Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Design Studies 66 (2020) 35-53



Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


In the imagination of prominent architects and architectural theorists, the detail figures as both a promising and perilous element of built form. This paper explores the tension of the “make or break” qualities of the architectural detail(s) in the learning and doing of design, through an ethnomethodologically informed ethnography of North American design-build architecture education. The discussion parses three episodes which highlight the generative qualities of the detail, in terms of its pedagogical value for architecture, and as a heuristic for the study of design practice. As both the material process of joining disparate elements, and a locus for complex social and professional relations and meaning making activities, the assembly of the detail is inherently messy, though productively so.