The Story of the Bucky Lab
A book about a university docent and one of his courses — why would you do that? And what is the academic impact?
The question of impact, especially as it relates to the rapidly developing culture of publications in scientific journals, should be the topic of a separate discussion. With all of the related advantages and disadvantages it could fill an entire book — however, not this one. And yes, buildings do impact the user, the environment and the planner — those already active in the field, as well as the next generation that learns from the results and will enter their own discussion for future developments. A friend of Marcel Bilow’s and mine, Thomas Auer, known for his exceptional work as climate engineer with the company Transsolar in Stuttgart, Germany, has, for example, certainly made an impact, influencing and inspiring generations of architects and engineers. Faced with the decision of whether or not to continue spending the majority of his time with projects rather than as a teacher and researcher at TU Munich he based his decision on the premise: you can best multiply impact by affecting the next generation, buildings alone cannot achieve it.
And affecting the next generation is the motivation for this book because it is the motivation for Marcel Bilow’s work and his approach to teaching, be it about a concrete product to be developed or an individual’s experience. It is about teaching students to physically exercise practical application rather than merely thinking about it: we can contemplate a hole in a wooden plank; however, actually creating it, experiencing the consequences and identifying limits and failures is the most valuable aspect. Any and all construction is based hereupon, a combination of both: the activity of constructing itself but also constructive thinking, thoroughly understanding a solution — essential skills that any architect needs to experience.
And the tool to accomplish this is, of course, a practical, hands-on course. Going conform with the generally established tradition in construction-related university subjects at TU Delft of having students build small projects, the faculty at TU Delft has a history of conducting hands-on courses. But Marcel Bilow certainly breathed new life into these courses that are part of the Master’s program at the Faculty of Architecture at TU Delft: by setting up the Bucky Lab. Buckminster Fuller, constructor and inventor served as inspiration, for the name as well as for the program: to be able to think, conceive and realize sensible and practical solutions. It is, therefore, no surprise that Marcel became known as Dr. Bucky Lab.
Is there more to the course? Yes, there is another, very important part that goes beyond practical application. It's all about stimulating the students’ desire to make things better, to introduce technical developments into construction, and to utilize new methods if they make sense in a given context.
The course is designed to make the students look for traditional as well as non- traditional, out of the box ideas. With his constant questioning, continuously asking "Why?" Marcel Bilow drives his students to question every single step they take in a project, every design decision they make along the way, every choice of material. The course requires them to generate initial concepts that will be revisited, re-evaluated, redefined several times as they learn to focus on the important, justify their decisions and gain knowledge in conceptualizing and ultimately realizing their ideas. The experiences gained in the course are valuable for any project the students work on during their studies or in their later professional lives.
Marcel Bilow has a brilliant mind, he is extremely motivated and motivating, sometimes a little stubborn but always driven by an innate desire to understand and, above all, to share his knowledge and experience. And this is what he does in the Bucky Lab, a course that is coined by his convictions and approach to disseminating knowledge as well as by interdisciplinary work that is embedded in and connected to the overall curriculum.