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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Daniel S Friedman
ARCH 498
Seattle Campus

Special Projects

Instructor-initiated and department-approved systematic study and offering of specialized subject matter. Topics vary and are announced in preceding quarter.

Class description

ARCH 498A Structural Architecture: Learning from the Dreamliner

“Lightness for me goes with precision and determination, not with vagueness and the haphazard,” Italo Calvino writes, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium. In demonstration of this point, he quotes the poet Paul Valéry—“one should be light like a bird, not like a feather.” This seminar will explore lightness as a property of design, structure, manufacturing process, and performance.

One of the great qualities of beautifully engineered architectural structure is the lightness conveyed in its efficiency, which involves the convergence of properties that embody and express elegance, economy, proportion, and performance. The details of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner conveys just such structural lightness—composite skin, the sweep of its wing, the scalloped detail on the engine fairings. No less important, however, is the role that new virtual modeling technology played in the production of this aircraft and its immediate predecessor, the 777. Boeing was two decades ahead of architecture in its application of building information modeling. How far ahead is the production of the 787 Dreamliner changed? What can we learn from the digital technologies that converge around its design, production, and performance? Our aim in this seminar therefore will be to explore the origins of its form in relation to the logics of its production, and to speculate on the possible architectural applications in the intergradation of systems and form. Of particular interest to architects is PLM—product lifecycle management—and the aerospace industry’s continuous improvement and adaptation evolution of parametric modeling and virtual construction in the global manufacture of parts for twenty-first century commercial aircraft. From a materials science, systems, and performance perspective, architecture and building have much to learn from advances in aerospace engineering and design. This course will work back and forth between the two problem fields in hope of finding helpful and possibly transformative intersections that will help deepen and accelerate architectural design and engineering in a world increasingly hungry for more efficient, affordable, sustainable, and higher performing buildings.

Student learning goals

This seminar explores the evolving relationship between the construction and aviation industries, in particular the relation between buildings and aircraft, with express interest in the application of information modeling systems in their respective design and production.

Using Kieran’s and Timberlake’s argument for mass-customization in the 2003 publication Refabrication Architecture as our point of departure, we will explore the ways the design, assembly, production, and performance of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner informs and illuminates the kinds of problems we face as architects, especially given our responsibilities in the rapidly changing A/E/C industry.

Through our investigation of aviation technology, we hope to enrich our critical mobility through the vocabularies and methodologies of adjacent disciplines with hopes our investment can inform the kinds of knowledge we need to design and produce better buildings, cities, and infrastructure.

General method of instruction

Assigned readings, discussions, and student presentations.

Recommended preparation

In addition to the ten regularly scheduled Monday evening meetings, all students in this course are required to participate in a special tour of the 787 production facility in Everett.

Class assignments and grading

One formal 60-mintute presentation in class on an appropriate theme and reading (or series of readings), to be developed in consultation with the instructor and refined as a final 5 to 10 page paper, due on the final day of class.

Final evaluations will reflect your effort, attendance, and participation; the conceptual and technical execution of your in-class presentation; your intellectual contributions and commitment to investigation of the topic; attention to the responsibilities of academic inquiry; and the quality of your final paper.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Daniel S Friedman
Date: 03/31/2014