When I started my architectural studies in Italy, in the late 1970s, one of the first assignments I was given was to make a model of a circus tent. The mimeographed instructions specified that the model had to include poles, either vertical or slanted, suspended ropes or wires with load-bearing functions, and a canopy; the scale of the model and the choice of materials were up to the students. I vividly remember being perplexed from the start; my frustration then grew along with my evident inability to make that bizarre contrivance stand up - in any configuration. I did not know how to saw wood, cut canvas or tie ropes. I had no experience as a bricoleur , no skill as a handyman, nor any desire to become one; and I stood up and said exactly that the second or third time the class met. The professor, a stern melancholy man of solid Tuscan stock, severely reprimanded me, accusing me of being an elitist, an urban intellectual, or worse. By contrast, he praised his own rural upbringing in a family of farmers and woodworkers, hence his spiritual understanding of the nature of the materials of which architecture is made and their inner workings - or something like that. I was not persuaded and, back home, I fine-tuned my arguments in preparation for another round. I do not remember what those arguments were, as no further debate ensued.
The week after that memorable confrontation, the Department of Architecture, together with most of the university, was occupied by Communist guerrillas. When the same professor tried to go to his office, the Proletarian Avant-Garde of the Irascible Non-Tenured Lecturers (an approximate translation from the original Italian) smashed him over the head with a heavy wooden chair. His ancestral familiarity with timber, however, did not save his skull; he was taken to hospital and kept there for almost as long as the school's occupation. When courses restarted, months later, all assignments were due the same week. I teamed up with other students, better bricoleurs than me, the model was produced collectively and my task in the group was to write the presentation text.
For the remainder of my studies in architecture I was never asked to produce another physical object - other than drawings, of course - and so never had the opportunity to revisit and further investigate the causes of that altercation and the nature of my objections. Had I been more perspicacious, or more conversant with the history of architecture - which I wasn't at the age of 18 and after barely a month of classes - my retort to that blundering craftsman-turned-architectural-educator should have been: architecture as an art of design was invented by Leon Battista Alberti, and a few others, during the Renaissance. Alberti and his humanist friends thought that architects should not make physical buildings, but concentrate only on drawing them. For the humanists, the complete separation between designers and makers, both ideological and practical, allowed no exceptions: designers should do the drawings and send them to the builders for execution; designers should not make objects and makers should not design them. Thus, architects are not craftsmen but thinkers, which is why, unlike plumbers or bakers, they prepare for their profession by studying at university, instead of training in a shop or on site.
This 'Albertian paradigm' is the foundation of modern architecture as an art of design, and when the humanists invented it, it was a revolution against the medieval and traditional way of building as a mechanical craft. When I enrolled in the Department of Architecture of an Italian university to become an architect, I was the product of five centuries of Albertian humanism in the arts of design: I wanted to become a maker of notations, expressed through words, numbers and drawings. I had no interest whatsoever in making buildings with my own hands, and I