From best practices to tactical design

P. Tidwell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


Around 1903, the German physician, psychologist, scientist, philosopher and general polymath Hermann von Helmholtz described his work in surprisingly unguarded tone: “I was like a mountaineer who, not knowing the path, must climb slowly and laboriously, is forced to turn back frequently because his way is blocked but discovers, sometimes by deliberation and more often by accident, new passages which lead him onward for a distance.” (Helmholtz, 1954) According to him, the groundbreaking research on acoustics and human perception not as a linear progression so much as a laborious and often hapless series of trials and errors. I am not sure if Helmholtz’s groundbreaking research has much in common with the work of architects today, but I suspect that many of us will be familiar with the innumerable false starts and missteps that his method entailed. And since the figure of the vigorous mountaineer conjures a far more flattering self image than the one that we usually confront, I suggest that we take the metaphor. In a few simple lines Helmholtz recognized the invaluable role of bad ideas, failed experiments and the countless hours spent on unfulfilled ambitions. More than just research or experiments, his analogy posits that these activities serve as a kind of training necessary for the hard work of cognitive climbing-practice in the fullest sense of the word. Architects should be familiar with this notion since it underlies most systems of architectural apprenticeship and licensure. As we all know, we are required to practice our trade before we can practice as architects.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStructures and Architecture - Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Structures and Architecture, ICSA 2016
EditorsP. J. S. Cruz
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9781138026513
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventInternational Conference on Structures and Architecture - Guimaraes, Portugal
Duration: 27 Jul 201629 Jul 2016
Conference number: 3


ConferenceInternational Conference on Structures and Architecture
Abbreviated titleICSA


  • Structures
  • Architecture


Dive into the research topics of 'From best practices to tactical design'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this