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Mohammad Wesam Al Asali: Tools, Knowledge and Technology in Thin Tile Vaulting

Traditional construction engenders a strong bond to its local context as it usually makes use of local materials and knowledge. Methods of traditional construction are products of craft and material properties, and thus provoke a specific question of how technology can be addressed in such a context. This study examines the development of tools and techniques in vault construction history through their social, economic and cultural contexts, and through such inquiry suggests possibilities for future applications of traditional construction in contemporary architecture.

Thin tile vaulting is an excellent case study; this Mediterranean technique was widely used in Spain and the US during the last century. Because it is light, efficient and needs no formwork to be built, thin tile vaulting is found in the practice of both popular and expressive architecture in Spain during the Catalan Modernisme and the Post-Civil War Reconstruction. The research, therefore, examines the use of thin tile vaulting during these two periods and scrutinises the links through which it has been handed down to the present. There are recent attempts to revive and use such technique in different parts of the world. Here, the question of how tools and knowledge can be adapted from one context to another is considered. To map new uses of technology in thin tile vaulting, the research surveys and compares several examples of contemporary projects.

Finally, there are three case studies with different contexts to propose ways in which technology can be used in this technique. Technology can assist thin tile vaulting by close consideration of the geometry of the structure, the availability of materials and skill of labour. The study suggests dealing with technology not abstractly as a series of applications, but as a locally grounded practice. Each cultural, economical and social context prompts a specific application of tools and technology.