosen which are placed in a spatially distinctive setting; this context can range from a country landscape to an architecturally historical ambience. What is important in the choice is always the reference to a clearly defined, spatial and also social structure, which the individual design task has inevitably to tackle. It is only this environment with its many sources of friction that establishes the significance of an architecture that remains inseparably bound to its immediate context.


An understanding of the causal relationship between the structure of an architectural form and its constituting space-forming elements is deepened in the framework of a research-oriented course of study based on the module. Space-forming components are examined and evaluated for their significance and interpretation in a spatial structure; this is done bearing in mind their historical development and their form of potential differentiations based on function, typology and construction, providing a foundation for preparing extended statements on the designing process.

The design theory module deals in-depth with the interrelations between structure and form; it specifies and imparts the different constituting parameters of an architectural form founded on the theory of design. Detailed knowledge of these parameters can be refined with the aim of achieving typologically clear yet highly specific solutions within a context; this requires learning about the development history of these parameters, their current applications within the architectural form, and also their interrelation with the environment; a lecture series and a seminar provide the relevant groundwork for the students.

The ancillary subjects take the form of practical exercises and are a means of checking this knowledge and its practical application.

Header photo: Exhibition Village Textures, Eisenstadt Hofstallungen, 2014, photo: Hertha Hurnaus

Section head

© Jabornegg & Pálffy
Andras Pálffy Contact: TISS

E253/6 Spatial and Substainable Design
Chair | Venia: Gestaltungslehre